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Ancient and modern

Putin’s diseased ideology

7 April 2018

9:00 AM

7 April 2018

9:00 AM

The Russian economy is not in the greatest of shapes. That being the case, one would have thought friendly diplomatic and economic relations with the West would be a priority for Vladimir Putin, given his need for cash to build weapons against threats from superpowers such as Estonia. A little Roman history would help.

As has been well documented, the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west in the 5th C ad heralded something of an economic dark age for Europe for some 200 years. The long-nurtured Roman economic networks extending east as far as China simply could not survive the break-up that would create the beginnings of today’s Europe.


The ancient sources, as well as the archaeological record, make clear just how connected that world had been. The emperors made sure the infrastructure was in place. As Pliny the Younger said of Trajan, ‘he has opened up roads, built harbours, created overland routes, let the sea into the shore, and moved the shore out to sea’. As a result, trade flourished across a huge area.

One author talked of Rome being ‘a kind of common emporium of the world’, with cargoes from ‘India and south Arabia, and Babylonian garments, and ornaments from the barbarian country beyond’ arriving as easily as from Greece. Another concluded that ‘There is one continent, one sea, the islands common to all, the harbours opened up and the gates thrown wide. Merchant ships everywhere carry products from all parts and crowd the anchorages. A mutual community has extended through practically all the land under the sun’. A Christian writer, the ‘Indian traveller’ Cosmas (c. ad 550), saw God’s hand in all this, arguing that the seas had been specifically designed to encourage trade, ‘thus uniting scattered nations in bonds of friendship’.

‘Mutual communities’ and ‘bonds of friendship’ do not feature in the paranoid mentality of Mr Putin, still trapped in the diseased ideology of the old KGB which taught him that the open society was evil personified. Until that mentality changes, it will still be the same old ex Russia semper aliquid novichok.


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