The Fall of Euergetism

Edward Gibbon authored the opinion, implicit without being recognized or even known by most who teach it, that the “decline of the Roman Empire” was coincident with the rise of Christianity and caused by the civic and political quietism of Christian monks who posed as the ideal against which Christian persons judged the success of their way of life. In the English speaking world, which became Protestant in its religion, this opinion gained universal currency, so that few even today question the old idea of the “decline of the Roman Empire”.

Christopher Dawson is one of many who described the economic processes advanced by the actions, not of the rank and file of the new (Christian) world order in the last centuries of Roman administration of Europe, but rather of the élite and those that strove to join the élite, of the old (pagan) world order, that is, the state which claimed for itself the right to define goods in se, which is religion itself.

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This transformation of society in the Western provinces of the [Roman] Empire had already begun as far back as the end of the second century a.d. Its leading feature was the decline of the municipalities and of the middle classes, and the reformation of society on the basis of the two classes of landowner and peasant. We have alraedy seen how th increasing pressure of taxation and of governmental control crushed the life out of the self-governing municipalities which had been the living cells of the earlier Roman imperial organism.

roman_empire_map.c175The government did all in its power by forced measures to galvanise the machinery of municipal life into artificial activity and to prevent the middle classes from deserting the city or escaping their obligations by entering the ranks of the senatorial aristocracy or buying a privileged sinecure in the imperial service. But what they tried to build up with one hand, they destroyed with the other, since they rendered the life of the middle class economically impossible. Consequently the government was forced to supplement the decaying city magistracy by an imperial official—the count—who as directly responsible to the central government and stood outside the municipal constitution, as well as by transferring responsibility to influential individuals such as neighbouring landowners or Christian bishops.

Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe, 79. Catholic University of Amerca Press edition, 2003. Originally published 1932.

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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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