In the dying decades of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths rampaged through the countryside. Goths had previously been allowed to peacefully settle within the Empire because farmers and soldiers were desperately needed following recurrent epidemics and low birth rates. However, these immigrants had been required to surrender their arms at the border and live in small groups, not as internal nations under their own leaders. In fact, this resettlement was often part of a punishment following a lost war.
Once the Huns began to attack Gothic lands from the east, however, these rules went out the window. So many Goths poured across the frontier that no Roman force could prevent them, disarm them or separate them.
The subsequent arrogant and callous treatment of the barbarians was not a clever move as by this time they were one of the few effective fighting forces still available in the West and the Huns were looming on the horizon.
Alaric I tried to find a place for his Visigoths within the Roman Empire. At one point, during a siege, he made a pretty fair offer: forget about the gold. Make me head of the Roman Army, I’ll take my people north to settle along the Danube frontier and we’ll guard it for you.
At this point Rome had no army to speak of to protect the border and no better way of getting the Goths out of their hair. This was a Godsend.
By the late Roman period, landlords had become so wealthy and powerful that they refused to allow their workers to be recruited into the legions. Instead, they sought security from barbarian warlords.
Thus the feudal period began.
In the era of the Roman Republic, many farmers were yeoman with the rights and responsibilities of free men. They were gradually replaced by slaves conquered from foreign wars and the relative power and wealth of the aristocracy increased. By the end of the Empire, ordinary peasants had become serfs. They were forced to work for their lord and were not allowed to leave the manor. The average person never ventured more than ten kilometers or so from his village. A few managed to remake themselves by escaping to a town and learning a trade but most would not improve their station until the Black Death made labour scarce and workers in high demand.
The division of labour in society has changed several times since then and right now it is changing again.
It seems likely that instead of having a large middle class as in the post-war years, we will be divided into two new classes. These nascent castes have already begun to form and my reader probably knows which one he belongs to. It’s easy to make predictions about things that are already happening.
At Amazon, machines are often the boss—hiring, rating and firing millions of people with little or no human oversight.
We are now far enough advanced that several futuristic books and films are set in the past. 1984 is long gone. Back the Future‘s 2015 is in the rear view mirror, as is Blade Runner‘s 2019. Nothing is as we had imagined.
Instead of hoverboards, we have arguments about whether men can use women’s change rooms. Instead of venturing Off-world, we can’t even go to the park because we’re under lockdown. Instead of replicants, Siri scolds us. Everything is lame and dumb.
One thing we got completely wrong is architecture. This is how Blade Runner imagined the world would look by now:
Predicting the future is a fool’s game, but everyone has to do it. Whenever you decide where to invest your money, what job to take, where to live, who to marry or what menu item to choose, you’re making a prediction about the future that might be totally wrong.
Lesser people than us make great sport of examining old sci-fi predictions and seeing how way off they were. Flying cars, interstellar travel, housekeeping robots and melting ice caps. Haw bloody haw.
Clever folk like us ought to instead examine the more fruitful field of those predictions that turned out to be correct. Here are a few:
– In Back to the Future, about the only thing they got right was Read More