Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When In Rome

During his discussion of the English Only resolution last night, Council Member Eric Crafton compared our country to the Roman Empire, saying that the Roman Empire fell because of "illegal aliens": "the Visigoths, the Franks, the Anglos, the Saxons." Never mind that Crafton misapplied a politically correct, bureaucratic term to what are classically called the "Barbarians." Unfortunately, he also tortured history to make his point. The Barbarians, many of whom were taken as slaves by the Romans, rushed in to fill the void left by decades of civil war, political treachery, and an empire divided between East and West. Crafton placed the fall of the Roman Empire in the 400s; that was the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The Eastern Roman Empire, which grew strong as the West grew weak, didn't fall until the 600s. Moreover, Eastern Emperors made deals with Barbarians like Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great (who was thoroughly Romanized as a "royal hostage" and who was appointed to the highest post a Roman could occupy, Consul in Constantinople). For three decades, Theodoric reunited Romans and Goths in the Italian peninsula under the old Roman form. He also fought off Frankish incursions into Visigothic Spain. (It looks to me like the Eastern Romans derived security from propping and dividing the Barbarians in the West against each other).

The Barbarians who took over the crumbling West (the East fell to the Ottomans) were Romanized and many spoke the native Latin through lifetimes of exposure to Roman culture. But that's exactly the kind of assimilation to which Eric Crafton seems to be calling aliens and immigrants in Nashville.

Correction: While the Roman state ended in 610 in the East and was replaced by the Byzantines (who continued to call themselves Romans), I should have put the date of the Ottoman conquest of the East as 1453. Sorry for any confusion; no torture was intended.


  1. Mr. Mark:

    From Wikipedia: "By 610, the Classical Roman Empire had fallen into the rule of the Greeks and evolved into what modern historians now call the Middle Age Byzantine Empire, although the Empire was never called that way by its contemporaries (rather it was called Romania or Basileia Romaion). The Byzantines continued to call themselves Romans until their fall to Ottoman Turks in 1453."

    But the Roman state ended in 610. Does calling oneself Roman qualify one to be Roman? If the Romanized Barbarians can't call themselves Romans after 476, then neither can the Byzantines after 610.

    I stand qualified on the issue of when the Empire ended; corrected on the date of Ottoman conquest of the Byzantines, which was indeed 1453.

  2. So, Romanized Barbarians like Theodoric the Great who defended the Roman form in the Italian region after 476 did not see themselves as inheritors of Rome as well?

    I've already acknowledged the date of the Ottoman conquest. The real question is whether a people can be called something simply because they say so. What's fair for the Byzantines seems fair for the Barbarians.