Michael Auslin: Lessons from Byzantium
Michael Auslin is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
The Byzantine Empire’s long run — 1,100 years — may seem remote from the 21st century, but a reading of its history offers at least three timeless lessons. Understanding some of the fatal weaknesses in the Eastern Roman Empire may help clarify the political and economic problems that America faces today and the choices we have in responding to them.
Founded in 330 by the emperor Constantine, the eastern half of the Roman Empire was centered in Constantinople, the New Rome. By the fourth century, the empire had endured more than a century of instability, internecine warfare, and economic decline. In that context Rome’s eastern lands, arcing around Asia Minor, the Levant, and northern Africa, were especially attractive, being richer and more settled than the comparatively backward parts of western Europe. It was in part to assure continued access to these sources of wealth that Constantine relocated his capital. By A.D. 476, Rome had been overrun by barbarian tribes, and before long only Constantinople in the East had a seat for the emperors.
The first lesson for America to take from the history of Byzantium is about individualism and freedom. While it was no democracy, nonetheless Byzantium flourished when it allowed its citizens, and particularly its soldiers, greater individual freedom and responsibility. Beginning in the early 7th century, Emperor Heraclius moved from the traditional reliance on the provinces and their civilian governors and instead established large military zones, or “themes,” in Asia Minor, which was now the backbone of the empire. Centralization was maintained through the appointment of a single official with both civil and military responsibilities, but the real innovation of the themes was how the land was settled by imperial troops....
comments powered by Disqus
- Most Millennials Resist the ‘Millennial’ Label
- Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers – and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting
- China military parade commemorates WW2 victory over Japan
- New documentary explores the legacy of the 5,000 Rosenwald schools set up by a Sears magnate and Booker T. Washington
- Rare silent Native American movie of 1920s attracting a lot of interest
- Historians of Color Are Revolutionizing the Narrative of ‘American Exceptionalism’
- Henry VIII voted worst monarch in history
- The Fuhrer style: Historian says press coverage of Hitler’s lavish life fueled his rise to power
- Two scholars from UT object to the Texas school's decision to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis
- A history professor explains why Americans are so prone to conspiracy theories