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Alternate History: The Modern Roman Empire

Updated on February 9, 2014

Symbol Of The Empire

The official banner of the Roman Empire, showing the territories under its control.
The official banner of the Roman Empire, showing the territories under its control. | Source

How The Empire Fell In Simple Terms

Surrender Of The West

The last Western Emperor Romulus Augustus surrendering the Imperial crown to Odoacer, who promptly proclaimed himself King of Italy.
The last Western Emperor Romulus Augustus surrendering the Imperial crown to Odoacer, who promptly proclaimed himself King of Italy. | Source

Introduction

The Roman Empire was the most successful European empire, both in terms of continuous land area and longevity. And understandably, trying to decipher how and why this mighty imperial juggernaut crumbled has been the subject of furious academic investigation and debate for centuries. One of the dominant themes encountered in the various works published on the subject is whether the collapse was actually inevitable. With the benefit of hindsight, it is generally possible to point to long term social or economic trends, or overwhelming external pressures to show that the Roman Empire was powerless to prevent its demise.

But was it really inevitable? In the West we tend to look upon either the sack of Rome in 410 AD by Alaric or when Odoacer deposed the last Western Emperor in 476 AD as the end of the Roman Empire. However, the Eastern half of the Empire continued to live and prosper, with Constantinople serving as the capital for another thousand years- more than twice as long as the combined Empire had been ruled from Rome. The Eastern Empire eventually became known as the Byzantine Empire, named after the ancient town of Byzantium, upon which Constantine the Great built his new capital. Yet throughout its existence, its Emperors and its people thought and referred to themselves as Romans. In them the Roman Empire lived on, with an unbroken line of Emperors until the last, Constantine XI died defending the walls of Constantinople against the Turks in 1453.

If the Empire lasted another thousand years after the city of Rome fell, then why it couldn’t it have survived another fifteen hundred or two thousand years?

In the Sixth Century AD, the Eastern Empire under Justinian the Great attempted to reconquer the Western provinces from the various Germanic tribes that had claimed them a century or so before. The North African provinces fell quickly, and a few enclaves in Southern Spain were established, but it took a gruelling twenty two year war to dislodge the Ostro-Goths from Italy. At about the same time however, a devastating plague swept through the Eastern Empire decimating large swathes of the population. As a result, Justinian experienced a huge drop in manpower, denying his army of precious reinforcements. And of course, with the drop in population, the economic base required to support the war vanished, forcing the re-conquest to grind to a disappointing halt.

The Glory Seeker

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I sought to reconquer the lost Western half of the Empire, and largely succeeded.
Byzantine Emperor Justinian I sought to reconquer the lost Western half of the Empire, and largely succeeded. | Source

Divergence Point

It’s with Justinian’s attempted re-conquest, where the ‘modern Roman Empire’ truly begins, the divergence point if you like. Firstly, the Ostro-Goths succumb to the armies of Justinian as quickly as the Vandals in Africa. The plague that sapped vital men and resources in the East never occurred, thus allowing the re-conquest to continue unabated. After Italy, the rest of Spain was reclaimed from the Visi-Goths, and then Gaul was reclaimed from the Franks. Within just a decade, Roman soldiers once again patrolled the Rhine and the Danube. The final territory to fall to this whole new Roman conquest was Britain. Hadrian’s Wall was rebuilt, and once more served as the Northern frontier of an Empire that spanned much of the continent.

Yarmouk

A photo of Yarmouk, Syria, the battle site where the Romans lost the provinces of Syria and Palestine to the Arab Caliphate.
A photo of Yarmouk, Syria, the battle site where the Romans lost the provinces of Syria and Palestine to the Arab Caliphate. | Source

European Superpower

A map of the Roman Empire, although Syria and Palestine now belong to the Arab Caliphate. The Rhine and Danube form boundaries to the European Empire.
A map of the Roman Empire, although Syria and Palestine now belong to the Arab Caliphate. The Rhine and Danube form boundaries to the European Empire. | Source

What If The Empire Never Fell?

An Alternate History

With the old Empire now reunited, the long war with the Sassanid Persians at the beginning of the seventh century AD does not drain the Empire as it did originally, and consequently allows the Empire to mount a more effective defence against the armies of Islam, that burst out of Arabia soon after the Empire agreed peace terms with Persia. The Empire still loses Syria and Palestine, due to losing the Battle of Yarmouk, but crucially they prevent the Arabs from conquering Egypt. With Europe effectively closed to them, the Islamic armies turn their attentions eastward and succeed in conquering almost all of India.

Due to the greater strength of the Empire, the Turkish migrations of the tenth century AD that eventually culminated in the destruction of the Byzantine Empire in the original timeline, were in this alternate history, unable to penetrate into Anatolia and instead turned north towards the Caucasus and Southern Russia. Eventually the Ottoman Empire establishes itself in what are today South-Eastern Europe and the Ukraine; the mighty Danube River serves as the boundary between the two Empires.

Roman Explorers ‘discovered’ the Americas in the late fifteenth century, as Columbus did in the original timeline. The explorers christen their new home ‘Americana,’ after one of the merchants that sponsored the voyage. However, only North America was colonised as population pressure back in Europe is far less acute in the alternate timeline. Native American Empires such as the Maya, Aztecs and Incas still suffer the historical nosedives in population, as a result of contact with the Europeans, but are allowed sufficient time to recover and maintain their own independent civilisations rather than being destroyed and subsumed by European culture.

In the eighteenth century, the North American colonies, known in Imperial terms as Romani Americana became increasingly frustrated with the high taxation rates imposed by the Empire, and also the level of Imperial interference by Rome. Towards the end of that century, a successful revolution spawned the creation of a new Republic, modelled on the ancient Roman Republic. The United Provinces of Americana was born

In Europe, the various Germanic tribes that traditionally lived beyond the Rhine developed into a number of small Kingdoms, very much like the Germany that existed prior to original unification in 1870 in the original timeline. Over the centuries the fortunes of these Kingdoms waxed and waned as they battled both the Empire and each other. By the mid seventeenth century, the largest state, Saxony, which already covered a wide area of Central Europe, had successfully conquered many of the smaller Germanic states, thus creating an Empire of their own. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Roman and Saxon Empires put their differences to one side in order to try to halt the Ottoman advance into Central and Western Europe.

The Imperial Palace

This is of course the US Capitol Building, but it serves as a good proxy for the Imperial Palace in Rome.
This is of course the US Capitol Building, but it serves as a good proxy for the Imperial Palace in Rome. | Source

A Modern Roman Army

These are of course British soldiers, but I think red would be a good colour for a modern Roman Army, as it represents Mars, the God of War.
These are of course British soldiers, but I think red would be a good colour for a modern Roman Army, as it represents Mars, the God of War. | Source

Serving The Empire

Roman conscripts trying on uniforms for the first time. At the completion of two years service, these civilians would become citizens.
Roman conscripts trying on uniforms for the first time. At the completion of two years service, these civilians would become citizens. | Source

The Modern World

By the beginning of the twenty first century, the Rhine and the Danube still act as natural borders between the Roman Empire and the Saxon and Ottoman Empires respectfully. Asia Minor, known as Turkey to us is still in Roman hands and is home to a largely Greek speaking population. Egypt is also still a Roman province, despite the fact that they have lost it to the Arabian Caliphate half a dozen times over the past thousand years or so. During the course of that time, it has become home to a large Arab minority, living alongside Roman and Greek settlers. Railways criss-cross the Empire in the same way that the old Roman roads used to do. Motor vehicles and planes are relatively recent inventions, but have had a stark contrast in fortunes. Planes have become very common, both in the military and in the travel industry, although the jet engine has yet to be invented. Motor cars however, are not as common, with most Romans electing to undertake long journeys across land via train, while using motor bikes, bicycles, buses and trams for shorter journeys.

The Empire is still ruled by an Emperor, but in a more of a constitutional sense nowadays. The Senate is responsible for the day to day running of the Empire, with a Consul (the equivalent of a Prime Minister) acting as a figurehead, albeit one who is elected every four years by the Senate and the Citizens.

Speaking of Roman Citizens, the Empire has lost nothing of the decadence that characterised Ancient Rome, making the Empire far more sexually liberal than the Western World we know. Prostitution and pornography are legal and easily available. This is despite the fact that Christianity is the dominant religion of the Empire. The Pontiff, serves as the leader of the Christian Church, but is elected by the Emperor, rather than by his fellow clergymen. Therefore, the Emperor remains the highest authority in Christendom and he of course, is bound by the Constitution, thus meaning that Christianity was unable to impose strict laws upon society, as it did in our world.

However, in other ways, those living within the Empire’s borders have less personal freedoms than we would be used to. All Romans start out as Civilians, but almost all aspire to become Citizens, because once one becomes a Citizen, they can vote, run for public office, acquire property rather than rent and even have babies through the acquisition of a licence. In order to become a Citizen, a man, or woman, aged at least sixteen years must complete two years of uninterrupted service in the Armed Forces. The Empire deliberately possesses a lax attitude in relation to people wanting to terminate their National Service before the end of the two year period, to weed out the strong from the weak. Once one decides to terminate their National Service they can never enrol again.

© 2014 James Kenny

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    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Vin

    • Vin Chauhun profile image

      Vin Chauhun 3 years ago from Durban

      Excellent and fascinating view of an alternate history.

      Looks like you more or less got things right. I wonder if the New Roman Empire would have stopped at its New boundaries? The new Emperors may have tried to extend their territory into Arabia and beyond. They would have viewed Islam as an enemy and would have tried to crush - both ideologies are incompatible.

      And as yo suggest, the native south Americans probably would not have been ethnically cleansed by the New Romans.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks lone star, I'll have to check that out sometime. Cheers for the tip :)

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 3 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Interesting topic. I love alternative histories explored in great detail.

      You might be interested in Robert Silverberg's "Roma Eterna."

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 4 years ago from SW England

      We are fine but only 2 to 3 miles away on the Somerset Levels they are having a horrendous time, now with a little help but far too late. On the positive, it's certainly strengthened community spirit.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you MG

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Ann, we've been relatively okay in the Midlands, the virtue of living on top of a plateau. How has it been down your way? Hope it hasn't been too bad?

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

      Well written historical account.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 4 years ago from SW England

      It's quite amazing how things could have been if the Roman Empire hadn't fallen; we used to view it as an amazing feat of civilisation but wars and conquests are never a good thing in themselves, just for the sake of power and landmass. However, we don't learn do we? 'Lest we Forget' is something you see on war memorials; sadly, we do forget and we don't learn by our and others' mistakes.

      As usual, you have such a fascinating amount of information here and much food for thought.

      Hope the wind and rain hasn't been unkind to you. Ann

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much. Will do :)

    • ParadigmEnacted profile image

      ParadigmEnacted 4 years ago

      The Roman example shows how a military power succumbs to things that aren't militaristic if it engages in spiritual depravity. Dealing with those outside of the empire as if they are barbarians equals a high form of being spiritually bereft. Amazing how religion has become part of this moral bankruptcy in the modern day, not a solution, and combines with hyper-militarization whereas those things used to be at odds.

      People become enamored with the glory of destructive ancient patterns.

      Another good, informative read. Please keep them coming.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Well they do say that the USA is one of the many children of Rome, as was the British Empire of course. Re: Spreading civilisation to the so called barbarians etc.

    • EGamboa profile image

      Eileen Gamboa 4 years ago from West Palm Beach

      Re "decadence that characterised Ancient Rome", I read somewhere that an empire's demise is symptomized by it's infatuation with youth, beauty, sex…specifically Rome. Anyone notice some parallels with the good old USA perhaps.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Indeed true Chris, and couldn't agree more.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 4 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Very well put together and, but for a few accidents in history, our reality.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Good point, I've often wondered whether the Catholic Church was and is a sort of subtle continuation of the Empire, no longer interested in conquest, only interfering in everybody else's affairs when they feel like it.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 4 years ago from West By God

      I bookmarked this so I can read it in depth later. I am writing about King Arthur and Camelot and have come to some of the things that you mention in this hub too. I am writing them on Bubblews. I do not think that Rome has lost anything...it is now called the Roman Catholic Church and they are still wanting to own the world and they are doing it through the church. I am sharing this too.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Ann. I actually watched an interesting video that speculated that the if the Empire hadn't of fell, there would have been no need for a Renaissance, and we would probably be more technologically advanced and liberal than we are now. We still live with the legacy of its downfall e.g. Christianity etc.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 4 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Much of the fall of our morals in Western society can be paralleled with the Roman Empire's. We are actually imploding. It sounds like you did a lot of research when you wrote this and it is a very interesting history. Thanks for sharing!

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