Monday, January 24, 2022

Relics of Empire

When an empire does what we and all our creations eventually do, how do you know it was there? What's left?

If they went in for big construction, maybe you'll find Lovecraftian haunted ruins (or think Xenophon and Nineveh if you're not into Lovecraft).

If the locals became numerous again in the years since the collapse, instead of ruins you'll find walls built with a variety of old temple stones, bakers rolling stones made of old tombstones, and other things that make archaeologists weep.

If they were literate you'll find inscriptions on stone, but little of the rest will be saved unless somebody finds it valuable enough to copy. In the West the church saved things, and in the East--well, Rome lasted longer there. (Antiquarians of the future will assert that "the Lion-Hearted" was an honorific for Nixon.)

If, like Rome, the empire created a reputation for stability and the rule of law and prosperity (never mind its multiple civil wars for now), it will leave a legacy in laws and ideals. For over a thousand years after Western Rome had fallen, kings still took Roman titles and claimed Roman dignities. OTOH, who knows of much besides the title of pharaoh? It's a good thing the Egyptians built pyramids.

The elite want luxuries and people have opportunity to specialize--if the empire lasts long enough I'd think they'd develop cuisines. Poor man's version of those filter down. (Our family version of konigsberger klopse is much simpler than the "proper versions".) It's not, or not always, "whatever we have goes in the pot." The rich might trade for imported spices, but the rest find local equivalents to vary the food and make it tasty. That's a good legacy, though probably not the type the original empire-builders intended.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Romans had a fish sauce - likely something like our Worcestershire - that was traded throughout the empire. When the Old World discovered the New, the exchange of foods changed the entire world, first along the trade routes of the empires.

Writing did keep the Greeks and Romans alive, and ditto China in the largest cities. But who came after them and consciously kept their memories alive is also part of why they did not go the way of the Indus Valley civilisations.

james said...

I wonder if the cuisine aspect could be used to tell where there hadn't been empires.