Does Europe and Rome become more like China without Christianity?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Modern Imperialism, May 14, 2019.

  1. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    Without Christianity does Rome end up surviving longer and even if it still falls does it reuniting stay more likely. Rome can be taken over by invading barbarians but could they end up assimilating to Roman culture like invaders of China did? Could Rome go through warring states periods before going into periods of long unification and peace? Could you have both the Western and Eastern Empires do this at the same time if both stay separate? What happens with the rest of Europe and the mediterranean region in the coming centuries if a pod like this is possible?
     
  2. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

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    Not likely. China is a ntural unit hemmed in by mountains and deserts on almost all sides. So if broken up it tends to reunite. But even India, in a similar geographical situation, has reunited only occasionally.

    OTOH, Eurasia west of the Indus has no natural borders. The typical geographical unit there is a medium sized peninsula or plateau - Iberian, Italian, Iranian etc - so anything bigger than that is apt to be temporary. Rome had a good innings through being more populous and more advanced than the tribes north and west of it, but once they started to catch up, it was on borrowed time. It wasn't revived because there was no particular reason to revive it.

    There is no reason to suppose that religion had anything in particular to do with it.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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  3. kholieken Well-Known Member

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    No one really knows
    + Without Christianity and Islam, presumably Medditerranean cultural and trade network would survive, enabling re-unification later
    + Hellenic and Phoenician culture had dominated medditerranean sea before
    - Empire united through sea water is more difficult than river-based Empire
    - previous Empire (Carthage, Syracuse, Ptolemy) only managed to gain part of Med, not uniting all of it
     
  4. darthfanta Offline

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    No, because Northern China(which the barbarians usually conquer) was the cultural and economic heartland of China prior to the Song Dynasty.Europe,on the other hand, was the backwater of the Roman Empire. This meant that Roman civilization in Europe was much more fragile than Chinese civilization was in Northern China.
     
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  5. Wolttaire Well-Known Member

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    Rome could have survived without Christianity and yes I think they could have done if they had taken Germany Parthia like china long time otl rival Tibet and yah long lasting could happen it unlikely but possible
     
  6. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

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    Rome only ever held part of Europe. Could Rome have entered into a dynastic cycle under certain circumstances? I'm sure it could have. This could've happened with or without Christianity.

    But as for Europe: the unifying idea of "Christendom" and the theoretical supremacy of the Holy See over all temporal institutions is atually the closest Europe ever got to the concept of All-Under-Heaven. If you want Europe to become "Chinese" in that sense, you might consider wanking Christianity, instead of screwing it over.
     
  7. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    Do you consider the Mediterranean Europe? Italy and Greece were the core areas of the empire. Mediterranean Spain and France were also decently developed. I know Africa had Egypt and Carthage who were very well developed but the European areas got more effected by the barbarian invasions then those places did. Much of the classical world and culture survived in Africa until the 800s. North Africa is much more Latin and Greek in culture without the takeover of Islam. The near east would be a lot more Greek.
     
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  8. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    The only issue with that is the church itself. The Catholic Church preferred Western Europe divided because it gave the pope more power and influence. If you have a united western Roman Empire again the pope knows he could end up becoming second to the emperor like the patriarch of the Eastern Church. Petty kings and nobles can’t push back against the pope like a emperor can. That’s one of the reasons the Holy Roman Empire was more of a confederation then empire. The idea of being Roman on the other hand seems comparable to the Chinese one. For example, cantonese and mandarin would be considered different cultures and languages in most other places but they are both considered Chinese. Could you have something similar develop among Romance or Hellenistic people? The issue I see with Christianity is it undermines the ideas rooted in Roman culture and identity. In Rome your supposed to serve and be loyal to the empire above all else. They seem almost proto nationalist or proto fascist in some of their belief. I feel like a dogmatic religion like Christianity undermines that due to religion being valued over complete loyalty and service to the empire. Civil duty and values came into conflict with Christian ones. Christian Romans literally helped invading Christian barbarians over Pagan Roman citizens. It likely isn’t a coincidence the empire fell less then a hundred years after adopting Christianity. Without Christianity, could the idea of “Rome” stay stronger especially if the empire last longer?
     
  9. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

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    This idea can also work the other way around, however. Extend the Pope's temporal power to such an extent that he essentially is the Emperor. I stress the relevancy of Christianity because religion is the most powerful cohesive agent I'm aware of-- it binds peoples together, gives them a common structure (both in the socio-political world and in their intellectual and cultural premises). Nothing else works quite as well. Nationalism is exclusive by definition, it always divides to some extent. And Empires... they have their own baked-in deficiencies, which I'll get into below.


    I don't think it was truly similar to the Chinese sense of cohesion, in that the Romand lacked enough of a cultural commonality to survive long-term political fracturing. If your Empire falls apart and its cultures soon cease to identify as "Roman", then there is already something lacking (compared to the Chinese situation). It has often been noted that the c. 500-year Han dynasty has remarkable similarities to the c. 500-year (Western) Roman Empire, right down to the division into two distinct periods with a period of crisis in between. So why did China "fall back together again", while Rome didn't? I hardly think that blaming the one element that created unity in the post-Roman world makes logical sense. On the contrary: I think Rome spent too long, and expended too much energy, on attempting to cling to its dying traditions and resisting Christianity.

    Allow me to venture that if Rome had whole-heartedly embraced Christianity much sooner, and simply transmuted its belief in the divinity of the Emperor in a notion that the Emperor was divinely ordained by God... then we might have seen a Christian Rome "falling back together", too, in the end. In such a scenario, the religion and the empire would have been more intrinsically tied together. Christianity would have been more of a "truly Roman thing", and the figure of the Emperor would have been more central and essential to a Christian understanding of the proper world-order.


    I do not think this is correct. Rather, the pre-existing beliefs were already losing their support. They were held onto in a local fashion (almost all religion was local), but Christianity was only so successful because it offered something that people craved. The story that Rome had become religiously sterile is not fully true at all, but religion was bound to change. As of the first century AD, we really see a lot of innovative cultism kick off and gain traction. Why? Because there was a "market" for such things.

    In the end, the old Religio Romana wasn't the true competitor for Christianity. Other cults and ways of thinking were on the rise as well. If "old religion" had survived, it would have been by adopting a very "Christian-like" organisational structure, and a lot of the same philosophical influences. Think of the stuff Julian the Apostate had in mind, or of Manichaeism, for instance.

    So a big change was always coming. Taking out hristianity only changes who gets to do the changing... but things won't stay as they were.

    Let me also note that the Romans weren't at all proto-nationalist during their Imperial phase. They were Imperialist, which is another thing. Empires aren't nations. Moreso than nations, Empires are abstractions. Loyalty to an Empire isn't an impulse, like loyalty to your kin. In many ways, every Empire is a great myth that only exists as long as people believe in it. A myth is strongest when you can combine the political with the sacred. The Mandate of Heaven accomplishes this. Rome never really did. The attempts to deify the emperor didn't have the same status at all, muddled and heterodox as the religious realities of the Roman Empire were. But Christianity offered such status, and offfered an organised structure of unifying religious commonality.

    If the Emperors had, as soon as feasible, proclaimed themselves as divinely ordained by God, and had made Christianity their state religion... that could have offered an idea with lasting power. Strong enough to survive political fragmentations and inspire re-unifications. Their very own Mandate of Heaven.


    The answer to my question is "probably not", as should be clear by now. The thing is that it wasn't Christianity that killed Rome. I've often argued that stable Empires fall a few centuries after they stop expanding. The adoption of Christianity is largely unrelated. Considering that Christianity was successful for a reason, preventing Christianity (or any alternative to it) from arising would only leave people in a religious environment that no longer sufficiently inspires or captivates them. Would that inspire re-unification of Rome later on? Not at all.


    To recapitulate: I don't think Rome made a mistake by adopting Christianity. I think Rome made a mistake by resisting Christianity for too long. Embracing it wholeheartedly at an early stage would've changed very little about the fall of Rome, but it would've made a "China-like" resurrection of Rome considerably more viable.
     
  10. piratedude Pirate Lord of the Great Lakes

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    So you're proposing that Christianizing emperors should have reworked the imperial cult into a cult of saints were the emperors (good Christian ones anyways) get cannonized?
     
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  11. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

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    That could be part of it, but I'm more thinking of them setting it up so that the Roman Emperor is automatically also the Pope. The Representative of Christ on Earth, whose presence guides and legitimises all of Christendom.
     
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  12. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

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    The Byzantine Empire didn't go quite that far, but at times was close, with the patriarch very much the Emperor's man.
     
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  13. darthfanta Offline

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    Yes I did. Greece was not part of the former Western Empire. Italy was eliminated for centuries as a cultural and economic heartland because of Justinian. Places like Spain and Gaul were nowhere as developed as the East was, and Africa went to the East,before being conquered by the Muslims. The question seems to be about why didn’t the barbarians just assimilate and become sophisticated Romans that conquered the rest of the Empire,so that is why I didn’t include Greece and Africa into the equation.
     
  14. mjwebb76 Well-Known Member

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    There are several strands of thought here that I think are worth considering. First, a few people seem to suggest that Christianity caused the fall of the empire in the West. This idea was first promulgated by Gibbon, and virtually every modern historian rejects the argument. First the timing does not work. The Empire become Christian around 325, but does not fall until 476 or so. Further the Empire in the East was if anything more Christian and it lasted for another 8-10 centuries in some reasonably recognizable form. Now the idea that the emergence of a strong Pope prevented the reconsolidation of the Empire in the West is somewhat more plausible. Strong German Emperors did have an interesting habit of coming into conflict with the Pope and strong Popes were weakened by the German Emperor. Finally, a few folks have noted the relevance of the Steppe people in China. I think this is a particularly important point. The Empires that exist for millennia are China and Babylon-Assyria-Persia. Both of these "empires" exits on the edge of the great steppe. It is plausible to conclude that the agricultural populace is willing to "pay" the empire to protect themselves from steppe people (who otherwise will ride in every once in awhile and steal all the agricultural surplus). The Western Empire, is far from the steppes and therefore there is less incentive to form a great empire to protect from a low probability event.
     
  15. wcv215 Well-Known Member

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    No. Christianity was not one of the reasons the West fell, so the questions following are moot.
     
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  16. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    I’m going to use this to explain my point to a few of statements above. I understand their are many factors to the fall of Rome but my point is Christianity is the straw that broke the back of the empire(you can disagree with it and give your point. This is just my observation and opinion on this). Christianity rose more out of the decay and failure of Rome to reform more so then it did out of its own merit. People often downplay the cultural clash Christianity had with Roman and classical cultures even after Constantine Romanized the religion a good bit. Early Christians were often fanatics and seen as zealots by many Romans. Roman thought and philosophy has always been opposed to dogmatic religions and eastern faiths. Romans considered Christianity Superstitio for its dogmatic nature.

    Religion in Rome was done out tradition and symbolism more then personal beliefs. The Romans did see practicing religious ceremonies as good for your spirit and neglect of it as bad but they did not relate that to a strict belief system like Christianity. Stoicism thought made Romans very pragmatic and rational about the physical and spiritual world. For example, the imperial cult was more done out of respect for the emperor and as a sign of loyalty then it was about actual belief. You could believe whatever you want as long as you also gave your part to the empire or emperor.

    Early Christianity often opposed Roman culture as heretical due to their history within the empire. They even wanted to destroy the statue of victory in Milan which was considered an important symbol by Romans. Pagan Romans reaction to Christian based laws and acts would be similar to how Europeans would react to Sharia law being put in place in their country. Christians started targeting pagans and push for conversion after awhile in power. In a empire built off keeping the peace and paying your taxes this isn’t good. Western Rome was much more pagan and less Christian then the east once Christianity came into power. Many people in Gaul and other places only tolerated Roman rule because it was convenient for them. Roman could be brutal but if you keep the peace and paid your taxes they often left you alone. That isn’t the case anymore when you have Western Empire trying to convert them. This did piss off a lot of pagan barbarians. The west also had issues with barbarians adopting different versions of Christianity which caused more conflict. The Eastern empire was more centralized and Christian. It was also more defensible then the west. Additionally, the east was able to redirect and bribe possible invaders better.

    I would argue Christianity and Abrahamic religions did help lead to the fall of the eastern empire but at a much slower rate. Religious conflict and division plagued the eastern empire for most of its history. Coptic and non-Orthodox Eastern Churches often fought against the empire. This is one reason Muslims had such success against them. The Christians in the Middle East often hated Orthodox and Latin Christians more then Muslims because they would often be fighting with each other. Crusaders themselves sacked Constantinople which many contribute to the fall of the empire.

    Christianity and Abrahamic religions are prone to conflict over doctrine beliefs. Roman religion has very little ground for doctrine conflict in comparison even if it starts developing more like the Indian or Chinese faiths. Early Christian empires were often so busy fighting themselves over religious issues it made them easier targets for invasion. Every Roman Empire under Christian leadership has been plagued with religious violence and conflict from within. Look at the late Western Empire, Eastern Empire, and even the Holy Roman Empire. Christianity grew among the Roman lower class for the most part and early on. Christianity could grow because Rome was often tolerate to religion if it didn’t cause too many issues and they didn’t perform human sacrifice. Christianity often violated the first thing and was thought to also perform the second(Christians were secretive in its early days so the body and blood thing was often taken wrongly due to the lack of context provided to them and Christians back then would talk about it like it was real). But since Christianity was mostly among the lower class in the east they often just let them be unless they said something or locals complained about them to local Roman leader. Locals and mobs were usually the ones pushing for the killing of Christians not Roman authorities or leaders as much. Diocletian was the only major Roman figure to go after Christians really hard. Christian persecution under Roman rule is usually one of the most exaggerated things in human history. Romans however would be much more likely to execute Roman citizens especially upperclass ones for being Christian but even then that was only if they were really open about it. I would argue Roman waited too long to break down on Christianity if it desired to truly destroy it. Let’s not forget the Romans did that to the druids due to their practices and they use to play an important role in Gaul before Rome.

    Christianity came from the bottom up but once it came into power it started imposing themselves from the top down(conversion by the sword or conversion by playing on self interest being common). This did upset many people. Christianity got very lucky when the mother of the future emperor raised her son to be a Christian or at least sympathetic to them. Only a generation or two after that Christians start destroying Roman monuments and temples. To pagan Romans this is the destruction of their traditions and culture which they valued highly. Christians Roman citizens were more likely to support non-Christian Romans over pagan Romans. This created a lot of issue especially for the military. Many Romans fought against Christianity until the end. You do have a clash of cultures. Rome is an idea as much as it was an identity. Christianity did challenge the idea of Rome itself and what it was. Rome can’t be the center of things when you have something like the Christian god. China had a similar idea about themselves and how they thought their society was. If you look at Christianity throughout Chinese and Japanese history you see similarities to Rome but unlike Rome they were able to win out in the long run. Roman ideas and views on religion are more similar to Japan then early Christians. Religious fundamentalism wasn’t just going to be accepted by many Romans. Basically, the advantage Rome had over Christianity is it is less prone to permanent division without Christianity or a similar faith. Political issues are easier to solve and reuniting is more likely. Add religion to that same issue it makes things much more complex.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2019 at 7:34 PM
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  17. piratedude Pirate Lord of the Great Lakes

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    Pretty sure The staws that really broke the roman's back in the west was three things; an inability/unwillingness to integrate the migrating peoples, an increasingly parochial elite throughout the empire, and a series of emperors that were unable to reverse those trends (for varoius reasons)
     
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  18. piratedude Pirate Lord of the Great Lakes

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    Thats a hell of a hot take, even for a goddess commie like me.
    And thats precisely the problem; the traditional Roman religion for the vast majority of romans was only a set of rituals that they only tangentially participated in and had only tradition backing it up, no underlying message or meaning. Which is precisely why they turned to eastern religions that where exoctic and/or claimed to posses the meaning of life
     
  19. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    I agree to an extent but I would say that more from incompetent leadership. For the late empire I would say it was not them being unwilling to integrate people but more unable to integrate them properly. The late empire gave citizenships to a lot of people and more so then the past but unlike the past citizenship in the late empire involved less Romanization. In the past you had to do military service and act more Roman before being given citizenship.
    Christianity rocked Rome more at its base and core. Rome often used the military for public projects and to assimilate people. Early Christians often refused or avoided serving in military due to pacifism(vary greatly depending on person) or because they had issues with Rome itself. Military service is a very important aspect in Roman society. The growing Christian population did impact military manpower
     
  20. Modern Imperialism Well-Known Member

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    Couldn’t you have philosophy take its place and start mixing with religion more? Maybe stoicism or something else? The lines between Religion and philosophy are very blurred in places like China. Look at confusion. Rome did have well defined philosophies and beliefs based around traditions and culture. The only thing they would have to do is start applying this more to the lower class. Philosophy and reverence for tradition was common among the upper classes but not the lower class. This is one reason Christianity grew mostly among the lower class early on but it did not do as well with upper class Romans. Could Rome come up with something like confusion and start encouraging that thought among the lower class?