This Is How an Empire Falls

The discomforting parallels between our current moment and the end of Rome


Living in the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic feels like watching the sun go down on a crumbling empire. The world’s wealthiest country has experienced more deaths and suffered a greater economic shock than any of its peers. Staggering levels of unemployment and eviction are looming, not to mention a potentially chaotic November election. We can’t help but think back to our 2017 interview with classicist Kyle Harper, who in his book, The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, advanced a new theory about why and how the empire fell … under circumstances alarmingly similar to our own. Though the decline of Rome has been a favored subject of armchair theorists for as long as there have been armchairs, Harper’s hypothesis points to many of the same problems we’re wrestling with today.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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