If you're looking for interesting listening on Rome, I highly recommend Dan Carlin's Hardcore History Podcast. The series Death Throes of the Republic focuses on the period where Rome transformed from a Republic to an Empire (maps 13-16). I just finished listening to that a few weeks ago, and it was amazing. Additionally, Thor's Hammer discusses what happened in Europe when Rome fell. There's also an older series on the Punic wars, but I haven't had a chance to listen to that one yet.
I guess we could say the part of the world covered by the empire was quite "globalized" at that time, in a sense.
[Leaving out Mithraism, which also spread in similar ways, as well as any discussion of what exactly constitutes "barbarian" vs. "civilization" since it gets fuzzier the closer you look.]
Both before and after that time period in Western Europe, in contrast, any long-distance travel was likely to run into wars of expansion or civil wars, local warlords, or so on.
Beware, its an investment of perhaps 200 hours?
Mike Duncan has since moved on to Revolutions and is currently in the beginning of the French revolution. Don't let that slow you down, its not like the history of rome is going to change much in the near future.
Then "the history of rome" podcast begat "the history of byzantium" podcast. Another investment in time which isn't nearly done yet.
There is also the British History podcast which is pretty good listening and technically on topic as it was partially part of the roman empire for a good while. Another work in progress.
(And I see sspiff and I posted within seconds of each other. Well, great minds think alike and all that...)
1. Mike Duncan's "history of Rome" covers the first 1000 years (http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/)
2. Robin Pierson's "history of Byzantium" covers the final 1000 years (http://thehistoryofbyzantium.com/)
Would you say it's like the U.S. and Britain, more distinct or less?
You can see a similar type of socially constructed identity by looking at "whiteness" in American culture. 150 years ago, a "white American" was strictly interpreted as a person of northern European ("Anglo-Saxon") descent. English, French, Germans and Scandinavians were "white people"; Spaniards, Italians, Irish, Poles, Russians and Jews were not. But fast-forward to today, and all those latter ethnicities are now commonly identified as "white" in American culture.
In other words, whiteness, like Romanness, is less a fixed identifier of a particular ethnic/religious/linguistic configuration and more a convenient way for people to divide the world into in-groups and out-groups, "us" and "them."
So the answer to your question really is, in the begginning they where the same and then slowly shifted away from it. What can be said is that there is no clear break, no point where we can clearly say "here" now its something diffrent. This is why we have so many problems in nailing down the end of the roman empire or the begginning of the byzantine empire.
So I think, the only sencable thing to do is to still call them romans (or rather the roman empire).
Or perhaps a better analogy is its almost exactly like the U.P. of Michigan vs the mitten of Michigan (lower michigan?)
One problem with discussing how close two political orgs are over two thousand years is times change. Relations definitely had their ups and downs over the whole course of time. At times the religious strife between west and east was a little fiercer than anything that happened between US and Britain, at least post-1812.
(edited to add in a really good familiar analogy, at least some of the time ... Britain and Ireland)
"The researchers estimate that it took 7 weeks to travel from Constantinople (at the eastern end of the empire) to London (in the far west)."
What a funny little empire with nice roads :). Check this empire:
"And say, the governor went to Yakutsk, not months, for three years. The first year we reach Tobolsk. The second - to Irkutsk. And in the third year of riding on horseback to the upper reaches of the Lena and floated with water to Yakutsk."
1. Mercator projection gives Russian empires an unfair advantage.
2. The Romans ruled over arguably the best lands in the known world at that time, and a much larger part of the world population. Russia ruled/rules over vast empire of vast forests, inhospitable steppes and empty tundra, sprinkled with a few good spots and a few people.
3. Inefficient travel doesn't make a great empire.
That's not to say the Russian empire wasn't huge, or didn't have a lot of people, or wasn't powerful. It was the largest power pre-World War 1, and its remnant is still a major player. I just wasn't as important or dominant or influential or long lived as the Roman empire was.
- Aqueducts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_aqueduct
- Roads: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_roads
In Italy, the SS1 (Strada Statale 1, that means, State Road #1), is the "evolution" of the Via Aurelia, built by Romans in the year 241 BC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Aurelia
But then the Barbarians from Northern Europe came...
Western-centric histories also frequently forget the hugely significant contributions of Al-Andalus (Moorish Spain), Persia, India and China. Paper was pretty high up there on the list of civilizing factors, and it sure as hell wasn't Roman or northern European! Lenses came from Assyria. Lots of maths the Romans used came from Greece, and the Greeks were present in France before the Romans got there. Caesar himself wrote: The Celts do have writing: They use written Greek for both public and private transactions. But it is not lawful to commit either their rules or religion to writing. Thus, one could argue that the true innovation introduced by Romans may have been the liberation of the formerly slave-like commonfolk to glorious Roman pantheism and literary freedom!
Except unlike the Romans, they survived their barbarian problems, which is not a small feat, empire management is definitely tricky - just ask England. Arguably China's survival seems a bit awkward - perhaps it's better to go out with a bang rather than dwindle into decline and be spited. Though in the grand scheme of their long history, their current (or past, depending on who you ask) waning is a comparative temporary aberration. Personally, it'll be interesting to see if they'll ever recover from the cultural schism post-civil-war (ask many Chinese people that were on the losing side, and there's a good chance they will distance themselves culturally from "the Mainland", I imagine not too differently from how a South Korean would respond to being called North Korean, but who knows, I'm totally rambling now).
Here's what third-century China thought about the Roman Empire:
ANCIENT CHINESE AND MEDITERRANEAN EMPIRES
COMPARATIVE HISTORY PROJECT: http://web.stanford.edu/~scheidel/acme.htm
Woodblock printing, paper, silk, porcelain, gunpowder, compasses...
Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if that didn't happen.
So much technology that was lost, only to be re-discovered centuries later.
In 1640 Portugal fought for independence, and got a new dynasty going. That's shown in the sequence, Brazil popping out is noticeable ...
They were called "the Roman empire" or "romans" by themselves and the rest of the world. And they lasted another 1000 years, many of those as the dominant regional power, bringing the total lifetime of the Roman state up to a staggering 2181 years.
I realize that the there are significant differences in the ancient Greek political model, and the Greek and Roman culture, and that the Eastern Roman Empire was for most of its lifetime Greek speaking. But it was still a continuous evolution of the Roman Empire, even if it tilted more towards Greek influences most of the time.
In a sense, you could indeed say the Greeks persisted for the entire era, as they had some form of local self-governance etc during the Roman era, and they dominated Roman politics for the last half of their empire.
It's actually tricky to explain the Empire. Over 7 centuries without _any_ significant technological progress. A political regime that is as archaic as its borders are vast - and it drove Europe's political agenda up until the 19th century.
It's possibly the most successful and devastating face of the plutocracy. When the Empire faded away in the 4-7th century, contemporary archaelogy now thinks that people's life actually improved. The tax and ideological burden of the roman overhead was a toll on entire societies.
- Sanitation: "invented" in India, perfected in the middle east and imported to Rome from there
- Medicine: aryuvedic, greek, chinese and babylonian medicine all eclipse Rome's. The Empire definitely did not invent anything there. Lookup Hippocrates for a big founder.
- Education: also a Greek and Egyptian tradition.
- Wine: strange claim. "Invented" as far back as Neolithic. Massively used in Greece. Rome improved the way wine barrels can be reused.
- Public order: not sure what you mean. There was order and dense cities before the Empire. Codified political systems and local law enforcement as well. If the "city" order is your point, then Rome and Babylon are "inventors".
- Irrigation: like most others, Rome imported fertile crescent know-how. Zero roman invention.
- Roads: the technology for smooth, paved roads existed before Rome in most middle-east. What Rome brought is empire-wide cheap labor and strategic need for straight lines (legions move faster). You could compare it to high speed rail today. Did France "invent" it, or did it get most clues from Japan? Most roman roads, being actually built for the military and not for trade, were abandoned quickly because they were too steep for long-distance cargo.
- Fresh water system: water supply in urban area has not been invented in Rome, imported as well. Like roads, cheap labor and cheap capital turned existing tech into massive, continental infrastructure
- public health: like therms and public baths? Common in the whole mediterranean world (still today).
In comparison, the Mediterranean world before Rome discovered within a few centuries:
- the pulley
- the screw
- the water mill (greek invention just before roman conquest. The windmill was invented later on in Europe during the "middle ages")
- cement (also greek-born)
- millstone (india)
Were the Romans great engineers? Yes. For instance they brought together cement and arch technology to build some of the larger structures of that time.
Yet the Roman empire a time of great inventions? No. Few innovators in tech and abstraction. Ptolemy was egyptian. Archimedes was actually killed by the Romans when captured.
@vacri and others below: where did I say "roman republic"? I only mentioned the Roman Empire. A deeply flawed regime built on clientelism and which survived through a flow of capital from new territorial extension towards the insiders. It was indeed crazy archaic - the integration of religions, private interests and decision making is hard to imagine to modern minds. For centuries, the Emperor actually fed a large part of the capital, paid by capital inflow from new conquests, with many critical decisions taken upon Omen interpretation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augury
I know how much love there is in the US for roman law -- but roman empire? You definitely want to be out of it.
What hate? You seem to take this pretty personally. For what it's worth, the post you're replying to was a reference to Monty Python's Life of Brian. Your post contained interesting information though, so I'm sort of glad you missed the joke.
But that's not to say that there wasn't a precipitous drop in life quality after the end of the Roman Empire. Recent archeological finds have improved our understanding of the details of Roman daily life way beyond what we used to know even thirty years ago.
For a good and accessible overview of the latest finds in Roman archeology, I'd recommend "The Fall of the Roman Empire and the End of Civilization" by archeologist and historian Bryan Ward Perkins.
He highlights how much the Roman world had in common with our own period, most notably in terms of mass production of standardized goods (e.g. pottery), integration and specialization of local economies in a globalized market throughout the Empire.
The breakdown of this Empire-wide integration led to a dramatic decline in standards of living. To take just two examples extracted from the book:
- pottery finds in Britain reveal that before the Roman conquest, the vessels commonly used were all locally produced and of average quality. The integration in the Empire brought the mass-produced, standardized, high quality Roman pottery into the British economy, so much so that all levels of society had access to it (as illustrated by the archeological finds). This competition drove the British pottery industry out of the market, to the extent that by the time the Romans had to abandon Britain, there was no significant pottery production on the British isles anymore. The outcome is that the potteries found in the tombs of the first Anglo-Saxon kings are of a much poorer quality than those of the British peasants five centuries earlier - to say nothing of the Roman-made pottery a hundred years before.
- In the Roman Empire, thanks to mass production of roof tiles, almost every house had roofs made of clay tiles. This provides a host of benefits, notably in terms of durability and improved health thanks to increased insulation from humidity. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, European housebuilding went back to starch roofs - which in addition to be a poor way to protect yourself from rain or humidity can be a breeding ground for diseases and pests. It wasn't until the late 15th century that the prevalence of tiled roofs reached an extent comparable to that of the Roman world more than a millennia earlier.
I really recommend this book, it shows how the past 15 years of archeological finds have illuminated how close the Roman society was to a sort of proto-consumer society; and how much was lost when it disappeared.
It's tantalizing to imagine the next steps from these sorts of devices, like windmills, clocks, programmable mechanical looms, steam power, etc. Given the quality of the engineering in the Antikythera mechanism, it might have been within the technological abilities of Greco-Roman society to develop a classical era version of industrialization. Of course, then you get into the whole debate about whether a slave society has an economic impetus to industrialize (I think they do, following Sidney Mintz's point in "Sweetness and Power" that Caribbean sugar plantations in the 18th century were proto-industrial, factory-like spaces, but that's another discussion).
1/ you say that anglo-saxon kings had lower quality pottery. I said many in the former western part of the empire were better off because they were under a more local, less taxing government, and more affordable
2/ are you saying that 100% people during the roman empire had brick houses and clay roofs? They had not - it seems it was a middle class city trait. After the empire, cities declined and more independent villages developed nearer to actual production areas.
It also looks like you are mostly talking of the british isles post-Rome, which are not representative of how the continent went through the fading away of direct Rome government.
If you were to ask a villager in current France under the (elected) Clovis rule - 5 years before Rome is sacked - if his great grandfather was better off 50 years earlier under a roman militaristic region governor? Probably would be happier.
Another question would be: was the "end" of the roman empire a more prosperous time than its beginning? No it wasn't - trade was higher between 1-200AD than in the 4-5th century. And that's my whole point: the (western) Roman Empire wasn't sustainable, depended on cheap slave labor and conquests, and was not designed to solve new problems.
Wikipedia seems to indicate that they were responsible for a number of technological advancements.
In contrast, technologies like the printing press have subversive uses and tie in directly to the political changes of the Renaissance.
There was a flourishing book trade in the Roman Empire, but like most everything else books were produced through slave labour, there was enough of it to go around - imagine a big room full of scribe slaves and a reader slave at the front dictating from the master copy. Even in a podunk backwater town like Oxyrhynchus you could buy mass-produced books of quality. What was different in the time of Gutenberg is that there was a demand for books again, but scriptoria couldn't keep up with it. Mass production of books just had to happen, and this time around it had to be done without a plentiful supply of literate slaves.
There is something to be said for idea that circumstances determine what inventions will be made - it seems that right now the best minds in Western civilization are hard at work at Wall Street and Facebook, as if the most pressing problems were how to work the stock market and how to make better targeted advertising.
Smartphones, new ways of communication (such as Facebook), finding information (Google, Wikipedia), artificial intelligence (such as deep learning), ... just to name a few examples from the technology field, one of many.
There's even an argument (somebody's thesis) that patrolling roads was the single greatest event (invention?) that led to the end of the so-called dark ages and the beginning of the Renaissance.
Let me see if I can remember the chain:
Safe roads led to trade, the return of currency as a valuable resource, the need of Lords for gold instead of cattle, oxen and straw which led to the rewriting of traditional peon contracts. Following that, inflation drove the Lords out of the counties to the cities, lifting the yoke of the local despots and freeing the country.
But what about compared to Rome and the empire in its heyday? What about before empire compared to during empire?
That shouldn't surprising, should it? I haven't studied history much at all, but I would have assumed that there would be a significant bump in quality of life.
This is nonsensical myth. The Romans had plenty of technological progress, particularly in construction and military technologies. As for an 'archaic' regime, they had a political system that kept together one of the world's only 1000-year nations, and whose influence is seen in any modern democracy that bears a 'senate'.
I've never really understood people's needs to say that the Roman empire wasn't all that great, particularly with the slogan "no technology" or "copied everything from the Greeks". The Romans certainly had superior socio-political technology, given that the Greeks never showed a lot of aptitude for maintaining an empire.
Edit: Checking Google maps and more maps on the OP page I think I mis-calculated Italy's position in the purple blob, it would probably be around where Kansas is.