Some politician is going on about how the free market made our nation "the greatest nation in the history of the world."

Well, we can argue the role of the free market in the success of the United States, but that statement always irks me for one basic reason.

My buddy Alan, back in college, had this fold-out history of civilization. It covered half the floor when you folded it all the way across, and it went pretty much from Babylon to the modern day.

There was a band of color across this timeline. It might have been purple, I could be wrong. I think purple. And it went on, and on, and on, and on, several feet of purple ribbon across human history.

It was, of course, the Roman Empire. It got a little choppy at the end with the Holy Roman Empire, but for a stupidly lengthy span of recorded history, while dynasties rose and fell on either side, and things were discovered and religions were founded and people got plagues and wandered onto other continents and the Chinese invented almost everything worth inventing and then used it to make fireworks–there was Rome. Run by crazy people, run by competent people, run by indifferent people, run by military strongmen and religious wingnuts and democracies, but still…Rome.

While I know as well as anybody with a basic grounding in Classics (Okay, okay, I would’ve double-majored if it hadn’t required that I take Greek or Latin, and I am terrible at languages other than my own) that the Roman Empire lasted for a very long time, it was always a sort of blur of aqueducts and Pax Romana and decent roads and Visigoths and Et tu, Brute? I don’t think I ever really understood just how LONG the Roman Empire lasted until I sat there with this thing unfolded across the floor, and there was this band of purple and nothing else in the history of the world even remotely LIKE it. I could cover the paltry three hundred years of American existence with one hand, but I could kneel on Rome and it would still spill over the sides.

So, sorry. I love my country, really I do, it’s got a lot going for it, I’ll go so far as to say it’s the top dog of the current bunch, it has many wonderful ethical and moral virtues to its credit (and when it fails, it’s usually at least trying REALLY HARD) but frankly…we’re not the greatest that ever was. Rome kicked our asses before we were ever born.

Talk to me in seven hundred years, Mr. Politician, and then perhaps I’ll agree.

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