Durability of the Roman State

Aug 2016
45
Byzantine Empire
#1
The Roman state, in one form or another, managed to last from 753 BC to 1453 AD. Of course, the Roman Kingdom was vastly different from the Roman Republic as was the Republic different from the Principate which in turn was different from the Dominate and the later Byzantine Empire. However, Rome as a state (despite the changes in government, territory, culture) managed to survive all those years. This is an accomplishment that few, if any, states (I emphasize state, not culture) have accomplished.

So, the question that arises is what factors allowed the Roman state to endure so many years and to adapt to the changes of time? What were the reasons that the Roman state managed to survive for so long?
 
Jul 2009
9,473
#2
I would suggest that the Roman political identity was not a state as much as it was an idea of Imperium. Being more practical than philosophical, Roman political theory (such as it could exist) enabled Imperium to evolve and adapt to conditions that faced it, and that threatened it.

In the fifth century, the public structure decayed and was replaced by a variety of others. However, the concept of Romanitas, and the sense of Imperium continued, in very many important ways, into the ninth century.

In the East, where both the greatest wealth, and the greatest threats were, Imperium continued for another millennium.

That is a trite explanation, and there was far more to "Rome" than power or territory or civilization - some good; some bad.

I hope other members add their thoughts.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,247
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#3
Ah, this is an easy question for an Italian, since we learn [since elementary school!] something about this ...


The secret was the "Roman Civitas".

What else?

Rome wasn't a "state", but a "Civitas" with capital C.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,521
Dispargum
#4
Romanization. Rome had an exceptional ability to incorporate conquered, subject peoples into the Roman system so that after a generation or two, the subject peoples perceived they had more to gain through cooperation with Rome than they could possibly gain through conflict with Rome. If Romans had treated their conquered people like outsiders, those subject peoples would have risen up and overthrown their Roman overlords fairly quickly. As it was, most people living within the Roman world saw their best interests lay with maintaining the status quo.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,247
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#5
I elaborate:

a "Civitas" was [and is, translating the word] a civilization.

There has been an other very durable Civitas in history [even more durable that the Roman one, actually]: the Egyptian one.

As for I know, no civilization has lasted more than the Egyptian one.
 
Jul 2009
9,473
#6
Ah, this is an easy question for an Italian, since we learn [since elementary school!] something about this ...


The secret was the "Roman Civitas".

What else?

Rome wasn't a "state", but a "Civitas" with capital C.
Ah, yes...elementary school. George Washington never told a lie, and any boy can grow up to be president. :lol:

An argument for you, Luke: The northern Barbarian peoples were on the far frontier of Rome, and of Romanitas. As Imperium decayed in the western Empire, what the tribes of Barbaricum seemed to want was Roman "stuff." It is of course the case IMO that they were essential to adapting Romanitas to their needs, and important to a continuation of many, many Roman institutions far into the Medieval centuries (up to like 900 AD?).

The argument may be that they knew little of Civitas, and cared less until they were already settled inside the Empire in substantial numbers, and in considerable control of the West.
 
Feb 2017
425
Rock Hill, South Carolina
#7
Rome actually probably first existed as a state with the legendary founding of the senate in 509 BC (it was some time in the late 6th century BC, 509 coincides with the overthrow of the Tyrants in Athens, hence why the Romans used it). Before then it probably was a chiefdom of some kind, which became slowly more and more organized until it developed into the first "Res Publicae" by the end of the 5th century BC. Although the Kings probably existed in some form, they're mostly a Myth. At some point Rome was ruled by the Etruscans though.

During the Principate, the reason Rome was so stable was that for 400 years it was a master at the process of assimilating the conquered and incorporating incoming peoples into the Empire. They were brilliant at statecraft, playing off barbarian tribes against each other, rearranging the peoples outside their borders so the friendliest were the closest, who could eventually be brought into the empire and placed on unsettled land. Eventually, after roughly 3 generations, these people would loose their cultural identity and be Romans. Roman became a superculture, a superidentity even, based not on ethnicity but on Imperium, Auctoritas, and the status of citizenship.

For some reason, this process broke down beginning in the late 4th century AD. This was in part due to mismangement, better organized tribal groupings and new identities, and a massive influx of migrants, coupled with the establishment of two organized military empires on either of Rome's major borders (the Sassanids and the Huns). Instead of the Germanics adopting Roman identity, Roman identity moulded their own, creating these Romanized cultures that became the successor states.

In the East, Roman identity survived and had entrenched itself into the Hellenic population, which was finally beginning to be Romanized around the same time the collapse of the Western provinces occurred, bringing a reversal to that process. A Romano-Hellenic culture embraced the Roman identity even if they were markedly different from Imperial Roman culture.

Politically the reason the Romans survived so long in the East was the fact that they had a long-established centralized state structure, bureaucracy, and infrastructure, as well as being in control of two key trade routes into Europe (the Black Sea and up the Euphrates). They were excellent diplomats and statesmen, and retained their capabilities at intrigue, again playing off Early European states against each other. Nevertheless, many of their strength in the first half of the medieval Era began to be detrimental around the time of the crusades. The Empire needed a string of leaders with the capability of Basil II in order to get through the 1000's, and didn't have them. Basil II's successors effectively set up the string of events triggered by Mantzikert that caused the collapse of Roman Anatolia.

Later on they began to embrace Hellenism more, especially after the sack of 1204. Embracing Greek Identity helped them survive into the 1500's, although I would argue the collapse of the continuous Roman state was with the removal of the Central Bureaucracy in 1204.

1700 years is still impressive though.

You should check out some of these papers (Free Online):

"Roman Identity in Byzantium - A Critical Approach"

"Roman Identity in the Sixth Century."

"Cultural Identity in Sub-Roman Britain."

"On Barbarian Identity."

"State Formation and Economic Revival in Vandal Africa."
 
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AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,247
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#8
Ah, yes...elementary school. George Washington never told a lie, and any boy can grow up to be president. :lol:

An argument for you, Luke: The northern Barbarian peoples were on the far frontier of Rome, and of Romanitas. As Imperium decayed in the western Empire, what the tribes of Barbaricum seemed to want was Roman "stuff." It is of course the case IMO that they were essential to adapting Romanitas to their needs, and important to a continuation of many, many Roman institutions far into the Medieval centuries (up to like 900 AD?).

The argument may be that they knew little of Civitas, and cared less until they were already settled inside the Empire in substantial numbers, and in considerable control of the West.
Well, reality is that Roman civitas didn't last so long [in comparison with Egypt, the Roman civitas was a temporary accident!].

Don't confuse the medieval imitation of the Roman civitas with the real Roman civitas: Charlemagne [Karl] didn't feel to be a Roman citizen and for sure he didn't think that the most important thing to do was to become Roman citizen ...
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,247
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#9
The Eastern Roman Empire [Roman Empire] prolonged the existence of the Roman Civitas for centuries, but it wasn't able to keep the value of it. Arabs didn't want to conquer the Roman Empire to become Romans, they wanted to erase Roman Civitas to spread Islam.

The ERE was similar to a fossil.
 
Jul 2009
9,473
#10
Well, reality is that Roman civitas didn't last so long [in comparison with Egypt, the Roman civitas was a temporary accident!].

Don't confuse the medieval imitation of the Roman civitas with the real Roman civitas: Charlemagne [Karl] didn't feel to be a Roman citizen and for sure he didn't think that the most important thing to do was to become Roman citizen ...
Charlemagne was no Roman, but he could no longer be considered a Barbarian either. It was not the Roman "state" he was concerned with. It was the concept of "Imperium" which was Roman in every sense. And that is because it was also important to others in the West, as well as in the East.

Political though it undoubtedly was, what happened on Xmas in 800 AD was a critical continuation of Romanitas - and its cultural droppings - that is still with us in some large degree. We keep on discussing it on Historum.
 

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