Universiteit Leiden

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Escape from Rome: The Death of an Empire and the Birth of the Modern West

  • Walter Scheidel (Stanford University)
Friday 31 March 2017
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

Escape from Rome: The Death of an Empire and the Birth of the Modern West

This lecture connects ancient and modern history in a novel way. The main argument is straightforward: the fact that nothing like the Roman Empire ever again appeared in Europe was a crucial precondition for modern economic growth, the Industrial Revolution and the global preeminence of Western colonial powers. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, patterns of state formation massively diverged between Europe and the remainder of the Old World: whereas large empires continued to be a dominant feature of the Middle East, South and East Asia, Europe entered a prolonged period of enduring political polycentrism. This raises three big questions: How did the Roman Empire come into existence in the first place; why was it never restored or succeeded by similarly powerful polities; and how and why did the absence of universal empire affect European economic development? By addressing these problems, this lecture incorporates ancient and medieval history into the ongoing debate about the causes of what has been called the “Great Divergence” and the rise of the modern West.

The most frequently cited active-duty Roman historian in the Western Hemisphere adjusted for age, Professor Walter Scheidel is the author or (co-)editor of 17 books, has published over 200 articles, chapters, and reviews, and has lectured in 24 countries. His most recent books are The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017), On Human Bondage: After Slavery and Social Death (2017, co-edited with John Bodel), State Power in Ancient China and Rome(2015, ed.), Fiscal Regimes and the Political Economy of Premodern States (2015, co-edited with Andrew Monson), The Oxford Handbook of the State in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean (2013, co-edited with Peter Bang), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy (2012, ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies (2010, co-edited with Alessandro Barchiesi), Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires(2009, ed.), The Dynamics of Ancient Empires (2009, co-edited with Ian Morris), and The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World (2007, co-edited with Ian Morris and Richard Saller). He has launched an international research initiative for the comparative study of ancient Mediterranean and Chinese empires, co-founded the Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics, created the interactive web site Orbis: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, which has received over a million visits and attracted global media coverage, and is co-editor of the journal Historia. He has been awarded a New Directions Fellowship of the Mellon Foundation and a Guggenheim fellowship, and is a Corresponding Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.


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