Subjection Is My Subject, or “Your Empire Sucks!”

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 1.2:

The fact that I have taken as my subject a thing that is noble, elevated, and useful to many will not, I think, require a great profusion of words for those who are not totally ignorant blockheads where history is concerned. For if one directs their attention to the reigns of cities and races of past time as they followed upon one another, and then considers each of them independently and then each one in comparison with the other; and if one wishes to determine which of them held the greatest power and which is famed for the noblest deeds in peace and war, then they will see that the power of the Romans by far outstripped that of the other empires which preceded it, not only in respect to the greatness of its sway and the nobility of its deeds (which no account has yet worthily put in order), but also respecting the length of time during which it has existed up to our own age.

For the Assyrian empire, though suitably ancient and extending back into the mythical past, still only controlled a small part of Asia. The empire of the Medes overtook that of the Assyrians, and surpassed it with even greater power, but it did not maintain that strength for much time, and instead dissolved in its fourth generation. The Persians, having defeated the Medes, held sway over almost all of Asia, but when they set out against European peoples, they did not defeat many of them, and they remained in power for not much more than two hundred years. The Macedonian dynasty overtook the Persian power in greatness, and surpassed all previous empires, but it did not blossom for long – after the death of Alexander, it took a turn for the worse. Immediately split among several rulers after the Diadochoi, and following them maintaining its strength for another two or three generations, it became weak under its own influence and was finally obliterated by the Romans. And not even Macedon made all of the land and sea its subject. For it held no sway over Libya, except a bit not far from Egypt, nor did it subject all of Europe, but went north only as far as Thrace, and in the west terminated at the Adriatic Sea.

Τὴν μὲν οὖν ὑπόθεσιν ὅτι καλὴν εἴληφα καὶ μεγαλοπρεπῆ καὶ πολλοῖς ὠφέλιμον οὐ μακρῶν οἶμαι δεήσειν λόγων τοῖς γε δὴ μὴ παντάπασιν ἀπείρως ἔχουσι τῆς κοινῆς ἱστορίας. εἰ γάρ τις ἐπιστήσας τὴν διάνοιαν ἐπὶ τὰς παραδεδομένας ἐκ τοῦ παρεληλυθότος χρόνου πόλεών τε καὶ ἐθνῶν ἡγεμονίας, ἔπειτα χωρὶς ἑκάστην σκοπῶν καὶ παρ’ ἀλλήλας ἐξετάζων διαγνῶναι βουληθείη, τίς αὐτῶν ἀρχήν τε μεγίστην ἐκτήσατο καὶ πράξεις ἀπεδείξατο λαμπροτάτας ἐν εἰρήνῃ τε καὶ κατὰ πολέμους, μακρῷ δή τινι τὴν ῾Ρωμαίων ἡγεμονίαν ἁπάσας ὑπερβεβλημένην ὄψεται τὰς πρὸ αὐτῆς μνημονευομένας, οὐ μόνον κατὰ τὸ μέγεθος τῆς ἀρχῆς καὶ κατὰ τὸ κάλλος τῶν πράξεων, ἃς οὔπω κεκόσμηκε λόγος οὐδεὶς ἀξίως, ἀλλὰ καὶ κατὰ τὸ μῆκος τοῦ περιειληφότος αὐτὴν χρόνου μέχρι τῆς καθ’ ἡμᾶς ἡλικίας. ἡ μὲν γὰρ Ασσυρίων ἀρχὴν παλαιά τις οὖσα καὶ εἰς τοὺς μυθικοὺς ἀναγομένη χρόνους ὀλίγου τινὸς ἐκράτησε τῆς ᾿Ασίας μέρους. ἡ δὲ Μηδικὴ καθελοῦσα τὴν ᾿Ασσυρίων καὶ μείζονα δυναστείαν περιβαλομένη χρόνον οὐ πολὺν κατέσχεν, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τῆς τετάρτης κατελύθη γενεᾶς. Πέρσαι δὲ οἱ  Μήδους καταγωνισάμενοι τῆς μὲν ᾿Ασίας ὀλίγου δεῖν πάσης τελευτῶντες ἐκράτησαν, ἐπιχειρήσαντες δὲ καὶ τοῖς Εὐρωπαίοις ἔθνεσιν οὐ πολλὰ ὑπηγάγοντο, χρόνον τε οὐ πολλῷ πλείονα διακοσίων ἐτῶν ἔμειναν ἐπὶ τῆς ἀρχῆς. ἡ δὲ Μακεδονικὴ δυναστεία τὴν Περσῶν καθελοῦσα ἰσχὺν μεγέθει μὲν ἀρχῆς ἁπάσας ὑπερεβάλετο τὰς πρὸ αὐτῆς, χρόνον δὲ οὐδὲ αὕτη πολὺν ἤνθησεν, ἀλλὰ μετὰ τὴν ᾿Αλεξάνδρου τελευτὴν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ἤρξατο φέρεσθαι. διασπασθεῖσα γὰρ εἰς πολλοὺς ἡγεμόνας εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τῶν διαδόχων καὶ μετ’ ἐκείνους ἄχρι τῆς δευτέρας ἢ τρίτης ἰσχύσασα προελθεῖν γενεᾶς, ἀσθενὴς αὐτὴ δι’ ἑαυτῆς ἐγένετο καὶ τελευτῶσα ὑπὸ ῾Ρωμαίων ἠφανίσθη. καὶ οὐδὲ αὕτη μέντοι πᾶσαν ἐποιήσατο γῆν τε καὶ θάλασσαν ὑπήκοον· οὔτε γὰρ Λιβύης ὅτι μὴ τῆς πρὸς Αἰγύπτῳ <οὐ> πολλῆς οὔσης ἐκράτησεν, οὔτε τὴν Εὐρώπην ὅλην ὑπηγάγετο, ἀλλὰ τῶν μὲν βορείων αὐτῆς μερῶν μέχρι Θρᾴκης προῆλθε, τῶν δ’ ἑσπερίων μέχρι τῆς ᾿Αδριανῆς κατέβη θαλάσσης.

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