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Why Do World Powers
Decline and Fall?

"Truth and morning become light with time." -- Ethiopian Proverb

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Some Clues as to Why Nations Fall


"The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"

by Edward Gibbons
adapted from History Alive material

   Many "superpowers" have risen and fallen over time: Romans, Greeks, Assyrians, Babylonians, and many more. The ancient Egyptian empire suffered a fall of epic proportions after the 25th Dynasty. Piankhi, Shabaka and Tarharka were the rulers of this dominating Dynasty. Black people have not experienced "superpower" status since that time. Why did they and other empires fall?

   Between 1776-1788, Edward Gibbons published a huge six volume work entitled The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. Gibbons' work was scholarly and monumental, as it thoroughly covered a period of history spanning approximately 1,200 years. His goal in producing this study was to precisely catalog the reasons for the rise of the Roman Empire and the factors leading to the decline and fall of the Empire. While few agree entirely with some of the contents of his work, Gibbons was universally hailed as achieving his objective brilliantly.

   But, Gibbons not only created a document which details how and why the Roman Empire rose and fell; he created a document which detailed precisely how a successful and powerful Empire could be subverted and destroyed. He seems to come from the premise that luxury inherently bears a corrupting element in its DNA.

   There were many reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire. Each one intertwined with the next. Many even blame the introduction of Christianity for the decline. Some believed that Christianity turned  Roman citizens into pacifists, making it more difficult to defend against the barbarian attackers. Also money used to build churches could have been used to maintain the empire. On the other hand. some argue effectively that Christianity may have provided morals and values for a declining civilization and therefore may have actually prolonged the imperial era. This will continue to be debated.

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Ancient Egyptian Religions

Map of
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Text on
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The Pyramid Puzzle

Rosetta Stone

Ancient Nubia

































































































































   Gibbons listed at least eight basic reasons for the destruction of the enormous Roman Empire. There are more reasons, but the following gives a proven overview from the pages of his writings. Perhaps there are some clues we can apply to the fall of other world-dominating forces over history. What lessons can be applied to our modern world powers?

  1. Decline in Morals and Values

   Those morals and values that kept together the Roman legions and thus the empire could not be maintained towards the end of the empire. The dramatic increase of divorce undermined the institution of the family. Crimes of violence made the streets of the larger cities unsafe. Even during PaxRomana there were 32,000 prostitutes in Rome. Emperors like Nero and Caligula became infamous for wasting money on lavish parties where guests ate and drank until they became ill. The most popular amusement was watching the gladiatorial combats in the Coliseum. These were attended by the poor, the rich, and frequently the emperor himself. As gladiators fought, vicious cries and curses were heard from the audience. One contest after another was staged in the course of a single day. Should the ground become too soaked with blood, it was covered over with a fresh layer of sand and the performance went on. The drive for personal pleasure had become very intense, even to the point of obsession. Gibbons noted that, at the very end, sports had become more exciting and brutal.

   2. Public Health

   There were many public health and environmental problems. Many of the wealthy had water brought to their homes through lead pipes. Previously the aqueducts had even purified the water but at the end lead pipes were thought to be preferable. The wealthy death rate was very high. The continuous interaction of people at the Coliseum, the blood and death probable spread disease. Those who lived on the streets in continuous contact allowed for an uninterrupted strain of disease much like the homeless in the poorer run shelters of today. Alcohol use increased as well adding to the incompetency of the general public. Recently, some postulate that the Roman Empire had extended so far that diseases from other lands could easily make their way back to Rome. Resistance to those diseases were weak.

   3. Political Corruption

   One of the most difficult problems was choosing a new emperor. Unlike Greece where transition may not have been smooth but was at least consistent, the Romans never created an effective system to determine how new emperors would be selected. The choice was always open to debate between the old emperor, the Senate, the Praetorian Guard (the emperor's private army), and the army. Gradually, the Praetorian Guard gained complete authority to choose the new emperor, who rewarded the guard who then became more influential, perpetuating the cycle. Then in 186 A. D. the army strangled the new emperor, the practice began of selling the throne to the highest bidder. During the next 100 years, Rome had 37 different emperors - 25 of whom were removed from office by assassination. This contributed to the overall weaknesses of the empire. Hidden conspirators were working within the government to secretly destroy it. They worked quietly, invisibly and deceitfully; during the entire time they were secretly dismantling the government of the Roman Empire, they publicly proclaimed their unswerving support of it. People lost their faith, both religiously and in their government. The efficient Roman Government gave way to chaos and disintegration.

   4. Unemployment

   During the latter years of the empire farming was done on large estates called latifundia that were owned by wealthy men who used slave labor. A farmer who had to pay workmen could not produce goods as cheaply. Many farmers could not compete with these low prices and lost or sold their farms. This not only undermined the citizen farmer who passed his values to his family, but also filled the cities with unemployed people. At one time, the emperor was importing grain to feed more than 100,000 people in Rome alone. These people were not only a burden but also had little to do but cause trouble and contribute to an ever increasing crime rate.

   5. Inflation

   The imposition of higher taxes undermined the economic stability and vitality of the Empire. Taxes were raised to pay for deficit government spending, to pay for food for all in society and to pay for government-sponsored activities of diversion, such as circuses and sports. Interestingly, as the time of the final collapse drew closer, greater emphasis was placed on sports, to divert the attention of the public from the distressing news of massive trouble within the Empire. The Roman economy suffered from inflation (an increase in prices) beginning after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Once the Romans stopped conquering new lands, the flow of gold into the Roman economy decreased. Yet much gold was being spent by the Romans to pay for luxury items. This meant that there was less gold to use in coins. As the amount of gold used in coins decreased, the coins became less valuable. To make up for this loss in value, merchants raised the prices on the goods they sold. Many people stopped using coins and began to barter to get what they needed. Eventually, salaries had to be paid in food and clothing, and taxes were collected in fruits and vegetables.

   6. Urban decay

   Wealthy Romans lived in a domus, or house, with marble walls, floors with intricate colored tiles, and windows made of small panes of glass. Most Romans, however, were not rich, They lived in small smelly rooms in apartment houses with six or more stories called islands. Each island covered an entire block. At one time there were 44,000 apartment houses within the city walls of Rome. First-floor apartments were not occupied by the poor since these living quarters rented for about $00 a year. The more shaky wooden stairs a family had to climb, the cheaper the rent became. The upper apartments that the poor rented for $40 a year were hot, dirty, crowed, and dangerous. Anyone who could not pay the rent was forced to move out and live on the crime-infested streets. Because of this cities began to decay.

   7. Inferior Technology

   During the last 400 years of the empire, the scientific achievements of the Romans were limited almost entirely to engineering and the organization of public services. They built marvelous roads, bridges, and aqueducts. They established the first system of medicine for the benefit of the poor. But since the Romans relied so much on human and animal labor, they failed to invent many new machines or find new technology to produce goods more efficiently. They could not provide enough goods for their growing population. They were no longer conquering other civilizations and adapting their technology, they were actually losing territory they could not longer maintain with their legions.

   8. Military Spending

   Maintaining an army to defend the border of the Empire from barbarian attacks was a constant drain on the government. Military spending left few resources for other vital activities, such as providing public housing and maintaining quality roads and aqueducts. Frustrated Romans lost their desire to defend the Empire. The empire had to begin hiring soldiers recruited from the unemployed city mobs or worse from foreign counties. Such an army was not only unreliable, but very expensive. The emperors were forced to raise taxes frequently which in turn led again to increased inflation.



   NOTE: Agriculture also seems to be an important  issue when discussing the decline of world powers. Toward the end of the decline of the Roman Empire the farms around Rome appeared to be underutilized. In other cultures the minerals and nutrients of the soil have been stripped by over cultivation. Periodically leaving fields fallow permits the minerals and nutrients to build back up. Also, valuable topsoil blows away when vegetation (trees, grass) are taken away. Without the topsoil, very little can be grown and the strength of a nation  gradually crumbles.


 For years, the well-disciplined Roman army held the barbarians of Germany back. Then in the third century A. D. the Roman soldiers were pulled back from the Rhine-Danube frontier to fight civil war in Italy. This left the Roman border open to attack. Gradually Germanic hunters and herders from the north began to overtake Roman lands in Greece and Gaul (later France). Then in 476 A. D. the Germanic general Odacer or Odovacar overthrew the last of the Roman Emperors, Augustulus Romulus. From then on the western part of the Empire was ruled by Germanic chieftain. Roads and bridges were left in disrepair and fields left untilled. Pirates and bandits made travel unsafe. Cities could not be maintained without goods from the farms, trade and business began to disappear. And Rome was no more in the West.

Are any of the above points occurring in Western societies today? Give present day examples of each:

     1. Decline in Morals and Values             2. Public Health
     3. Political Corruption                              4. Unemployment
     5. Inflation                                                6. Urban decay
     7. Inferior Technology                             8. Military Spending


  Some 3500 years ago Moses recorded some compelling thoughts regarding the stages or cycles of discipline visited upon the nation of Israel (Leviticus 26). Are there any clues we can discover from this?

13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; and I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
  1st Stage: Loss of health, freedom and agriculture -- 14 "But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 I will do this to you: I will appoint over you sudden terror, consumption, and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it; 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be smitten before your enemies; those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.
  2nd Stage: Economic recession -- 18 And if in spite of this you will not hearken to me, then I will chastise you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like brass; 20 and your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.
  3rd Stage: Violence and breakdown of law and order -- 21 "Then if you walk contrary to me, and will not hearken to me, I will bring more plagues upon you, sevenfold as many as your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number, so that your ways shall become desolate.
  4th Stage: Scarcity of food, breakup of families and military conquest -- 23 "And if by this discipline you are not turned to me, but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will smite you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant; and if you gather within your cities I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and shall deliver your bread again by weight; and you shall eat, and not be satisfied.
  5th Stage: Destruction of a nation -- 27 "And if in spite of this you will not hearken to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and chastise you myself sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols; and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste, and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing odors. 32 And I will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be astonished at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. 34 "Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest which it had not in your Sabbaths when you dwelt upon it. 36 And as for those of you that are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you that are left shall pine away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity; and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall pine away like them.

   Good News -- 40 "But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery which they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity; 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.



Here are some words of wisdom that every business, every religious
institution, every family system, every city and every nation may want to heed:

    Proverbs 16:18 -- Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

    Proverbs 18:12 -- Before destruction a man's heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor.

    Proverbs 11:2 -- When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble is wisdom.

    Proverbs 15:25 -- The LORD tears down the house of the proud...

    1Peter 5:5 -- ...God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.

 ~ Questions ~
Could pride be the root of the decline and fall of a world power?
If so, what are the benefits of humility before our Creator and what does humility look like?
Is humility weakness? Is it strength under control? Or is it something else?


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