What was it like for a barbarian to become a Roman? What was it like for a barbarian not to become a Roman, but to be left just outside the borders of the Roman Empire? How far did the Barbarians become romanised, and did their life change for the better when they became Roman? Or would they have been better off had they remained in a state of innocence, outside the Roman empire?
These are questions which are very relevant today, when what is known as the third world is faced with all the marvels, yes, and all the problems of the modern age. The trouble is that we need to realise that the market economy that underlies the modern world, works in a very different way to the tribal economy. The tribal society often works well if it is allowed to function on its own. But when it comes up against the market economy, the principles are very different and what appear to be the very moral principles of sharing with your neighbours and rendering to your superiors are replaced by very different forms of collaboration. And when the priesthood of the market economy tries to preach from a position of superiority, even if the preaching is well intentioned, yet if the basic economic fundamentals are not appreciated, the results can be unhappy on both sides.
In this, the experiences of the Roman Empire can become very relevant. When the Romans were expanding in Italy, they were joining up with peoples at a very similar stage of economic development. And when they expanded to the East, they took over societies more sophisticated than they were, and on the economic front, no great adaptions were needed. But when they expanded first to the west, to Spain, and then to the north, to France, and even more to Britain, they clashed with a very different form of society: a market economy was faced with a tribal society. It is a story that needs to be examined in some detail, for it lies at the basis of our examination of barbarism and civilisation.
The story continues to How Spain became Roman, the Conquest of Gaul, Defeat in Germany and then the eventually successful conquest of Britannia and the building of Hadrian’s Wall.