6 Chapter 6
Two Roman Empires
The Roman Era is divided into two profoundly different periods. They are so dramatically different that it wouldn’t be right to say there was just one Roman Empire. They were two that worked entirely different ways.
The first starts the year 48BC and extends until 322 AD. During this period, a highly industrialized production-based economy built up from a base of virtually nothing. It had massive corporations that produced millions of tons of products that went into making modern cities. The industrial Roman empire worked a lot like industrialized countries work today. It had massive mines, cement plants, steel mills, foundries, factories, warehouses, organized transport companies, and retail distribution centers providing many kinds of goods for all classes of consumers and provided employment for millions of people, most of whom lived in cities.
The digital map from this link (Link to digital map) overlays known structures of the industrial Roman empire as a series of overlays on Goggle Maps. You can select the specific features you want to see and not see from the menu on the left. It shows thousands of industrial facilities, residential housing developments, shopping malls, theaters, and other facilities.
The second period started the year 322AD and marks the period of the ‘Holy Roman Empire.’ That year, emperor Constantine ordered all industrial activity to cease. All corporations were shut down. All schools were closed. People had to turn in all their books to be burned, on pain of death. Teaching the old skills was banned and the authorities were particularly brutal toward any who tried to teach reading.
When the corporations and industrial facilities were shut down, production collapsed. The economy, built on the same structures that support industrial economies today, stopped functioning. Most of the people in the cities no longer had incomes and, even if they could get money it would not do them any good: nothing was being produced and shipped to markets. Many of them starved to death. Since record keeping also stopped, we don’t have exact figures and can’t tell how many. But forensic analysis later showed that, after an initial drastic fall, population eventually increased to about half what it had been in the industrial period. Most likely, at its low point, it was only about ¼ of the industrial peak, meaning that perhaps ¾ of the people died. This period is often called the ‘the dark ages.’ It lasted for roughly a thousand years. The Roman Empire still existed during this time, but people kept chipping away at its foundational structures, and, eventually, they couldn’t keep the bans on knowledge in place. By the early 1400s, the imperial institutions no longer had enough power to prevent people from learning to read and exchanging information in writing. By the mid 1400s, schools began to open, research began, and industry began to revive. This revival is called the ‘Renaissance.’ The second era of the roman empire starts in 322 AD and ends with the renaissance, which started about 1400 AD.
This chapter is about both of these Roman Empires.
We can learn a lot of lessons about this sequence of events. I think one of the most important of these lessons is in the often heard parable: ‘those who do not learn the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.’
The Industrial Roman Empire
Alexander’s empire did not overlap the Roman Empire in any significant way. His empire centered on the wide expenses of fairly unproductive land that stretched from what is now Kazakhstan, through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Persia, Turkey, Egypt, and eastern Greece. If you look at satellite images of this part of the world, you will see a lot of very desolate country.
It isn’t totally empty, but you will be struck by the color: brown, particularly if you contrast it with the area that was the Roman Empire, which is dark green. The land in the areas that became part of Alexander’s empire doesn’t get consistent moisture. It doesn’t grow much food, at least not consistently. People can live there. But they have organize their existence differently than in the rich areas of what became the Roman Empire.
Modern scholars have analyzed the DNA of people who live in the areas which were the Roman Empire. They have found strong markers for the proto-humans called the ‘neanderthals.’ The neanderthals are known to have organized themselves much like the aggressive, territorial, possessive, and violent simians who live in equatorial Africa today. It is highly likely that they descended from these particular simians. They kept some of the instincts. The chimps (aggressive simians) manifested a special kind of territoriality that researchers call ‘group territoriality.’ They seemed to want to do what was best for the group (in regard to getting and keeping territory) even if this was not in their own personal best interests (they would die for their group) or in the interests of their loved ones (who they would allow to die for the group). The identities of the members of the group change all the time, as old members die and young members take their place. But the group continues to function the same way: trying to protect the land their ancestors claimed, even if this harmed or killed large numbers of the individuals in the group. If they lived the same way the chimps in the Ngogo reserve act today, they have such strong ties to the land that they will die to the very last individual rather than give up the land their ancestors have claimed.
The first humans to travel to Europe were almost certainly the more mild-mannered, tolerant, and less territorial denisovans. They descended from migratory simians. Both their genetic and cultural heritage pushed them to avoid fights if possible. They didn’t have the fanatical bond to a specific piece of land that the chimps had. The land they lived in could not support them year around. They had to travel. They were used to it, like the Lakota and Sioux people of the Americas before conquest. The land where they lived produced enough to feed a certain density of migratory people. If their population grew above this limit, they would not have any problem spreading out. They would have reached Europe, at least in some numbers, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Of course, they would have been attracted to the rich valleys. But eventually, more aggressive homo sapiens would arrive. The neanderthals had different genetic ancestors. They had different mental wiring. They had different instincts. They had instincts that told them to form groups that conquer land and then, once the have it, defend it for the benefit of their group from then until the end of time (or until they are removed by a more powerful force).
Perhaps the more tolerant, less violent, less possessive, and less territorial denisovans were the first. But the DNA analysis shows that the neanderthals that arrived later either killed them all off or kept them alive but didn’t interbreed with them in ways that would have left denisovans markers. This is not speculation. We know it is true because virtually all modern people with heritage from the area that used to be the Roman Empire have the DNA markers that tell us it is true.
Once these groups had taken possession of a piece of monopolizable land, they patrolled the borders just as chimps did to prevent any from sharing their exclusive rights to this land. Chimps don’t know how to build walls. We (humans) do. The practical realities of defense kept these defended areas fairly small. They were about the size of the entities that that modern people call ‘cities.’ Historians call them ‘city states.’ If you could go back to before 4,000 BC, you might expect to find thousands of these city states.
Some city states allowed private property. The book ‘Possible Societies,’ a part of this series, shows that societies that allow individuals to own certain rights to land they have extremely strong incentives that encourage them to invest their time, skills, talent, resources, money, and anything else that they have into improving the property. These incentives matter: they encourage people to improve. You don’t really need any scientific analysis to understand this, we see it all the time: drive through a neighborhood and you can tell which homes are occupied by renters and by owners. The owners take care of their homes. They keep things working, they make investments, they improve, and they are outside when the weather is nice working on their property. The renters, well, they don’t take good care of the places where they are living. If the owners aren’t diligent and working hard to fix problems, their properties fall apart rather quickly.
City states like this would have advantages in war over city states that didn’t allow private property. People who are defending their own homes and their own land will fight harder than people who are being asked to fight to protect land that they are just renting, leasing, or are working as employees or slaves. The principle of group augmentation is an evolutionary principle. It selects groups to inhabit the most productive land by a brutal method: it pits them against each other in war. The group that is best at war gets the land. If all other things are equal, people will fight harder to protect land if they have an equity stake (an ownership interest) in that land. We would therefore expect private property to have been common in the pre-imperial city states.
Many people wanted to live outside of the walls, but also have their own piece of land. They would have wanted, perhaps, to farm some of the land outside the walls and send their produce to markets in the city to sell along with insiders. At first, this would have been impossible: The armies inside the walls barely had the ability to protect the interior. They didn’t have enough resources to protect the outsiders, even those just outside the gates.
However, as technology advanced, they found they could protect some land outside the walls. The new technologies that came into existence 4,000 BC, including the use of the horse and steel, increased their capability to protect land outside the walls. The armies inside the city states could build networks of forts outside the walls. They could station mounted and armed soldiers there with some sort of communication system to signal the city of they needed reinforcements. These forts would be similar to the forts the people of European ancestry built in the Americas to protect settlers along their frontiers. They couldn’t provide total protection. But they could provide some. The administrators in the city states should mark off certain pieces of land outside the gates and sell rights to this land. The buyers would know that life outside the walls was dangerous and they wouldn’t have the protection they would have if they stayed inside. But if they could deal with the greater risks, they would be able to sell whatever they produced for the same prices as the insiders. The land outside the walls would sell for far less than the land inside the walls. Some people would think it worth the risk.
As horses became more widely available, people would be willing to buy land that wouldn’t even be worth owning if there were no horses. If it took 50 acres to raise enough to support a family, people wouldn’t want to buy it because a single farmer can’t work 50 acres by hand. However, with a horse, plow, and wagon, a farmer could work 100 acres easily, producing enough for a family and plenty to sell in markets in the city.
We called the tiny walled areas ‘city-states.’ We may use the term ‘states’ to refer to larger units, that include the city and the surrounding land. By 48 BC, there were thousands of these states in what was to become the Roman Empire.
Most of the rulers of the states would have found ways to interact with neighboring states without being actively at war. But states are, by their nature, confrontational. They are built on the same foundations as the defended areas of chimpanzees: Individuals formed into groups and identified with the group. They would probably give the group a name, like a team name. They would be fighting to protect territory. But not for themselves personally. They would be fighting to protect their team’s territory. (In other words, for the territory of France, Andorra, or Liechtenstein.)
The instincts that these people inherited from their evolutionary ancestors would push them to act this way. The principle of group augmentation would also have formed a culture that encouraged this kind of behavior. (For example, children may be taught songs of love for their state, told stories about the great heroes who died for their state, and told that the greatest honor they could have themselves is to be given the right to die for the wonderful state that gave them freedom, liberty and justice for all.)
Rational self interest also pushed for war. The rulers of the states would see that most of the lands of neighboring states was outside of walled areas and therefore couldn’t be defended as well as the areas inside the walls. They could send armies into these areas and take control. They could, and probably usually did, leave the people who lived in these areas unmolested. But the taxes from this area that had gone to the former state would go to the state that had conquered the land. If the state that claimed this ‘outside of city walls’ land didn’t have any ability to retaliate militarily (perhaps due to conflicts in other areas that took its troops away), neighboring states may take advantage of this and attack.
The leaders of the states would have to make sure their militaries were very strong. In addition to the armies, they would have to support a large weapons industry. With thousands of states, each using a large part of the wealth its land produced to support the military, total military expenses were massive. No state could really afford to let down its guard and cut its military budget, because that would make it vulnerable to attack.
The Simple Solution
It seems simple to us because we know about it and we know it can work: States can unite to form ‘united groups of states.’ These ‘united groups of states’ can set up a kind of artificial battlefield where the states can do battle with each other in a non-violent way. They can create the governmental body that we now call a ‘senate.’ Each state can have an equal position in this artificial battlefield, with the same number of senators. These senators can compete for benefits for their states in a forum with rules. They will decide which benefits their states get in this artificial battlefield.
When they are forming this union, they will make up the rules for these battles. One key reason that states that are not united have to spend as much as they can afford on the military, is that there is no way to enforce agreements. Two states may dispute an area and come to an agreement to resolve this dispute. But without outside enforcement, the parties don’t have any way to make sure the other parties will keep their word. This means that agreements are basically worthless and most state leaders will realize they are only symbolic: they will have no effect unless they have the military power to force the other parties to honor their obligations.
If they unite, they can create a system to enforce agreements that have been made between states. The enforcement army can be far larger than any armies any of the states may field individually. All of the states that unite can pay part of the costs of the enforcements. All can agree to honor and respect their agreements with other sates.
This seems so simple today because we have seen it working. But if we look closely, we will see it takes an enormous amount of effort and skill to keep this system working. Even today, we see arguments between groups that want more power for the states fighting with people that want the united entity (the ‘nation’) to have more authority to enforce its edicts on the sates. These fights often break into internal wars. We often see disagreements between states that are so deep that the mechanisms of the union are not able to deal with them. This can cause groups of states to split off from a larger group of states and form their own union of states. At times, these unions of states collapse entirely, for various reasons, and the result is chaos while local entities fight to gain control of as much territory as they can.
We know it is not easy, even today, but we know it is possible. Knowing something is possible allows us to mentally slide over the difficulties. Then, when we think about situations like pre-imperial Europe, we don’t wonder why they formed unions of states, we wonder why it took so long for them to form these unions.
Traditional Views of the First Roman Empire
Traditional history books all agree on the starting year of the Roman empire: 48BC. But, as we will see, in the year 322AD, the entire system was dismantled and all books and records of the era that were within the area of control of the empire were destroyed. We have almost no first-person about the events. The few documents we do have are of ‘disputed reliability,’ meaning that some historians think they reflect what actually happened, but others think they are simply stories, made up by people who had no real reason to understand what was going on.
The most notable is the book by Suetonius called Twelve Caesars, which appears to be the most often cited source of information about the period. This book seems to focus on sex scandals involving the top officials in the government, and the sex lives of the highest officials. Come claim the book was written after the fact to sell sex stories as if they were history, and the author—whoever it was—simply claimed to have been in a position to know what happened then. In other words, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus may have been a made up person.
In any case, the book is clearly not written as an actual history. It scatters and mixes what are claimed to be facts with rumors and innuendo. Large and very important periods are simply omitted. In any case, it is hard to consider this book to be a reliable historical text. This appears to be the best reference traditional historians can find to describe the era.
We can recreate the era other ways. The first period of the Roman empire had massive industrial facilities that churned out millions of tons of cement a year. We know this because the facilities built with this cement still exist: you can travel all over the area that was this empire and see them everywhere. Archeologists can go through evidence to locate the places where these facilities are. Large industrial facilities leave evidence of their existence. (If our empire were to collapse and enter a dark age, scientists would be able to locate the places where major industrial facilities existed, even if the dark age lasted more than a thousand years.)
I think it is a mistake to mix what we know to be evidence (the facilities themselves, which we can study) with things that we have no reason to believe are anything other than dime store fiction, and try to fit it all together. The best way to understand what happened is to examine the evidence objectively. We have all seen the stories on TV about the lives of the emperors. This prejudices us to believe that we understand what happened then, at least in a general outline. We are therefore tempted to think that, if other information conflicts with the mental picture, the other information is wrong.
The traditional view holds that the industrial Roman Empire began in 48BC, when Gaius Julius Caesar organized a coup to take over the Roman government. It spread, somehow (by some method that traditional historians don’t seem interested in discussing) to include 2 million square miles of territory, including almost all of the land that is now considered to be ‘Europe.’
The traditional historians claim the spread was the result of conquest. Caesar conquered large areas in the four years between the beginning of the empire in 48 BC and his assassination in 44 BC. He did this, somehow, without leaving Rome for more than short periods. While he was conquering the land, he built a massive administrative complex that was able to run this vast industrial empire. Suetonius notes that he actually devoted most of this time to his sexual affairs, which are prominent features in the movies, television shows, and fiction books that are claimed to be ‘based on actual events’ that discuss the era. But, other than Suetonius book, there is no real evidence that any of these things actually happened.
There is a gap in leadership between 44BC to 27BC. Suetonius fills this gap with stories of sexual intrigue between a lot of people. I won’t repeat the stories here: you can find them all, with great elaborations, in traditional history books, fiction books that are claimed to be ‘based on facts,’ and television shows purported to be about the period. If Suetonius could get royalties for the people who were to use his work, he would have been one of the richest men in history.
The leadership gap ends, according to Suetonius, in 27BC when Octavian (Caesar’s heir, who Suetonius tells us was made heir because of sexual favors he performed for Caesar as a child) became emperor. He took the name Augustus and began annexing massive areas to the empire, including Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia, and Hispania. There are no details about how he did this, why his armies were so successful, or how the administration of this land worked. After Augustus came Caligula, who was probably one of the most sexually depraved characters to ever appear on the pages of any book. After him came a series of crazies culminating in Nero, who played his fiddle while Rome burned. We don’t know how any of these people were able to operate this immense, diverse, and fantastically productive empire. But this doesn’t seem to be very interesting to the people who claim to be historians. Their books sell because they tell stories about sex. It is repeated over and over and has been for more than a thousand years. If people tell the same story of history over and over, it becomes the standard version. It is accepted as fact. Any new information must fit with it, or it can’t be a part of history.
We, the members of the human race, are in a very serious mess. We live in a world divided into nations that fight each other over ‘territory’ (just as our simian ancestors did) with weapons that can destroy the world. We are on a path to extinction. We can’t hope to find another path unless we can understand how we got onto this one. We need a real understanding of history.
The first Roman empire expanded from a tiny state on the Rubicon River in what is now Italy into a massive industrial empire that rivaled the industrial nations that exist in the 21st century. Then, it suddenly disappeared. We need to understand this. Since the destruction of records was so thorough, we need to look other places for information.
The scientific method starts with observation. We look at what happened. We then come up with theories that help us understand how what we observed could have happened. A theory is an educated guess. We look for evidence that may help us verify the theory. The more evidence we have, the more confidence we have in the theory.
What we observe is this: In the period between 48BC and 27AD, a large number of areas throughout Europe joined a network of states that were allies. They were part of a common market. The states had individual armies at the beginning but, after they joined the alliances, they did away with their state armies. Internal conflicts more or less stopped.
The only reasonable way to explain this, in my opinion, is to accept that people had been trying to work out the details of uniting groups of states for a very long time before 48 BC. In 27 AD, the people behind this movement were able to institute changes that altered the way the government worked. That year, the most powerful administrative system became the senate. The idea of a ‘senate’ has lasted a very long time and it works the same basic way today as it most likely worked two thousand years ago. It is a kind of artificial battleground where the organizations called ‘states’ fight each other for advantages over other states. They argue and, eventually, come to some agreement. When the union of states is formed, the senators agree on rules about how these agreements are to be enforced. They create a legislative system to interpret the agreements (with the provision that the senate can override the legislature by passing additional laws that make legislative decisions moot). The senators, as representatives of the sates, are authorized by the state leadership to negotiate these agreements.
One of their agreements involves enforcement.
Before an effective union of states can take place, they have to have some sort of system to enforce their agreements. We might expect them to set up a common military force. This force will protect all states from any military threats from outside the union. It will also be used, if necessary, to enforce the agreements made by the representatives of the states.
How did the industrial Roman empire come to exist?
The above theory appears to fit the observations. It had to have been a union of states. Once the union was formed, the senate may decide it is in the best interests of the union to expand its reach and to try to persuade neighboring states (which are still independent) to join the union. Sometimes, they can get these other states to join by making concessions or agreements. (For example, the leaders of the Republic of Hawaii were willing to let this strategically important state join the union, but only if they got a monopoly on sugar sales within the union. The senate passed laws that made this happen and Hawaii become the 50th state.) At other times, the senate may authorize force to be used to expand the union. (On May 13, 1846, the senate passed a law declaring war on Mexico to force it to turn over these sates to the United States.)
It seems impossible to account for the massive and sudden expansion of the empire by adopting the view of Suetonious and those who quote him, and claiming that Caesar created an army strong enough to take over thousands of independent states, each of which had been able to resist conquest for thousands of years, somehow removing or subjugating the people there, then replacing them with administrators from Rome who were reliable and would do whatever the (depraved) emperors wanted them to do. It just isn’t reasonable to look at history as if it was one unending sets of military battles that determined everything. We can only really explain what happened over the 370 years the industrial empire existed by accepting that the people had figured out ways for the entities called ‘states’ to work together.
Logic tells us this would not have been easy project. A lot of details have to be worked out. But they did get worked out. Most likely, the movement of organizing into united groups of states was already in place long before 48BC. The events that Suetonius described, if they happened at all, were not directly related to anything important that happened in the empire. My theory about the rise of the industrial Roman empire is only that, a theory, and I want to present it as such. However, regardless of the way it happened, we know that the Roman Empire grew into a massive collection of states that included most of what is now Europe and a large part of Mediterranean Africa.
Qqq map of Roman Empire 2023 here.
Traditional historians want to present history as a series of events, each of which indicates progress. We are smarter and better than our parents. They are smarter and better than their parents were. The generation before was, therefore, stupider than we are now. As you go back in time, you get to more and more stupid people. People who lived thousands of years ago were therefore, by assumption, very, very stupid.
They couldn’t have known how to build complex business structures. When archeologists find evidence to the contrary, traditional historians seem astounded. If you read some of the many articles about finds uncovered at the archeological site in Kanesh Turkey, you will find constant references to this totally unexpected island of advanced trading that is indicated by the more than 23,000 documents from about 2,000 BC that are still being translated and studied. These people were not stupid. They traded the same way we trade today. They negotiated prices and terms. They created letters of credit so that people could verify they had been pre-approved for loans by powerful banking houses before they set out on a business trip to buy products from remote locations. One of the facts that traditional historians seem to be most astounding is that women were involved in business and carried out trades that were every bit as significant as those orchestrated by men.
The majority of the documents themselves are being held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. You can find photographs of the documents and their translations in the three volume set ‘Cuneiform Texts in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.’ (Copies of the texts are available in the references section of the PossibleSocieties.com website.)
The majority of these are business documents. They describe complex trading agreements, loans, and partnership agreements; they discuss pricing and negotiate payments and discuss interest rates and other terms of repayment. These documents make it very clear that complex business agreements are not unique to this age.
These texts tell us that partnerships were quite common 4,000 years ago. It is simple to make a partnership: just find a partner and make a deal. People can build fairly large businesses with partnerships.
But if you want an extremely large business, you need to go a step beyond partnerships. You need the kind of entity that we now call a ‘corporation.’ There is an important reason that partnerships don’t work for extremely large businesses: People are mortal. We all will die. If a project depends on the input of any specific person, and can’t go on if that person dies, the project just won’t make sense to investors. If the key person dies, the project stops and everyone loses their investment. If you want a project that can attract enormous sums of money, and continue to function no matter how dies, you need to create an organization that has an independent existence. It is a kind of artificial person, one that is created by decree of a government and can do the same things that real living persons can do, including enter into contracts, hire and fire workers, borrow money, and interact with government entities, both within the jurisdiction that created the entity and ‘foreign’ governments.
The first evidence we have for a modern corporation comes from the New Testament of the Bible. As we will see, this is the only book that was known to have been written in the Roman Empire during its industrial age that was not subject to the law requiring all knowledge be destroyed. It is the only official record that we have of the events during this period and it discusses corporations, which the Romans called ‘publicans,’ 21 times. We know the Romans had these entities.
What are Corporations?
Before we discuss the Roman era, let’s take a general look at the issue of corporations. In our 21st century world, corporations are very important institutions. They have started wars and dragged countries into the wars. (Few people know that the war called the ‘French and Indian War’ was started by a corporation controlled by George Washington called the Ohio Company of Virginia, fighting against a French corporation called the ‘Company of on hundred associates.’ Very few history books even discuss the many corporations that Washington was involved with.) Their lobbies are highly influential in governments around the world. Corporations have overthrown countries. (O’Henry created the term ‘banana republics’ to refer to countries that had been taken over by United States fruit companies.)
The largest corporations in the world in the 21st century are far, far larger, control more wealth, and have more impact on human events than the great majority of the entities we call ‘countries.’ Yet historians seem to ignore them almost entirely. They don’t explain where they came from or how they came to have the power and control they have now. It should not be surprising that their histories aren’t able to help us solve any real problems. These are key institutions in the world around us. Yet we don’t understand where they came from, how they started, how they grew or even, what they are.
We need this information.
Now let’s look at what corporations are:
If a project depends on the input of any specific person, and can’t go on if that person dies, the project just won’t make sense to investors if it is just a partnership. If the key person dies, the project stops and everyone loses their investment. If people want to undertake a project that will last a long time, and needs to keep going no matter who dies, they need to form corporations.
That is what they are for.
To see why this is important, imagine that you have a wonderful idea to do something that will take a lot of money. Let’s go back to the 1970s and look at someone with such an idea, Steve Jobs. Steve was in an electronics club and the Intel corporation had just come out with a new chip, the 80286. This wasn’t designed for computers. In fact , at the time, there was no such thing as a ‘personal computer.’ All computers were enormous, room size devices that used custom made circuits. Steve realized that this little and very inexpensive ‘chip’ could be used as the processor to make a tiny computer that people could keep on their desks. Working with another person at the electronic club, Steve Wozniac, he designed the circuits that would be needed and built a prototype. He had the worlds first ‘personal computer.’
He want to an electronic store and asked if they might be able to sell it. The manager said he would be able to sell as many as they could make. They negotiated a price. Steve realized he could easily make 50% of the amount he could wholesale the device for as profit. He could sell as many as he could make. He just needed some money to buy the parts to fill the first order. He talked to some investors about the money.
They laughed at him. It is a great idea. But it is all in his head. If he got hit by a bus, the money would be gone and they couldn’t get it back. He could get the money. But he would have to have a corporation. The corporation would make the computers, not Steve. If Steve got hit by a bus, the corporation would continue to operate. He had to figure out how to build a corporation.
He did. The company is now the largest corporation in the world, worth more than the total GDP of most of the world’s nations.
To build the corporation, he had to start with a business plan. It had to be in writing. It explained how the company would operate and how it would make money. He then had to hire several people called ‘directors.’ These people would be hired to carry out the business plan. They wouldn’t do any actual work or make any computers, but they would hire the people who would do the work and make sure they did it. He could be one of the directors himself if he wanted. But he had to have a written plan in place so that other people who were still alive could replace him, if he should get hit by a bus. He could then go to the investors. They would review the plan and see if it was a good idea. If they thought this, they would make an offer for the amount of money they would put up in exchange for what share of the company. If they came to terms, he would have to file some documents with the state to get a ‘certificate of incorporation.’
Once he got the certificate of incorporation, he could take it to a bank and open an account in the name of the corporation. His investors could contribute by depositing the money in the account. He could then have the treasurer write checks on the account to buy supplies. When he delivered the computers, the buyers would pay the corporation, not Steve.
The company was extremely successful. In 1983, Steve decided to hire a seasoned professional corporate manager to run it. In 1983, he hired John Scully, one of the highest paid professional corporate managers in the world, away from the giant conglomerate Pepsi. Skully had his own ideas of management. They conflicted with Steve’s ideas. Technically, Skully, as the president of the company, was Steve’s boss. After one particularly bitter argument, Skully gave Steve a pink slip: He fired the founder of the company.
The point: in a corporation, no one is indispensable. The corporation continues to function no matter who leaves, dies, gets fired, gets tired, or quits. Investors know this. That is why they are willing to put such massive amounts of money into corporations. (As I write this in 2024, the 5,000 corporations that make up the Wilshire 5000 index have a market value of about $46 trillion; Link to source. By comparison, the United States government debt—the amount that has been invested in the government—is about $32 trillion.)
Because investors know that the corporations/publicans will be around for a very long time, they can justify investing large amounts of money into them. They generally won’t have to worry about getting this money back if they need it: they can simply find someone that wants to take over their ownership position in the corporation and sell their share to that other person. (People have more confidence in corporations and are willing to invest more if there is a vibrant market. Governments globally work to make sure there are markets where people can get their money back by selling shares.)
Corporations don’t appear by chance. They need a very complex legal framework to exist. This framework has to custom designed. Then, a government must pass laws to allow corporations to exist.
Small governments wouldn’t be able to make this happen, if the framework doesn’t already exist. To create this framework, the government needs to control an extremely large market area. The first place we find the right conditions for corporations to exist is in the industrial Roman empire. Again, we know corporations did exist in that empire. Only one book was allowed to escape the flames when the empire ended and this book discusses corporations—called ‘publicans,’ in 21 separate instances.
Many of the inventions that school children today are told are modern inventions were actually invented by the Romans, and then abandoned (during the dark ages, described shortly).
One example is the building material now called ‘hydraulic cement,’ often called by its patented trade name, ‘Portland Cement.’ This product is a bonding adhesive that has special chemical properties. It starts as a dry powder. Mix it with water, and you get a ‘slurry,’ which can be poured into any mold. The water ‘activates’ a chemical process that turns it into a solid as hard as granite. Normally, cement is mixed with rocks, gravel and sand together, to create a product called ‘concrete.’ But it sticks to a large number of materials and, once stuck, can’t be removed without a chisel. (After it is totally hard, you won’t even be able to get it off with a chisel.)
Once the cement is hard, water doesn’t degrade it a bit. It can be outside for thousands of years (as many cement items the Romans built have been) and keep its strength. It can be used, therefore, to make water pipes (most large water pipes are made of cement), aqueducts, bridge footings, roofs and walls for buildings, and is the primary material used to make roads.
The history books that I was taught from claim this product was first discovered by Joseph Aspdin in 1824. But if you go to Rome, or any part of Europe that was a part of the Roman Empire today, you can see for yourself that this couldn’t have been true: millions of structures all around the empire were made of hydraulic cement and are still standing today. (Aspdin rediscovered it and patented it as ‘Portland Cement.’)
You can understand the importance of corporations/publicans if you understand how much it costs to build a cement plant. The amount you would need to the smallest practical cement plant would be $60 million. (Link to source.) These plants normally take many years to build and we wouldn’t expect many of them to exist if corporations didn’t exist.
Individuals won’t invest this much money in a project if they know that the death of key people (who might get hit by busses at any time) will stop the project. Even if they know for sure key people are safe, it wouldn’t make sense to invest this because the plant won’t make enough to repay the investment for many decades. By the time the investors get their money back, they may be dead themselves. If the plant is a corporation, they don’t have to worry about getting their money back. They can get returns on their money as long as the plant operates and get their initial investment back by selling their shares.
We don’t have records on the amount of cement that the Roman empire produced from records because all records were destroyed. But you don’t need records to tell that the empire produced millions of tons of concrete because you can see it for yourself just about anywhere you go in Europe.
Once corporations exist, people are willing to put massive amounts of money into ideas. The corporation owns the idea. They buy a share. If the idea works out, they can get very rich. (If you had put $1 into Apple stock in 1981, you would have gotten 10 shares; you would have collected $456.30 in dividends since then and the 10 shares would now be worth $2,000.) The result is progress and advances in technology.
The Romans knew how to make a great many other products that are very useful. In his book, The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World, Paul T. Craddock discusses the very advanced methods used by the Romans. He puts the output of iron at about 85,000 tons per year. They made a lot of machines. (Cement which lasts thousands of years but most of the items the Romans built degraded. Most metals, including iron and steel, need to be protected from air or they oxidize and turn into dust within a few decades.)
We don’t have records and documents that explain the way the industrial Roman empire worked. But we have a kind of ‘snapshot’ that can give us some idea what life was like for ordinary people.
This is from wikipedia:
Pompeii (/pɒmˈpeɪ(i)/, pom-PAY-(ee), Latin: [pɔmˈpei̯.iː]) was an ancient city located in what is now the comune of Pompei near Naples in the Campania region of Italy. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area (e.g. at Boscoreale, Stabiae), was buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice in the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
Largely preserved under the ash, the excavated city offers a unique snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried, although much of the detailed evidence of the everyday life of its inhabitants was lost in the excavations. It was a wealthy town, with a population of ca. 11,000 in AD 79, enjoying many fine public buildings and luxurious private houses with lavish decorations, furnishings and works of art which were the main attractions for the early excavators. Organic remains, including wooden objects and human bodies, were interred in the ash. Over time, they decayed, leaving voids that archaeologists found could be used as moulds to make plaster casts of unique, and often gruesome, figures in their final moments of life. The numerous graffiti carved on the walls and inside rooms provide a wealth of examples of the largely lost Vulgar Latin spoken colloquially at the time, contrasting with the formal language of the classical writers.
Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors annually.
After many excavations prior to 1960 that had uncovered most of the city but left it in decay, further major excavations were banned or limited to targeted, prioritised areas. In 2018, these led to new discoveries in some previously unexplored areas of the city. (To access footnotes, go to original wikipedia article.)
This link takes you to a virtual tour of the city. You can also get a good idea what it was like by looking at the hundreds of thousands of photographs posted on the internet. (Link.) The main reason I want to include this information here is that I want you get a mental picture of life in this era. I want you to see that this era was not much different in its main respects from the era we are now in. They had homes of different sizes and different standards of comfort for people with different wealth levels. They had public water supplies, public baths, spas, and swimming pools. They had bakeries, butcher shops, clothing stores, shoe stores, restaurants, bars, and little corner connivance stores. They had public buildings including a courthouse, administrative centers, and an office devoted to weights and measures, so people could calibrate their scales and other measuring devices.
We have a snapshot in time. Life wasn’t perfect then. But it isn’t perfect now either. I think if you could slip back and forth, between 21st century Pompeii and the city of 78AD (just before the volcano blew), you would probably adjust pretty easily. You would meet people and talk, you would get invited to dinner and take people out to dinner and, after a little wine, you would probably occasionally lose track of which of the two time periods you are in.
In 322AD, Constantine destroyed the industrial system intentionally. I will present my theory about why he did this shortly. But this can only be a theory; we can’t know for sure why he did it.
We just know he did.
Whatever the reason was, we can be sure of this: The corporate-industrial system he ruled over had problems. These problems were very serious. They were so serious that many people, including Constantine, thought that even the most radical change that could be made wouldn’t make things any worse.
Many people today have the same thoughts about the world around us. Many people today openly advocate the same steps that Constantine took: Shut it all down. Take us back to the stone age. Make us all work the soil with our hands to grow our food. Then, we will appreciate what we have. We will live a real life, in tune with nature and the needs of the people around us. Adjustment will be hard. A lot of people will resist. But, with enough force, it can happen. People are forming armies as you read this to try to force this change.
Again, the saying that has become a cliché: those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them.
To talk about the problems that faced the people of Constantine time, we don’t really have to do a lot of speculation. Industrial systems evolve in very predictable ways. The problems that they had are the same general problems we have. Unemployment, poverty, crime, inequity in distribution of wealth, inflation, deflation, depression, and corruption are pervasive in our world today. The same basic problems would have existed in the industrial Roman empire. I want to take a little detour to go over the basic forces at work so you can understand why they would have had the same problems that we have now:
As industry grows, people move from the country to the cities to take industrial jobs. The industrial tools make it possible to for individual farmers to work more land and farm sizes grow. Incomes go up for everyone.
People start spending their earnings on housing, fuel, transportation, medical care, and other things that most of the people who lived in the pre-industrial systems couldn’t afford. Businesses open to supply the demand. They hire more people. They must compete with other employers for this. This competition drives wages up.
When people have enough income to feed their families, afford fuel to keep warm in the winter, and afford medicine to keep them healthy, more of the children born are able to live long enough to grow up and have children of their own. The population will grow. If there is no birth control, people will often have large families. This means that the population can grow very rapidly. If an average of four children per couple survive long enough to have children of their own, the population will double every generation, or roughly every 25 years. The industrial system provided enough prosperity for enough people to allow the population to grow at a very rapid rate.
If the number of jobs doesn’t increase as rapidly as the population of the working class,this system has some very serious problems.
If there aren’t as many jobs as there are people who need jobs, the unemployed will have to compete against people who have jobs and try to take the jobs away from people who have them. (They don’t have the option of simply not working; if they can’t get jobs, they die.) The only effective way to compete over the long run is to offer to work for less money than the people who are already working. The employers will take advantage of this and hire the people willing to work for less. This will cause total wage rates to fall.
The Roman system operated like the system we have now in several important ways. Both are clearly ‘class based systems.’ We will see that not all societies divide the population into ‘working class’ and ‘not working class’ people. But the societies we have today and the Roman industrial system both do this. The working class is the group that has to work ‘for a living.’ They work or they have no income. If they have no income, they can’t get food and will die.
If the population of the working class grows faster than the number of jobs, the problem of ‘unemployment’ arises. There are people who need jobs to make a living (stay alive) but can’t get them, because they don’t exist.
The unemployed will compete with workers to take away their jobs by offering to work for less. Wages will fall. Now we have two problems that compound each other: Fewer people are working (those who lost the competition for the jobs by holding out for higher pay are now unemployed) and those who do work have lower wages. The total amount the working class has available to spend falls dramatically.
The factory owners can’t sell everything they produce. They can’t afford to make things they can’t sell, so they cut back. They lay off workers. Now the problem is even worse. Stores start closing. They lay off their workers. People who used to go out to eat or drink can’t afford it. The restaurants, bars, and other service industries start to lay off their people too. At some point, the owners of corporations will start to feel fear that the market is going to collapse. They will want to sell as quickly as they can to get out before the collapse. This creates a self fulfilling prophecy: if they panic and sell, the market will collapse. People who had been wealthy industrialists will lose everything. They will stop investing. This event is called a ‘recession.’ When government analysts see one coming, they realize they must do something quickly or the entire system will collapse. But what can they do?
They have to do one or two things:
1. Create jobs
2. Cut the number of people entering the job market.
What kind of public project does these things?
There is one thing that always does both of them: start a war.
When wars start, governments immediately take large numbers of men who are just entering the work force off of the market by making them soldiers. They are no longer competing for jobs. As competition stops, wages can stabilize. The government also starts buying large quantities of weapons and other tools of war. The industrial companies that make the weapons and the raw materials and fuels needed for weapons, have to hire. They have to compete for workers. But even before this starts, the supply and demand for workers has stabilized. To hire, they need to take workers away from existing jobs. They have to pay them more than they were paid before. Wages have to go up. As wages rise, people have more to spend. Spending goes up. Demand goes up. Stores open to fill the demand. The stock market starts going up. The rich get richer and start spending. The economy stabilizes. The ‘recession’ ends.
War meets a basic need of industrial sovereignty societies. Orwell summarizes this idea in his book 1984:
The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way.
In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war.
It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.
As much as economic planners may want to keep wars going forever, this isn’t always possible. Things can happen to cause wars to end. Sometimes, something that was totally anticipated takes place that throws a wrench into the planning and causes a disaster. The war that was providing jobs for hundreds of millions of people ends.
These people return and compete for jobs. But the main industries during the war, the weapons industries, are not hiring . they lay off their workers. These workers join the unemployment lines. As unemployment grows, spending falls. You can’t spend money you don’t have. This causes greater unemployment, further declines in wages, and further declines in spending.
At a certain point, wages will fall so much that even people who have jobs won’t be able to afford to buy the necessities of life for their families. Demand for even the most essential products—like food—will collapse.
We all have at least heard of ‘the great depression.’ The farmers couldn’t run their farms because they couldn’t get enough selling it to cover the costs of moving it to markets. People in the cities had no money: the factories were closed. The great majority of the farmers owed at least some money and everyone had to pay property taxes. If you have no income, you can’t pay. If you can’t pay, you ‘lose your farm.’ It gets taken away from you. If there is no one to buy it, it will just sit there. The soil that used to be held in place by crops will blow away. During the depression, massive dust clouds circled the globe for several years.
The stock market collapsed, losing more than 85% of its value. Homes, stores, factories, and other real estate declined just as much. People couldn’t afford taxes or mortgages. They lost their homes. Homeless were everywhere. Some were willing to go anywhere to get jobs. But there was no place to go. It was a global event.
Certain politicians told their people they had a plan. They would pull their countries out of the depression by starting an even bigger war. Their arguments were hate filled and antagonistic. They were monsters and weren’t afraid to show it: they knew the people were desperate . If it took monsters to get them out of the depression, they wanted monsters. If it took the biggest war in history, even larger than the ‘war to end all wars’ that had just ended, they would embrace the biggest war in history. The politicians words were full of hate. The crowds ate it up. It couldn’t be wrong to go along with the crowd. Their ancient instincts, inherited from the territorial apes, told them it was the right thing to do. Hate is good. We are in pain. We need to spread that pain to as many of the outsiders as we can. They weren’t dragged into World War Two kicking and screaming. They embraced it.
There eventually came a time when the Roman legions had secured all land up to impassible natural barriers, like the great Atlantic Ocean, the Sahara Desert to the south, the North Sea to the north, and the Himalayan Mountains to the east.
The wars were ‘won.’
The few frontiers left led to steppes and tundra’s that weren’t worth fighting over.
As the wars wound down, the commanders didn’t have to buy as many guns, bombs, uniforms, bandages, bullets, tents, and other supplies. The factories that had made these things didn’t have to buy parts, and materials and the foundries and mines closed down. They laid off their workers. Soldiers lost their jobs and people who had hoped to get jobs as soldiers when they graduated from school found that the recruiters didn’t have slots available to take them in. Unemployment increased. Spending slowed. Consumer demand disappeared, so consumer businesses had to close also. People began to see that war has its limit: it can’t go on forever. If the wars didn’t come back, the economy would not come back either.
The decline of military operations led to one of the most serious problems industrial sovereignties face: overproduction.
This type of society can produce much more than people have money to buy. Wars balance supply with demand by destroying vast amounts of production (weapons, ammunition, and other materials of war are ‘production’ too). As long as the war continues, the economy can keep the supply and demand in balance. They can monitor the relationship between supply and demand and, when the supply of goods gets too high, start a major campaign to destroy warehouses full of goods in a few days. They can keep the goods from accumulating, keep prices from collapsing, and allow the economy to continue to function.
But with no war-related destruction to deplete inventories, goods piled up in warehouses. This multiplied the effects of the consumer-related collapse many times: it meant that the businesses could not even reopen even if the government could find a way to create demand, because the high inventories would have to be depleted before anyone could hope to make a profit making more.
The business owners who had lived off their profits no longer had incomes. They had to compete with the starving masses of job seekers for non-existent jobs. Investors began to realize that the economy wouldn’t recover and stopped investing. Why invest if all you are going to do is lose all your money? They realized their investments no longer produced free cash flows and were essentially worthless. Investors, the only sub-group of society that might have been able to supply funds to get the economy going again, lost everything.
Industrial systems that are built on group territoriality are necessarily extremely complex. They need many people to keep track of the many owners, and to protect the rights that owners get. They need courts to litigate disputes, armies of bureaucrats to administer the programs that help farmers and other owners improve their properties, and armies of regulators and police to keep people from reacting to the incentives this system produces to harm others.
If governments don’t have enough revenue to pay these people to do their jobs, this society can’t function. Order disappears. Any services that governments once provided will cease. The Roman cities depended on water supplies piped in from distant rivers, sewage systems to remove the waste, roads and other infrastructure to bring in food and supplies.
When infrastructure fails, when police stop showing up for work because they aren’t being paid, when jailers realize their prisoners because they can’t feed them and don’t want to let them starve to death, when no one has money (because there are no jobs) and there is nothing to buy anyway (because the factories and other productive facilities have stopped production and the farmers have abandoned their fields) life in the industrial systems turns into hell.
Armed men, mostly soldiers who now have no work, form gangs to steal what they can from whomever they can. These desperate men have weapons and have killed so much before that they are immune to moral restraint. The gangs fight for territory, without regard for the welfare of civilians.
Private property rights had been protected by the administration and litigated by courts. But without police and courts, these rights become meaningless. (If the government that granted the deed to your home no longer exists and the courts and police that protected your property rights are gone, do you really ‘own’ the house? You might believe in your heart you do but, if the people around you have guns and say you don’t, your beliefs aren’t going to mean very much.)
If the criminals want your property and they feel they want some legal justification for taking it, they will kidnap and torture you until you sign the title over to them. In parts of our world that are disintegrating the most rapidly today (Russia, Mexico, and Africa) this is an extremely common problem: people who own any amount of property can’t go anywhere without bodyguards to protect them from kidnappers.
When these societies go into decline due to high unemployment, no one is safe anymore. No one knows who to trust. The economy doesn’t function at all. The government doesn’t function at all. The entire system simply collapses.
This was the devastated society that the final Roman emperor, Constantine, inherited when he came to power. Constantine must have looked at this and concluded anything had to be better. He had to change the society to something else. He didn’t know what, but it had to be something.
Constantine was well-educated. He had read Socrates’ words in the books that Plato had written. (Constantine was the one who ordered the book burnings. The books were still around until he had them destroyed.) He clearly felt that the industrial system was corrupt and could not work. He must have decided he really had one choice: to create a theocracy and force the people to accept a religion similar to the one that Socrates had described in Πολιτική.
He ordered all schools closed. All teaching was to cease forever. All the old knowledge was to die. Anyone found trying to pass on knowledge was to be put to death. All books were burned. People caught hiding books, records, or any durable documents were burned along with the documents they had tried to save. By imperial decree, the old system was to die.
Constantine hired the best writers in the empire and brought them together in an event that is now referred to as the ‘First Ecumenical Council.’ Their job was to write a new book, The Book, the only book that would be allowed to exist in the theocratic feudalism that Constantine intended to create.
No one was to ever be in a position to doubt or dispute anything The Book said. Once it was completed, all records that may have verified its truth, contradicted its tenants, or provided food for analysis or criticism, were destroyed. Once this had been done, there was no way to tell if everything The Book said was absolutely true, or if the entire thing had been made up.
To make sure no objective people could look too closely at the tenets of The Book, Constantine prohibited it from ever being printed in any language other than Latin. Only select people would be allowed to learn Latin: members of the priesthood. To be admitted into this priesthood, people would have to pass several rigorous tests verifying their absolute faith. No one without the necessary faith would be allowed to learn Latin. They wouldn’t be able to contradict The Book because they wouldn’t be able to read it.
Constantine wrote laws that required everyone to accept the new religion on penalty of death. He formed a body called the ‘Inquisition’ to make ‘inquiries’ into the faith of those who had expressed doubt. Their classic method of inquiry was called ‘trial by fire.’ People suspected of not believing would have their faith tested by burning them alive. If they never stopped professing their faith while flames consumed their bodies, they had passed the test. Their ashes would get a Christian burial and the families of the victims would be told that their loved ones had been granted the greatest possible honor, the right to spend eternity at the right hand of God.
If they didn’t show the truest and purest faith while dying, this was proof they were non-believers, and this made their friends and families suspect. The Inquisition would then test the faith of family and friends by the same method.
As you might imagine, people didn’t want to have to take this test. They went to great lengths to avoid saying or doing anything that might make them appear anything less than the truest of believers. Even more importantly, they didn’t want their loved ones to have to take this test. Anyone who went to the executions could witness these people loudly and vehemently professing their faith in the glory of Jehovah in their last minutes while they withered in pain from the flames. Many tell stories of watching happy souls float to heaven on the smoke from the pyres. Soon, not a person could be found who wasn’t an ardent and true believer in the new faith.
Constantine dismantled the entire mechanism of the empire. He disbanded any parts of the government that would no longer be necessary and turned the rest over to the church. The great Roman Empire would become the Holy Roman Empire.
For all practical purposes, the war-driven empire started by Caesar some 400 years earlier ceased to exist. Its institutions either faded away or were purposely destroyed. It was as if time had turned backward. The entire empire turned back into a feudal sovereignty, with its basic structures enforced by an all-powerful church.
We can’t know the exact reason Constantine did what he did. We don’t have any tools that allow us to read the internal contents of people’s minds. We can’t even do this with living people. Constantine has been dead for more than 1,600 years. But we can speculate based on the things that we do know:
Constantine never took the rites of the new church himself.
On his deathbed, priests came to him and told him it would look bad, for the future of the church, if he didn’t at least allow himself to be baptized before he died. But he still refused.
Christian historians would very much have preferred that Constantine had become a Christian. This would have allowed them to claim that he forced this religion on the millions of other people because he believed it was true. Since he didn’t take the rites, he clearly had some other reason for forcing it on the people.
What was this reason?
Historians and religious scholars have debated this for centuries. Some claim his motivations were political. His grip on power was fading as his dysfunctional society crumbled. He wanted to maintain his hold on power by finding something for his people to believe in. It is also possible he was trying to do the only thing he thought could create a better society. He may have been simply following Plato’s advice about the only way to create a sound system by forcing people to accept a religion that preached afterlife judgment and paradise for those who were righteous. Personally, I think he thought he was doing the only thing possible. He read the book Πολιτική and took the suggestions in the final pages to heart. He thought he was doing the best thing.
The measures he took causes a total collapse of the industrial system. All industrial production ceased for more than a thousand years. People were thrown back in time, not centuries, but millennia. We don’t know how many died, we only know that the population collapsed. It is hard to imagine how life must have been for those who were living in cities when it ended.