Sir john Glubb wrote “The Fate of Empires” which describes what others have called anacyclosis and the cycle of collapse. In it, Glubb describes how nations tends to rise, degrade, and eventually collapse.
Most nations follow an eerily similar timeline, regardless of time period, culture, wealth, ethnicity, or any other usual distortion-qualifier.
One way in which Sir John Glubb differs, however, is his 250 year hypothesis:
We possess a considerable amount of information on many empires recorded in history, and of their vicissitudes and the lengths of their lives, for example:
|The nation||Dates of rise and fall||Duration in years|
|Roman Republic||260-27 B.C.||233|
|Roman Empire||27 B.C.-A.D. 180||207|
|Arab Empire||A.D. 634-880||246|
This list calls for certain comments.
The present writer is exploring the facts, not trying to prove anything. The dates given are largely arbitrary. Empires do not usually begin or end on a certain date. There is normally a gradual period of expansion and then a period of decline. The resemblance in the duration of these great powers may be queried. Human affairs are subject to many chances, and it is not to be expected that they could be calculated with mathematical accuracy.
Nevertheless, it is suggested that there is sufficient resemblance between the life periods of these different empires to justify further study.
The division of Rome into two periods may be thought unwarranted. The first, or republican, period dates from the time when Rome became the mistress of Italy, and ends with the accession of Augustus. The imperial period extends from the accession of Augustus to the death of Marcus Aurelius. It is true that the empire survived nominally for more than a century after this date, but it did so in constant confusion, rebellions, civil wars and barbarian invasions.
Not all empires endured for their full life-span. The Babylonian Empire of Nebucha- dnezzar, for example, was overthrown by Cyrus, after a life duration of only some seventy-four years.
An interesting deduction from the figures seems to be that the duration of empires does not depend on the speed of travel or the nature of weapons. The Assyrians marched on foot and fought with spears and bow and arrows. The British used artillery, railways and ocean-going ships. Yet the two empires lasted for approximately the same periods. There is a tendency nowadays to say that this is the jet-age, and consequently there is nothing for us to learn from past empires. Such an attitude seems to be erroneous.
It is tempting to compare the lives of empires with those of human beings. We may choose a figure and say that the average life of a human being is seventy years. Not all human beings live exactly seventy years. Some die in infancy, others are killed in accidents in middle life, some survive to the age of eighty or ninety. Nevertheless, in spite of such exceptions, we are justified in saying that seventy years is a fair estimate of the average person’s expectation of life.
We may perhaps at this stage be allowed to draw certain conclusions:
In spite of the accidents of fortune, and the apparent circumstances of the human race at different epochs, the periods of duration of different empires at varied epochs show a remarkable similarity.
Immense changes in the technology of transport or in methods of warfare do not seem to affect the life-expectation of an empire.
The changes in the technology of trans- port and of war have, however, affected the shape of empires. The Assyrians, marching on foot, could only conquer their neigh- bours, who were accessible by land—the Medes, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Egyptians.
The British, making use of ocean-going ships, conquered many countries and sub- continents, which were accessible to them by water—North America, India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand—but they never succeeded in conquering their neighbours, France, Germany and Spain.
But, although the shapes of the Assyrian and the British Empires were entirely different, both lasted about the same length of time.
Sir Glubb’s hypothesis is that nations, on average, last 250 years. There are obvious exceptions and this does warrant further study, but the examples are rather damning. Plus, there are plenty of other nations that would fit this timeline as well.
The interesting part is then taking a look at America:
- 1776-2021: 245 years
We are obviously degrading. Rapidly. We’re also right next to the 250 year timeline.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Or maybe we’re soon to be yet another data point in favor of Sir Glubb’s theory. All of my relatively younger readers will certainly find out the answer to this question within their own lifetime.
On a more positive note, the cycle of collapse can be stopped. But we have to think outside of the current frameworks that merely help continue it.