From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Does it not seem to the reader, as to me, that the language of the last Latin decadence - that supreme sigh of a robust person already transformed and prepared for spiritual life -is singularly fitted to express passion as it is understood and felt by the modern world ? Mysticism is the other end of the magnet of which Catullus and his band, brutal and purely epidermic poets, knew only the sensual pole. In this wonderful language, solecisms and barbarisms seem to express the forced carelessness of a passion which forgets itself, and mocks at rules . The words, used in a novel sense , reveal the charming awkwardness of a barbarian from the North, kneeling before Roman Beauty."--"Franciscæ meæ Laudes" by Baudelaire
Roman decadence defines the gradual and moral decline in the ancient Roman republican values of family, farming, virtus, and dignitas. It is personified by the 'mad emperors' and Valeria Messalina and is said to have led to the decline of the Roman Empire.
Some contemporary critics of Roman decadence, such as Cato the Younger, attributed its rise to the influence of the Hellenistic philosophy epicureanism, while modern historians such as Edward Gibbon ( The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788.) and Cyril Robinson also attribute increasing Roman affluence and the pacifying luxury it afforded.
According to Edward Gibbon, the root of the decadence may lie in the political system. Especially mentioned is the lack of clear rules of succession. A significant number of successions involved bribing the army to be elected emperor, and a civil war between different declared emperors. This resulted in higher taxes and frequent destruction that provoked the apathy of the elite.
More controversially, the early history of the Christian church is also mentioned as a cause of decadence. The early Roman Empire was usually tolerant of the religion of the people conquered, and tried to preserve peace amongst its subjects. After the conversion of most of the Empire to Christianity, religious issues took a proiminent place in the political debate, sometimes leading to civil wars and later persecutions.
On a broad cultural level
- The increasing popularity of orgies: in the Roman world, the term orgy did not necessarily contain its modern sexual connotation. It referred to a party of unrestrained indulgence during which guests consumed copious quantities of food and drink to such excesses that they often relieved themselves by vomiting (though not in a room called a vomitorium). This is debatable. Recent lectures by Professor Alistair Blanchard at the University of Sydney suggest that the "Roman orgy" is nothing more than a historical myth.
- The increasing extravagance of popular entertainment: exemplified by the inauguration of the Colosseum under the emperor Titus. Dio Cassius said that 9,000 wild animals were killed in the one hundred days of celebration which inaugurated the amphitheatre opening.
Decadence of the emperors
Some of the emperors of ancient Rome's behavior was so cruel and eccentric that they have come to be known as "mad emperors" and likened to "psychopaths". They include these five : Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Claudius, Tiberius, and Elagabalus.
- Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence
- Decline of the Roman Empire