Pondering the Cause(s) of the Fall of Rome

Given the ‘heat’ folks have been putting on news outlets for their apparent lack of critical thinking abilities in regards to such things as those lead codices (and plenty of other things which aren’t in our purview), it’s somewhat refreshing to see the Telegraph apparently trying to ‘look good’. First we read of  a rather startling claim made by the head of Italy’s National Research Council … here’s the incipit:

Roberto De Mattei, 63, the deputy head of the country’s National Research Council, claimed that the empire was fatally weakened after conquering Carthage, which he described as “a paradise for homosexuals”.

The remarks prompted angry calls for his resignation, with critics saying his comments were homophobic, offensive and unbecoming of his position.

The fall of the Roman Empire was a result of “the effeminacy of a few in Carthage, a paradise for homosexuals, who infected the many.

“The abhorrent presence of a few gays infected a good part of the (Roman) people,” Prof Mattei told Radio Maria, a Catholic radio station.

The Roman Republic achieved domination over Carthage, in present-day Tunisia, during the Punic Wars of the third and second centuries BC, during which Hannibal made his ultimately abortive crossing of the Alps with war elephants. [etc.]

A week or so ago, that would be the end of the story and the ‘fall’ reason would be just another ‘fact’.  Now the various newspapers seem to want to made amends and appear legit. The Daily Mail, e.g., has the story and then consults some historians … but then, being the Daily Mail, they disagree … here’s the relevant part:

Historian Emilio Gabba, a leading light in Roman history, said: ‘It is highly improbable homosexuality led to the fall of the Roman Empire.’

Professor Lellia Cracco Ruggini, an expert on Roman history from Turin University, said: ‘There is no proof Rome had a high number of homosexuals. I can safely say Rome did not fall because it was gay.’ However research would seem to suggest homosexuality was rife in ancient Rome.

The 18th century expert Edward Gibbon wrote that ‘of the first 15 emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct’.

Homosexuality is widely portrayed in ancient Roman art and was seen as acceptable 2,000 years ago.

For its part, the Telegraph has a complete column unto itself (by the same journalist) presenting the standard ‘list’ of possible reasons for the ‘fall’ … it begins thusly:

Scholars point out that it was not a single, dramatic event – the decline of the Empire took place over around 300 years.

Historians have variously dated the final collapse to the sack of Rome in AD410 by the Visigoth king Alaric, the deposing of the last Roman emperor by the German chieftain Odoacer in AD476 and the death of Justinian I, the last Roman emperor to try to reconquer the western half of the empire, in AD565.

The reasons for the fall of the empire include military overreach, invasion by emboldened tribes of Huns and Visigoths from northern and central Europe, inflation, corruption and political incompetence.

While historians have examined dozens of reasons for the decline of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, homosexuality is not one of them. [etc.]

… and there’s also this:

… much better job, on the Telegraph side of things. Daily Mail … well, it’s still the Daily Mail.

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3 thoughts on “Pondering the Cause(s) of the Fall of Rome

  1. A note on Roberto de Mattei, the ‘top’ historian and deputy director of CRN. He was appointed to the CRN by the previous Minister of Education, Letizia Moratti, during the Berlusconi III government (2005-2006). Sshe was the minister who tried to remove Darwin/evolutionism from the science curriculum in public schools. He is Prof. of Modern History and History of Christianity at the Università Europea of Rome, which belongs to the Legionaries of Christ.
    Now, why am I not surprisedr? (My thanks to Antonio Lombatti for tracing this for me)
    .

  2. Calpurnius Piso says:

    Presumably the Mayor of London ghost-wrote for the Telegraph.

    More seriously, given that the bisexual activity we assume was fairly normal amongst wealthy Romans at least was heavily disapproved of by the early Christians, and given that Christianity was already both dominant and the state religion in Rome by the time of its fall, the assertion that it was down to ‘the gays’ seems ludicrous. Since Gibbon has already come up, it seems worth pointing out that he himself actually seems to imply it was Christianity that was at fault, not sexual preference.

    I think the truth, perhaps, is that the Empire gradually split in two – between the Greek-speaking, Caesaropapalist, imperial and elaborating East, and the more severe, Papal, Latin-speaking West. In point of fact, the excommunications that usually mark the Great Schism in Christianity were the end-point of a gradual cultural and theological divide between the two churches which must, in part, have been a problem induced by the cultural differences (and degree of lack of communication) between East and West.

    The ecclesial causes of the fall of the East should not be underestimated, either: the [non-Chalcedonian] Copts, after all, so fed up with the [Chalcedonian, and as the name implies, imperially-backed] Melkites, invited the Arabs into Egypt… Then of course, there was the business with the Maronites, and the Syriac churches… schism and anathematisation did not exactly help matters for the Empire, shall we say.

  3. From quotes I’ve seen, I have at least been able to track down the ancient writing that de Mattei’s referring to; that is, De Gubernatione Dei (“On the Government of God”) by the fifth century church father Salvianus, who was active in what is now France. He was born circa 400, apparently witnessed the Franks’ attack on Trier in 418, and is writing in the wake of the Vandal capture of Carthage (and presumably took a similar view of the sack of Rome in 455, as he lived until after 470), which he interpreted as divine judgment on a decadent and sinful empire and Christianity. The standard edition seems still to be that of Franz Pauly, Salviani Presbyteri Massiliensis Opera Omnia (Vienna [Vindobonae] : C. Gerold 1883), volume 8 of the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) series. This can be found at

    http://www.archive.org/details/corpusscriptoru14wissgoog

    or

    http://www.archive.org/details/operaomnia07paulgoog

    E. M. Sanford’s 1930 translation of the work in question is available on Roger Pearse’s site in the collection of additional texts at

    http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/

    The specific passage referred to by de Mattei would appear to be from Book 7, beginning around chapter 16 (which commences on p. 176 in Pauly – it’s XVI in his Roman-numeralled chapters, 65 in Arabic numerals), which may be read at

    http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/salvian_gov_07_book7.htm

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