Mary Beard, a prominent classical scholar from England, wrote a book, “SPQR,” that stands for the Latin phrase roughly translated, “The Senate and People of Rome.” Beard tried hard to incorporate all the new discoveries about the Roman Empire in her excellent book, which is available for free to check out of the Idaho Falls Public Library. It is interesting that a classics professor from England is working so hard to teach Americans about the origins of their own government. It reminds me of the critical scholarly effort the founders of the United States made, trying to form a government that would not soon be found in history’s garbage dump. In the end, Beard left Americans to reflect on the question: Just how Roman are we today?
SPQR shows the Romans put almost the whole nation on the dole. They squandered treasure on foreign wars. They gave more and more power to the executive, ending up being ruled by emperors. They gave up discipline in favor of indolence and pleasure-seeking. They grew the public debt beyond their ability to repay, increased the money supply beyond reason and raised onerous taxes. They allowed public corruption to go unchecked in their leaders. They allowed the court system to be controlled by money. Speaking further of money, they came up with fake coins just like we have — a base metal coated with silver, which if rubbed enough, caused the base metal to show through on the emperor’s nose.
They gave up on the rule of law in favor of rule by decree and became an adulterous, lascivious and family-destroying culture. Finally, they let millions of people come into their territory and become citizens that had no allegiance to Rome, no understanding of or connection to Roman history and then couldn’t understand why no one knew what being a Roman meant anymore.
Sound familiar? That’s a very discouraging, humbling and embarrassing list.
How did it end for the Romans after they let these weeds fully grow in their former well-kept gardens? For a period of 15 years, a lethal plague spread throughout the empire, which staggered their economy. Various other cultures took more and more of their lands until finally, an invading army reached the outskirts of Rome, which was left totally undefended. In 410 C.E., the Visigoths breached the walls of Rome and sacked the capital of the Roman Empire, looting, burning and pillaging their way through the city, leaving a wake of destruction wherever they went. It looks like we risk repeating history, but by educating ourselves we don’t have to.
There is a way off the path of the Roman Empire; we are not as far gone as they were. Our nation is great enough to turn away from the similar destructive temptations we face in our times and seek a higher course. Let’s require that disciplined effort of ourselves and leaders until we get back on the road best for our future.