Preparing for the end of the age

James J. O’Donnell’s The Ruin of the Roman Empire is a poorly edited book laced with a tendentious thesis: that Justinian ended a glorious period of multicultural amity and synthesis. The poor editing shows insofar as the book is far too long, and the author is given to prosaic flourishes. The thesis is shoehorned into contemporary sensibilities. In hindsight, the Gothic Wars were a total disaster, but obviously that was not Justinian’s intent.

Obviously Boethius plays a major role in the book. But perhaps more interesting in our current age is Cassiodorus. While Boethius died, and also contributed a philosophical work which influenced early medieval thinkers, Cassiodorus spent his last decades preserving the cultural inheritance of the ancient world. Cassiodorus’ life spanned an enormous cultural distance. He was born in the late 5th century when Rome was still a large city, albeit under Gothic rule. The Gothic hegemony over the West Roman domains can be thought of as analogous to the Arab conquests of the Near East of the 7th century: the fundamental underlying structure of society remained unchanged. It was the wars of the 6th century which wore Italy down to the point where Rome was a shadow of itself by the end of Cassiodorus’s life.

One can make their own judgments of whether Cassiodorus succeeded or not. But he was conscious that something was happening in the West, and he had to do something. A new age of barbarism was being born. Civilization’s locus was moving to the east.


3 thoughts on “Preparing for the end of the age

  1. I mean the Roman’s actually felt defeat on the battlefield and suffered economic decline.

    This is less the decline of an empire than a suicide. A people who would rather fall than be called racist or imperialist. That an even more racist and imperialist power is rising in their place doesn’t matter. They have wiped their hands and given up.

    Not even enough will to go down swinging. Like the theory that Persian successes in the later stages of the Eastern Roman Empire, before the Arab conquests, were more due to the decline of Rome than Persian competence.

  2. I think it is pretty damn clear that Razib believes we are in Decline & Fall of Roman Empire 2.0. Which is sad.
    Who will take up the mantle of civilization after the West collapses or becomes a shell of its former self? – probably China – but it probably wont be as neat as the Western intellectual contribution. Western ideals of liberty and pursuit of truth – while they lasted – are probably better placed for intellectual progress.

  3. As I’ve said, Michael Kulikowski has written a good book on the fourth-sixth centuries in the Roman Empire; some of his interpretations are dubious, some are quite interesting.

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