Summary: People often compare today’s waves of immigration with those that played a large role in the destruction of the Roman Empire. Here Stanford Professor Ian Morris describes, the similarities, the differences, and the lessons this history holds for us. Morris focuses on the danger of migrants as organized military forces; he gives little attention to their disruptive domestic effects. For another perspective see America isn’t falling like the Roman Empire. It’s falling like Rome’s Republic.
Is the West Being Overrun by Migrants?
By Ian Morris at Stratfor on 7 September 2016.
Are the barbarians at the gates? Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, has no doubt that they are. “Without any action,” she told a rally at Amiens last year, “the migratory influx will be like the barbarian invasion of the fourth century, and the consequences will be the same.” That would be bad. According to St. Orientus of Auch, who lived through the original event, “Throughout villages and farms, throughout the countryside and crossroads, and through all districts, on all highways leading from this place or that, there was death, sorrow, ruin, fires, mourning.”
The Parisian political establishment turned up its collective nose at Le Pen’s analogy (being France, the newspapers concentrated on correcting her chronology: The invasions came mostly in the fifth century, not the fourth). And despite all his talk of building a wall to keep invaders out, Donald Trump has so far resisted likening himself to Emperor Hadrian. Not since Pat Buchanan, in fact, has an American presidential hopeful called Mexicans barbarians.
The internet, however, is full of comparisons between the end of ancient Rome and current events in the United States and European Union, and I find that when I give public lectures I regularly get asked how much the two periods have in common and how much we should worry about it. (Being both an immigrant and an ancient historian, I probably get this more than most people.)
The answer to both questions seems to be “not much.” But that said, they remain worth asking, because the details behind the answer are rather revealing. Just what was it about the Germanic migrations into the Roman Empire that made them so different from the contemporary Arab migration into Europe and Mexican migration into the United States?