Every empire falls. There’s no way to stop it. The only we thing can control is how it happens—whether it’ll be a quiet, dignified passing of a torch or the flaming destruction of a nation torn down by barbarians.
That’s more or less what happened to Rome, and the aftermath was pure chaos. The fall of their empire sent the European world spiraling into a dark age that took centuries to escape.
If we take them time to learn from their history, we’ll see some eerie parallels with our own. And if history really does repeat itself, we’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s to come next.
10. Oversea Slave Laborers Won’t Make Your Goods Forever
At its peak, money was rushing into the Roman Empire. The emperors and the government were basking in an absolute avalanche of wealth that helped them control the better part of the known world. But just because the nations had money didn’t mean the Roman people were getting rich.
Instead of hiring their own people, the Romans got foreign slaves to do most of their work. A massive part of their production was being done by foreign slaves, which left the actual citizens with nothing to do. A lot of Romans were unemployed, relying on government subsidies and handouts just to survive.
Modern companies can’t get away with literally hiring slaves these days, but they can come pretty close. Like Rome, the modern Western countries outsource the vast majority of the things they buy to sweatshops that sometimes pay as little as 64 cents an hour.
Approximately 60 percent of the things Americans buy are made overseas, but it’s not just the US that does this. China currently makes about 50 percent of the world’s clothes and 70 percent of its mobile phones.
The real lesson from Rome, though, is what might happen next—because Rome’s setup didn’t last forever. The slaves started to demand more and revolted. Meanwhile, the people of Rome, influenced by Christian morality, started feeling bad about using slaves.
Their labor system started to collapse. Since slave labor was the backbone of their entire economy, everything else went down with it.
9. Obesity Epidemics Don’t Get A Lot Of Sympathy
The average Roman probably wasn’t obese. A lot of Roman civilians struggled just to get food, but the emperors were a different story.
The rich of Rome spent so much time having feasts and orgies that it actually became common practice to throw up mid-meal to keep it going. After watching Emperor Nero and his friends have a feast, the philosopher Seneca wrote that the wealthy of Rome “vomit that they may eat; and eat that they may vomit.”
But it wasn’t just Nero. Julius Caesar once escaped an assassination attempt because he’d stepped out to vomit up his meal. Emperor Vitellius had a reputation for starting the day by belching his breakfast in the faces of his soldiers.
In the modern world, poor people in wealthy countries usually become obese—especially in the American South. In some states, type 2 diabetes rates are twice as high as they were 20 years ago. In fact, one-third of the population is obese now.
The real lesson from Rome, though, is that having too much turns people against you. The reason these stories about lascivious Roman emperors have been passed on for so long is because their people wanted to make them look bad. One group of people was gorging themselves while another starved. All that was won by the wealthy was resentment, wars, and a lot of health problems.