Friday, August 27, 2004


I was watching a fascinating program on the history channel yesterday, which depicted the fall of the Roman Empire at the fall of the Goths and 'barbarians'. It was a very nice show, typical of the History channel, with a big real life cast substituting for the major players in the drama including the Roman soldiers, their Generals, the Emperor, and the Goth leader Alarick. The tale was interspersed with extensive narrations by eminent historians from America and England. The story was essentially one of how the 'barbarians' ousted the Roman seat of power which had ruled the world for hundreds of years, not only literally, but symbolically through its art, culture, science, politics and customs in general. The battle scenes were superbly narrated, including the first ruthless defeat of the Romans at the hands of the Goths at Adrianople in modern day Turkey. The Roman emperor then managed to make peace with the Goths. But the peace was illusory. Its terms included donation of land to the Goths and their inclusion in Roman society. In return, they necessitated the unconditional loyalty of Goth soldiers to the Roman army. However, the Romans did not keep their word. In major battles, the Goths were typically the first ones to die on the frontlines, saving the lives of Rome's sons. Even assimilation of the Goths in Roman society was a farce. Roman women looked down upon the Goths as uncultured, and the men remembered the Goths' vicious deeds in battle. Slowly, the Goths began to realise the trickery to which they had been subjected. Out of this frustration and feeling of betrayal rose a Goth king called Alarick. He marched against Rome itself and plundered it. Having made his point, he rode away, only to die at a young age in a few days. After that, for all practial purposes, Rome's glory had been undone. The Goths settled in Rome and its outskirts, and ironically became the last upholders of Roman culture itself. This was about 400 A.D. The show concluded with an admonition- any civilization which considers itself high and mighty is going to fall sooner or later if it disregards the wishes of its neighbours.

Compare this to the present day United States, which seems to have been prescient in realising this means of achieving harmony. (Even if it does appear as hegemony to many people) It is a point worth noting that the US gave REAL rights and previleges to the 'Goths' (Asians, Europeans) who went there seeking better climes. Of course, in this case, the Goths never came to plunder and loot. But IF America had failed to regard their desire for assimilation, then they very well could have risen against her discriminatory policies in a violent way. America has always adopted a shrewd policy with any 'Goth' who wants to partake of her riches. First and foremost, call him an 'immigrant', even a 'resident alien', but never a 'barbarian'! Give the 'Goth' all the rights and opportunities necessary for his upliftment, but only if he becomes an 'American'. So that technically, he is a 'Goth' no more. This way, you get to have the cake and eat it too. Interestingly, America has worried about immigration ever since the middle of the 18th century, when large numbers of Germans came to the her shores, fleeing from religious persecution. Benjamin Franklin may well have been the first American to think about this (just as he was the first American to think about many other things) He seems to have devoted a considerable amount of thought to whether Germans would find Americans attractive and vice versa! Already, he was thinking about the mingling of different nationalities to create a single insular persona- the 'American'. This also was an important folly on the part of the Romans, exemplified time again in History. They strove to protect their 'pure blood', just like Hitler did with his 'Aryan blood'. History has showed that this policy simply does not work. Better to have instead mixed blood with the same national identity. Of course, other countries have also adopted these policies. Nonethless, because of its preeminent position of power today, I think that America provides the most striking comparison with the great civilizations of the past in realising how to 'include and rule', and she has been the most perspicacious in not commiting the same errors as did her lofty precedents . Maybe if Rome had been wiser in sensing the wishes of 'immigrants', they would never have become looters, and Edward Gibbon would have never written 'The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire'. The most powerful man in the world may still have been 'Maximus Diodemus' instead of 'George Bush'.


Blogger Sumedha said...

Do you really think the Roman Empire would have lasted that long :-) All civilisations follow a cycle of emergence, prosperity and decline..maybe the time has come for India to rise again from the ashes of her degradation.
Your post reminded me of the first few scenes of 'The Gladiator'.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

You are right. Maybe not very long. But probably longer than what it did :)
I hope what you are saying about India will be true...

2:53 PM  

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