Slavery And The Question Of Rome’s Economic Decline And Non-Sustainability

Rome sustained an advanced mass civilization which was not replicated for millennia: the usage of ceramics was ubiquitous and massive; after the Roman state collapse, wooden utensils reappeared. To this day, most Californians cannot afford tile roofs, so their houses burn readily; a law to impose tile roofs, to reduce the loss of California cities to fire was abandoned, because… California can’t afford it; in the Roman empire, tile roofs were standard, so houses resisted forest fires; Romans were wealthier than Californians that way. Many historians have claimed that Greco-Roman civilization was not sustainable: there was not high enough a productivity to support such a mass civilization… So how could it be supported for 11 centuries?

Some historians, often of the Marxist persuasion, insist that Rome needed slavery to keep on going. As slavery was unsustainable, so was Rome, those economic historians insist. Indeed they claimed that only wars could bring slaves: as wars waned, so did the capture of slaves, hence the Roman economy also shrunk. This is obviously a disingenuous reasoning as the proximal cause of the collapse of Athens and Rome were military defeats, not lack of slaves… and after the Roman state collapsed, the wealthiest Romans, for example the families adorned with bishops (!) had plenty of slaves.

Moreover, archeology has found great economic prosperity until the uncough hordes of barbarian warriors showed up to destroy the economy, so as to destroy the society… and those invasive aliens collaborated with local Athenian, or Roman plutocrats..

Moreover, a careful examination of the known facts shows that Roman civilization was not founded on slavery… nor was Athens; although slavery was important for Athens’ silver mines, slaves constituted only a minor fraction of the Athenian population; sailors of the fleet were free men, differently from Louis XIV’s galleys, or many California fire crews in the Twenty-first century…

Roman Patrician Cincinnatus, twice elected dictator, had nothing to hide. He was deeply anti-plebeian, but not to the point of degrading public discourse with massive lying. Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, Francia, Rome successor state…

Indeed, the early Roman City-State expanded without much slavery for centuries. So slavery was not needed. For centuries, the strength of Rome was the plebeian farmer cultivating his own land. Even Cincinatus cultivated three acres of land with his own hands, on the other side of the Tiber, when the Senate asked him to become dictator to save the nation from invaders… something Cincinatus did in two weeks, thanks to a military innovation and absolute power, then resigned. 

A second reason to believe that slavery was not crucial to Greco-Roman civilization is that it backfired. The central argument of Tiberius Gracchus, read between the lines, is that, at the time, in the Second Century BCE, mass-slavery had backfired on middle class Roman citizen-soldiers, “making their lives worse than that of wild beasts” (who, at least, had dens to go back to, Tiberius Gracchus pointed out, with relentless insistence). 

Land redistribution from land grabbed by the wealthiest which should have been public land was the central conflict of the Roman Republic. However, a sort of steady state was attained for 375 years, before global plutocratization made the wealthy so much wealthier that the worst of them got completely out of control. 

Consul Julius Caesar’s successful land redistribution law of 59 BCE was a distribution of public land to plebeians. It was not a distribution of slaves. Land, not slaves, was where the wealth of Rome was. Mass slave owners in the Senate were enraged. They never forgave Caesar, in spite of his subsequent generosity, and their hatred was inextinguishable. They would kill Caesar, and would die themselves in the conflagration they caused… But the mood of rapacity and suicidal greed they installed, survived them, thrived and perdured until the Republic sank under the blows of fascism. 

Third point to show why Rome could have existed and even thrived without slavery: the successor state to Rome, the Franks’ Imperium Francorum, within 175 years of the formal demise of the Roman state in Occident, outlawed slavery, and the result was the Carolingian Renaissance

In spite of tremendous synchronized invasions by barbarians from all sides, the Vikings, the Muslims, the Avars and Hungarians, this “Renovated Roman empire” survived, and came out roaring, achieving objective levels of mass civilization Rome had not achieved, by the Eleventh Century. This shows the superiority of anti-slavery civilization. Aside from technological advances in agriculture, a consequence of the outlawing of slavery, the major difference of the Renovated Roman empire with the original Roman empire was the… outlawing of slavery.  


The leverage that mass slavery provided appeared much later in Roman history, and then quickly backfired within a generation or two, by 150 BCE: the wealthiest who used to possess so much public lands… illegally the national assembly, the Centuriate assembly as it was called, insisted… started to exploit those immense domains with armies of slaves, bringing the state of things Tiberius Grachus condemned. 


Vicious Opposition To The “Populares” Degraded Public Discourse And Changed It To Civil War:

The vicious opposition to Tiberius Gracchus was at the instigation of the self-declared “Best”, the “Optimates”, made of many of the families in Rome rendered wealthy by globalization and mass slavery. Those plutocrats were anti-nationalists, anti-populist, and fanatical organizers of plutocratic globalization. 

The global plutocrats wanted to make war all, conquer all, stabilizing the situation by making alliances with local plutocracies, all over. In other words, they were “Neocons”… And that’s exactly what they proceeded to do until the Republic became a fascist imperial plutocracy headed by a few families (much admired to this day, by the same perverse academics in charge of duplicating the same state of affairs). The enemy of the Optimates was the “Populares” Party.  Except The Gracchus family had been hyper establishment Patrician for generations. No gens was more famous in Rome. Yet the hatred deployed against Tiberius Grachus, including the baseless accusation that he wanted to become king, reminds one of the stridency deployed against Trump., The analogies go very deep.

The Optimates said, and paid others to say, horrible things about Tiberius, which were horrendous lies… But those lies worked: a mentality was created, similar to any self-referential insults throughout history… Like accusing the Jews of human sacrifices (whereas all the historical evidence we have is rather of Christians doing precisely that… to Jews). 

The Optimates did not accuse Tiberius to be friends of the Russians, Carthaginians or Numantians (Tiberius had been one of the top officers commanding in the successful siege of Numantia… However, this sort of accusation was levelled by Octavian against Marcus Antonius, with the Egyptians in place of Russians). In any case, the wild, unfounded accusations against Tiberius were believed by many people, or they found it convenient to pretend to believe them… (Mass) Assassinations followed soon thereafter… In the modern USA, when the president is accused to be a Russian agent, or to have caused a virus, the Trump virus, Pelosi called it, a similar degradation of civic discourse is engaged. 

The degradation of the public discourse by hurling grievous lies at Tiberius, his brother, their collaborators and followers hurt, forever, Greco-Roman civilization, because the grossest lying became an accepted  form of management of the Republic. Genuine discourse would not come back under the modern era, two thousand years later. Without it, there can’t be a Republic.

Patrice Ayme  

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17 Responses to “Slavery And The Question Of Rome’s Economic Decline And Non-Sustainability”

  1. EugenR Says:

    To me the most important question about Rom is, why they didn’t start industrialisation. After all, they were very innovative in all fields of every day life, and especially in military. They did have libraries where they accumulated knowledge, they had relative freedom of creation, and hundreds of years of sovereignty upon wast country, interconnected by the famous Roman roads. I know, the explanation is slavery, that diminished the need for innovation. Still the Romans did field’s new technologies, why they did not develop technology of transforming heat to movement?
    To my opinion it is all about ill fortune. If they would develop such a technology, we would be by now colonising Mars and Venus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Excellent question. I forgot it, although I know the answer, and it’s already implicit in Aristotle: once again, S L A V E R Y…. Aristotle said: if we had machines we would not need slaves. The Franks said, after 655 CE: we have no slaves, so we need machines.
      So the non-advancement of technology in Rome had everything to do with economic fascism.

      This is proven by the fact that Greco-Roman tech progressed under Republic and quasi-democracy (say under some populist tyrants). Under the fascist empire, aside from Greek fire, there was no progress. So actually TECH progress happened before the rise of GLOBAL PLUTOCRACY… And the latter, then as now, was rendered possible by mass slavery….

      As I explained, there is a difference between having one or two slaves as Franklin had, and having hundreds like Washington…

      Liked by 1 person

      • EugenR Says:

        I know about the slave theory, but this explanation is insufficient. After all Papins invention could be discarded in a same way as the Greek Heron’s invention was more than 1500 years before. But then the English needed pump to their coal mines, otherwise the London population could not warm up or cook, after cutting down all the available trees nearby. So you needed someone as Tomas Savery, who was not only an inventor of steam engine (or thief), but also a businessman, who invented marketing, profession he was better with, than inventor. But the need of coal mines was still there, even if Savery’s engine was not satisfactory, so when Newcomen and Watt came with major improvements of the steam machine, it was well adopted, and made major impact on the English economy.
        In short, all the history of industrial revolution was about to create tools to manipulate energy, for economic usage. Without economic need, inventions would be just a curiosity. The problem of the mines was, that it needed more power than available horse power. The steam engines could provide it. This i would call lucky coincidence.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          The first thing that was invented was a mood to invent inventions to replace human work by machine, or animal work. That was done by 600 CE, because the Franks used new tech (heavy steel plows) and new biotech (huge horses) to overturn and cultivate the rich soils of Northern Europe…

          Papin’s invention was not in a vacuum. He started to invent while in England.

          DOCTOR Papin, French physicist, mathematician and inventor, collaborator of Huyghens and Leibniz in Paris, and Boyle in London, best known for his pioneering invention of the steam digester, the forerunner of the pressure cooker and of the steam engine, he was part of a legion of inventors-physicists-mathematicians, over generations, led by the defenders of logos as god (11 C), inventors of hydraulic hammers, mechanical clock, glasses, Buridan (circa 1350 CE), Da Vinci, Cardano, Pascal… Papin spent 7 years in London, becoming FRS, and explaining how to get power from steam and vacuum… Once a professor in Germany, he invented the piston…

          Papin died in misery in London in 1712, the year his 1690 publication was duplicated by Newcomen, an Englishman to which the invention was unjustly attributed, because he was English and to British plutocracy, France was the enemy….


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      You have to realize that emperor Domitian, for example, circa 80 CE, tolerated ONLY Stoic philosophy. He fancied himself as a philosopher of sorts, but disabled anything he didn’t like. In this sort of ambiance, genuine mental creativity necessary for generating ideas could bring death, torture, terror, deposition, expropriation…

      In the Second Century, the economic philosophy in power was that technological advancement would bring higher unemployment… Unemployment was actually caused by ECONOMIC FASCISM. So inventors were rewarded handsomely for NOT inventing. An inventor once came with a machine to replace the work of many slaves… It was probably some sort of large scale steam machine. He got rewarded with enough money for an island, and the invention was never deployed.
      We know that all the hard tech and idea work for steam boats was disponible, either on small scale, or a scale big enough.

      In the end, one had to wait for professor of engineering Denis Papin in the 17 C. His steam boat worked very well… But was destroyed by men in black, monks…
      Papin was the true inventor of steam power, the crafty British merchant stole it from him later… we should count in Papins, not Watts…:


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Colonizing Mars is ongoing, and much more is around the corner. Colonizing Venus is science-fiction. We would need to partly shield the planet from the sun… Then terraform with giant thermonuclear machines…


    • EugenR Says:

      I’m surprised about what you say. I would guess, the major issue about adopting planet to humans is gravity. Venus gravity is about 90% of Earth, while Mars’s gravity is only a third of the earth. The technology to change the composition of atmosphere and the temperature of the planete should be solved by then, otherwise anyway the humanity will be destroyed or diminished by global warming. Since politicians are not going to rescue from us, (not even Trump), only technology will, if it will.
      My claim is, we probably can change the composition of the atmosphere and change its temperature, (we are doing it now in very rapid scale on the earth), but to change the gravity, seems to me impossible, unless we move planets and crash them to each other.


      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Venus temperature is around 450 Centigrade (lead melts) and the pressure is 100 atmosphere. A Russian probe landed and didn’t even last an hour.
        Before we terraform anything we have to land machinery… Steel loses half of its strength at 500 C (see world Trade Center collapse in 2001)… And there is probably no hydrogen to be released, little there is, it’s all in H2SO4 clouds….

        To terraform Mars is imaginable with existing tech and biotech (it would be very slow, in domes first). Venus, no way: can’t build a dome there. Mars gravity is 1/3 of Earth which may be probably enough.
        Trump is supporting 100% the drive to Mars, BTW, because he is supporting SpaceX… the best thing Obama ever did (and I was against it at the time, because I vastly underestimated Elon Musk…)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. D'Ambiallet Says:

    I agree with Eugen you should have mentioned slavery and tech. How one led to a disaster with the other. Talk about Athens as you are at it. So are you going to write a complementary essay, expanding on your comments?


  3. EugenR Says:

    Other issue is the well known fact, that low wages slow down technological progress. The same is with the slaves, who were free of charge. But even if they didn’t get wages, still it costed money to feed them, and I’m not sure if it was not more than to pay wages. It could be an interesting economic research to compare the real cost of slaves in the South US compared to workers in the North, while comparing also their productivity. This could give a good indication, to verify or refute the slave theory of Roman failure to start industrialisation.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      That’s why Trump’s USMCA is good, as it requires a minimum wage of $15… Nearly DOUBLE the minimum wage imposed by the (Democrat controlled) US Congress…

      A theory about slavery, supported by numbers, is that the North was scared of competition with Southern slaves in industry… where the productivity was increasing by leaps and bounds… I am just parroting what I read long ago… Some economic historians looked into it.

      What is sure is that the Civil War was not a good idea. Doing things more pacifically would have been better.


  4. Gmax Says:

    All these points are rather subtle and new. That Rome was not collapsing economically when it was invaded is striking.

    I am really getting confused
    Romans were degenerating, no?


  5. pshakkottai Says:

    I am surprised by this thing. India traded with Rome long long ago is silk and spices etc and India knew good quality arithmetic including easy ways of arithmetic calculations which the traders also knew. Rome had a poor quality arithmetic with multiplication and fractions impossibly difficult which makes science impossibly difficult. How come Rome didn’t learn arithmetic from Indians?

    India knew the place notation and orbital periods of all planets and sun and moon very accurately for its Lunisolar calendar to predict Monsoons and for Navigation on the spherical earth (which is why Indians traded all over SE Asia up to Java). Indian Astronomy and the text SURYASIDDHANTA is very old and reaches to the end of Rg veda and events are mentioned there reaching several thousand years into the past.

    I have shown how the Suryasiddhanta calculated planetary diameters in
    It seems that the early versions of this were available 14,500 years ago. Rg Veda must be older than that. Also some means of storing those records must have been available centuries ago because numbers are not poetry and can’t be remembered by memorization, at least slate and check are needed for temporary calculation and birch bark and ink for long lasting records.

    Islamic conquest destroyed India by eliminating Temples which were really Banks supporting trade. All previous knowledge was forgotten including the accurate calendar.

    Science and Engineering requires arithmetic and absence of slavery is not sufficient.


    • Gmax Says:

      Excellent point! I sense Patrice will reply with her famous theory of moods. Nations have moods like people. The fascist plutocratic regime in Rome was not friendly to brainy stuff. I think she said they paid inventors not to invent

      Liked by 1 person

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      “India traded with Rome long long ago is silk and spices etc and India knew good quality arithmetic including easy ways of arithmetic calculations which the traders also knew. Rome had a poor quality arithmetic with multiplication and fractions impossibly difficult which makes science impossibly difficult. How come Rome didn’t learn arithmetic from Indians?”
      Good question!

      And the answer is… Nancy Pelosi! Pelosi has been scathing about closing all businesses and all wearing masks, but she commandeered a hair salon to have her hair washed, August 31 2020… to the fury of the business owner (because Nancy closed her salon, but then used it for her own benefit).

      The point is that Roman elite was playing by different rules of extravagant comfort for itself, and imposing brutish life to others, including lack of education… Starting, in the average, with Augustus (Trajan being one exception…)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. EugenR Says:

    Another issue with technological and scientific advance is, that few individuals can change the realities entirely and for ever.
    Even if today science and technological development is systematised and not coincidences, very limited number of people are responsible for advance in human knowledge. Wisdom of masses is not very useful in scientific research.


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