Decline and fall

by Henry Farrell on August 25, 2003

Via “David Langford”:, a comprehensive and rather wonderful accounting of the various reasons advanced for the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Langford’s summation is worth reprinting in full.

bq. It seems to me that practically everything — from the Iraqi war to the downfall of Big Engine to delayed BSFA mailings — can be explained by some subset of this list of 210 reasons for the fall of the Roman empire, as enumerated in Professor Alexander Demandt’s Der Falls Rom (1984) — which needless to say I have not read in either German or English, but which some kindly journalist has summarized. Read and marvel:

bq. Abolition of gods, abolition of rights, absence of character, absolutism, agrarian question, agrarian slavery, anarchy, anti-Germanism, apathy, aristocracy, asceticism, attacks by Germans, attacks by Huns, attacks by nomads on horseback.

bq. Backwardness in science, bankruptcy, barbarization, bastardization, blockage of land by large landholders, blood poisoning, bolshevization, bread and circuses, bureaucracy, Byzantinism.

bq. Capitalism, change of capitals, caste system, celibacy, centralization, childlessness, Christianity, citizenship (granting of), civil war, climatic deterioration, communism, complacency, concatenation of misfortunes, conservatism, corruption, cosmopolitanism, crisis of legitimacy, culinary excess, cultural neurosis.

bq. Decentralization, decline of Nordic character, decline of the cities, decline of the Italic population, deforestation, degeneration, degeneration of intellect, demoralization, depletion of mineral resources, despotism, destruction of environment, destruction of peasantry, destruction of political process, destruction of Roman influence, devastation, differences in wealth, disarmament, disillusion with state, division of empire, division of labour.

bq. Earthquakes, egoism, egoism of the state, emancipation of slaves, enervation, epidemics, equal rights (granting of), eradication of the best, escapism, ethnic dissolution, excessive aging of population, excessive civilization, excessive culture, excessive foreign infiltration, excessive freedom, excessive urbanization, expansion, exploitation.

bq. Fear of life, female emancipation, feudalization, fiscalism, gladiatorial system, gluttony, gout, hedonism, Hellenization, heresy, homosexuality, hothouse culture, hubris, hyperthermia.

bq. Immoderate greatness, imperialism, impotence, impoverishment, imprudent policy toward buffer states, inadequate educational system, indifference, individualism, indoctrination, inertia, inflation, intellectualism, integration (weakness of), irrationality, Jewish influence.

bq. Lack of leadership, lack of male dignity, lack of military recruits, lack of orderly imperial succession, lack of qualified workers, lack of rainfall, lack of religiousness, lack of seriousness, large landed properties, lead-poisoning, lethargy, levelling (cultural), levelling (social), loss of army discipline, loss of authority, loss of energy, loss of instincts, loss of population, luxury.

bq. Malaria, marriages of convenience, mercenary system, mercury damage, militarism, monetary economy, monetary greed, money (shortage of), moral decline, moral idealism, moral materialism, mystery religions, nationalism of Rome’s subjects, negative selection.

bq. Orientalization, outflow of gold, over-refinement, pacifism, paralysis of will, paralysation, parasitism, particularism, pauperism, plagues, pleasure-seeking, plutocracy, polytheism, population pressure, precociousness, professional army, proletarization, prosperity, prostitution, psychoses, public baths.

bq. Racial degeneration, racial discrimination, racial suicide, rationalism, refusal of military service, religious struggles and schisms, rentier mentality, resignation, restriction to profession, restriction to the land, rhetoric, rise of uneducated masses, romantic attitudes to peace, ruin of middle class, rule of the world.

bq. Semi-education, sensuality, servility, sexuality, shamelessness, shifting of trade routes, slavery, Slavic attacks, socialism (of the state), social tensions, soil erosion, soil exhaustion, spiritual barbarism, stagnation, stoicism, stress, structural weakness, superstition.

bq. Taxation, pressure of terrorism, tiredness of life, totalitarianism, treason, tristesse, two-front war, underdevelopment, useless diet, usurpation of all powers by the state, vaingloriousness, villa economy, vulgarization.

bq. This proves it. I am strangely comforted to think that Rome was undermined by Bolsheviks, feminists, socialists, public baths, and, above all, the decline of the Nordic character.

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Crooked Timber » » Decline of Nordic Character
10.20.05 at 11:44 am



eric 08.25.03 at 9:24 pm

Geez. that’s everything but China. (no wait, those attacks by Nomads on Horseback were caused by China chasing off said Nomads in the first place).

Too bad we can’t blame it on the French too.


Invisible Adjunct 08.25.03 at 9:48 pm

I think Gibbon summed it up best when he attributed the fall of Rome to “the triumph of barbarism and religion.”


zizka 08.26.03 at 12:47 am



Shai 08.26.03 at 10:15 am

On a related note, last month the mises blog linked to an audio lecture titled “Military Decadence in Ancient Rome” (mp3 format) by Daniel McCarthy (Washington University). It sounds intelligent to me but the only history course I’ve taken started with medieval feudalism, so caveat emptor.


Kimon 08.26.03 at 7:55 pm

I see Meteor Impact is missing from the list.


Walt Pohl 08.26.03 at 8:19 pm

I didn’t want to say anything, ’cause I’m kinda embarrassed, but I can’t keep it a secret any more: I caused the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. My bad.

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