Why do great nations or empires fall? Why do superpowers fall? It is a fact of history that all world-ruling empires have collapsed. But why?
Many people are deeply concerned about the state of the American superpower today. But it is easy to assume America could never fall. It is such a mighty country, with vast resources, superb technology and a peerless military. Many Americans seem to believe the country can indefinitely survive endless abuse, rampant corruption and radical transformation of foundational institutions.
This is false. History teaches us much about America’s fate.
There is a cause for every effect. The great historian Edward Gibbon wrote about the fall of the Roman Empire, the greatest of all the world-ruling empires. If you study Gibbon’s work, it is obvious that America is headed in the same direction! You could say that Britain—at one time an empire even greater than America—has already traveled even further down that road.
In his masterpiece, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon identified five major causes that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire: first, the breakdown of the family; second, increased taxation; third, an insatiable craving for pleasure; fourth, an unsustainable buildup of armaments; fifth, the decay of religion. This Trumpet issue examines all five of these causes.
One of the greatest historians of all time explained how and why ancient Rome fell. Don’t the conditions surrounding Rome’s fall sound eerily similar to conditions prevalent in the United States and British Commonwealth today?
The story of Rome—its dramatic rise and mastery of the world, and then its long decline and eventual collapse—is one of the most gripping in world history! But it isn’t merely a historical curiosity. When you study the problems the Romans grappled with and succumbed to, you recognize so many of the exact crises facing America and Britain today.
How Great Was Rome?
There are many arguments about all the factors that caused Rome’s fall and how relevant the lessons from that history are. Here is a factor that adds significant weight to this study:
The truth is that God prophesied the rise and fall of Rome—and God prophesied the rise and fall of America and Britain.
Yes, God foretold the Roman Empire’s epic ascent centuries in advance. In the closing years of the seventh century b.c., God gave King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian Empire a prophetic vision that foretold millenniums of events that would follow. Interpreted by the Prophet Daniel and recorded in the second chapter of his biblical book, the vision was of a statue representing four successive world-ruling Gentile empires: beginning with the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar, followed by Medo-Persia, then Greco-Macedonia, and finally Rome.
The Roman Empire was symbolized by the statue’s iron legs. This empire, Daniel explained, “shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise” (Daniel 2:40). At the time, Rome was a monarchy of little influence, governed by Tarquin the Elder. There was little indication that it would grow to become the military juggernaut spoken of by Daniel, a power that would “break in pieces and subdue all things.”
This chilling prophecy was amplified by another that Daniel later spoke, recorded in Daniel 7. Here the same Roman Empire is depicted as “a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it …” (verse 7). Rome was still in its infancy, waiting in the wings. The Persian and Greek empires would dominate the world before Rome would burst into its full, frightful military vigor.
By the time the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation at the end of the first century a.d., the Roman Empire was fulfilling Daniel’s descriptions with stunning accuracy, bestriding the world with imposing force and brutality. John described it in these symbolic terms: “a beast … having seven heads and ten horns …. And the beast … was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion …” (Revelation 13:1-2). With skilled leadership, brilliant tactics, impressive innovation, well-trained and well-armed soldiers and ruthless efficacy, Rome’s military was able to overwhelm its foes and extend the empire’s borders wider than any power that preceded it. It has been said that not until some 15 centuries later under Napoleon Bonaparte did the world produce an army rivaling that of Imperial Rome.
Besides its military and territorial achievements, Rome attained staggering wealth, unmatched architecture and technology, and profound and broad cultural influence. And its domination went on for century after century.
Understandably, the Romans thought themselves invincible. “Proud Romans became lulled by the belief in the seeming ‘eternity’ and superiority of their system, in their long chain of rarely broken military and economic successes, as if fate had determined they should always come out on top despite repeated challenges to their existence,” reads The Modern Romans, a booklet produced by Ambassador College Press in 1971 under Herbert W. Armstrong’s watchful eye.
But as you will read in the articles that follow, there were warning signs. Those with eyes to see could recognize weakness and rot—economically, militarily, culturally, morally. Yet the great majority of Romans were unconcerned, complacent, self-absorbed, distracted, glutted on luxury, blind to what was truly happening.
“When Seneca, the Roman statesman, warned that Rome would fall, the people snickered. ‘Rome fall?’ It could lose a few battles, but not the empire. ‘Rome,’ mused the average citizen basking in the height of world power, ‘is impregnable.’ Rome was the world—and the world was Rome” (ibid).
But then, the unthinkable did happen!
God Raises and Brings Down Empires
As I have said, there is a cause for every effect. The crash of an empire furnishes specific lessons that we can learn from and apply. The errors that weakened the mighty Roman Empire would compromise any great power.
Many analysts have studied the cycles of birth and death of empires, and they all note a similar sequence playing out repeatedly throughout history.
Sir John Glubb, who served in World War i and was awarded the Military Cross, argued that empires pass through six stages, usually within the span of about 250 years: 1) pioneers bear deprivation and overcome tremendous obstacles, then go on to 2) conquests—military victory and expansion, which lead to 3) commerce—great enterprise and wealth building, which creates 4) affluence—an impressive facade, behind which greed begins replacing duty and public service; meanwhile, military readiness is denounced and neglected as attention shifts to 5) intellect—priority is put on debate and argument, thought rather than action, resulting in division and 6) decadence—characterized by materialism, frivolity, government welfare, unrestrained immigration and a weakening of religion. At that point, the empire is victimized and dies at the hands of a new race of pioneers.
As you will read in this Trumpet issue, this cycle played out on a spectacular scale in ancient Rome.
Its latter stages are unfolding in the English-speaking world today.
“A great civilization is not conquered from without,” wrote historian Will Durant, “until it has destroyed itself within.”
Returning to the prophecy of Revelation 13, John foretold what would become of this Roman “beast”: “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death …” (verse 3). This prophecy was not fulfilled until nearly four centuries later when, in a.d. 476, the Germanic warlord Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, ending the empire.
The heights it had attained were truly staggering—yet the mighty, “impregnable” Rome did fall!
(Notice that this verse goes on to say that “his deadly wound was healed.” This refers to the Imperial Restoration of Justinian less than a century later. You can read about this in our free book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy.)
God prophesied Rome’s ascent, and He prophesied its downfall. He did the same in the pages of your Bible regarding the rise and fall of Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greco-Macedonia and many more powerful nations and empires. This is an astonishing truth you really need to prove to yourself! Fulfilled prophecy is inspiring proof of God’s power and of His guiding hand in world events.
While pondering Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, Daniel mused, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings …” (Daniel 2:20-21). He foretells and then directs the course of empires!
God Himself says through the Prophet Isaiah, “… I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand …” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
This same omnipotent God foretold the rise in recent centuries of the great British Empire and of the United States, the most powerful single nation in history. You can read this gripping story—explained from history and from your Bible—in Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy, which we will happily send you at no cost.
Further, the same God who prophesied Rome’s fall forecast the collapse of both Britain and America! Mr. Armstrong’s book explains this in great detail. These are sure prophecies of God!
The Painful Death of Empires
God does have power over these great movements of history. Yet He does not direct the rise and fall of kings, and the establishment and collapse of empires, arbitrarily. He watches and responds to decisions of the people, and He rewards or punishes based on the uprightness or wickedness of their actions.
As you will read in this Trumpet issue, America and Britain are in the twilight of their power because of the sins of our peoples.
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote an article on this subject in the February 1956 Plain Truth. “Five major vices are combining to bring America to total collapse,” he wrote, “to a fall greater than that of ancient Rome, because we are now more wealthy, more powerful than ancient Rome—and the bigger they come, the harder they fall” (emphasis mine throughout).
Mr. Armstrong wrote that, in a sense, these vices were “undercover”—but explained: “These gigantic fatal vices are not hidden, actually, and yet, we don’t see them, because we don’t recognize them for what they are. We are totally oblivious to what they are doing to us.”
In this special Trumpet issue, we examine each of these causes in detail. We dig into the specifics of Roman history to see what contributed to the collapse of this mighty empire. Then we look at how history is repeating itself in this end time.
It is difficult to imagine America collapsing as a world power. But we truly are going the way of Rome. We must have the humility, perspective and vision to recognize our problems for what they are, and awaken to what they are doing to us and how they are leading to our catastrophic downfall.
History shows that the fall of empires has proved not only inevitable but also agonizing. In his 2010 book Dismantling America, Thomas Sowell wrote this about the troubles then facing America: “No one issue and no one administration in Washington has been enough to create a perfect storm for a great nation that has weathered many storms in its more than two centuries of existence. But the Roman Empire lasted many times longer and weathered many storms in its turbulent times—and yet it ultimately collapsed completely. It has been estimated that a thousand years passed before the standard of living in Europe rose again to the level it had achieved in Roman times. The collapse of a civilization is not just a replacement of rulers or institutions with new rulers and new institutions. It is the destruction of a whole way of life and the painful and sometimes pathetic attempts to begin rebuilding amid the ruins.”
Thankfully, though, the rebuilding project that will begin after America’s collapse is unlike any before it. Read it in Daniel’s prophecy about Nebuchadnezzar’s image: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44).