Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submitlogin
Napoleon’s Vision for a New Imperial Rome (www.thehistoryblog.com)
65 points by ecliptik 5 months ago | hide | past | web | 35 comments | favorite





Interesting factoid... many cities with imperial ambitions were built on areas with seven hills , as Rome is/was.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_claimed_to_be...

many capital cities in the above list, including Constantinople, capital of Byzantium and Moscow, Russia which considers itself the heir of Byzantium. Plus Albany NY, Seattle WA, San Francisco (not a capital but an important city in CA).


I’d probably question that given how many cities want to be a new rome and how famous Rome’s seven hills are. It’s easy to pick any collection of seven hills in a city that has more hills than that and say they’re ‘the’ seven hills of the city.

The trick is to do it with less than seven hills.

"But that last hill is just a landfill"

This at least would not be out of character for Rome:

Monte Testaccio is an artificial mound in Rome composed almost entirely of testae (Italian: cocci), fragments of broken ancient Roman pottery, nearly all discarded amphorae dating from the time of the Roman Empire[.]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Testaccio


Why the fascination with Rome? I ask this having studied Latin and ancient cultures both in high school, college, and since (check out the excellent “history of Rome” podcast). Rome is the city where it all started but as an imperial seat Milan and Constantinople made far more sense as seats of government. It seems “because that’s what we’ve always done” is the logic and reasoning for Rome to have been the seat of empire and the antiquarian ideal of reestablishing that empire is why modern conquerors have placed so much emphasis on Rome as well. To me it doesn’t make sense.

Are you asking HN or Napoleon?

Edit for me, the fascination with Rome is almost more what came after it lost its central place in the Empire - the slow decline; the almost complete depopulation in the 500s; the rise of the Church; the power struggles between France, the Holy Roman Empire, and Roman nobility; the Renaissance and the Counter-Reformation; the age of Revolutions; and finally its place in a united Italy.

Each generation has its own view of Rome, and they reflect and refract off each other.

Edit 2 if you have a chance to visit, do! It's a lovely tourist destination.


Well — the Turks and Russians put a lot of emphasis on Constantinople because it was closer to them, and ‘Rome’ meant the empire and not the city to them.

I've heard people compare the Roman Empire with the United States (implying an eventual, similar downfall).

What are your thoughts to such a comparison?


The Roman Empire was a true empire in that it comprised many very dissonant places and cultures under one umbrella. For the time, logistically, the scope was absurd and power was very weak or yielded in many areas. It was bound to fail for this reason alone.

There were kingdoms within who sometimes battled Rome, installed antipopes or just ignored Rome altogether. It was remarkably loose and the reason Germanic kingdoms were able to consolidate so (relatively) quickly was because they basically already operated as a German kingdom.

The British Empire is a far better analog but on a shorter timeframe. American imperialism was curbed early on and assimilation was done largely by force. Beyond that it grew at a time of great communication improvements and radical methods for building nationalism via mass communication.


There's a great book by Daniel Immerwahr on the subject: How to Hide an Empire (https://www.amazon.com/How-Hide-Empire-History-Greater/dp/03...).

I feel like that's a broad and general comparison. It would be equal to ask that of the UK during the height of their reach.

To do any real comparison you need to isolate something quantifiable. For example, languages. Latin influence is real and measurable. English is derivative from Germanic languages and was borrowed, and we didn't really export English...the UK did that. Why is Spanish one of the more commonly spoken Latin languages? The spanish crown was real good at that whole conquest thing, with the germs and the horses and the etc.

America? We influence geopolitics thats for sure.


Will be a longer trip for the Barbarians.

What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude -Thomas Payne

I believe that is a much more apt comparison. The USSR was the 20th century's Sparta, and the U.S. was the Athens of the past 200+ years.


this too is a very forced comparison. there are certainly some similarities between the US and Athens, mainly because the founders were obsessed with Athenian philosophy and political thought, but there are few parallels to be drawn between the USSR and Sparta or the Peloponnesian and Cold Wars.

to start with, the Peloponnesian War was a "hot" war, and Sparta won! the cold war was also very ideological (communism vs capitalism) in a way that would be totally foreign to the people of antiquity. they fought for much more concrete reasons, mainly for immediate defense and to secure access to resources by controlling territory or extracting tribute.

Sparta also had little in common with the USSR as a society. it was certainly not egalitarian like the ideal of communism, but neither was it autocratic to the degree of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Sparta had a system of government with two Kings, whose power was checked by a council of elders.

we should certainly try to learn from history, but we tend to remember strongly a bunch of superficial details from societies of antiquity that seem familiar to us, and fail to see how alien the ancient world truly was. to directly compare ancient conflicts and states to modern ones is almost always to severely overfit.


Sparta had 9 slaves for every citizen -- the U.S.S.R. too had very few elites who lived in luxury while everyone else toiled. For the Helots, Spartan society was quite egalitarian... Athens had slaves, but not remotely the same magnitude -- the U.S. had slaves for a few decades. Sparta utterly depended on slaves, but Athens depended on trade. The Peloponnesian war had cold periods, and the U.S. might still turn red -- we've not necessarily seen the end of that struggle.

No, the parallels between Sparta/Athens and U.S.S.R./U.S. are a bit uncanny. Yes, there's a limit to how good a comparison can be across 2,300+ years, but it's not useless.


> to start with, the Peloponnesian War was a "hot" war

Comparing those to wars is actually much more relevant then you might think.

Both wars were incredibly long and drawn out conflicts, where it was almost impossible for either side to really win. Both wars the waste majority of the fighting was done in far flung regions (Sicily, Byzantium and so on) and threw trade wars/trade zones.

The ended differently, but Persia stepping in and massively involving itself broke the balance.

Comparable to if Aliens had just started to finance insane military spending for the USSR.

> the cold war was also very ideological (communism vs capitalism) in a way that would be totally foreign to the people of antiquity

That is very questionable, we don't have enough data. But the few sources we have do make a very big deal about the cultural differences and later writers pick up that thread. Sparta was saw itself as an explicite representation of the perfect greek state and thus the definition of what civilization was about.

Athens is the dynamic new state that stands for a number of new things, democracy, ocean commerce, increase use of money and so on.

Both tried to get neutral states to adopt their system of rule, but both were willing to compromise if it made strategic sense (just as the USSR and US did as well).

The ideological discussions between those stats were limited because of technology.

> they fought for much more concrete reasons, mainly for immediate defense and to secure access to resources by controlling territory or extracting tribute.

Arguably that is what the USSR and US also did.

In both cases you can make an ideological case and a geostrategic case. And in both cases we have both things being said by some people on either side.

> Sparta also had little in common with the USSR as a society. it was certainly not egalitarian like the ideal of communism, but neither was it autocratic to the degree of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Sparta had a system of government with two Kings, whose power was checked by a council of elders.

There are also similarities. Both stats supported a massively oversized military and depended on other stats they had conquered to subsidies those expenses.

They both had a communal system, rather then a family based one. Or at least the ideal they proclaimed was communal. In Sparta there was a very strong identification with the military units, those men spent lots of time there away from there families even if they could have gone home. Children are not primary educated by the parents but rather by a community/state program that teaches them the 'right' ideals to function perfectly in that system and make the system as a whole stronger.

Its not a strong connection but the USSR<->Sparta, Athens<->US lines up pretty rather well.


The comparison empires such as the Roman or British, contract physically and decline, literally.

One of the obvious flaws in comparing them to the US, is that the US power emanates outward from its epic domestic economy, which has been the world's largest since shortly after the Civil War. The US economy didn't require the present size of the US military or its global positioning to get so large - nor did modern Japan, Germany or China (#3, #4, #2) require epic global militaries to do what they've done economically.

What would the downfall be? The US is going to contract physically and lose its overseas land holdings? It has few. It has a massive size core land holding that is the country itself, including all of its resources. The Roman Empire had no such thing, nor did the British Empire, for two prominent examples; their land holdings were largely conquered, foreign cultures. One would have to project the US shattering into state regions, multiple countries. It's very unlikely to be allowed by the Federal Government.

It will be forced to pull in its military and close 100 overseas bases? That will be a benefit, its people will be healthier and wealthier if $250 billion were presently diverted from the military to infrastructure, healthcare or almost anything else domestic.

The dollar will lose its position? The US economy was by far the world's largest prior to the USD reserve standard. If you roll the economy forward 30 or 50 years into a theoretical downfall time, then chop 1/3 off its GDP per capita to represent the downfall -- with 380 million people it would still have the world's #1 or #2 largest economy and still have one of its highest output per capita figures. The Eurozone, Japan and China do not require any unusual global military superpower positioning to have powerful currencies, there's absolutely no reason to think the US does (other than in cases of fantasy US collapse projection); they require large economic output to support and make relevant the currencies in question (Euro, Yen, Yuan).

Right now you can combine Spain and Italy's GDP per capita figures and you are still below where the US is at ($65k). So how far does the US have to fall economically, while having a future ~380 million people, to no longer be a global superpower compared to everyone not named China?

For the US to implode as a global superpower, its economy has to shrink by around 50% to 65% or more. For example here's a % comparison on GDP to other nations over the decades:

In 1980 France had an economy 25% as large as the US; now it's 12.5% as large approximately. Was the US not a superpower in 1980?

In 1980 Italy had an economy 16.6% as large as the US; now it's 9.3% as large.

In 1980 the UK had an economy 19.7% as large as the US; now it's 12.7% as large.

In 1990 and 2000 Japan had an economy 50% as large as the US. Now it's about 24%.

So how far would the US have to fall economically (the base of its military power is its economic output, the ability to tax & fund it), compared to where it was at in 1980 versus other powerful nations, to no longer be considered a global superpower? I think these figures put it into perspective, you'd somehow need the US to massively collapse economically. What would cause that? Federal debt? It can deal with that for a long time yet and ultimately very slowly debase its enormous dollar wealth to deal with it (basically debase the $130 trillion in wealth at 1% per year, so if you're still growing at all it might end up as a net wash or close to it, until you erode the debt enough to flip the scenario).


> So how far would the US have to fall economically (the base of its military power is its economic output, the ability to tax & fund it), compared to where it was at in 1980 versus other powerful nations, to no longer be considered a global superpower?

You are cherrypicking data. Sure, the US has done well compared to france, italy, uk and japan. What about the EU and China.

Compare china's economy in 1980, 1990, 2000 against the US. Compare the EU's economy with the US. In PPP terms, China and EU outstrip the US.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)

In nominal terms, US and EU are near equals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nomi...

And all projections are for china to overtake the US in nominal GDP within this decade.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_past_and_...

I wouldn't call china a superpower. A superpower is just more than the economy.


It's not cherrypicked at all. 1980 is an ideal date to refer to. It's smack in the midst of the cold war, when the US was very clearly a global superpower, and then to relate it to the smaller economic size ratio to other major nations like France.

There are more extreme examples - different years - of comparisons I could have easily used instead, to amplify differences if that's what I wanted to do. I used a decade point for a good reason, in part to avoid being aggressive on cherrypicking.

PPP terms are worthless at best and wildly and entirely inaccurate at worst. They barely even qualify as guesses.

That's how you get Puerto Rico with a PPP GDP per capita equal to New Zealand and just below Japan in 2018 per the IMF (and far above Portugal; absurd). That's embarrassing for anyone that puts stock in PPP as a premise.

Taiwan has a PPP per capita higher than Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Canada. Yeah, sure.

And Russia almost has a PPP per capita as high as Portugal and just a bit below Israel.

Saudi Arabia has a PPP per capita 20% higher than Finland. Uh, bullshit. Higher than Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Australia, Germany, Canada, France, Britain, etc.

And China has a PPP per capita equal to Iraq & Botswana and below Iran and Gabon.

That's a small example of what makes PPP laughable. It could hardly be any more useless and unscientific.


> It's not cherrypicked at all. 1980 is an ideal date to refer to.

Stop with the strawman. My issue wasn't with the date. It obviously was with the nations you chose. You only selected nations who declined relatively to the US, you didn't choose any that grew relative to the US. The definition of cherrypicking data.

> PPP terms are worthless at best and wildly and entirely inaccurate at worst. They barely even qualify as guesses.

What? Do you even know what PPP is? I wonder why HN has so many people who insist on being right even when they are absolutely wrong.

> That's how you get Puerto Rico with a PPP GDP per capita equal to New Zealand and just below Japan in 2018 per the IMF (and far above Portugal; absurd).

What is absurd about a US territory having a higher PPP than new zealand or japan?

> Taiwan has a PPP per capita higher than Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Canada. Yeah, sure.

Taiwan is a first world developed "nation"/island. What is so shocking about that? They have some of the largest companies in the world and are amongst the leaders in the semiconductor sector.

> And Russia almost has a PPP per capita as high as Portugal and just a bit below Israel.

Yeah? And?

> That's a small example of what makes PPP laughable.

No. It makes you laughable. You don't understand what it means.

I point out how absurd your cherrypicking of data is and yet you attempt to do it again and even poorly at that because you don't even understand the economic conditions of any of the nations you listed. If PPP is laughable then so is nominal because PPP is pretty much nominal adjusted for cost of living...

Of course you completely ignored my assertion about EU and China vs US. The main point that made your first comment absurd, you conveniently ignored with some nonsense about things you don't even understand.


Yes, I think the only thing that could bring down the US would be another civil war, but I don't know how big the dissonances between the states are right now.

I think the worst-case here is that political stagnation and populist anger continue to increase, leading to popular unrest and a military coup or other suspension of democracy. Factional civil war seems very unlikely because urban vs rural is not a regional divide.

But what's interesting is that political breakdown leading to a military coup wasn't what brought down the Roman Empire, but it was what brought down the Roman Republic! So maybe we're just entering the real imperial phase of our history.


it's part of what brought down the western empire. commanders of armies sent to secure the borders would often march back and try to secure the throne. this is what a lot of the third century crisis was.

Now that is completely possible. More countries have had civil war over political disagreements than due to regional differences. Left-right kind of civil war has happened countless times through history. An example from more democratic countries would be Finland and Spain.

I can very well see the start of a civil war after next election result if everything goes wrong. If say Trump loses and rejects that he lost the election while FOX and Friends pump up right wing voters and say the election was stolen from them and that people need to take up arms to protect their rights and prevent the deep state from stealing the election from them, then you may very well see a bloody civil war unfold.

Nobody with any force on the right is fighting to calm people down. Right wing voters can be whipped into a frenzy and go berserk. Remember these are the very same people who believe Guns are for protecting their freedom. If they feel wronged their logical conclusion would be to grab their guns and start fighting.


Ah, yes, the republic was before the empire, right.

The dissonances are more between people within states, between cities and rural areas in particular. It's very unlikely there is a civil war or any type of sundering of the Union anytime soon.

The petrodollar could be interpreted as the 'oversea holding' that could put their global superpower position at risk.

No it can't. The 'petrodollar' is a massively overestimated in its importance. Just like the 'global reserve currency' argument it simply does not hold water.

The US is not best compared with Rome but with China. China never collapsed like Rome but it stagnated. GDP is not a great measure of the vitality of an Empire. When Great Britain humiliated China with its gun boats, British GDP relative to Chinese GDP was similar to today.

Japan was able to take large parts of China despite lower GDP.

The danger for the US is the same as the danger was for China and many other empires. It is growing complacency and arrogance. China fell behind Europe because it did not think anybody else had anything to teach China. America is on a similar path. Look at things like US health care discussions, gun crime etc. Americans do not think anybody else can teach them anything about these matters.

The US is a science and tech leader, yet its government and institutions are growing increasingly dysfunctional. When I lived in the US I was surprised by how extremely old fashion government seemed to operate. It felt more like my own country 100 years ago.

And there seems to be little willingness in the US to upgrade and improve government. Americans cling to this ida that in 1776 America came up with the most awesome government ever and there is no need to ever change. The constitution is becoming much like the Bible, holy scripture to be followed to the letter, and never altered.

Nostalgia about the past is a dangerous thing. Trump is just a harbinger of what is to come. Voting out Trump changes nothing. His base will not change and they will fight to install a new Trump next time they get a chance. That may very well be a far more dangerous character.

You have essentially one of Americas large well established parties gradually turning into a sort of Fascist party and the American system has no tools or methods to deal with it. Much like the Weimar republic it flaps around helplessly with no idea of how to deal with angry extremism.

But as you say America is very rich, so decline will take a long time. However a rich country consumed by internal conflict and political dysfunction will eventually stop being a player on the international arena. America has always had strength in rallying other countries and western powers behind it. Should it loose that ability or get face western nations partially hostile to it, then the reach of American power will diminish.


> China never collapsed like Rome but it stagnated

Wut. China collapsed into warring states and feuding warlords several times. Various northern invaders also showed up at multiple points in their history as well.

> China fell behind Europe because it did not think anybody else had anything to teach China

China fell behind because the KMT and CCP fought a decades long civil war that was interrupted by the Japanese raping the country. Then the CCP took over and launched disastrous attempts at industrialization and cultural reform (The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) that killed millions and stalled progress. It was only after Deng Xiaoping Thought and "Socialism With Chinese Characteristics" became a thing that China rocketed back to it's role as a big player.


Yes I know China has had several civil wars, but it was never rendered permanently too weak to ever rise again like Rome. But yeah I agree I was not wording myself very clearly there.

> China fell behind because the KMT and CCP fought a decades long civil war that was interrupted by the Japanese raping the country.

I disagree. At that point China had already fallen way behind. The KMT and CCP was fighting in large part because China had already stagnated and failed to keep up with European powers.

When China got humiliated by Britain in the opium wars it was already a failed empire.

Long before KMT and CCP western powers started carving out their own enclaves in China. They had whole city sections where Chinese where not allowed. China was being humiliated on home turf by the west. Relative to the west China was not that different from today in terms of economy when this happened. The west could not outright take China.

However the technological advantage the west held in maritime warfare meant that western powers could cause massive damage in China without them having a way of retaliating.


Although I agree with your arguments as the cause China stagnated in 20th century, I think that what socialdemocrat referrs to is China under the last period of Qing dinasty (e.g. Yizhu, Zaichun, Zaitian, and other emperors).

Side note, and I'm far from the first to say it, but I miss designs like this - it had personality and made sites look different from each other. Now everything looks like Bootstrap or Material UI.

Yes, but could have been a little wider, or offering some sort of 'print' view.



Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: