- Oct 2018
Unfortunately I know next to nothing about the Han Empire.
Interesting how it appears by the graph data that Trajan kickstarted the decline. So much for the period of “great” Emperors.
My view is that it was the unification of the Meditteranean lands (with significant reduction in piracy as a Roman policy), thus facilitating extensive trade, that spurred on the very significant increase in economic output. The seizure, and spending, of the wealth from the conquered territories (eg robbing the treasuries of many temples) also acted to increase growth. Unfortunately, there would not have been very much of an increase in productivity, the vast majority of goods, particularly food, still required hard and time consuming human labour to provide. Also I believe the system of ruling by force, and pitilessly demanding tribute regardless of conditions on the ground, would have acted to reduce incentives. Documents from Egypt, in the early second century, show tenant farmers, overburdened with rents and taxes, disappearing from the land. The "good" emperors, Hadrian and Antoninus, made very large grants to assist by cancelling tax arrears, but that seems to show that the system was under great strain.Interesting how it appears by the graph data that Trajan kickstarted the decline. So much for the period of “great” Emperors.
I kid. A lot of those issues of “decline” occurred because of how the Romans were unsustainably rising in the first place. This probably began to occur around the timeframe of Marius-Caesar, but possibly as far back as Cato the Elder; don’t take it from me though, others on this forum will have more expertise and can perhaps be more precise.
You make many interesting points, and certainly there were problems with taxation under the Romans. Severe taxation could lead to discontent - the massive Libyan revolt against Carthage that followed the end of the First Punic War was motivated by the wartime measure of doubling the tax on Libyan farms from 25 to 50%. In Rome's case, Diocletian's decision to overhaul the tax system in 297 has been plausibly linked with the Egypt-wide revolt led by Domitianus and Achilleus from 297 to 298, the worst Egyptian revolt in Roman history. The fact that, prior to Diocletian, taxation was conducted in a largely ad-hoc manner would not have helped. It meant that people could be targeted for amounts beyond what they were capable of providing. Diocletian's solution was regular indictions and a uniform five-yearly census (in place of the periodic censuses of previous centuries) to determine tax liability based on the quantity and quality of land and a subject's age: a combination of a poll tax and a property tax. The introduction of this system attests to taxation problems, although the above-mentioned revolt of Egypt suggests that initial reactions to the new system were hardly positive. Diocletian's and Galerius' imposition of taxation on Italy and the city of Rome would similarly contribute to the 306 revolt that put Maxentius in power. That being said, the new system appeared to work well enough, at least from the perspective of imperial authorities, to remain standard throughout the fourth century.Diocletian, I am sure that changes in the climate might have made things more difficult, but I am of the opinion that a well-functioning state could have adapted to such changes. Note that the period of optimal climate lasted until 200AD, yet the decline already began 100 years earlier, and nothing effective was done to arrest it. I can well imagine that climatic factors induced large scale barbarian movements, but given the empire's resources (it had a population of 50 million+) it ought to have been able to meet the challenge. The historical accounts point to the Antonine plague as pivotal, and, as you say, there is evidence of its effects in Egyptian papyri, but compare that with the Black Death 1000 years later, a massive shock, which induced change, but society adapted to it.
I am inclined to point to the imperial system itself as the most basic factor in the decline. Remember that the whole idea of imperialism is to conquer other peoples and then extract (steal) things from them. The ancient author Orosius said that Egypt paid 20% of its grain harvest as tax, and studies of the papyri, many of which show yields and taxes, indicate it might have been 25%. While such a tax rate might not seem excessive to us, we have to remember that most of the population was living at subsistence level, in fact most people would not have been able to afford to pay ANY tax. The actual effects of such a system would be people abandoning cultivation and moving elsewhere, and, those who stayed would not have enough to eat and many would succumb to disease and death. Thus we see well-established villages abandoned and overwhelmed by sand. Now that's only Egypt, but something of the same pattern can be seen in other areas across the empire, where habitation in the countryside is reduced and the towns become "nucleated" that is they changed from the fairly extensive grid pattern to more closely-built, more easily defended central area, more akin to the small towns of the Medieval period.
Just as I always thought. Rome peaked in the year zero. Of course the powers that were ignored zero so we have to choose between 1 BC or 1 AD (or BCE and CE). Personally, we shouldn't have to choose because of the ignorant choices made at the time.
The peak was 100AD or just before.Just as I always thought. Rome peaked in the year zero. Of course the powers that were ignored zero so we have to choose between 1 BC or 1 AD (or BCE and CE). Personally, we shouldn't have to choose because of the ignorant choices made at the time.
But look at your fascinating chart! Besides there are only 12 months in a year. How many years are there? It only makes sense to use integers to count them, especially when dealing with negative and positive numbers. Also from looking at the chart there is no precise point. When dealing with this approximation, one uses numbers divisible by 10 or in this case 100 with 0 as a dividing point with signed numbers. To my eye 0 is a reasonable approximate maximum. You could say it was sustained until about 100 AD.The peak was 100AD or just before.
Having a year zero wouldn't really make sense, any more than having a day zero in every month.
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