The Anarchists of the Late Roman Empire, a cautionary tale

Little is said of the anarchists of the Roman Empire. Little can be said, after all, for they were a quickly destroyed people.


Long before they were destroyed, the Roman anarchists coexisted—albeit in a marginalized and sometimes shunned social standing—with other “citizens” and Roman dwellers including migrants (some forced) who generally left them alone as they were no threat to their own frenzied feeding off the fat of the bloated empire. Many anarchists were even open about their distaste for dwelling in a territory occupied by a coercive force—much in a manner akin to the sovereign citizens of this 21st century—yet they were never considered a threat by the formal authorities nor any common “patriots” (if there could be said to be any). Ideologies didn’t mean much anymore, save that the more cautious paid lip service to Christianity to hedge against leaving themselves open to any vulnerability; this choice to Christianize depended entirely on what part of the empire the said persons lived. Indeed, the vacuum of thought was empty and vacuous despite this modest attachment to Christianity; the idea of ideas was at a very low point, a precursor to the coming illiteracy (à la the dark ages) to sweep over the land.

Some of the younger and rowdier in the anarchist circles did get in to trouble from time to time, not because of their ideas but because of their actions. They would openly criticize the empire, occasionally staging protests of this theme, and throw rocks at soldiers, and would sometimes gain public attention when one of their own was jailed leading to further protests and jailings. There is no documentation showing any corrections beyond the jail time, which gives further credence that the anarchists were not taken seriously. Perhaps they themselves did not take themselves seriously enough, and though they did access the analytic abilities to discern arbitrary power in a world where such power was the norm, they were unable to maintain the energy levels to constantly defend and critique against such a naturalized evil, and so they played in to it unconsciously. This subcultural existence went on for more than a century, and there was no urgency on the part of any of the aforementioned peoples to change the situation, anarchist nor others.


One year, when a particularly harsh climate evolved a series of particularly harsh storms (financial, demographical, ecological, psychological, infrastructural, unseasonable weather), so called “barbarians” were allowed in, or forced in, and resource caches were quickly overwhelmed and depleted. Perhaps had the anarchists sued for alliances, and a system of mutual aid with these oppressed barbarian groups sooner, their own disasters could have been averted; but indifference reigned the day, and in the turmoil of events that suddenly happened upon the empire, such collusion was precluded. That year the vast weaknesses of the empire were quickly revealed to those thoughtful enough to notice, but they, like the other infortunados, were helpless to prevent their situation from quickly worsening. Within a few short years the peoples dwindled, and absolutely all of the anarchists perished. Some survived, but they completely left and forgot about their anarchism because they hadn’t cultivated deep and resonate mobile roots that they could carry with and within themselves. Little beyond the Christian church and the cunning and powerful were able to maintain any standing above mere survival; the laws were usurped and fashioned to suit their needs, enabling the ushering in of a future feudal ordering. There were no anarchist maxims to be uttered in prevention or refutation of these naked unchecked power grabs.

Not all was bad: great were the times of those who were on the outer periphery of the empire—not yet made dependent on the empire and able to now be free of the paralyzing yoke, returning to their own localized habits (some subsistence). The land, too, started to heal and soil erosion was reversed and animal populations came back almost miraculously. Unfortunately in that land too many bad seeds were left in the soil, allowed to slowly germinate and prefabricate the next round of wider and deeper oppression. The stewards were dead, or elsewhere…


They had dwelt mostly on land that was stoned to death, paved by such hardened materials that smothered the ecosystem. They were being kept afloat by layers of artifice that they were unable to notice because of feelings of dejection mixed with distraction—circuses. Usually they were relaxed (or lulled), and their vigilance was sleepy. The anarchists were subalterned by a combination of forces, most of which were not calculated in to their critique. They died, and their children died—who they so wanted a better world for—not because of government per se, but rather because of the real forces of the world that the government insulated, distorted, and buffered against. The empire was well on its way to death because of its absurd middleman position, but unfortunately its tall walls obfuscated a view of the tidal waves crashing just outside. The anarchists knew the empire to be systemically weak, and that it may fall because of its own immanent problems, yet they did not create their own resilient human systems to mitigate their own weaknesses. The anarchists goaded the government to reveal its monstrous self and come and slaughter them, but ironically it was when the government itself imploded that so did the Roman anarchist communities. They thought they had imagined life without government, but either their images were not truly liberated, or they failed to realize the images externally before the catastrophic events unfolded.

Perhaps ROMAN Empire stands for Radically Oppressive Militarized American National EmpireL, but perhaps not… let’s not wait and see, but rather let us roll our dice while they are still ours to role!



L ROMAN could additionally equal really/radically oppressive/overly militarized american national empire