inde lupae fulvo nutricis tegmine laetus
Romulus excipiet gentem et Mavortia condet
moenia Romanosque suo de nomine dicet.
his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono;
imperium sine fine dedi…
Even Vergil can be wrong. The Romans came and went despite Jupiter’s grand declaration that “boundaries of time and place” weren’t for them. Roman acumen, logistics, moral ruggedness. These things and more supposedly marked them for timeless growth and prosperity.
We know the reality.
Roman kings fell. The Roman Republic tumbled into civil war only to be succeeded by a Roman Empire whose internal machinations at first led to the Empire’s schism and then to the Western Empire’s transfer of power to Odoacer. Odoacer’s kingdom devolved to Theodoric’s Ostrogothic rule. Next, the social and political-party jumble of the Byzantine Empire managed somehow to remain cohered under different dynasts until the Ottoman Turks gained control in 1453.
How succinct and simple this paragraph is, and how it ends so arbitrarily, as though a persistence of Ottoman Turks is somehow implied. But the yarn unravels, and anyone wishing to follow it further can thumb The Anchor Atlas of World History.
Compendia are short on the details about great personages and their individual roles in the rise, growth, and fall of empires and kingdoms. In the end, a single man or woman is hardly ever decisive. Thanks to the power of a single person, patterns may emerge and kingdoms may set-upon paths from which they can exit only with struggle and indemnity; however, a single great individual never defines the breadth and scope of an empire, kingdom, or nation state. The converse is also true. An empire’s death is the work of more than one man. Pace Carlyle.
When nation states fall, they do so either at the brush-stroke of war or because internal calamities of policy and personality accrue over time. Generally, it’s a combination of both, but even this is oversimplification.
But fall they must, and somewhere in the folds of Kempis’s hallowed “O quam cito transit gloria mundi” and the morose serenity of Shelly’s Ozymandias, our “unique” American democracy bides its time.