#Reviewing The Fate of Rome

#Reviewing The Fate of Rome


The Eastern Roman Empire, however, held together, and by the early sixth century it seemed in a position to regain control of the whole Mediterranean basin. Under the Emperor Justinian and his brilliant general Belisarius, Constantinople, the new Rome, regained control of much of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Again, nature intervened. The unexpected appearance of tyche hit the Eastern Roman Empire with three terrible blows. The last blow was expected, given the historical record, but the extent of the damage done was unexpected: the war between the empire and Persia, which exhausted both empires to the point of collapse. But the other two blows, no seer could have predicted. The first was the third great plague to hit the empire within the space of four centuries. For the first time in history, the bubonic plague appeared in the Mediterranean, and the swath of death it inflicted on the empire’s population appears to have been on the order of what it was to inflict on Europe’s population in the fourteenth century.

For the short term, there were also massive volcanic explosions that blotted out much of the sun’s energy, the first in 536 CE AD with and a second in 539-540 CEAD. The locations of these eruptions is unknown, but the evidence in ice caps is overwhelming. The impact was devastating.. The volcanic blasts, reminiscent of the explosion of Mount Tambora in 1815 that resulted in what was called the year without summer in the northern hemisphere, had a direct impact on the world’s temperature equilibrium. The drop in Europe’s summer temperature was on the order of 2.5 degrees centigrade. Moreover, the decade from 536 to 545 appears to have been the coldest over the past two millennia. The evidence from the literary sources fully supports the scientific evidence. One commentator of the period noted, “We have had a winter without storms, a spring without mildness, a summer without heat.”[3]

But in the longer term, at almost the same time the great volcanic explosions occurred, the sun stopped producing energy at its earlier levels. “A grand solar minimum, centered on the late seventh century, was the greatest plunge in energy received from the sun during the last 2,000 years. It was lower even than the Maunder minimum of the seventeenth century.”[4] The combination of these short-term and the long-term events altered weather patterns across the empire, and not necessarily for the benefit of those living there.

The third blow to the empire, which was to be expected, given human nature, was a great war between the Persians and the Eastern Romans. By 626 CE, the Persians were at the gates of Constantinople; two years later the Byzantines had driven them out of Anatolia and Syria. But to the triumph was short lived. Exhausted by plague, declining agricultural production, and the vicious impact of the bubonic plague, the Eastern Roman Empire was defeated by the Arab armies exploding from the deserts of Arabia in the single battle of Yarmouk in 636 CE only eight years after regaining Jerusalem from the Persians. The empire simply no longer had the strength to regain Syria, Egypt, and North Africa. In effect, the Byzantines would shrivel up into an area that was to consist of Anatolia and small pieces of Greece and the Balkans. Equally important was the fact that the Mediterranean was now to find itself divided between the Christian states to the north and Muslim states to the south. In the long term, the Western Europeans would turn away from the Mediterranean and begin the process of creating their own disputatious societies in the backwaters of what had been a part of the great Roman Empire in the west and its areas beyond the Rhine and Danube controlled by the barbarians.

So what are we to make of these great natural events that so distorted and then destroyed one of the most successful empires in history? We could, of course, ignore the past as having little relevance to thinking about the future. On the other hand, for those willing to grapple with the uncomfortable, the past would suggest that governments and their military organizations need to develop the capacity to adapt not just to the terrible problems that modern war brings in its train, but to the kinds of chance that the natural world might spring on them. It is not that they need to prepare for a specific future. Rather, they need to develop the kind of thinking that can adapt to the frightening surprises that will inevitably occur in the future, such as a volcanic explosion on the order of the eruption at Mount Tambora in 1815, one that might reduce the world’s food production by 30 percent. Moreover, the very nature of a globalized world, with a population reaching toward the level of 8 billion, interconnected by swift transportation, and with some its great cities still beset with raw, untreated sewage, would seem the ideal setting for a pandemic beyond our comprehension.


via The Strategy Bridge

September 3, 2018 at 07:07AM https://ift.tt/2NwmrKT