All Roads Lead to Rome

The Roman Empire – 500 BC > 500 AD


            There are empires…and then there are EMPIRES.  If you’re talking about the biggest empire, you’ve got yourself either the Mongols (12.7 million miles big) or the British (23% of the planet).  If you’re talking about the empire that ruled over the most people, then you have the 18th century Qing Dynasty that reigned over 37% of the world’s billion people.  If you’re talking about the richest empire, it would be hard to argue with today’s American juggernaut, an “empire” that controls about $20 trillion of the world’s yearly economy.  Now if you’re talking about longest living empires, it’s a matter of semantics.  The Egyptians lasted for 3000 years, but for a ton of those years they were relatively weak.  The Chinese Empire has been around since about 250 BC, but depending on how you define the transfer of power due to the Mandate of Heaven, it might not make the final cut.  The Mayans ruled for about a thousand years, but they don’t exactly have a written history, so it’s hard to trust them.  And as for the Ottoman Empire, it lasted for over eight centuries, but like the Egyptians, a big chunk of that time, it wasn’t exactly the most intimidating force in the region.

            But if you’re talking about the hands down greatest empire in human history, there’s really only one that sits atop everyone’s Top Ten List.  There was only one empire that ruled three continents, that invented an administrative and legal system that today governs the majority of the world’s nations, that spoke a language that splintered into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French, that combined military strategy and engineering knowhow at a level never before seen by man and that produced a religion that has today become the most practiced faith in the world. 

            There’s only one “Greatest Empire in Human History.”

            The Roman Empire.

            Rome’s rise and eventual fall has been scrutinized by historians for centuries.  How did one small, backwater village of sheep herders come to dominate Europe, the Middle East and North Africa?  And how did this same empire fall into utter ruin, fragmenting off into thousands of independent fiefdoms that would never again be united?  What was their formula for success, and what was their recipe for failure?  For the United States, the Roman lesson is even more critical.  For if the US can understand what led to the rise and fall of Rome, maybe it stands a chance of holding onto its 20th century stranglehold of world affairs for just a few more decades.

            But to understand Rome, we have to go back to its beginning, back to 754 BC, back to the story of two brothers who were raised by a wolf and a woodpecker.  According to the myth, Romulus and Remus were the chosen sons of a virgin priestess and Mars, the god of war (there’s a more famous god/virgin birth you’ll learn about later in the chapter).  Their grandfather was the true heir to the throne of Alba Longa, but he was bypassed in favor of their granduncle – Amulius.  Amulius wasn’t too afraid of the twins’ grandfather, but the sons of a god made him a bit nervous, so he sent the two babies down a river, believing they’d soon perish.  But perish they did not, for they were saved by a she-wolf who let them suckle on her teats until they were mature, and...