Empires rise and Empires fall

Today, I watched a short documentary on YouTube about the fall of the Roman Empire. It’s hosted by the amazing British classicist Mary Beard and is very accessible, even if you don’t know much about that part of history. Mary’s passion for history is contagious.

What stroke me the most was that even the Roman Empire, which was gigantic and withstood outside attackers, civil wars and epidemics for more than 500 years, some day fell. Of course, this is true for all empires, countries and civilizations in the history of humankind - except for those which exist currently. But like the Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, the ancient Greeks, the Mongol Empire and the Roman Empire, today’s empires will fall one day, too.

This is, of course, not some novel insight. But what I find interesting is to put into today’s context. Mary Beard draws this conclusion towards the end of the episode:

Today in the West, we still wonder where our boundaries lie. And what limits should be placed on inclusion. We inherited the ambivalence, too. Questioning, whether the ends ever justify the means. The tears alongside the victory parades.

What was relevant 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire, is also relevant today. In Europe, the USA and many other places, we’re seeing populist and nationalist tendencies increase. Last weekend, Europeans voted for the European Parliament and the message was clear: Right-wing and populist parties gained ground.

People don’t want immigrants, who speak differently, cloth differently, worship differently and look differently in their country. Not realizing that one day, not too many years ago, their ancestors were the same exact migrants. No geographic region belongs to any ethnic group, nation or empire. They just live in it for a short period of time.

It saddens me to see that the same human greed and short-sightedness, that was already present in ancient Rome and beyond, still takes hold of us today. We learned how to put people on the moon and cure deadly diseases with the pop of a pill, but we didn’t learn how to live in harmony with other humans, animals and our environment.