Did Christians Build a DEATH CAMP at Scythopolis?

So I was having a conversation the other day about religion and peace throughout history, and the dude essentially brought my eyes to a huge list of supposed crimes that Christianity committed throughout history, starting from the reign of the first Christian emperor Constantine. The list, which you can read here, was almost immediately high on my suspicions given the fact that the website promoting it (jesusneverexisted.com) may be described as the manifestation of historical incompetence. After some more research, I found that the list actually comes from a book titled Demolish Them by someone named Vlasis Rassias. This book is so obscure that I can’t find it on Amazon, Google Books, or its publisher. It appears to have been self-published in Greek in 1994. Anyways, it’s good to have available refutations of this kind of nonsense, so here we are.

The first crime it lists is, apparently, Christians denouncing pagan worship. This is a crime? Then, the author then reveals his approval for the internet myth that the Council of Nicaea established the divinity of Christ (it didn’t, what came out of this council was a creed, 20 canons and a letter to the Church of Alexandria, all of which you can read here). Then, the stakes quickly elevate. Rassias tells us;

359 In Skythopolis, Syria, the Christians organise the first death camps for the torture and executions of the arrested non-Christians from all around the empire. [bold not mine]

That’s right, during the reign of Constantius II, Christians established a death camp for anyone who wasn’t a Christian (presumably Rassias wants us thinking of the Soviet gulags and Nazi concentration camps at this point). The problem is with all this … it’s just fiction. I tracked down the source for the events of Scythopolis in AD 359 to the account described by Ammianus Marcellinus (a 4th-century soldier and historian) in his Res Gestae, 19.12.1-20. The account is too long to quote entirely (you can read it here if you want to), but the first two sections alone are enough to rule out the preposterous claim that it was a death-camp for non-Christians. In fact, it was a tribunal established by the Roman secretary Paulus, on the direction of Constantius II, to try people for treason against the emperor. Ammianus writes;

Yet in the midst of these anxieties, as if it were prescribed by some ancient custom, in place of civil wars the trumpets sounded for alleged cases of high treason; and to investigate and punish these there was sent that notorious state-secretary Paulus, often called Tartareus. He was skilled in the. work of bloodshed, and just as a trainer of gladiators seeks profit and emolument from the traffic in funerals and festivals, so did he from the rack or the executioner. [2] Therefore, as his determination to do harm was fixed and obstinate, he did not refrain from secret fraud, devising fatal charges against innocent persons, provided only he might continue his pernicious traffic. (Res Gestae 19.12.1-2)

Paulus, as it happens, was called “the chain” in his days for his brutality and history of fabricating evidence in order to convict innocents. Not only isn’t this a non-Christian death camp, but at one point a pagan philosopher was brought in to and tortured on the grounds that he was making sacrifices to the pagan gods so that they would grant him imperial power in return (which means he was accused of wanting to become emperor himself, which would necessarily require displacing Constantius). Eventually, Paulus was convinced that the accusations being made were not, in fact, correct, and so let the philosopher go.

Also Demetrius, surnamed Cythras, a philosopher of advanced years, it is true, but hardy of body and mind, being charged with offering sacrifice several times, could not deny it; he declared, however, that he had done so from early youth for the purpose of propitiating the deity, not of trying to reach a higher station by his investigations; for he did not know of anyone who had such aspirations. Therefore, after being long kept upon the rack, supported by his firm confidence he fearlessly made the same plea without variation; whereupon he was allowed to go without further harm to his native city of Alexandria. (Res Gestae, 19.12.12)

Which proves this wasn’t a non-Christian death camp. So the article is wrong. The biggest problem with this article is that it simply offers no sources for its claims, which makes it close to impossible to fact-check it. There are a number of instances, however, where we can investigate its claims, and almost always, the turn out to be ridiculously false.

One example is that it claims in AD 335 the emperor Constantine ordered the crucifixion of all people who claimed to be able to do magic or tell the future. Except, Vassias forgets, the 5th century historian Sozomen (Ecclesiastical History I, 8.13) and possibly the 4th century historian Aurelius Victor (De Caesaribus, 41.4) say that Constantine banned the practice of crucifixion. It’s true, however, that Ammianus claimed any practice of magic was punished by death under Constantius II, but historians discount his account as unreliable since, of course, he was a pagan himself who not only hated Constantius II, but was actively trying to evoke the sense of a reign of terror during Constantius II’s reign. Matthew Dickie, Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Illinois in Chicago, in an analysis of how magic and soothsaying was treated during the 4th century Christian emperors concludes that the emperors cared little for any harmless acts of magic and were more concerned with pagans trying to use magic to harm others and learn of the future (which was used to obtain prophecies about the death of the emperor). See pp. 242-247 in Dickie’s 2003 book Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World (or click here).

The list claims that on the same year of 335, Sopatrus, a pagan philosopher was “martyred” for his paganism. Eunapius, a 4th century author in his Lives of the Sophists provides a a lengthy account of Sopatrus and how he met his death. Apparently, the city of Constantinople, due to its size, required enormous sums of grain in order to be sustained from the surrounding lands of Rome, including Egypt, Asia, Phoenicia and Syria. However, the city itself, so Eunapius says, is not well fitted for the arrival of ships to transport these grains unless a strong wind blows south. At one point, as Constantinople lacked these winds and it was becoming increasingly difficult for grain to arrive at Constantinople, and since the supply of food began declining to the city, Eunapius says that Constantine was no longer able to satisfy his people. Several men, envious of Sopatrus — since he was a philosopher Constantine greatly enjoyed — took this opportunity to claim that Sopatrus was using his magic to scatter the winds and reach imperial power for himself. Constantine, convinced, had Sopatrus executed. This sounds much less like pagan martyrdom (if Constantine had disliked paganism so much, it’s difficult to understand why he had Sopatrus as one of his favorite philosophers to begin with) and more to do with an insecure emperors doubts. Roman emperors, throughout their history, have a tediously lengthy record of killing anyone they suspect with defection in any form (for example, Claudius killed 35 senators during his reign). Once again, it’s very difficult to evaluate any of the crackpot claims on that website simply because of the fact that it offers zero sources for anything it’s saying. That, on its own, is enough to discount the list.

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Pagan Prophecy and Law

Yesterday, as I was going through an online course on the history of ancient Greece, one of the assigned readings was Plutarch’s Life of Solon (in the wider section on law and lawgivers in the Archaic Age, that roughly stretched from 800-500 BC). While I was reading this, something struck me. In pagan law and courts, it apparently seemed true that prophecy and omens could be validly used in legal contexts (judge someone guilty or innocent, to decide whether or not a war should be waged or who should control what property, etc). In the Life of Solon, we’re told of a war that was being waged between the Athens and Megara (Athens being located in Attica in the east of the Greek mainland, and Megara to its west in Megaris).

The war was over control over Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf (the body of water between Attica, Megaris, Corinthia and Argolis). According to one account, Solon found that all the women of Athens were at some place called Colias, and so sent a fake deserter to Salamis, where the Megarians were, and convinced them to come with him to capture Athens’ women. Convinced, they joined him, and when Solon saw the incoming vessels, he ordered the women to leave and made the younger men pretend to be locals with concealed daggers. Once they Megarians got on the land, they were massacred by the Athenian men and the Athenians were victorious and took possession of Salamis. According to the other account, the victory occurred because Solon received an oracle from Delphi that ordered him to gain the favor of the dead heroes buried in Salamis by making sacrifices to them, and set sail by night to the island with five hundred soldiers. The Megarians, only with rumors about the activity of Athenians to go off of, sent a dispatch envoy to investigate, which Solon captured. Solon piled his men into this Megarian ship and sent it back to Salamis, where his soldiers jumped out and managed to capture the city (and Plutarch seems to favor this account). Either way, Plutarch records that Solon’s actions allowed the Athenians to take the city. Next, we’re told that the local Megarians were angry under Athenian hegemony, and continued their conflict. This dragged on until finally, the Megarians and Athenians had to ask for the advice of the Lacedaemonian (kingdom of Sparta) judges to decide who got the city. So started a debate between the Athenians and the Megarians. Here’s how Plutarch narrates it;

Notwithstanding all this, the Megarians persisted in their opposition, and both sides inflicted and suffered many injuries in the war, so that finally they made the Lacedaemonians arbiters and judges of the strife. Accordingly, most writers say that the fame of Homer favoured the contention of Solon; for after himself inserting a verse into the Catalogue of Ships, he read the passage at the trial thus:—

“Ajax from Salamis brought twelve ships,

And bringing, stationed them near the Athenian hosts.”

2 The Athenians themselves, however, think this an idle tale, and say that Solon proved to the judges that Philaeus and Eurysaces, the sons of Ajax, became citizens of Athens, made over their island to them, and took up their residence in Attica, one at Brauron, and the other at Melité; and they have a township named after Philaeus, namely Philaïdae, to which Peisistratus belonged. 3 They say, too, that Solon, wishing to refute the claims of the Megarians still further, made the point that the dead on the island of Salamis were not buried after the Megarian, but after the Athenian fashion. For the Megarians bury their dead facing the east, but the Athenians facing the west. However, Hereas the Megarian denies this, and says that the Megarians also turn the faces of their dead to the west. And what is still more important than this, he says that the Athenians use one tomb for each body, whereas the Megarians (like the early inhabitants of Salamis) place three or four bodies in one tomb. 4 However, they say that Solon was further supported by sundry Pythian oracles, in which the god spoke of Salamis as Ionian. This case was decided by five Spartans, Critolaïdas, Amompharetus, Hypsechidas, Anaxilas, and Cleomenes.

One of the main proofs for Solon’s contention of the city (which he ended up winning, and so increased his fame and power) was “sundry Pythian oracles”, i.e. a bunch of oracles that came from the Delphi sanctuary. There are a few legends associated with the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, which made it one of the most important sites in the entire world of the ancient Greeks. The legend says that Zeus, wanting to find out where the center of the earth was (i.e. the earth goddess Gaia, and so Delphi remained a cult center for Gaia), sent two eagles to fly from the western and eastern extremities. When they united, they were over the site of Delphi, and so Zeus there placed the omphalos, an artifact which represented the location as the center/navel of the world. Later on, there’s a she-serpent named Python which has a sanctuary at Delphi and gives out prophecies. Apollo (son of Zeus by Leto, twin with Artemis, associated with healing, plague, archery, music and a ton of other things) also came to Delphi, wanting to establish his own sanctuary, but Python didn’t let him. So he killed Python and took over her sanctuary. Thus, Apollo is the patron god of Delphi, and the Temple of Apollo is there in his honor. Anyways, the Delphic Oracle, probably established in the late 8th century BC soon become one of the preeminent locations in the world of the Greeks, where people from all across would come to receive prophecies and oracles. The Life of Solon itself, though a short text, mentions Delphi on numerous occasions. The priestess of the Delphic Oracle was known as the Pythia (after Python). Even the Bible mentions this at one point.

Acts 16:16: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.

The phrase “spirit by which she predicted the future”, in the original Greek literally means “Pythian spirit”. Thus, the girl here being used by her owners as a fortune teller is supposed to be possessed by a Pythian spirit. Therefore, we’ve seen above that the ‘oracles’ Solon received were seriously taken in a legal context. There are many other examples of this, such as the fact that the Spartan kings would always make sacrifices and consult prophecies before engaging in a war (in fact, the Spartan kings were sacrificing so many animals to turn the prophecies favorable that they had to start taking one pig from every farmer’s litter to supply the kings ability to seek counsel with the gods). Not to mention, disobeying the Pythian oracles was illegal. Anyways, it’s evident that entire legal decisions were made based off of the testimony of prophecies that this and that Greek would receive (much of which were contradictory and so people had to be appointed to take care off that, as well) which would not only make the process of law less efficient but also subject to clear error as the Greek gods did not exist to issue these omens. Among Romans, just one example of this happening during the late Roman Republic is mentioned in Henrik Mouritsen’s monograph titled Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (2004) where we learn that “[w]hile a magistrate was observing the skies for omens no political proceedings could take place” (pg. 69); a process called obnuntiatio. Furthermore, Mouritsen continues to explain here how this was even occasionally used as a tool by the Roman Senate to blocking legislation they didn’t like! So, yesterday, as I was considering this information, I realized that Christianity must have made the system of law much more efficient by divesting any validity from the process of omens, since Christians never took seriously such a concept to begin with. Now, since I’m not a scholar, I clearly don’t know the specifics of later Christian jurisprudence, though the evidence I’ve outlined so far seems to suggest that the advance of Christianity in this ancient civilization certainly was a benefit for the practice of law. Another achievement for the glory of our history, it seems!

The Fall of Rome and Birth of the Middle Ages

In an earlier post, I provided a nice summary of the events that brought about the end of the Western Roman Empire, beginning by noting the first catastrophe to hit the empire in the reign of Marcus Aurelius when the Plague of Galen was imported into the empires frontiers, and ravaged Rome’s populations, to AD 476 when the barbarian officer Odoacer conquered the Italian peninsula and thus effectively ended the civilization of the Western Roman Empire. Western Europe would not be (mostly) united again until the reign of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor who was crowned as such after decades of expansion of the Frankish Empire by Pope Leo III in 800, something that produced much angst in the Byzantine Empire ruled by the empress Irene, which remained a powerful polity and considered itself the true ruler of the Romans, and despite Charlemagne’s efforts, would not recognize him as the Imperator Romanorum, Emperor of the Romans. But before Charlemagne arose, and brought about the Carolingian Renaissance with his reforms and policies, the state of Western Europe had become very dire after the western empire had fallen centuries earlier. Here, I hope to provide a summary of the situation caused by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in Western Europe.

The Western Roman Empire, like its eastern counterpart and the earlier united Roman Empire, was divided into various provinces, each under the authority of a Roman governor, administration, laws and perhaps a professional standing army. The tax collectors would require citizens to contribute to the empire, which in turn was mostly used in the Roman days to fund the army, which was by far the largest expense that the government had to deal with. Roman presence brought about a great deal of consistency and unity between the entire empire, where commercial trade was made possible by a vast territory connected between a network of roads unparalleled anywhere else in the contemporary ancient world. With the collapse of the empire, all this ended. In his monograph The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford, 2005), renowned historian Bryan-Ward Perkins explains various dimensions of Roman life and society that mets its end with the fall of the empire. Perkins writes;

It is currently deeply unfashionable to state that anything like a ‘crisis’ or a ‘decline’ occurred at the end of the Roman empire, let alone that a ‘civilization’ collapsed and a ‘dark age’ ensued. The new orthodoxy is that the Roman world, in both East and West, was slowly, and essentially painlessly, ‘transformed’ into a medieval form. However, there is an insuperable problem with this new view: it does not fit the mass of archaeological evidence now available, which shows a startling decline in western standards of living during the fifth to seventh centuries. This was a change that affected everyone, from peasants to kings, even the bodies of saints resting in their churches. It was no mere transformation—it was decline on a scale that can reasonably be described as ‘the end of a civilization’. (pg. 87)

In the period of the empire, commercial production and trade had advanced to an enormous scale and linked the entire empire. Not only were there enormous amounts of product being produced and shipped at huge scales, but archaeology has revealed that their quality was also relatively advanced as well. Perkins continues describing the picture at hand;

However, painstaking work by archaeologists has slowly transformed this picture, through the excavation of hundreds of sites, and the systematic documentation and study of the artefacts found on them. This research has revealed a sophisticated world, in which a north-Italian peasant of the Roman period might eat off tableware from the area near Naples, store liquids in an amphora from North Africa, and sleep under a tiled roof. Almost all archaeologists, and most historians, now believe that the Roman economy was characterized, not only by an impressive luxury market, but also by a very substantial middle and lower market for high-quality functional products. (pp. 87-88)

In other words, products were being produced all over the empire by artisans specialized in certain fields and forms of manufacturing, and they were subsequently able to hold large numbers of customers (not only the rich, but also the households of the poor) in markets in entirely different cities, lands, and provinces. Thus, the household products of a Roman may not have been produced in the local village or city, but might come from an array of different locations each shipped to the local marketplace. However, without the complex networks established and maintained by the unity of empire, this would all soon change. As civil wars wrecked armies and consumed taxes, and numerous disparate barbarian tribes invaded, pillaged and slowly conquered Roman lands, the Roman administration slowly disappeared. A good example is provided by the province of Noricum. Perkins explains again the slow dissolution of the Roman administration in this province from the writings of Saint Severinus of Noricum, which allow us to attain a picture of just what happened;

By the time Severinus arrived, Noricum had already experienced nearly fifty years of insecurity and warfare, including a short-lived revolt against imperial rule by the Noricans themselves. It would seem that during these decades Roman administration, and any control over the province from the imperial court in Italy, had already disappeared. There is no mention in the Life of a Roman governor of Noricum, nor of an imperial military commander, and the neighbouring provinces, of Raetia and Pannonia, seem already to have fallen almost completely into Germanic hands. Eugippius indeed describes the Roman defences of the Danube as a thing of the past: ‘Throughout the time that the Roman empire existed, the soldiery of many towns was maintained at public expense for the defence of the frontier. When this practice fell into abeyance, both these troops and the frontier disappeared.’ He goes on to tell a wonderfully evocative story of how the last vestige of imperial military power in the region finally came to an end. Apparently, despite the general collapse of the Roman defensive system, one imperial garrison, that of the city of Batavis, was still in existence in Severinus’ time. But the only way the soldiers could receive their pay was by sending some of their number south and over the Alps into Italy to collect it. On the very last occasion that this was done, the emissaries ‘were killed during the journey by barbarians’; their bodies were later found washed up on the banks of the river. No more imperial pay ever reached Batavis. (pp. 18-19)

The economic situation, before the collapse, was quite good. One way archaeologists have discovered the prosperity of Roman lands during this period is from archaeological remains of … garbage. At Mount Testaccio (Pottery Mountain), a full ‘mountain’ remains from a dumpster of oil amphorae (types of jars) that accumulated over the 2nd and 3rd centuries in the small Roman province of Baetica located south-western Spain. It’s estimated that over 50 million jars remain in this trash pit, that represent over 6 billion litres of oil that were imported into the city where the trash pit was found. An enormous site like this reveals the massive commercial expanse of the Roman world, and there are many other enormous pits of pottery garbage throughout the empire from the period before the fall of the empire that accumulatively help us further understand this complex. Here’s a picture of (a bit of) Mount Testaccio.

None of it was to last, though. Perkins paints the bleak picture that followed.

In the post-Roman West, almost all this material sophistication disappeared. Specialized production and all but the most local distribution became rare, unless for luxury goods; and the impressive range and quantity of high-quality functional goods, which had characterized the Roman period, vanished, or, at the very least, were drastically reduced. The middle and lower markets, which under the Romans had absorbed huge quantities of basic, but good-quality, items, seem to have almost entirely disappeared. (pg. 104)

Anything too complex to produce disappeared from the market, and empire wide transport of goods vanquished. There did not remain a diversity of products anymore, let alone anything high quality, but all your items were crude once more and you certainly had less. You would use locally produced pottery, rather than fancier imported pottery, because no one was able to ship such fine pottery anymore as the commercial networks collapsed, hegemony reigned in with the Germanic invaders who carved out the empire and continued warring with each other ruthlessly and endlessly (and it wouldn’t be any better when Justinian in the 6th century, Byzantine Emperor, sent his generals to regain lost land and crushed both the Vandal kingdom of North Africa, and annihilated the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy, deeply depopulating the Italian peninsula). Your roof of your house was now thatched and no longer tiled, your houses produced from earth. Skills like the potters wheel and constructing from mortar stone and brick, unless you were a member of the wealthiest in the lands, vanished and became inaccessible.

Slowly, the provinces continued degenerating. In fact, complexity in most provinces literally devolved back not only into those of the Iron Age in these places, but even less than that. Whereas in Roman-era sites, coinage was widespread throughout the empire in gold, silver and copper, and is still found in abundance as more sites are excavated, coins almost entirely disappear from sites thereafter the empires fall. An extensive quotation from Perkins is necessary;

It may initially be hard to believe, but post-Roman Britain in fact sank to a level of economic complexity well below that of the pre-Roman Iron Age. Southern Britain, in the years before the Roman conquest of AD 43, was importing quantities of Gaulish wine and Gaulish pottery; it had its own native pottery industries with regional distribution of their wares; it even had native silver coinages, which may well have been used to facilitate exchange, as well as for purposes of prestige and gift-giving. The settlement pattern of later iron-age Britain also reflects emerging economic complexity, with substantial coastal settlements, like Hengistbury in modern Hampshire, which were at least partly dependent on trade. None of these features can be found reliably in fifth- and sixth century post-Roman Britain. (pg. 118)

In the western Mediterranean, the economic regression was by no means as total as it was in Britain. As we have seen, some trade, some trading towns, some coinage, and some local and regional industries persisted throughout the post-Roman centuries. But it must be remembered that in the Mediterranean world the level of economic complexity and sophistication reached in the Roman period was very considerably higher than anything ever attained in Britain. The fall in economic complexity may in fact have been as remarkable as that in Britain; but, since in the Mediterranean it started from a much higher point, it also bottomed out at a higher level. If, as we have done for Britain, we compare pre-Roman and post-Roman Mediterranean economies, in some areas at least a very similar picture can be found to that sketched out above—of a regression, taking the economy way below levels of complexity reached in the preRoman period. In southern and central Italy, for example, both the Greek colonies and the Etruscan territories have provided much more evidence of trade and sophisticated native industries than can be found in post Roman Italy. The pre-Roman past, in the temples of Agrigento and Paestum, the tombs of Cerveteri and Tarquinia, and a mass of imported and native pottery and jewellery, has left enough material remains to serve as a major tourist attraction. The same cannot be said of the immediately post-Roman centuries. (pg. 120)

The only provinces that didn’t descend into hell after Rome fell were those in the Aegean (i.e. around the Aegean Sea, which is located between Greece and Turkey), the Levant (Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus, Jordan, etc) and Egypt. The Aegean collapsed itself around AD 700 (for a variety of factors, mostly including invasions by the Avars, Persians and Arabs) whereas the Levant and Egypt remained stable in their entire history, mostly due to the fact that they were quickly enveloped by the Arabs in the beginning of their conquests and thus didn’t have to suffer further. Indeed, the Arab lands would be quite prosperous for a while themselves.

The population, it’s clear, also greatly declined after the fall of the Western Roman Empire as the first few centuries progressed. The number of rural settlements declined vastly in the post-Roman period, as Perkins shows from diagrams in pp. 140-141 in the book that place points on the areas where rural settlements did exist before the fall, and after the fall. Indeed, the decline is so severe that it’s frankly astonishing. The amount of new construction dramatically fell, and the buildings that were constructed during this period, such as churches, were far more diminished in size in the post-Roman period than in the Roman period. Though St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome in the Roman period, no structure like it would ever be constructed in the ensuing centuries (and the Hagia Sophia doesn’t count since, of course, it was constructed in the eastern Byzantine Empire, not in the collapsed western territory). Literacy, which had been not terribly widespread in the Roman period severely plummeted.

On the other hand, the evidence for the very widespread use of literacy, and, in particular, for its trivial use, which is such a striking feature of Roman times, is far less apparent in the centuries that followed the fall of the empire. The numerous stamps, seals, and painted or scratched inscriptions that had characterized the commercial and military life of the Roman world seem to disappear almost completely. The need to label and stamp large quantities of commercial goods appears to have evaporated, presumably because production and distribution were now much simpler and less extensive than they had been before… Most interesting of all is the almost complete disappearance of casual graffiti, of the kind so widely found in the Roman period. (pg. 165)

It was no longer necessary to write as the technologies of the Roman world declined, any social pressure to do so had disappeared. Only the clergy tried to maintain writing, in order to read their scriptures and works of prominent church authors and church fathers, as well as to continue copying them down (indeed, it is due to the clergy and the monasteries why virtually any of the ancient Greek and Roman writings, philosophies and plays were preserved) — indeed, very soon, the clergy made up the vast majority of those remaining who were capable of writing, as archaeological analysis has also shown. It’s not hard to see why the economy, and therefore products of the economy (such as literacy) fell so dramatically. If products could be produced, and then exported and sold in the empire-wide market, then farmers who live in specific local conditions adept at producing certain foods could exploit such lands and then sell their products throughout the empire. However, once the empire fell, and kingdoms and communities became local, you could not ship out your specialized products throughout the empire, and therefore could neither receive them either. If you had a surplus of a certain product of yours, such as oil per se, you could export your oil to the rest of the economy and make more money. Yet without an international trading network, any surplus you have can’t be sold off in markets elsewhere, and in turn you could not purchase such products produced elsewhere. If a product could not be cultivated locally, you were unlikely to be able to acquire it at all. Secondly, without these surpluses that allowed you to accumulate profits and wealth, you were unable to, in turn, invest in more widespread networks to expand your business and technological capability of your business. Yet without these surpluses in profit, you were no longer able to spend in expanding your business at all, and therefore the size of large businesses themselves would have collapsed without a market outside of your local village and/or kingdom. Perkins writes;

Secondly, specialization and the ability to turn crops into cash allowed farmers to invest in improvements, that in turn increased productivity yet further. For instance, the Syrian cultivators of the limestone hills built a large number of solid olive presses around their villages, the remains of which are still standing there today, which allowed them to extract their oil efficiently and locally. At the same time, their counterparts on the plains were able to extend and intensify their arable cultivation by building complex irrigation and water-management systems, involving dams, underground channels, and reservoirs, as well as conventional irrigation ditches. Through capital investment, farmers were able to get much more out of their land. However, in the conditions of later times, without flourishing international and regional markets, specialization and investment became much more difficult, and the inhabitants of areas like the limestone hills were forced to return to a more mixed, and hence less productive, agriculture. When this happened, the population had to fall. It is indeed thought that parts of the Levant did not regain the levels and density of population that they sustained in late Roman and early Arab times until well into the nineteenth, or even the twentieth century. (pp. 144-145)

These are many of the essential reasons why skills and expansive businesses began to fall without the empire-wide trading network, leading to a severe decline in wealth, literacy, products such as pottery, coinage, etc, etc, etc. These were the products of the fall of western Roman civilization, and it would take centuries for the complexity to be rebuilt — some aspects of the Roman economy would not be attained once more until the late modern era. This was the birth of the Middle Ages in AD 476, and everything I have described here were the characteristics of western Europe in the early centuries of this period. As the centuries ensued, the Middle Ages would be where civilization was reborn and, up until its time, the greatest and bloodiest period of human history.