Talk by Tom Holland: ‘End of the Roman Empire: A Mirror for Our Times?’
The Royal Society was an unusual venue for a Classics event on the evening of Monday June 13th, although the message of the event was in strong support of the importance of learning, a shared value of both classicists and scientists alike.
The event was in aid of the charity, Classics For All, which strives to support the teaching of Classics in schools. The lecture was preceded by an introduction from the charity’s chairman, who built up our expectations with a few words in praise. Then Tom Holland himself began, not in Rome, but 10th century Germany, where, for centuries, the Hungarians had been raiders riding in on light horse for plunder alone and launched a colossal invasion force.
For years the riches of the Germans had brought in immigrants from all sides. The invasion came at a hard time. The siege of Auxberg was a turning point. Likening the event to the Battle of Minis Tirith from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Holland explained how King Otto had saved the city at the last minute and then named himself Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the guardian of Christendom from the immigration crisis.
Holland continued on a whistle-stop tour of antiquity, mentioning the role of migration on the founding of the powerhouses of Greece and Rome, ancient examples of migration crises and then coming to the effects of Augustus’ pacification of Gaul in the 1st century. The eventual result of which was the implementation of citizenship for all free males across the empire.
Roman culture began to spread. Rome’s boarders successfully stopped barbarians getting in, but not Culture getting out. Roman military techniques began to strengthen the barbarians at the outer edges of the Empire, and Rome began to face invasion. Julian was defeated at Strasbourg, but the final nail in the coffin was civil war at the worst possible moment. The Mongols forced other tribes away from the fighting and towards Rome, like the war in the Middle East is doing to refugees today.
When the Goths reached the border of the Roman Empire, Valens let them in, but word spread and numbers became out of control. Then Rome was rocked by civil war. Valens suffered a defeat which wiped out the military, and Rome was sacked by the Goths. The Roman Empire fell apart and became the Caliphate, Byzantium and The Holy Roman Empire, which was eventually led by the German King Otto, whose Dynasty lasted until 1806.
Many have tried to rebuild it, most recently, however, was Hitler and Mussolini, and now that idea has gone sour. However, the EU shares surprising traits with the Empire, and the current crisis with its downfall. June 23rd is an important day for the fate of the EU as a whole, like Britain leaving the Empire voluntarily before its collapse, and the current crisis could be the straw that broke the camel’s back: just like the events leading to the end of Rome, centuries ago.
Report by Declan McCarthy, B Social Remove