Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/33

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17
THE MAKING OF EUROPE

man civilization — the cleared lands, the regular food supply, the well-made clothes and fine weapons — but they did not understand the civilization which they wanted to enjoy. They could not preserve it; they could not repair and restore it when it decayed. And yet these barbarian soldiers, with their limited outlook and small sense of civic responsibility, were the source of political power in the Empire. They were the only group who could express their discontent with the government, the only group whose wishes had to be heeded by the men in power. Unfortunately for the Empire, the desires of the barbarians were always concerned with their own welfare and never with the welfare of the state. They would revolt to make a favorite general emperor, to gain extra pay, to force an allotment of land to veteran troops, to gain high offices for their native leaders. They would never revolt to change the political system which was strangling patriotism, civic responsibility, and private initiative. Like the civilians, the soldiers accepted the Empire as a natural phenomenon which was as permanent and unchangeable as the solar system. The Empire was there; they made the best terms with it they could, but it was not their job to keep it going. All responsibility, all initiative, lay with the emperor and his bureaucrats. If they failed to do their duty, if they made disastrous mistakes, no body of citizens or of soldiers could take their place or repair their errors.

The political situation was bad; the economic situation was even worse. The imperial government, most of the city governments, and practically all ordinary citizens were bankrupt long before the fall of Rome. This impoverishment of the Empire increased the sense of strain and futility which contributed to the final collapse. Men who could not make a decent living after honest effort, men who saw their standard of living and their social status steadily diminishing, could not be expected to be very much interested in preserving a civilization which had ruined them. And yet the Empire included the richest regions and the most fertile lands of the ancient world. If Greece could prosper when it had been divided