pg. 11: "...On the last, cold day of December in the dying year we count as 406, the river Rhine froze solid, providing the natural bridge that hundreds of thousands of hungry men, women and children had been waiting for. They were the barbari--to the Romans an undistinguished, matted mass of Others, not terrifying, just troublemakers, annoyances, things one would rather not have to deal with--non-Romans. To themselves, they were, presumably, something more, but as the illiterate leave few records, we can only surmise their opinion of themselves.
Neither the weary, disciplined Roman soldiers, ranked along the west bank, nor the anxious, helter-skelter tribes amassing on the east bank could have been giving much thought to their place in history. But this moment of slack, this relative calm before the pandemonium to follow, gives us the chance to study the actors on both sides of the river and to look backward on what has been and forward to what will be.
pg. 26: "...By the fifth century, in the years before the complete collapse of Roman government, the imperial approach to taxation had produced a caste as hopeless as any in history. Their rapacious exactions, taken wherever and whenever they could, were the direct result of their desperation about their own increasingly unpayable tax bills. As these nerved-up outcasts commenced to prey on whoever was weaker than they, the rich became even richer. The great landowners ate up the little ones, the tax base shrank still further, and the middle classes, never encouraged by the Roman state, began to disappear from the face of the earth. Nor would they return till the appearance of the Italian mercantile families of the high Middle Ages..."
pg. 29: "...Though it is difficult to imagine the Pax Romana lasting as long as it did without the increasing militarization of the Imperium Romanum, the Romans themselves were never happy about their army. It suggested dictatorship, rather than those good old republican values, and they preferred to avert their eyes, keeping themselves carefully ignorant of the army's essential contribution to their well-being. With the moral decay of republican resolve, the army became more and more a reserve of non-Romans, half-Romanized barbarian mercenaries and servants sent in the stead of freemen who couldn't be bothered. In the last days of the empire, men commonly mutilated themselves to escape service, though such a crime was--in theory--punishable by torture and death. Military levies, sent to the great estates, met such resistance that influential landowners were allowed to send money, instead of men, to the army. In 409, faced with an increasingly undefended frontier, the emperor announced the impossible: henceforth, slaves would be permitted, even encouraged, to enlist, and for their service they would receive a bounty and their freedom. By this point, it was sometimes difficult to tell the Romans from the barbarians--at least along the frontier..."
pg. 29: "...There are, no doubt, lessons here for the contemporary reader. The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes its overriding goal; the despising of the military and the avoidance of service by established families, while its offices present unprecedented opportunity for marginal men to whom its ranks had once been closed; the lip service paid to values long dead; the pretense that we still are what we once were; the increasing concentrations of the populace into richer and poorer by way of a corrupt tax system, and the desperation that inevitably follows; the aggrandizement of executive power at the expense of the legislature; ineffectual legislation promulgated with great show; the moral vocation of the man at the top to maintain order at all costs, while growing blind to the cruel dilemmas of ordinary life--these are all themes with which our world is familiar, nor are they the God-given property of any party or political point of view, even though we often act as if they were. At least, the emperor could not heap his economic burdens on posterity by creating long-term public debt, for floating capital had not yet been conceptualized..."