After spending a decade or so studying Apocalyptic belief as part of my larger book Serpent in the Labyrinth I became more dismissive and critical of religious voices of doom. The original basis of the book was to explore ancient mysteries like Atlantis and the Trojan Wars from a sane perceptive: that is without lost super civilisations and space aliens, except much of explanation I concluded was the loss of great human civilisation and space aliens and the revelation of who Jesus really was. I should mention the space alien was neither green nor little but a very large close proximity comet that visited ancient skies on a regular occurrence and whose debris [as gravitational forces slowly pulled it apart] was to occasionally load the high atmosphere with space dust causing decade long winters.
An astoundingly obvious conclusion was that saviour gods who would arrive during a world gripped in an apocalypse, normally floating in the sky, were representations of the comet whose dustloading occurred every thousand years or so. I say saviour gods because Jesus was only one of many and if humanised gods were not a cultures thing then they usually went for fire-breathing dragons. These ‘cosmic winters’ as they are described by astronomers only appeared to have a 1000 year cycle as tree-ring data [summer growth rings that can be traced back to an exact summer even five and half thousand years ago] reveals events dating back at least 5,000 years that were pretty random except humans seem to have forecast ‘the End time’ to happen around 2,000 years ago give or take a century. There were global events notably 200 b.c.e, but not an apocalypse and in an unrelated event a few hundred years later, just as Christianity was getting going, the Roman world was devastated by plagues which many saw as the beginning of the End. The collapse of the Roman Empire was a long drawn out affair but most of it was in ruins by the time the next ‘cosmic winter’ of significance occurred in 540 c.e. [although it could be argued that half of the Empire was to last till the 15 century as the Byzantine Empire].
In the Atlantis myth the civilisation is sunk beneath the waves because the Gods were angry with the arrogance of Atlantian man and, as some would have it, that arrogance of power over nature included death rays, flying machines and ‘dark’ crystals: a myth which emerged recently with Edgar Cayce, the American
mystic deluded nutter or con-man. As much as it could be a warning from history for us the boring old real history of Rome is possibly a better example.
The Roman Empire was remarkably successful and long lived emerging around 700 b.c.e and hanging on until the 6th Century c.e. and it took a very different approach to empire than those before and since. The Greeks, Hitties and Egyptians before Rome, and Arab Islam and Mongol after did a lot of fighting and invasion and kept slaves and expanded empires but the Romans were different in that they industrialised their empire. Rome invaded and expanded its empire to sustain growth, with much of its technology being borrowed from the defeated, far from being Romulians of the Star Trek Universe they were much more Borg. Roman war culture and growth were entirely linked.
To be a real Roman your family really had to come from Rome or at least your ancestors would have to and life for real Romans was that of the elite even if you were poor, in much the same way the Western world of today is an elite minority when compared to the whole of humanity. As elites they enjoyed the privilege of Romans at the expense of everyone else. Small farmers sold up their lands to ever growing estates and headed to the big smoke as did most people who considered themselves Roman and so as to keep the economy going and feed an ever growing urban [Roman word!] population the estates needed workers. Slavery served the purpose to work the fields and pander to the needs of the growing middle-classes but new sources of slaves required the acquisition of new lands which required the world’s most modern and well equipped army. As the empire grew so did the population so ever more land, slaves and military spending were needed to meet demand.
Most Romans were neither middle-class or particularly useful members of society but in big cities they were to be feared as the mob who could terminate an emperor’s reign or at least give a pretence for the next emperor to murder his way into office. To quell the mob emperors provided welfare of free bread and to keep them amused, the circus. The circus was manipulation of the mob, it was a symbol in reverse: in the real world the Empire was surrounded by savages that threatened every Romans way of life but the circus turned it inside out and savages in the arena became surrounded by civilised Romans. Fear of savages destroying Rome gave emperors control over the rabble, I think most of the parallels between our world and Rome are obvious and I don’t want to dwell but I rather think the circus has been replaced by the Murdoch media machine.
Eventually the decline and fall of Rome was slow and bumpy, in the first instance the rigid structure of society, that is, people were restricted in employment: you did what your father did, which did not allow for adaptability. Rome also reached it limits of growth as the easy fertile and populous lands were quickly exploited in the first few centuries; in the later part of the Empire these rich pickings with good returns had run out leaving only marginal lands like Scotland, Wales, the forests beyond the Rhine and Eastern Central Europe. Getting a return on these invasions was difficult as they were further away, yielded less rewards but cost more in men and resources to invade. Emperors would big up these invasions describing the battles as conclusive and victorious and another land where the riches would flow and of course, yet another potential market for Roman pottery and goods. The truth was different, these were no Gaul or Libya or Egypt and the Roman Army that held it all together was getting overstretched.
In the 2nd Century c.e. a new threat destroyed many of the cities- it was plague which was probably brought back by soldiers from the Eastern frontier and these devastating pandemics would continue to turn up in the following centuries causing some to delight in prophesies of doom and also causing the authorities to stamp out such beliefs which, is why Christianity was loved by the downtrodden poor who were told of god’s riches to come and despised by government who saw it as undermining civilisation. These plagues also happened for another reason: the rise or growth of Rome allowed for urbanisation and population growth which in turn meant more people in close proximity and urban poverty: plagues are just nature’s limit to growth.
Rome ran out of resources that it could afford to exploit and although the world was [and is] full of resources the empire ran out of money to pay the soldiers- to invade the lands- to harvest slave, land, minerals- to feed its ever growing populations and maintain its existence. The roads became too long to maintain, the border too long to defend and the costs out stripped returns. With the addition of plagues, climate change, and civil unrest as standards of living declined and the Empire was doomed.
All was not lost, Rome as the centre of the universal or Catholic faith avoided pillage by paying off threats with gold [depleting reserves that could not be restored] and the richer Eastern Roman Empire held itself together and evolved into the Byzantium Empire that survived until 1450 relying on a more market based economy. Byzantium still contracted from its height when it was the eastern half of the Roman Empire and was eventually over run by a new adaptable although brutally violent civilisations from both east and west. Curiously the beginning of the end were the crusaders who it seems were triggered around 1100 to seize the Holy lands because God had sent signs in the form of comets and fireballs from heaven. The space alien of the ancients made a spectacular although final return around the time it was expected.
If you are interested the space alien is most likely comet Encke which is a dull and small rock which still has a short three year orbit. That’s entropy for you.