Empires have a predictable flaw

Jay Brodell
2 min readAug 10, 2023


By Jay Brodell

Published Aug. 10, 2023

Shocking parallels are emerging between the current political condition of the United States and that of Ancient Rome.

The most obvious is the erosion of the currency. At this writing a 90 percent U.S. silver dollar is worth around $30. Silver in coins was eliminated by the U.S. Congress in 1965 in favor of the copper-clad variety.

Romans also faced currency devaluations as emperor after emperor reduced the silver content of the denarius from 95 or 98 percent in the First century A.D. to around 5 per cent in the successor coin, the aurelianianus, by 274 A.D.

The Roman rulers needed vast quantities of coins to maintain the allegiance of the many legions. In fact, the legions quickly became the kingmakers in those days. A successful general could be proclaimed emperor by his troops and engage his forces with those of another claimant for the title. That’s why 69 A.D. is called the Year of the Four emperors as generals battled to be ruler.

The elite troops, the Praetorian Guard, carried this king-making to unexpected levels. When some of their number killed Caligula in 41 A.D. a few praetorians whisked his uncle, Claudius, to their castle outside Rome’s city walls to protect him from mobs and to make him emperor. They were protecting their status and eventually received a large cash bonus from Claudius.

The Praetorians grew so bold that when they murdered the emperor Pertinax, in 193 A.D. they auctioned off the job to the two contenders with one shouting offers of money from outside the gates of their Castra Praetoria while the second raised the price from inside. The result was the equivalent of five-year’s pay for the Praetorian troops.

The situation of ancient Rome seems to resemble the current U.S. political landscape with security officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, propping up a doddering figurehead to maintain their grip. Meanwhile these new praetorians wage political war in the courts against a contender who would reduce their privileges.

As with Rome, vast sums are involved. U.S. indebtedness skyrockets as massive funds are sent to prop up a regime and war in The Ukraine. There is not a good accounting of where much of the money is going, and at least some obviously is going to U.S. weapons manufacturers.

There also are credible allegations that U.S. political leaders are receiving financial benefits from their policies, be they concerning foreign affairs or local deals. President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, now face multiple allegations of selling political influence.

One does not need a degree in ancient history to realize that the fatal flaw for the Roman empire was greedy politicians. With just a few exceptions, the empire’s leaders were more interested in accumulating personal power and money than in legislating wisely. A cynic might say the same about the United States today.



Jay Brodell

Brodell is a long-time daily newspaper owner, editor and reporter as well as a tenured college professor. Email him at jbrodell@jamesbrodell.com