Thursday, April 30, 2015

Digital Scrapbook Entry #8 - Rome
Author: Wikipedia Contributors
Barracks Barons
          In the third century AD, the Roman Empire fell into a crisis known as the Crisis of the Third Century, because all the clever historians became writers, and this chaos was both caused by and led to the creation of what are now called the Barracks Emperors. These 'Emperors' took and held their rule based solely upon their military might, nearly all of them coming from a background as a soldier or officer. This trend brought about the nickname by which they are now identified as many of them simply sprang from a barracks with an army at their back and took the title, some not even setting foot in Rome. However this clever name is simply used to mask their real identity as military dictatorships, a concept which this plagues modern societies.
          The Crisis of the Third Century began in 235 AD, with the assassination of emperor Alexander Severus, and ended in 284 AD. It began as a result of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression and caused fifty years of what is described as military anarchy. There were 26 different claimants to the position of emperor, mostly powerful generals, many of whom divided whatever sections of the empire they could into kingdoms of their own. By 258 AD the Empire was divided into three major states, much like the Diadochi period after Alexander the Great, which were the Gallic Empire, the Palmyrene Empire, and the Roman Empire between the two. The Crisis changed the face of the empire, and only ended with the ascension of Diocletian in 284 to an united empire. Emperor Severus had focused much of his army on the Sassanid Empire of Persia, even while the Empire lost ground to Germanic tribes. In an attempt to rectify this situation, Severus attempted diplomacy with the Germans, costing him the respect of his legions. Before this, the Severan dynasty had many problems with the legions, often paying egregious amounts of money, harming the economy as a result, to each legionnaire in an attempt to keep them in check. Alexander did not do this either, and as a result he was murdered by his own army. After his death many generals took power, each ruling for an average of less than two years each. The military made or broke emperors, even more so than the Praetorian Guard had before, and any claimant had to carefully court the army, lest their lives end like the last Severan's did.
The Political Divisions of the Roman Empire During the Military Anarchy
The most obvious way to get loyalty from soldiers is to buy it, which is what the Severans and many of the Barracks Emperors attempted to do. In order to afford this, both groups raised taxes and devalued the Roman currency to the point of a near entire economic collapse. Money soon became almost worthless, and often times cities and towns resorted to bartering for goods. In turn the Roman government, or governments, faced bankruptcy and was forced to take goods from the people directly. This caused great civil unrest, only leading to an even larger increase in claimants and revolutions. These civil wars and the lack of a proper economy caused the overall Roman defense on its own borders to crumble, leading to tribes such as the Alamanni and the Franks to attempt raids and invasions into Roman territory. It would appear, although their is a lack of written records, that many Germanic tribes began banding into larger, more unified groups, meaning a weakened Rome had to fight a stronger enemy than before. Even more dangerous were the Sassanids, an empire that rose in Persia after the fall of the Parthians, intent on regaining the strength of Ancient Persia, causing them to be even more aggressive than their predecessor. To top all of this off, the Plague of Cyprian happened as well, devastating the impoverished farms and villages of Rome. The Barracks Emperors of this time were often ruthless and aggressive military leaders, who ruled their people with an iron fist. These Barracks Emperors tolerated no dissent in their ranks, as any sign of weakness was an opportunity for another claimant rise and depose his predecessor. These dictators were often poor leaders, however even the good ones were required to become tyrants if they were to hold their position. The poor economy meant that in order for any leader to hold power, others had to suffer, and thus it was nearly impossible to both please the people, a common way to hold power, and hold the army, the best way to gain power. To keep one's troops, one had to take from the people, if they did not, they were quickly deposed. This is an idea which is very common among dictatorships, that often times the dictator is at the whims of the military, often times almost entirely. After fifty years of bloodshed however, a series of aggressive and charismatic Emperors took power, driving tribes back and placing reforms which allowed the Roman Empire to get back on its feet. A series of military reforms were also made, such as banning the Senate from serving in the army, ridding the aristocratic hierarchy of old and causing the military to become a meritocracy. Diocletian also created a Tetrarchy, causing Rome to be ruled by four vassal emperors who could easily respond to problems on their associated border. While this brought about stability, the problems which caused the crisis would continue to plague Rome until the fall of its western half in the fifth century AD.
A map showing some of the belligerents
and their proxies in the Second Congo War
          A modern region that recently experienced a crisis similar to the one previously discussed is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the Second Congo War, aptly named as their was a Congo War before it, and also because historians leave cleverness to the writers, although it has also been called the Great African War and the African World War. During this time the DRC fell into a period of anarchy very similar to Rome's. The First Congo War, starting in 1996, was a result of Hutu militias, refugees of the Rwandan Genocide, began raiding Rwanda from Zaire, now the DRC. Zaire refused to prevent this, and thus a Tutsi-led Rwanda began to arm Tutsi Congolese in eastern Zaire. Zaire denounced this however possessed neither the military nor the political capital to prevent it from occurring. A Tutsi leader, Laurent-Desire Kabila methodically began conquering Zaire, claiming to be a Marxist leader. He was met with only light resistance from Zaire forces, and thus had a slow yet continuous campaign. He was called an unmotivated and uninspiring leader, and his forces were accused of massacres and many other war crimes. By May 1997 Kabila controlled Zaire, which he renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and began a violent reorganization of the nation. The Second Congo War began as a result of the Rwandan soldiers and leaders refusing to leave, causing Kabila to force them out. After an initial rebel offensive, the battle lines for the looming conflict were drawn by 1999. Many nations had proxy rebel forces, in an attempt to remain out of the conflict, causing a slow and arduous war with little change in territory. The nations who were most influential in terms of their proxy forces were Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Burundi, and the DRC. Many rebel forces developed with the sole intention of fighting the proxy forces of a specific other nation, such as the Mai-Mai, who formed as a result of Rwandan invasions. Many African nations joined the conflict, including Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Chad, and Sudan, and the new DRC nation fell into chaos. Many of the rebels and independent forces rose as a result of a single charismatic leader promising a disgruntled and war torn people what they desired. They were then forced to abide by their promises, and many lost power as their people lost faith that they truly could accomplish the initial cause. They held chunks of land, often times needing to expend most of their resources in simply holding it, and many sub-factions arose in each of these groups, all headed by a different individual. While it has been called the Great African War, it was more of a military anarchy, and while some of the forces were from foreign nations, most belligerents were disgruntled tribes and peoples whose leaders only held power as long as they gave results. Many war crimes were committed, and all in all this period saw a loss of morality as many people simply attempted to survive in a war torn nation. The Second Congo War officially ended in 2003, with the emplacement of a transitional government and the stop of most hostilities. Many places see a continuation of the conflict, but most saw an end to the strife they had experienced for years.
The nations involved in the Second Congo War
          The comparison of these two periods is easy, the difficult part is what can be learned by seeing the two side by side. Both periods were times of great strife, whose causes were issues that had festered for such a long period of time that a conflict was nearly inevitable, for Rome it was the Severan spending and for the Second Congo War it was the tribal grudges and Rwandan Genocide, as well as the First Congo War. Both saw a near complete destruction of the economy in the region, as the Roman currency was worth nothing and the DRC had nearly no rigid economy to speak of at that time. This caused economic localization, an issue that breeds conflict. For a nation to maintain itself, it needs a level of connections for several reasons. One, the resources needed to maintain a nation larger than one village or town must be gathered from more than one village or town, two, this connection breeds patriotism and a sense of unity needed for stability between peoples, and three, localization is in essence the creation of small localized governments, which oppose the interests of the larger government as they keep power over the region to themselves. In Rome this led to the development of new Empires, as well as the creation of legion controlled provinces who's allegiance was to their commander only. In the DRC this led to the strengthening of old tribal divisions, as tribes formed militias bent on achieving success and prosperity, or at least protection, for that tribe alone. In both cases this led to the creation of small dictatorships, whose power was only present as long as they could please those who put them there, in Rome this was the legions, and in the DRC this was the militias and tribes. In both cases this reliance led to an effort by the leaders to please those who supported them, for Rome this was excruciating taxes on the poor and middle classes, and in the DRC it was the blatant disregard for the actions of the militias, and the lack of discipline in the ranks. By comparing the two periods, it can be discerned that the more power a military holds in its own government, the more a nation relies upon it in times of crisis. While a military can be a driving force to recovery, an undisciplined and disgruntled military can be the driving force towards destruction. In order for a country to remain stable and strong, it must keep a high discipline among its own ranks, for an undisciplined military will often take matters into its own hands in an attempt to accomplish its won goals.

Crisis of the Third Century Divisions:
DRC Divisions in the Second Congo War:
Second Congo War Belligerents:

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