The Greek city-states in the fourth-century BC, fifth-century AD Rome, and the Western European democracies after World War I all knew they could not continue as usual with their fiscal, social, political, and economic behavior. But all these states and societies feared far more the self-imposed sacrifices that might have saved them.
Mid-fifteenth-century Byzantium was facing endemic corruption, a radically declining birthrate and shrinking population, and the end of civic militarism—all the last-gasp symptoms of an irreversible decline. Its affluent ruling and religious orders and expansive government services could no longer be supported by disappearing agrarians and the overtaxed mercantile middle class. Returning to the values of the Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century empire that had once ensured a vibrant Byzantine culture of stability and prosperity throughout the old Roman east remained a nostalgic daydream. Given the hardship and sacrifice that would have been required to change the late Byzantine mindset, most residents of Constantinople plodded on to their rendezvous with oblivion in 1453. Read more →