Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Empire of Lies: How we are collapsing in the same way as the Roman Empire did.

(Image source: Wikipedia) The Devil is sometimes said to be "The Father of Lies." It is an apt definition for a creature that doesn't even exist except as a figment of human imagination. Satan is an evil egregore that we ourselves created, a creature that seems to loom larger and larger behind the current chronicles. The recent arrest of Julian Assange is just the latest deed of an Empire that seems bent on truly creating its own reality, something that, in itself, wouldn't necessarily be evil but that becomes so when it implies destroying all other realities, including the only true one. 

Initially, I thought to comment the recent news about Assange by reproducing a post "The Empire of Lies" that I published here about one year ago, where I described how the transition from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages had taken place, in large part, because people just couldn't trust their Imperial rulers anymore. The Roman Empire had become an empire of lies and it was left to Christianity to rebuild the trust that the old empire had squandered - the Middle Ages were far from being "Dark Ages."  But, eventually, I thought to publish something I had in mind about how the Roman Empire and the modern Western Empire are following parallel trajectories in their habit of telling lies as they move toward their respective Seneca Cliffs.

So, here it is my assessment of the Roman Collapse, based on the excellent book by Dmitry Orlov, "The Five Stages of Collapse." Just one note: in the book, Orlov doesn't describe the post-collapse phase of the Soviet Union that ended with Russia becoming again as a prosperous and united country, as it is nowadays. It was a good example of the "Seneca Rebound" -- there is life after collapse and there will be new life after that the Evil Empire of lies will be gone.

The Five Stages of Collapse of The Roman Empire.

By Ugo Bardi

Dmitry Orlov wrote "The Five Stages of Collapse" as an article in 2008 and as a book in 2013. It was an original idea for that time that of comparing the fall of the Soviet Union with that of the United States. Being an American citizen born in Russia, Orlov could compare the two Empires in detail and note the many similarities that led both to follow the same trajectory, even though the cycle of the American Empire is not over, yet.

To strengthen Orlov's analysis I thought I could apply the same five stages to an older Empire, the Roman one. And, yes, the five stages apply well also to that ancient case. So, here is my take on this subject.

To start, a list of the five Stages of Collapse according to Orlov.

  • Stage 1: Financial collapse.
  • Stage 2: Commercial collapse.
  • Stage 3: Political collapse.
  • Stage 4: Social collapse.
  • Stage 5: Cultural collapse.

Now, let's see how these five stages played out during the fall of the Roman Empire.

Stage 1 – Financial Collapse (3rd century AD). The Roman Empire’s financial system was not as sophisticated as ours, but, just like our civilization, the Empire was based on money. Money was the tool that kept together the state: it was used to pay the legions and the bureaucrats and to make the commercial system supply the cities with food. The Roman money was a physical commodity: it was based on silver and gold, and these metals needed to be mined. It was the Roman control over the rich gold mines of Northern Spain that had created the Empire, but these mines couldn’t last forever. Starting with the 1st century, the cost of mining from depleted veins became an increasingly heavy burden. By the 3rd century, the burden was too heavy for the Empire to carry. It was the financial collapse from which the Empire never could fully recover.

Stage 2 – Commercial Collapse (5th century AD). The Roman Empire had never really been a commercial empire nor a manufacturing society. It was specialized in military conquest and it preferred to import luxury items from abroad, some, such as silk, all the way from the other side of Eurasia, from China. In addition to legions, the Empire produced only two commodities in large amounts: grain and gold. Of these, only gold could be exported to long distances and it soon disappeared to China to pay for the expensive imports the Romans were used to buy. The other product, grain, couldn’t be exported and continued to be traded within the Empire’s border for some time – the supply of grain from the African and Near Eastern granaries was what kept the Roman cities alive, Rome in particular. After the financial collapse, the supply lines remained open because the grain producers had no other market than the Roman cities. But, by mid-5th-century, things got so bad that Rome was sacked first by the Visigoths in 410, and then by the Vandals in 450, It recovered from the 1st sack, but the second was terminal. The Romans had no more money left to pay for the grain they needed, the commercial sea lanes broke down completely, and the Romans starved. It was the end of the Roman commercial system.

Stage 3 – Political Collapse (late 5th century AD). The political collapse went in parallel with the commercial collapse. Already in the late 4th century, the Emperors had become unable to defend Rome from the Barbarian armies marching across the empire and they had retired to the safety of the fortified city of Ravenna. When Rome was sacked, the Emperors didn’t even try to do something to help. The last emperors disappeared by the late 5th century but, already decades before, most people in Europe had stopped caring about whether or not there was some pompous person in Ravenna who wore purple clothes and claimed to be a divine Emperor.

Stage 4 – Social Collapse (5th century AD). The social collapse of the Western Empire went in parallel with the disgregation of the political and commercial structures. Already during the early 5th century, we have evidence that the Roman Elites had gone in “escape mode" – it was not just the emperor who had fled Rome to take refuge in Ravenna, patricians and warlords were on the move with troops, money, and followers to establish feudal domains for themselves where they could. And they were leaving the commoners to fend off by themselves. By the 6th century, the Roman State was gone and most of Europe was in the hands of Germanic warlords.

Stage 5 - Cultural collapse (starting in the 6th century AD). It was very slow. The advent of Christianity, during the 3rd century, had not weakened the Empire's cultural structure, it had been an evolution rather than a break with the past. The collapse of the Empire as a political and military entity didn't change things so much and for centuries people in Europe still considered themselves as Romans, not unlike the Japanese soldiers stranded in remote islands after the end of the second world war .(in Greece, people would still define themselves as "Romans" well into the 19th century). Latin, the imperial language, disappeared as a vernacular language but it was kept alive by the Catholic clergy and it became an indispensable tool that kept Europe culturally united. Latin kept a certain cultural continuity with the ancient empire that was only very gradually lost. It was only with the 18th - 19th centuries that Latin disappeared as the language of the cultural elite, to be replaced by English nowadays.

As you see, Orlov’s list has a certain logic although it needs to be adapted a little to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The 5 stages didn’t come one after the other, There was more than a century lapse between the 3rd-century financial collapse (stage 1) and the three subsequent stages arriving together: commercial, political, and social collapse. The 5th stage, the cultural collapse, was a drawn-out story that came later and that lasted for centuries.

How about our civilization? The 1st stage, financial collapse is clearly ongoing, although it is masked by various accounting tricks. The 2nd stage, commercial collapse, instead, hasn't started yet, nor the political collapse: the Empire still maintains a giant and threatening military force, even though its actual efficiency may be doubted. Maybe we are already seeing signs of the 3rd stage, social collapse but, if the Roman case is a guide, these three stages will arrive together.

Then, how about the last stage, cultural collapse? That's a question for a relatively far future. For a while, English will surely remain the universal language, just as Latin used to be after the fall of Rome, while people may keep thinking they still live in a globalized world (maybe it is already an illusion). With English fading, anything may happen and when (and if) a new Empire will rise on the ashes of the American Empire it will be something completely different. We can only say that the universe goes in cycles and that's, evidently, the way things have to be.


  1. Empires fall apart because of many causes: moral standards, hedonism, lack of shared purpose, etc... but the main reason I think is because the ELITES are not able to adapt to changes in times, making the system more and more complex and fragile.

  2. That comment is exactly what Toynbee said, and I agree. But how can any elites anywhere deal with the end of the very long Era of Growth? The Limits to Growth make our situation even worse than that of Rome in the 5th century, do they not?

  3. Why do you say "Financial collapse is clearly ongoing"?

    Honestly, I don't see how we can have a financial collapse of the same sort as the Romans. We can't run out of the medium of exchange.
    But the rest is absolutely possible. Environmental and resource depletion leading directly into commercial collapse and political collapse.
    Money is going to be the tail of the dog this time.

    1. It is a different mechanism, correct. But I think the core of the financial collapse is the same: a virtual currency is worth something only as long as you can buy something with it. And when the currency becomes worthless, you might as well say you ran out of it!

  4. Interesting post, but I suggest to enlarge the vision of the collapsing events, do not focalize all your mind on the Roman Empire collapsing only.

    1-There's not only the Roman Empire collapsing in the mankind history, to look for understand the collapsing phenomena.

    2-Sorry, I don't agree with the 1,2,3,4,5 phases because the first element of Roman Empire collapsing it was a military reason. I think you are forgeting the main point: the military dimension.

    During West Roman Empire collapsing, the Roman military power loose the battles: those were facts.

    There are clear military reasons for loosing battles:

    a-West roman infantry weren't the roman infantry soldiers of the roman repubblic. The West Roman infantry soldiers were barbarian people (french, and german people, they were not sufficient trained, they were not enough motivatd to stop an invasion, and they were not sufficient well armed to face off the barbarian military threats)

    b-Looking at the history of roman military power, roman military forces had always a light cavalry: the roman tactics never ever developed an heavy cavalry. Instead the hun troops developed a much heavier cavalry than roman forces. So Hun militiary force had a new mobile force on the field: Firepower and Mouvement are the key factors for building new lethal tactics for winning the battles. If you are winning the battles (Tactics), probably you can win the war (Strategy).

    c-It was the hun bow, a severe letal weapon: roman archery and roman cavalry never hadn't this military weapon.

    So, at the end of the day, the weak roman military force caused the collapse of the West Roman Empire.
    Until the roman military forces were just sufficient to stop invasion, the west roman collapsing have been stopped.

    You are missing the main point: it's not matter of Return on Investiments rate, it's not a matter of decreasing productivity of the factors, it's not a matter a complex stuff phases. For Roman Empire collapsing it was a matter of war: less effective weapons, older tactics, bad roman infantry troops.

    1. I'm with you Chip! War, and of course Roman in-fighting for leadership. If they had been more unified in leadership they might have had time to look into these new innovations in war technology.

    2. @ Eclipse Now


      Personally I think Roman Empire started to dig its pit, when roman empire payed german clans for not attacking roman borders. Frankly paying your potential enemy to ask him to not attack you, for trasforming him from a potential enemy to an allied, IMHO it seems to me a very bad idea.

      Because paying money for not attacking you it's a clear sign of military weakness.
      Because a solid and safe allied always share risks with you in war.
      Because a genuine allied always share with you the objects of war.

  5. How did the cats do in the collapse of the Roman Empire? Doesn't look too good for Julian Assange's cat. :(


    1. Rome today is full of cats -- they seem to love the ancient Roman ruins. But during Imperial times it seems they weren't so popular.

    2. Maybe Assange's Cat has become a Refugee and has joined his Brothers & Sisters foraging through the Dumpsters of the Vatican?

    3. In imperial time perhaps there were more beasts to eat cats but how can we really know?

      Ugo, how do you feel about comparing the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest with Vietnam? It was a bigger hit, three legions of sculls nailed to trees but America too lost its aura of invincibility with our comparatively minor losses.

      There are aspects to the current situation that can't be compared to the ancients. The ancients did not have electronics. For the time being, we still do. And as bad as things are, thank god the Byzantines don't have Julian.

    4. @ K-Dog

      I add this my long comment, in this very cool great military comparison: Vietnam War 1960s and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9DC

      IMHO same points are similar, others are quite differents: I can't say if the two military events are the same echo.

      Strategic comparision points of view: The Vietnam War in 1960s and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9DC

      [x] Vietnam War was a useless regional war, because USA did not understand the vietnamese goals (throwing away French for being Vietnam a free nation, then throwing away the south corrupted regime for having a better life style) and vietnamese fears (stopping the chinese power into the vietnam penisula): USA misunderstood all Vietnam objectives

      same point of comparison = strong enemy objects misunderstanding

      [x] Roman Empire did not understand german tribes, german people did not want to be roman province and frankly into the german forests there was nothing of important for the roman empire (except for coal, wood, sheeps and nothing more, all those stuffs were in any case quite useless to conquest)

      [0] Into the mccarthyism misunderstanding the USSR stepped in, on giving away SAM missiles and jet fighters, for USSR weapons testing against USA armaments: Vietnam War was a proxy flashpoint into the long and bigger Cold War era.

      < > 400 years are too long period of time, to consider a roman lacking strategy to the Est threats borders

      [0] After 400 years, the hun people stepped in for invading West Roman Empire with the suport of german tribes

      [x] USA give up on using nuclear tactic warheads for winning the war, but on looking how many bombs did USA drop via air power, it was quite clear in Vietnam war there was the equivalent of some nuclear tactic warheads dropped down. Despite those facts, USA lost the war because for american people there were nothing to fight for in Vietnam.

      same point of comparison = no reasons for fighting for in German Forests as like in Vietnam jungle

      [x] into the german forests there was nothing of important for the roman empire (coal, wood, sheeps and nothing more, all those stuffs were quite useless to conquest) and Roman Empire understood that, so Rome give up and put the roman legion in defensive position behind West Reno river border.

      [0] USA fought with stupid political limitations in Vietnam War, because north vietnamese forces slithered into Cambodia borders to reach the South Vietnam capital city. USA military forces did not stop this vietnamese tactic mouvement because 1-USA did not drop nuclear tactic warheads for stopping the Ho Chi Minh trail and 2-USA did not put armoured military forces on the ground in Cambodia for stopping Ho Chi Minh trail. The lessons is: Air Power is not sufficient for winning a war when there are jungles or deep forests (without using nuclear tactic warheads).

      < > no element of strategic comparison with the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9DC

      [0] frankly the Roman Legions can go every where, there were no political borders to stay into in 9DC

    5. @ K-Dog

      Tactic comparision points of view: The Vietnam War in 1960s and the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9DC

      [x] Ostile land and rough terrain (just like urban terrains) denied to US Army on using wide armoured divisions with great effective military power

      same point of comparison = jungle and forests with rougth terrain and urban territories usually denies to use military heavy wide equipments

      [x] into deep german forest roman military forces did not have way to deploy and use their massive catapult artillery equipment

      [x] slaughterous fast hit and run short attacks did not offer time and space to realize in the roman commander what was the threats so roman forces not deployed themself for having an effective reaction to the enemy's attack

      same point of comparison = no wide and massive campaign battle but only short and continuous slaughterous small attacks

      [x] continuous flashpoint every where in rought terrains and jungle without massive wide battles and no clear frontline of war, it was hard for military head quarter to recognize where and when an enemy action was a main offensive or a pure diversive or hit & run small flashpoints.

      [x] roman infantry were always train to fight into a wide and massive battle in open field, they never ever trained for fighting in small places just like forests. In the long history of Greece and Roman Wars but 2 enemies forces always used to chose an open space for fighting themself. Nobody before the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest fought into slaughterous fast hit and run short attacks

      same point of comparison = insurgency military action always avoid massive campaign battle, but hostiles use their rought terrains just like urban/jungle/forests/mountain territories for having military advantages, so insurgency wars are quite different stuffs and more difficult to handle for not well trained military forces

      [x] american infantry troops never ever had an effective war training for making war into jungle areas

      [0] roman legionary equipment was perfect stuffs for fighting into the german forest, the lacking of military power were only in roman military formations because they need an open space for manoeuvring

      < > no element of tactic comparison with the Vietnam War in 1960s

      [0] M16A1 rifle was defective firearm and 5.56x45 ammunition caliber was not enough stopping power with bad gun powder, instead the AK47 was a perfect rifle for fighting into jungle and 7.62x39 was a strong bullet with high stopping power. Column, line, arrow, left/right arrow, X/square, all those tactic formations are adeguate for jungle warfare. What it is missing for jungle warfare is the continuous lacking of information to apply indirect fire, close air support, and space of manoeuvring against enemy forces. Because a lot of threats can be hided into jungle (fences, ditches, mines, traps, booby traps, machine gun nests) all those stuffs can destroy the effectiveness in the time, in the space of an action/reaction applying the manoeuvring and own fire power.

    6. For being an echo event, get the oldest potential pattern (in this case the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9DC) and find the key factors:

      Strategic elements of Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9DC
      .Roman Empire did not understand german tribes and their objectives and fears
      .Defensive positions in west Reno river border with no military innovations for roman legions
      .No reasons for fighting for german Forests and making war into wild forests for roman forces
      .No political borders to stay into for Roman military forces

      Tactics elements of Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 9DC
      .Ostile land and rough terrain denies to deploy roman massive catapult artillery equipment
      .slaughterous fast hit and run short attacks did not offer time and space to realize in the roman mind commander what was the threat, so roman forces not deployed themself for having an effective reaction to the enemy's attack
      .roman infantry formations never ever trained for fighting in small places but only into a wide open field
      .roman legionary equipment was perfect stuffs for fighting into the german forest

      For finding potential echo events, it needs to set the conditions in two different orbits:

      1-orbit in same conditions: what's good for the goose is good for the gander

      Strategic elements in same conditions
      .Forces A did not understand B tribes and their objectives and fears
      .Defensive positions along river border with no military innovations for A military forces
      .No reasons for fighting for forest area and making war into wild forests for A forces
      .No political borders to stay into for A military forces

      Tactics elements in same conditions
      .Ostile land and rough terrain denies to deploy A massive military equipment
      .slaughterous fast hit and run short attacks did not offer time and space to realize in the mind of the A force commander what was the threat, so A forces not deployed themself for having an effective reaction to the enemy's attack
      .A infantry formations never ever trained for fighting in small places but only into a wide open field
      .A military personal equipment was perfect stuffs for fighting into the forest


      2-orbit in orthogonal conditions: what's good for a bird is quite good for a fish

      Strategic elements in orthogonal conditions
      .Forces A fully understand B tribes and their objectives and fears
      .No defensive static positions along river border and wide military innovations for A military forces
      .Fully reasons for fighting for forest area and making war into wild forests for A forces
      .Strong political borders to stay into for A military forces

      Tactics elements in orthogonal conditions
      .Ostile land and rough terrain it doesn't deny to deploy A massive military equipment for fighting
      .slaughterous fast hit and run short attacks are fully understood in the mind of the A force commander abaout what was the threat, so A forces deployed themself for having an effective reaction to the enemy's attack
      .A infantry formations always trained for fighting in small places
      .A military personal equipment was not perfect stuffs for fighting into forest

      Those patterns make a sense only if you put them into a scenario planning stuffs, because only the context of a scenarios planning make sense for putting in the better pattern in backcasting or forwardcasting, on having a very powerfull insighting forward analysis.

  6. Dear Ugo; the real reason the Roman Empire collapsed: Senility. /Users/nickblack/Downloads/bdsmlr-20844-ghOkTrsf2H.jpg

  7. Ugo. We have definitely entered the Financial Collapse phase. I disagree with your observation that we have not. In the 1950's and 1960's (here in Australia) a mans'standard middle class job like a teacher (my father), could buy a house, buy a car, support a family if 4 and rent a beach house for summer holidays every year. My mother never worked outside the house or earnt external income. Today, that is NOT POSSIBLE due to the ongoing financial decay. Even with both parents working today, their lifestyles are often not as good as a family with a single income earner 50 years ago. Cheers, Kevin. PS. I have read your blog for years and love it. This is my first comment.

    1. It is exactly what I wrote "The 1st stage, financial collapse is clearly ongoing, although it is masked by various accounting tricks."

      And, about your observation that your father could buy a house and support a family, while this is not possible today, it is exactly my situation. I am even preparing a post on that subject!

    2. Ugo. Thank you for your reply. I look forward to your post on the ongoing financial decay. It seems to me that the primary reason for the very visible social decay in most countries (drugs, gangs, crime, homelessness, poverty, disintegration of family life) are mostly financial. Cheers. Kevin.

  8. Hi Kevin,
    while I hear your pain and what is fast becoming this generation's housing crisis, is that financial collapse or something specific to Sydney? How widespread is that? Could it not also be a sign of the flattening of the global marketplace with the top 1% of China's wealthy able to buy *all* of Australia's real estate if they so desired?



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)