It is, for instance, no great surprise that the Roman empire is not particularly in favour at the moment, and therefore that its demise is not deeply regretted. In Europe, empires and imperialism went firmly out of fashion in the decades following the Second World War, while in the United States, which traces its origins to a struggle for freedom from British imperial control, they have seldom enjoyed explicit favour. The ‘Empire’ in Hollywood’s Star Wars is the force of evil, its storm troopers modelled partly on Roman praetorian guards.
I am no advocate of twenty-first-century imperialism—empires, it seems to me, have had their day—but it is a mistake to treat all empires of the past as universally bad in an undifferentiated way. The imposition of Roman power had certainly been brutal, and it was fiercely resisted by many. But in time the Roman empire evolved into something rather remarkable, very different from any modern empire. By the fourth century, the provincial aristocracies of the Roman world had largely forgotten their tribal ancestors and had settled down to be ‘Roman’. Quite unlike any modern empire, Rome did not fall because its provincial subjects struggled to be ‘free’. Amongst all the possible causes of Rome’s fall canvassed by historians, popular uprisings to throw off the shackles of imperial rule come a very long way down any list. This is hardly surprising, since, as I have argued at length in this book, Roman rule, and above all Roman peace, brought levels of comfort and sophistication to the West that had not been seen before and that were not to be seen again for many centuries.
Indeed, in the modern post-colonial world, the very concept of ‘acivilization’, be it ancient or modern, is now uncomfortable, because it is seen as demeaning to those societies that are excluded from the label. Nowadays, instead of ‘civilizations’, we apply universally the neutral word ‘cultures’; all cultures are equal, and no cultures are more equal than others. […] But abandoning altogether the concept of ‘a civilization’ risks imposing too flat a view on the world’s cultures. For better or worse (and often it is for the worse), some cultures are much more sophisticated than others. Societies with large cities, complex production- and distribution networks, and the widespread use of writing, are markedly different from societies of villages, with essentially household production and an oral culture.
B. Ward-Perkins, The fall of Rome and the end of civilization, Oxford 2005, σσ. 176 -179.
Δηλαδή: Ἡ Ρώμη ἦταν τόσο «μὴ ἰμπεριαλιστική», ὥστε τὰ δάκτυλα τοῦ ἑνὸς χεριοῦ ἀρκοῦν καὶ περισσεύουν γιὰ τὶς ἐπαναστάσεις ἐναντίον τῆς ρωμαϊκῆς κυριαρχίας μετὰ τὸν 1ο π.Χ. αἰώνα. Γιὰ νὰ τὸ φέρω στὰ δικά μας, κάποιοι μᾶς λένε πόσο ἄδικα ὑποτιμημένοι εἶναι οἱ Ὀθωμανοὶ καὶ οἱ Ἄραβες –οἱ κατακτητές μας– πού, τάχα, στὴν πραγματικότητα ἦταν ἁπλὰ ὅπως οἱ Ρωμαῖοι ἢ μάλιστα ἡ συνέχεια τῶν Ρωμαίων. Πρέπει μπροστὰ σὲ μιὰ τέτοια βλασφημία νὰ ὑπενθυμίζεται μιὰ τεράστια καὶ μὴ δυνάμενη νὰ δικαιολογηθεῖ διαφορά: Ὅτι οἱ Ἄραβες καὶ οἱ Τοῦρκοι διατήρησαν, καὶ διατηροῦν, ἕνα καθεστὼς ἀνισότητας μεταξὺ τῶν ὑπηκόων τους (Μουσουλμάνων καὶ Μὴ Μουσουλμάνων), ἐνῶ οἱ Ρωμαῖοι κατάργησαν στὶς ἀρχὲς τοῦ 3ου μ.Χ. αἰώνα τὴ διάκριση μεταξὺ Ρωμαίων κατακτητῶν καὶ μὴ Ρωμαίων κατακτημένων, καὶ κατέστησαν Ρωμαίους τοὺς πάντες. Δὲν εἶναι λοιπόν, ὅλες οἱ κουλτοῦρες ἴσες, γιατὶ ἁπλούστατα δὲν κατάφεραν τὰ ἴδια πράγματα ὅσον ἀφορᾶ τὸ ἴδιο ζήτημα.
Ὡστόσο, καὶ ἡ ἐξύμνηση τῆς Ρώμης ἔχει τὰ ὅριά της: Τὴν ἀπαξίωση τῆς βυζαντινῆς συνέχειας:
Nietzsche called the Roman empire ‘‘the most grandiose form of organization under difficult conditions that has yet been achieved, in comparison with which everything before and after is patchwork, bungling, dilettantism . . . its structure was calculated to prove itself by millennia.’’ He meant this as an attack on Christianity, which shows that he knew nothing of Byzantium.
A. Kaldellis, Hellenism in Byzantium, N. York 2007, σσ. 393-394.
Βεβαίως, ὁ Ward-Perkins διακρίνει μεταξὺ τῆς δυτικῆς ρωμαϊκῆς παρακμῆς τῆς Ὕστερης Ἀρχαιότητας καὶ τῆς συνεχιζόμενης ἀνατολικῆς ρωμαϊκῆς ἀκμὴς στὴν ἴδια περίοδο, καὶ δὲν ἀπαξιώνει τίποτε. Πάρα πολλοὶ ἄλλοι ὅμως, κάνουν τὸ λάθος αὐτό.