June 19

Ep. 0004: The Fall of Rome and its Aftermath

Ah, yes, a big, grand, sweeping overview of several centuries for our first historical narrative/analysis podcast!  (This one starts in the car and continues at the home office, so the audio quality gets way better about halfway through.)

Join Prof CJ as he discusses:

  • The Western Roman Empire’s economic woes
  • How the state debased Roman money (the silver denarius) and the effects of that debasement
  • State meddling in the grain market
  • The creation of a huge dependent class
  • The coming of hyperinflation
  • How the state blamed everyone but itself
  • The Emperor Diocletian’s “reforms,” including wage & price controls and anti-hoarding laws
  • How even the state didn’t want the worthless money anymore & resorted to assessing taxes “in kind”
  • How the Emperor Constantine rehabilitated the Eastern Empire’s economy (though not that of the West) with sound money
  • The role of taxes in destroying the Western Empire’s economy
  • How Rome’s economic troubles weakened its military, making it vulnerable to barbarian incursions
  • The downsides of specialization if & when the S starts to hit the F
  • The material costs of Rome’s fall in Europe, including: a sudden & severe decline in standard of living; the disappearance of comfort; shrinkage in the average size of livestock animals; a major decline in literacy
  • The possibility of parallels to the decline of the United States
  • The Prof’s thoughts on what (if anything) can be done

(pic of Colosseum at night courtesy Vichaya Kiatying-Ansule/freedigitalphotos.net)

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Posted June 19, 2014 by profcj in category "Ancient History", "Podcasts


  1. By Wes bailey on

    Love this podcast for the most part but as someone well read on Rome gotta say I disagree on Diocletian. He started the slow recovery of the economy abandoning the currency (that he didn’t ruin) and very slowly building things back up (which would take decades). He made some mistakes yes but the payments in kind was a necessary evil of the day considering the knowledge of economics. He also didn’t make the office of emperor overly pompous for no reason. There had just been 50 years of dozens of soldier emperors assassinating each other and was trying to put some respect back into it. This all comes from the crises of the 3rd century that all the problems stem from especially economic ones, every new emperor had to give the army a huge raise to hopefully not be killed and they debased the currency to pay for it. Everything really starts at the Antonine plague which was like the Black Death at the end of the 2nd century. Originally back in the republic the farmers were losing their farms when romes conquests started and they had to go away for war and the infusion of wealth enabled the oligarchs to buy up the farms and run them with newly captured slave labor. Yeah that was long but I love the podcast man haha keep it up !!

  2. By Ned Pegler on

    Dear CJ

    Absolutely agree with the comment above. Not taking into account two major plagues (170s and 250s AD), the resulting massive population loss from the empire, inevitable inflation, the application of Gresham’s Law, removing silver from circulation is one weakness of your argument. Another is that US does not have a massive border to defend against barbarians, which does require maintenance of a considerable army. Third, as stated above, is that the third century crisis did not lead to the collapse of the Roman Empire, only its retreat to the economic core of the east, from where it started to regain power, even under the new harsher conditions. The inflation of the fourth century is perhaps comparable to ours. In both cases there was economic growth, not decline. I’m so glad that we haven’t experienced a massive epidemic. Just see how modern politicians, like their Roman forbears, would cope with that.

    Best wishes Ned


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