Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by torek, Apr 1, 2009.
What if the Roman Empire never fell? How would this have changed history in Europe and the world?
It would depend on your POD.
Umm, other than the fact that the same empire would have been reigning supreme over Europe and N. Africa for some 2,000 years rendering the cultural advancement of the west stagnant and lame? Not sure, how would the Uber-Roman Empire affect world policy, life, and such?
How do they not fall?
What defines not fall?
Also depends what you mean by the Roman Empire?
Are you taking about the Germanic invasion of the Roman Empire, or the Byzantine Defeat centuries afterwards at the hands of Arabs and Turks?
Clearly he meant the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Or the surrender of the Kingdom of Italy in 1944. Because both these states clearly had legitimate claims on the title of "Roman Empire", right? Right?
Maybe he meant the Bolshevik Revolution and the Fall of Third Rome.
Arguably, the Ottoman Empire had more legitimate claims to Roman-ness than either WW2 Italy or the HRE, as well...
Very clever, all of you , but I'm pretty sure he means something along the lines of "Rome is never captured by the Barbarians in 476 and the Roman state survives until the present." I'm not sure what POD you would need for that, but it would have to be at least in the 100s, IMHO, and preferably in the early Empire or even the Republican Period. One of Rome's main problems was its violent and unstable political culture, another was its reliance on vast numbers of slaves, which stunted the development of any sort of labor-saving device.
As for effects, for one thing the Romance Languages would all be considered dialects of Latin, much as the Chinese "dialects" are all considered dialects of the same language, despite being, if anything, less mutually intelligible than the Romance languages.
Obligatory Star Trek Reference:
Now that it's out of the way, we can talk like this:
With a continuous empire expanding since before Jesus, it would assuredly spread over most of the known world. I think this is likely, and with certain propaganda victories in the mind of the public, we can see the Empire becoming so unreakable it has a better space program than OTL.
We could go a more unlikely route and say that the Roman Empire breaks up on April1st, 2009 in to warring factions, where socialism is getting more and more support and the Empire is becoming smaller and smaller as a civil war between the old Slave class and their sympathizers has become world wide.
I like the second one better...
I'd much rather see a TL where the Empire expands, peaks, and falls, but no matter how weak it gets there is one continuous legitimate line of rulers or governments, based in Rome until at least WWII if not present day. Maybe it shrinks so small that it is just a city in the middle of another, bigger state that has taken most of Italy but leaves this tiny state intact for its symbolic and cultural value.
Hmm, this is starting to sound familiar....
That's more or less what I was thinking; it shrinks down to a level where it can be stable. It'll just be one of the various small Italian states. Possibly a regional power, but not much more.
Or we could go a sort of Chinese route; each time it begins to stagnate, a new government system takes over giving it stability for a few more centuries. The government keeps changing, but it's still recognizably Roman.
About the second, I am not sure.
The first WAS a structural problem. The longest Rome after 90 BC did without a major civil war was 133 years, 69 to 193. In 4th Century, Rome was strong but had a civil war each generation - Constantine vs. Licinius, Constantine´s sons vs. each other, Julian the Apostate rebelling... In 4th century, Rome returned to strength and peace after each civil war, and any barbarian attackers were beaten back. In 5th century, every civil war led to more losses to barbarians, which were not fully recovered.
But the timing of civil wars were dictated by accidents of natural death and family circumstance. The Eastern Empire did without open civil wars till 470-s. The West had many in the meanwhile. A butterfly could thwart some of the barbarian invasions.
Take the invasion of 405 to 410. Radagaisus came to a sticky end in August 406. The Vandals , Alans and Suebes attacked Gaul in December. They knew that Radagaisus had failed but they were that desperate, because Huns were at their heels.
Suppose that Stilicho does not fall. He had a reasonable plan to save Gaul: send Alarich and Goths to Gaul against Vandals.
Let´s assume it more or less works out. Vandals are destroyed, Alarich and Goths get a chunk of Gaul (like they did in 416), Rome is inviolate, and so is Spain. The surviving men of Radagaisus (who OTL joined Alarich after Stilicho fell and their families were attacked) are firmly under Stilicho´s flag, and his Roman recruiting grounds in Illyria are rid of Alarich.
In order for Stilicho to be able to do that, how will you end his war against the Eastern Empire?
In addition, the circumstances that exist in Gallia in the late 400s/early 410s somewhat militate against a successful settlement by Stilicho. Constantinus III is at large, after all, in addition to the Vandali/Alani/Suebi et al. It was the passage of the Vandali and their ilk into Spain and the attrition of those forces against Constantinus that reduced Constantius III's list of enemies when he made the plunge into Gallia in 413. So Stilicho will have a great deal more messy situation to deal with than his successor did. I don't know if having Alaric around will improve his odds, given the natural friction between two such personalities. I suppose you could butterfly away a few things, like having Constantinus III die early on or something of that nature, but it still seems kind of gamey and less than ideal.
You Need a Better Constitution
I've been studying this question, and I say it's not completely impossible (it's been done a few times here), but not so easy, either. You'd have to find a way to get to a better ending constitution than the Roman Empire had, which was an absolute monarchy. It ended with their second capital city, Constantinople, being taken by what they saw as mere barbarians, who happened to have cannon that the Romans felt was beneath them to copy or develop in parallel, as they'd lost alot of turf they didn't get back either to other, er, barbaric, horse archers they also didn't see as worth copying.
So, it can't be done with the kind of Roman Empire we had. You at least need some check on the Emperor's power, a constitutional monarchy. Better still, IMHO, is to have the much-better, but vulnerable in Caesar's day, Republic-style constitution survive, especially if you want it expand much.
Rome underwent three major constitutional changes. It started as a constitutional monarchy, then underwent rebellion to the Republic, which was much more succesful, and gradually became more complex and powerful, until finally, after centuries, it failed to adapt to a vastly changed and bigger Rome right, and decayed to warlordism. Then Caesar mostly ended warlordism by regressing it to monarchy, except his version was worse, because the Senate had started as a real check on the King, but was impotent and just there to look right under the Caesars. That's where I place the start of Rome's decline. When historians talk about the "Roman Empire," they're usually talking about it after absolute monarchy set in.
IMHO, it gets pretty improbable to have the constitutional change, whatever it is, happen much after a century after the Octavian Caesar started the Emperor's absolute rule. Back then, there was a feeling that Romans were worse off than under the Republic, but nobody saw a way to get back. Later, people saw the absolute Empire as natural, and the interest in the Republic vanished.
Here's much, much, much, much, much, more (scroll down from each link to follow arguments) , on why it would be impossible for the kind of absolutist monarchist Roman Empire we had to survive. In our time line, the absolutist Empire went on perpetual shrink after a century or two for the rest of the world to catch up militarily to the lead the much freer Republic had established.
This is all kinds of faulty. The Byzantines recruited plenty of horse-archer units, from the Tourkopouloi to the Alans throughout their empire's long and storied history. Further, they had cannon at the fall of the capital mounted on the walls, but the cannon-firing actually weakened the old Theodosian walls and eventually it was discontinued.
Absolutism was not the Empire's problem. The Eastern Empire's decline can actually be directly linked to the abandonment of the thematic system by Konstantinos IX Monomachos and its replacement largely by foreign mercenaries, combined with the growth of feudal magnates on the Anatolian plateau and later in Thraikia. The Western Empire's destruction had little enough to do with absolutism and far more to do with those barbarians that attacked it. You know, the ones that sacked Rome twice, seized the revenue grounds in North Africa, wore down the manpower base, and so forth.
Besides, no Roman state ever had a constitution, not even the Republic, whose own victories can be linked to geopolitical decay to its east (and an opportunistic grab at the territories thus left open), to a relatively decentralized provincial government that kept its territory loyal even when it was being overrun (the socii's contribution in the Second Punic War must never be understated), possibly to an overall pragmatic and rather bloodthirsty state of mind, and to sheer good luck in acquiring genial characters to serve the State such as the Major and Minor Scipiones, Aemilius Paullus, Marcellus, and the like. Correlation of the Roman Republic to Rome's time of expansion, finally, definitely does not imply causation.
Yeah, did their contemporaries have any better?
The Romans had cannon. It was thanks to cannon that Constantinople did not fall in 1422 already. Constantinople was defended by cannons.
That was actually the reason Constantinople fell.
Romans, like many Europaeans, could get and use some cannon, which they did - effectively. It was the barbarians who copied them - and since by that point the barbarians were holding so much more ground, the barbarians could afford more cannons.
And used them to batter down the long and tall stone walls. The Europaeans found a trick against this approach. Build very much thicker and relatively low earth ramparts to face the cannon. Something which was, however, awfully expensive investment. Many European cities and fortresses knew that they could not afford it, and duly fell. Constantinople among them.
Remind me, what was the constitution of Ottoman Empire? What were the checks on Sultan´s power? And Ottomans DID expand much.
The Ottoman Empire started about 1300 as a small tribe of Ertogrul and Osman in the hinterlands of northwest Asia Minor. And expanded at a breakneck speed for the next two centuries.
The Roman Empire had bounced back from a lot of reverses. In 440-s, Huns were raiding Balkans - in a century, Justinian´s Roman Empire was safe, wealthy and expanding. In 620-s. Persians were at Bosporus and Avars besieging the European front of Constantinople - by time of Bulgaroktonos, Romans had recovered Danube border and were mounting attacks to Syria to recover Jerusalem. In 1080, the Turks and Pechenegs were again closing on Constantinople - things were much better by 1150. In 1204, Constantinople fell - but then there was 1261.
Suppose that a Palaiologos Roman Emperor does some smart decisions in the end of 1200-s - with the result that Roman Empire´s bounce goes on, and by 1400 most of Asia Minor is liberated for Christianity, and Bulgars subdued again. And then the Romans actually go forth and liberate Holy Land again, this time along with Damascus and Egypt. Then they address the Italians, the schismatic Patriarch of Rome, and the Hungarian King in Pannonia, and remind them that the rightful borders of Roman Empire include Carlisle and Newcastle, and that they might invade to deal with the heresy (Ottomans did invade Italy, but did not sustain the attack to Otranto).
What next? Could we have Roman Empire with unbroken House of Palaeologus on the throne? Demanding admission to EU about now? Well, the mere fact that it is Romans and not Turks knocking on the gates of Vienna would butterfly away most of the modern history, and EU along with it...
Later inept Emperors lost what earlier smart ones had gained
In fact, Sunni Caliphs were elected by elites, until the Caliphates were seized by extremists who ended their advantages and set the region up for fall to Ottomans. And, maybe as important, the Caliphates and succeeding Ottomans were hungrier and new and took advantage of those things to have good rule as monarchies go, things the Roman Empire had STARTED with.
I'm conceding the Romans had cannon (I'd googled for Roman cannon and Constantinople cannon, the first of which brought nothing and the second the Ottoman cannon. Though it's looking like they were leased from Italians rather than produced natively as the Turkish cannon were. And the Romans refused to do business with a man who pushed the cannon a step bigger, and who gave the Turks the opportunity to have a couple of bigger cannon, much more of wall-breakers, giving the advantage to the Ottomans. The Ottomans had no problem getting through walls, but the Romans were unable successfully counterbattery because they couldn't break the Ottoman battery walls. "...theirs [cannon] were well protected with breastworks, and the distance," wrote Nicolo Barbaro, a man on the scene.
AND, cannon are thought to have been invented in China, back when it was still inventive and used first in Europe by the Iberian Caliphate.
I have Penguin's Atlases of Ancient and Medieval History, a series of maps by increasing date. While Republican Rome has its low points, like when Hannibal showed up, they don't last long overall, and you mostly see continued conquest, bwaha, and growth. The Empire, after a century or two of growth, begins to shrink, and stays that way except occasional temporary regainings of turf like in Justinian's time and moving around of the borders; it keeps shrinking until it's just Constantinople for awhile, then it's Istanbul, part of the Ottoman Empire, and bye-bye Roman Empire.
Well, the problem comes in when some less ept successor, probably not long after, comes in and loses his gains, just like Justinian's successors did. Most Kings weren't up to the job, and that's even more so when the monarchy's been around so long. So, you need a whole series of PODs to keep Rome around (one every 2-3 Emperors?). That's why I think it'd take an Alien Space Bat on the throne to do it....
Even Justinian placed his own winnings under threat by distrusting the man who did the job and taking him away from doing vital occupation work. Worse Emperors chose bad generals, interfered stupidly in the military, and made stupid decrees about them.
Probably The MOST Likely Eventuality, Would be Something a Lot Like The World Depicted in Harry Turtledove's Young Adult Novel, Gunpowder Empire ...
Set in Agrippan Rome, Which is an ATL wherein Agrippa Lives a Long Enough Time to Successfully Incorporate Germania into The Roman Empire; it Even Occurs in an Alternate Future!
The Lietuvans are on a Rampage, The Roman Emperor is Sending Reinforcements, But The Village of Polisso May Burn Before they Even Have a Chance to Arrive ...
Not a Good Place for a Pair of American Teenagers; Coming to a Theatre Near you Just as Soon as Harry is Offered an Appropriate Amount of Money!
Perhaps we should agree that the word constitution doesn't exclusively mean a formal and probably supreme document or agreed set of rules like say the US or many European Constitutions. It also can mean an informal or unwritten set of governing rules that regularly change or evolve, of no particularly supreme status, and several countries, like my own have a constitution but no Constitution. So if we do, I am sure the Romans can as well
Separate names with a comma.