The Roman historian Titus Livius once called Rome “the greatest nation in the world.” He wrote those words in a time of moral and political decline, and Livy was hoping by outlining the greatness of the once proud republic, the Roman people would arrest the decline and embrace the principles that had made Rome great. Livy argued that without understanding their history, the Roman people would neither be able to “endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them.” But Livy failed to recognize the catastrophic effect empire and expansion had on the Roman spirit.
For example, by expanding north and attempting to assimilate the Germanic peoples and the Celts into Roman culture, Rome sealed its own demise. The Germans and Celts never fully embraced Rome, and those who did retained some element of their own political and cultural heritage. Romans were outnumbered by Germanic peoples in their own army, and the disintegration of the Empire seemed inevitable as the fringes of the Empire came under constant assault from groups unwilling to assimilate. There was never a Roman “nation” outside of Rome. The men, money, and material needed to build and then hold the Empire were wasted, while the vices and decadence of the ruling class in Rome wrecked the republic. The human cost of the Roman Empire was incalculable.
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