Our Thing likes to compare late-stage America to the collapsing Roman Empire. It’s all there — the overproduction of decadent, parasitic elites; a huge, costly, but laughably ineffective military; the proliferation of weird cults and suicidal ideologies. Our Thing also agrees that the old way of doing things has comprehensively failed, and that Western Civ — should we decide to give stuff like “indoor plumbing” and “living past 35” another go somewhere down the line — will need to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Which suggests we should take a look at the early Roman Empire.
Let’s be wildly optimistic and assume we can get through the collapse without widespread ethnic cleansing. Thanks to a half-century’s frantic effort by Our Betters, the Liberals, no matter how many polities the ex-USA splits into, none of them will be ethnically homogeneous. Which means that every state will have a significant minority population it will need to manage at worst, integrate at best.
The Romans were in the same boat in the early imperial days. The Greeks, the socii, even the North Africans were Roman enough not to require much special handling.* The Gauls, though…
We know the surface-level details. Proconsuls or client kings, each with a legion or two to play around with, “administered” each region. But: What, exactly, did they do? Aside from obvious stuff like “helping out army recruiters” and “protecting tax farmers,” what, other than policing up potential malcontents, occupied their days? How did they see themselves in the grand scheme of Roman government? Did they consider themselves part of the grand scheme, and was there a grand scheme in the first place? What about the local elites that served under them (or, perhaps, controlled them)? How Roman were they? How Roman did they want to be?
We’ve actually got a few documents on how it worked that are available to everyone. Even at this late date, most everyone knows who Pontius Pilate was. That seems to be close to the worst-case scenario — the best the governor can do is keep a lid on an intractably hostile population. Leaving teleology aside, it’s hard to see how he could’ve done other than he did, Jesus-wise. Jesus had broken no Roman law, which were the only laws Pilate could (theoretically) enforce. So he turned Jesus over to the local religious elite, but — crucially — facilitated their decision. The Sanhedrin passed the sentence, but local auxiliaries (there were no legions in Judea in Christ’s time) actually did the killing.
How did the best-case scenario work? Spain, say, was Romanized pretty early — the Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138) was half-Spanish by blood, but obviously all the way Roman by culture. How Roman were the Romans in Spain? Were all of them Roman, or just the elite? After Caesar’s time, no up-and-comers got posted to Spain — it was fat, but secure, with no plausible threats within 1000 miles. The perfect lab to perfect “Romanization.”
So how did they do it? I have no idea. I’m not a field specialist. My Latin begins with “Gallia divisa est in partes tres” and ends with “illigitimi non carborundum,” with a brief stopover at the Special Forces motto “de oppresso liber” (“free oppressed books!”). I doubt the field specialists themselves know too much, as this is one of those “mentalities” issues that all historians hate — “how they thought in the past” is the thing we’d most like to know, and it’s the least accessible. Maybe the best we can do is to determine when a province became “institutionally” Roman — that is, functioned economically and governmentally the way Italy did.
Perhaps we’ll never know. But it’s a place to start thinking these issues through.