Today it’s my pleasure to introduce to you Vincent B. Davis II . He is an author, entrepreneur, and soldier, and I met him at church, thru his mother, Jayme. She and I were in a Bible study for years. Vincent is a graduate of East Tennessee State University, and has served in the United States Army since 2014.
Vincent is the author of five books, three of which have become international bestsellers. When he’s not researching or writing his next book, you can find him watching Carolina Panthers football or playing with his rescued mutt, Buddy. You can connect with the author on Facebook or Twitter @vbdavisii, vincentbdavisii.com, or at Vincent@thirteenthpress.com.
My book club was fortunate to be able to have Vincent talk to us earlier this year about Sins of the Father Not only is the book fabulous, but his presentation was, as well. We are hopeful that he will come speak to us again about another book.
I saw Vincent’s post, below, a couple of weeks ago. I immediately asked him if he would be a guest blogger in these COVID-19 days. He graciously agreed to do so.
Let’s learn from the pen of Vincent B. Davis II.
WHY DID ROME FALL?
While it will likely remain impossible for any one reason (1000-year-old empires rarely fall due to a single factor) there is one that likely led to a sequence of events that caused the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Plague.
Here I want to talk about one specifically. You may have never heard of it—the Antonine Plague. It took place during the reign of the famous emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Although events that took place 2000 years ago can often feel foreign and strange to modern readers, I think some of what took place will feel eerily similar to what we are enduring today.
The origins are difficult to determine with finality, but both moderns and ancients had some guesses. There is some evidence that the disease was spread from China to the west via the silk road. Others believed that the Roman legions in the east brought it back after angering the gods by desecrating a temple of Apollo. Many ancients blamed the Christians for refusing to worship the pagan gods.
Although we don’t know where it sprang from, the effects are apparent. It began with a fever, an unquenchable thirst, swollen throat, and coughing. And it spread like a wildfire.
At first, it was isolated to sprawling urban centers like Rome (like COVID-19 and New York City?). At its height, some 2,000 people were dying just in the city every day. But then it spread.
There was nowhere safe throughout the vast Roman empire.
Taxpayers were dying in droves, leading to a shortage in state funds at the time when the government needed them the most. Farmers were sick and dying, leading to a scarcity of grain and a massive spike in prices for the grain that was still available (sounds like toilet paper and germX). Shop owners and craftsmen who fueled the economy from the forums around the empire were incapacitated (forced business shutdowns?).
The legion wasn’t immune either, as soldiers cooped up in tents and barracks with their brothers were as exposed as anyone. The ranks of Marcus Aurelius’ legions were thinned at just the point when they were needed the most to fight back the German forces marching towards their borders. Scrambling, they were forced to enlist anyone they could: freedmen, foreigners… and gladiators. This last element led to a massive decrease in the gladiatorial games (NBA and March Madness cancellation?), which caused an uproar from the people who demanded entertainment and escape from their dastardly situation.
So many senators were dying that the nobility was reeling. Most of the wealthy fled the urban centers for their countryside villae (taking the plague with them). One might be tempted to shake his head and call them cowards, but can you blame them? The world was falling apart after all—and the lives of their loved ones were at risk. Either way, Rome and other cities like it were left abandoned. Citizens were left to their own devices, with little guidance.
As many as 5,000,000 died in the first wave of the plague, and it took the life of Marcus Aurelius’ co-emperor Lucius Verus, as well. Higher expenditure, lower revenue. A need for leadership, and a lack of leaders.
And let’s not forget the human element of it all, despite how easy it is to do so with the space and time of 2000 years separating us. Families were destroyed. Survivors were left lonely and depressed. Loved ones were unable to even say goodbye to the sick for fear of contamination. Sons, daughters, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers… all loaded into carts with hundreds of other dead bodies and carried away.
Although it might seem like it, I’m not writing this as a history lesson. I hope that you can see the parallels between this horrific plague and our own, despite the vast differences in scale. Regardless of this, I think there is a lot we can learn from the ancients and how they dealt with their own pandemic.
LIVE WITH VIRTUE
Marcus Aurelius, in the midst of the Antonine Plague, wrote that “dishonesty, hypocrisy, self-indulgence, or pride” were the real plague. “A mental cancer—worse than anything caused by tainted air or an unhealthy climate. Diseases like [the Antonine Plague] can only threaten your life; these ones attack your humanity”.
SERVE OTHERS IN WHATEVER CAPACITY YOU CAN
There is always a light in the darkness if one looks hard enough to find it. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Even with 2,000 years between us, we can find those who were serving others in the Antonine Plague. Despite the extreme risk of doing so, and being persecuted for their beliefs and a general thought they were the cause of the whole pandemic, the early Christians were staying in the cities while others fled. They were tending to the sick and infirm when they were unable to care for themselves and no one else was willing to do so. For the first time in Roman history, there was a spark of goodwill between the Christians and the pagans because of this fact alone. Lives were changed and perhaps saved. And the world was rendered a more united place because of the valiant efforts of select individuals. Stay indoors and stay safe. But don’t ever underestimate your ability to affect change in a time such as this.
DON’T POINT FINGERS, SPREAD CONSPIRACY THEORIES, OR DENY THE WHOLE THING
As COVID-19 has spread, many have looked for others to blame. Some blame China, others the government, others place the fault with the liberals or the conservatives, or the media. The conspiracy theories and sources for the blame are boundless, and it’s impossible to peruse social media without coming across angry individuals looking for someone to blame.
I implore you to not join them, as I believe the ancients would with some hindsight. They blamed the Christians and increased persecution against them for it, but we can now see that they were actually amongst the most helpful in this terrible tragedy.
Perhaps one of these theories is correct. We really don’t know, and perhaps we never will. But more than anything, this is about cherishing and protecting your words, and not using them flippantly. Marcus Aurelius warned us of this 2,000 years ago. Before we lay the deaths of thousands of people at the feet of a nation, a politician, or a particular political affiliation, we need to be certain it is true. That is an accusation worth considering. And it would take months, or more likely years, to do the kind of research necessary to lay an informed claim to any of these theories.
Do not trust the news media pundits or our learned friends on Facebook. Do not become part of the problem. Don’t divide us further when history proves that coming together is the only thing that can sustain us in tragedy.
THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND WILL HAPPEN AGAIN
Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Remember to bear in mind that all of this has happened before. And it will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.” And he was correct. It has happened again: the Spanish Flu, Small Pox, the Bubonic Plague… all echoing what happened during the Antonine Plague and things even becoming worse.
Keep this in mind. Is this the end of the world? Perhaps, but probably not. We’ve endured worse, and we will likely endure worse in the future. Human beings are resilient creatures, perhaps more than we really know. We aren’t going to let this destroy us. This too is a passing thing. We will get through this.
PRESERVE HUMAN DIGNITY
While the rest of the wealthy fled Rome, Marcus Aurelius remained in the city. Exposing himself to great risk, he refused to shut himself off from his citizens who needed him more than ever. Although there was little the Roman government could do to stop the spread of the virus, Marcus drained the state coffers (and his own) to fund funerals for the dying throughout the empire. When he could help it, he refused to allow humans to be treated as anything less than that: humans. When he could, he even attended the funerals himself and gave speeches, bringing honor to the lives which so many were willing to carry away in carts and forget.
In times of tragedy—when we see the death toll rising by the thousands each day—it is easy to forget the value of human life. We tend to look to ourselves or our families. Just recently I heard about an elderly lady being pushed out of the way by someone wanting the last roll of toilet paper. This is the wrong response to tragedy. History proves that. Now more than ever, we should hold up and value each life as fragile and precious.
As Ryan Holiday says, “We are all at the mercy of enormous events outside our control”. We can go at any moment, from this virus or something else entirely. We still exist in the wild, legionaries. Society and modern medicine have only given us the false impression that we’re beyond this. But this is not a beckoning call for cynicism—quite the contrary. The ancient Stoics called this memento mori, or “remember that you must die”. By doing so we are truly enabled to live as if each day is your last. Similarly, Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour of your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:25-31).
We can quarantine ourselves, wash our hands, and avoid gatherings. As we should. But even by doing so, we cannot truly protect or save our lives, not in the grand scheme of things at least.
Instead, release control. Live each day—during and after this pandemic—as if it is your last. And cherish every moment.
Thank you for reading, legion. Stay indoors, stay safe, and as always,
Vincent B. Davis II
Copyright, April 27, 2020, Rebecca Henderson and Vincent B. Davis II
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