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It turns out, in short, that the fall of Rome is to human history what the end of the dinosaurs is to natural history: the prime example of an extinction that nevertheless, when one looks at it more closely, turns out to be more complicated than one might have thought.
Romulus, after all, had been the founder of the Eternal City, Augustus her first emperor. In fact, in almost every way that it can be, dating the fall of the Roman empire to a particular day in 476 is wrong.So, it is not unreasonable to characterise the fall of the Roman empire in the west as the nearest thing to an asteroid strike that history has to offer.One striking measure of this – the degree to which it was indeed, in the words of the historian Aldo Schiavone, “the greatest catastrophe ever experienced in the history of civilisation, a rupture of incalculable proportions” – is that even today it determines how everyone in the west instinctively understands the notion of empire. This seems to most of us almost as much a law in the field of geopolitics as it is in physics.America, he claimed, was afflicted by precisely the problems that he saw as responsible for the collapse of Rome: “declining moral values and political civility at home, an overconfident and overextended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.American self-confidence seems to have clawed back at least some lost ground since then.