I am sure you have heard the statement by Edmund Burke that “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” You have probably heard the United States being compared to the Roman Empire.
“Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and gave him triumphal processions. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the ‘new, wonderful good society’ which shall now be Rome, interpreted to mean money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious. ‘” – Marcus Tullius Cicero.
The Roman Empire was split in two by Constantine with two capitals. Over time, the east thrived, while the west declined. In fact, after the western part of the Roman Empire fell, the eastern half continued to exist as the Byzantine Empire for hundreds of years. When we speak of the “fall of Rome” we are really referring only to the fall of the western half of the Empire.
Fundamental problems contributed to the fall. In the economically ailing west, a decrease in agricultural production led to higher food prices. The western half of the empire had a large trade deficit with the eastern half. The west purchased luxury goods from the east but had nothing to offer in exchange. To make up for the lack of money, the government began producing more coins with less silver content. This led to inflation. Finally, piracy and attacks from Germanic tribes disrupted the flow of trade, especially in the west.
The west spoke Latin, the east spoke Greek. The west was run by political amateurs and corruption was rampant.
The Byzantine Empire fell when it was conquered by the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
After Constantine legalized Christianity it spread throughout the Empire.
Oddly Christianity was a major cause of the western empire fall. The Romans worshiped many gods and Christianity worshipped one. At different times Christians were persecuted by the Romans.
As an example when Nero’s urban renewal project caused him disfavor among the governed he made the Christians his scapegoat. Nero set fire to Rome to make way for his new home that was to encompass a large portion of the city. When it was discovered that Nero caused the fire where thousands died, he gave away free stuff, he lowered the price of food, then started burning Christians on poles to light the roads.
Christians who were mostly poor, yet rich in Spirit saved many lives that were thrown away were to die by exposure. In many instances Christians rescued exposed infant, baptized them, and brought them up with the aid of community funds.
“An infant could be abandoned without penalty or social stigma for many reasons, including an anomalous appearance, being an illegitimate child or grandchild or a child of infidelity, family poverty, parental conflict (ob discordiam parentum) or being one of too many children. Sometimes there were given to friends, but more often than not they were abandoned to the elements, and death resulted from hypoglycemia and hypothermia.
Sometimes the infant was devoured by the dogs that scavenged public places. It was likely however, that the expositi were rescued from these fates and picked up by slavers. Abandonment generally occurred in a public place, where it was hoped that the infant could be taken up by some wealthy person.
A well-traveled street called the Velabrum, where oil and cheese merchants worked, and the vegetable market in the Forum (Olitorium), with columna lactaria, or nursing columns, were two favored locations for placing sucklings. Such an infant was considered a res vacantes (an unclaimed thing) and legally could be claimed. If picked up by wealthy persons, the child could become a slave, a play companion for another child, a pet (delicia), or a prostitute; it could be sold for begging purposes after mutilation or become a truly adopted child, a treasured alumnus.
Most adoptions, however, were not of abandoned infants but of a close relative, a propinquus, because adoption commonly was used for purposes of succession or inheritance, to keep wealth within a biological family.”
It wasn’t really until Christianity took hold that things changed for Roman children. Christianity taught that children were gifts from God, and therefore harm to a child was a violation of God’s will. Gradually, Christian Roman emperors increased the penalties for abandoning children; they limited the number of years a child could be enslaved to five years.
From its earliest creeds, Christians “absolutely prohibited” infanticide as “murder.” To Christians, the infant had value. Whereas pagans placed no value on infant life, Christians treated them as human beings. They viewed infanticide as the murder of a human being, not a convenient tool to rid society of excess females and perceived weaklings. The baby, whether male, female, perfect, or imperfect, was created in the image of God and therefore had value. http://www.pobronson.com/factbook/pages/198.html which drew its information from A History of Children: A Socio-cultural Survey Across Millennia, by A.R. Colón with P.A. Colón, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT (2001), pp. 104-106.
So long as Christianity remained a disfavored, and sometimes persecuted, religion, their appeals to the pagan government to act against infanticide were ineffectual in changing government policy. Even so, Christians worked against infanticide by prohibiting its members from practicing it, voicing their moral view on infanticide to the pagan world, and by providing for the relief of the poor and actually taking in and supporting babies which had been left to die by exposure by their pagan parents.
Children in the western empire did not have the support that children do today. Far fewer children today suffer from abandonment issues than they did in the western empire. Children in the western empire were much more likely to suffer from almost constant fear, anxiety, and rejection if they weren’t good enough, they were a strain on the budget, or affected the social status of the parents. Children in the western empire had little to no value and were discardable.
Let us not repeat the mistakes that caused the Roman Empire to fall, let’s learn from them and make any necessary corrections or we will fall also.
Reverend Paul N. Papas II, is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries (MA, AZ) and Founder of the Family Renewal Center (AZ) http://www.narrowpathministries.org and http://www.familyrenewalcenteraz.org