The vanishing point

January 31 2007

Michael Rostovtzeff, in his Iranians and Greeks in South Russia, [footnote: Oxford 1922, Clarendon Press.] revealed to me the Nomad Civilization of the Great Eurasian Steppe.

I have and read a long time ago his The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1926). I don’t know how it’s viewed now or whether its class-based interpretations of late Roman history stand up. Its interest in economic matters is unToynbeean, but even in that it must have appealed to him. It must be one of the great works of twentieth-century historiography.

It ends with a passage which sets it in its time:

“The evolution of the ancient world has a lesson and a warning for us. Our civilization will not last unless it be a civilization not of one class, but of the masses. The Oriental civilizations were more stable and lasting than the Greco-Roman [“unchanging east”], because, being chiefly based on religion, they were nearer to the masses. Another lesson is that violent attempts at levelling have never helped to uplift the masses. They have destroyed the upper classes, and resulted in accelerating the process of barbarization. But the ultimate problem remains like a ghost, ever present and unlaid: Is it possible to extend a higher civilization to the lower classes without debasing its standard and diluting its quality to the vanishing point? Is not every civilization bound to decay as soon as it begins to penetrate the masses?”

He was, of course, an exile, in the US. The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World came later (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1941).

What was the relationship between Christianity and social and economic history?


Synopis: Preamble

The intelligentsia’s function

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

One Response to “The vanishing point”

  1. […] A Russian on Rome June 3, 2008 The vanishing point […]

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