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Plain Truth Magazine
August 1965
Volume: Vol XXX, No.8
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Ernest L Martin   
Church of God

Born: April 20, 1932
Died: January 16, 2002
Member Since: 1955
Ambassador College: 1958
Ordained: January 2, 1959
Office: Elder

The Romans said their world would go on forever. It didn't! Rome fell. Today's civilization is on the brink of Cosmocide. People still scoff. Now read the facts!

   OUR generation is filled with strife, hate, disrespect for authority, crimes and wars. This is the age of twisted minds.
   No civilization like this can long survive. The Romans tried it - and their world collapsed!
   The middle of the Second Century saw the Roman Empire at its height in power, prestige and prosperity. It could in many ways be compared to our own age. No Roman could have possibly foreseen that Rome would soon come to prostration and be in ruins.
   Romans were prone to bury their heads in the sand and forget the lessons which history can teach.
   Our own civilization is doing the same.
   We are going the way of Rome - and are about to reap the same penalties - but this time in multiplied frightfulness because of human war-making inventiveness and ingenuity.

The Facts of History

   Gibbon, the famous historian, has given some pertinent reasons to explain the downfall of Rome. But many modern historians pass over the real reasons: WARS, FAMINES, PLAGUES AND NATURAL DISASTERS!
   There were four periods in which unbelievable wars, famines, plagues and natural disasters calamitously reduced the Roman Empire to rubble. The first was from 167 to 185 A.D. The second from 250 to 265 A.D. The third, from 395 to 410 A.D. And the fourth, and by far the most distressing period of all, was from 525 to 610 A.D.
   A quick survey of these four periods - and the results which lay in their wake - clearly explain the major reasons for the fall of Roman civilization.

The Period From 167 to 185 A.D.

   This first 20-year period was the turning point in the history of Rome. Whereas up to this time there was a prosperity almost unheard of, in the year 167 A.D. - without warning - struck a most devastating calamity - an epidemic which ravaged the world from Persia to the River Rhine (Amm. Marc. xxiii, 6, 24). It continued to rage through to 180 A.D. (ibid. xxviii, 4) and again broke out with great violence about 185 A.D. under the Emperor Commodus (Dio LXXII, 14, 3). The mortality exceeded that of any plague they had on record. In Rome itself over 10,000 people were dying each day in the period of most severity. Webster in his History of Epidemic Diseases briefly describes this troublous period:
   The reign of the Antonines was distinguished for multifarious and severe calamities. The description of them by Aurelius Victor ought to be given in his own words: 'Unless Marcus Aurelius had been born at that juncture in history, the affairs of the empire would have fallen into speedy ruin for there was no respite from military operations. War raged in the East, in Illyricum, in Italy and in Gaul. Earthquakes, with the destruction of cities, inundations of rivers, frequent plagues, a species of locusts ravaging the fields. In short, every calamity that can be conceived to afflict and torment man scourged the human race during his administration' " (vol. I, p. 74).
   Such depopulation had hit the Empire that Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, when dying, said to his generals: "Why do you weep for me, instead of thinking about the pestilence and about the death which is the common lot of us all?" Devastation had hit the world. The Emperor was grief stricken, and no wonder, for Webster calculates that at least a quarter of the human race perished during this short period of 20 years (ibid. p. 74).
   One quarter of the population wiped out and in a period preceded by abundant prosperity! People, a few years before the plague, didn't think such destruction could have been possible in civilized Rome - but it came. This was the beginning of the fall of Rome.

The Period From 250 to 265 A.D.

   If the troubles in the foregoing period were devastating, what words can describe the 15 years we are now to discuss? Webster says:
   "We have now arrived at one of the most calamitous periods recorded in history - a period of mortal plagues which commenced about the year 250 in the reign of Emperor Decius and continued for 15 or 20 years. This period was ushered in by a cornet in 250, the winter of which in England was so severe that the Thames was frozen for nine weeks.
   "The plague appears to have been most mortal in Rome at two different times, during this period; viz: in the years 252 and 263... It reached the northern parts of Europe; and in 266, Scotland had scarcely living people enough to bury the dead.
   "This period was marked by destructive earthquakes in Rome, Syria and other countries. In some places the earth opened and salt water issued. Trebellius Pollio says: 'Frightful earthquakes shook Italy, Asia and Africa. For many days there was an unusual or preternatural darkness [i.e. an impenetrable darkness obscuring the heavens] and a hollow rumbling noise [i.e. like violent subterranean thunder] in the earth, which opened in many places. Many cities in Asia were overwhelmed and others lost in the ocean. Pestilence followed and DESOLATED the Roman Empire' " (ibid. pp. 78, 79).
   Trebellius' full words, written not 100 years after these events, are as follows:
   "In the consulship of Gallienus and Fausanianus, amid so many calamities of war, there was also a terrible earthquake and a darkness for many days... by the earthquake many structures were swallowed up together with their inhabitants and many men died of fright... many cities were overwhelmed by the sea... While fortune thus raged... earthquakes... and pestilence DEVASTATED the Roman world" (The Two Gallieni, V, 6).
   The ancient historian, Orosius, said that there was scarcely a province of the Empire, a city or a home that was not at this period of history attacked and desolated by these calamities.
   Eusebius mentions that during this time the state of the air for a long time became so highly corrupt as to form a vile coat on all exposed objects.
   Gibbon also had some pertinent remarks on this terrible 15 years.
   "The furious plague from 250 to 265 raged without interruption in every province, every city and almost every family of the Roman Empire. During some time 5000 persons died daily in Rome, and many towns that had escaped the hands of the barbarians were entirely DEPOPULATED... above HALF the people of Alexandria perished... and we might suspect that WAR, PESTILENCE and FAMINE had Consumed the MOIETY [half] of the human race" (Chapter X).
   What startling statements - but so factual. A full one-half of the human race were completely wiped out of existence in this short 15 years! There were more dead at this ancient time than were killed in both our World Wars, I and II combined! From these calamities the ancient Roman civilization was being gradually but surely reduced to nothing!

The Period From 395 to 410 A.D.

   Webster introduces us to this age in Roman History.
   "We now arrive at another singular and distressing period in the history of man" (p. 87). The many signs in the heavens during this time so frightened people that thousands were being baptized into the state church and asking God for protection from the terrors of heavenly phenomena. There were people claiming that surely the end of the world must be upon them because throughout the Roman world in 395 A.D. there were "dreadful earthquakes, storms, rain and unusual darkness" (Nicephorus, Book 12, 37). In the year 396 A.D. "dreadful earthquakes were felt in most provinces of the East; and in the sky appearing all in a flame over the city of Constantinople, which terrified the inhabitants and the emperor himself to such a degree that they abandoned the city and retired to the fields" (Universal History, vol. 16, p. 469). In the next year, 397 A.D., "the cities of Constantinople and Chalcedon were again shaken by violent earthquakes... and the sea, breaking in upon the land, laid whole countries under water." (Universal History, vol.16, p. 476)
   Three years later occurred one of the most severe winters on record. "The Black Sea was covered with ice for 20 days. A drought is mentioned in the same period, which was so severe that the heavens were like brass (Webster, ibid., p. 87).
   Webster has more to say on this period.
   "Violent earthquakes leveled cities... [many suffered] inundations of rivers and the sea, followed by intolerable cold storms of hail, and a drought that blasted vegetation, by which means multitudes of people perished. Pestilence raged in every quarter, and famine so severe, that the populace demanded human flesh should be sold in the market. Palestine was devoured by locusts.
   "Nicephorus has employed a chapter to describe the physical evils, and the miseries of man, in this singular period. He declares that almost all Europe perished and no small part of Asia and Africa" (Webster, ibid., pp. 87, 88 quoting Nicephorus, Book 13, ch. 6 & 36).
   For all practical purposes there was little left of the Roman Empire after this time. Whole tracts of land were being left vacant of people and the northern barbarians found relatively little resistance in their invasions of the Empire.
   We now come to one of the gloomiest and the most depressing periods in the history of the world. It is a wonder that there were even people left alive in the Roman world and Nearer Asia by the beginning of the 600's. There has hardly been a period of more devastation.

The Period from 525 to 610 A.D.

   First of all in 525 A.D., many cities of eastern Asia Minor, Greece and Syria were completely destroyed by tremendous earthquakes. Corinth was rocked to the ground - not a stone was left intact. Antioch lost 300,000 people in an instant, as the city's buildings and walls collapsed. (Nicephorus, Book 7, ch. 3)
   In 531 A.D., the sun became darkened and appeared as if eclipsed for a whole year (Procopius, Vandal War, Book 4).
   "In 534 A.D., is recorded one of the most distressing famines that ever afflicted the earth; it continued many years and destroyed multitudes of the human race" (Webster, ibid., p. 93). This universal famine soon allowed plague to begin its sweep across the whole of the world. The plague was devastating for it raged continuously, with only a few minor respites, for 65 long years! Evagrius, a man who lived at the time of its greatest severity, wrote, in 594 A.D.: "I will now describe the plague which has prevailed in these times, and already raged FIFTY-TWO years, a thing never before known and has already depopulated the earth" (Quoted by Webster, ibid., p. 98).
   Only two or three of Evagrius' once large family, including grandchildren, were left alive. This diminution of the population was felt in every family in Evagrius' memory. The devastation was almost unbelievable.
   Also, the wars that were conducted at this time, which in many cases were the cause of the famines and plagues, were of such prodigious destruction that it makes one wonder if the human race was not trying to commit genocide. Procopius, an eyewitness of this frightful period, said that the northern barbarians had for several years invaded the Roman Empire from the Alps to the Black Sea, killing each year at least 200,000 Romans. The result was the whole of the area comprising the modern Balkans becoming "completely destitute of human habitation. For some were destroyed by war, some by disease and famine, the natural concomitants of war" (Anecdota, xviii, 15). Procopius' last comment on this once-most-prosperous area of the Roman Empire (which was at one time described as the most populous of areas outside of India) was that the Balkans had now become a veritable "Scythian wilderness."
   Also at this same time, Procopius tells us that the Persians were ravaging all the eastern provinces from Egypt to Asia Minor. "They accomplished such thorough-going destruction that this entire region came to be very sparsely populated, and it will never be possible, I think, for any human being to discover by enquiry the numbers of those who perished in this way" (ibid). In all their invasions of the east, the Persians left "the land bare of inhabitants wherever they chanced to descend" (ibid).
   But this was not all. The once-prosperous area of North Africa, at one time the breadbasket of the Empire, was devastated at this same time into a desert. Again we have the eyewitness report of Procopius. The Historian's History relates:
   "When Procopius first landed [in Africa], he admired the populousness of the cities and country, strenuously exercised in the labors of commerce and agriculture. In less than twenty years, that busy scene was converted into a silent solitude... the historian has confidently affirmed that five millions of Africans were consumed by the wars and government of the emperor Justinian" (vol. 7, p. 1270). Where once were prosperous and populous cities, Procopius records that one might walk for days without encountering either friend or enemy.
   Immediately after the African wars, Justinian's troops attacked Italy in order to restore it to the Empire. The dead in the long wars that ensued approached the almost unbelievable figure of 15,000,000 souls (Draper, Intellectual Development of Europe, vol. I, p. 328).
   The wars, and the resultant famines and plagues of this period, made the whole of Italy a veritable wasteland. Pope Gregory who lived near the end of this devastating age wrote pathetically that Italy had reached the crisis of utter abandonment and misery" (Miley, Rome Under Paganism, vol. II, p. 275). And, he later complained that "the open country is become a wilderness." Even Gibbon mentions that much of Italy "was reduced to the state of dreary wilderness; in which the land was barren, the water impure, and the air infectious."
   What destruction! What calamity!
   Perhaps the comment of Dr. Draper on this period of history will not be inappropriate as a summing up. He says, speaking first about the African wars of Justinian, "This was a speedy work, but it was followed by fearful calamities; for in this, and the Italian wars of Justinian... the human race visibly diminished. It is affirmed that in the African campaign five millions of the people of that country were consumed; that during the twenty years of the Gothic War, Italy lost fifteen millions; And that the wars, famines, and pestilences of the reign of Justinian diminished the human species by the almost incredible number of one hundred millions" (ibid. vol. I, p. 328).
   This was destruction almost beyond example. At least 80 percent of the population of the then Western world were destroyed!
   All peoples were affected by this destruction. Dr. Agus states that there were at least one million Jews in Europe before this calamitous period, but afterwards, the Jewish population was diminished to a meager ten thousand - a mere one percent of the former number (Urban Civilization in Pre-Crusade Europe, vol. I, pp. 14, 15). All races of peoples suffered tremendously from those terrible times. It is no wonder that one of the Darkest Ages in history came over Europe that took almost eight hundred years to overcome.

Can It Happen Today?

   We have now surveyed what the staggering results of war, famine, plagues and natural disaster can do towards reducing the human race. Historians acknowledge that these events happened in the past. But moderns are inclined to think they could not happen again. It is said our Western world is today too advanced to let such calamities happen. But such is not the case. The records prove man is still vulnerable to disasters. Earthquakes have wrecked ultra-modern bridges and buildings while leaving centuries-old counterparts standing beside them. It has been further demonstrated that a scientific minded, educated, vaccinated populace can still be ravaged by disease. Warnings from leading doctors go unheeded.
   Leading doctors have warned that there is no substitute for clean living - that drugs cannot nullify the damage done by wanton breaking of all health laws - and that wholesale vaccinations can weaken man's overall natural resistance to disease. But as long as we appear to be well, almost no one gives these warnings a second thought. That is the way ancient Rome reacted. All the factors to produce a repetition of these calamities are on the horizon and in some cases are here now!
   "Can we possibly have famines again?" some say. Look at the world today. It is already overcrowded. Let severe droughts and floods wipe out our breadbaskets, make our lands barren, and famine will naturally envelope this world. This is prophesied to happen!

Will We Wake Up?

   This brief review of four periods in history has shown what has happened in the past. It is time we wake up to the reality of these calamities about to be repeated in multiplied power.
   "For then [just before Christ's second coming] shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."
   But God has promised that He will not allow such great calamities on nations without first warning them through His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). You have been warned!
   "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape ALL these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man."

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Plain Truth MagazineAugust 1965Vol XXX, No.8
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