Here’s what happened when ancient Romans tried to drain the swamp
In late January of the year 98 AD, after decades of turmoil, instability, inflation, and war, Romans welcomed a prominent solider named Trajan as their new Emperor.
Prior to Trajan, Romans had suffered immeasurably, from the madness of Nero to the ruthless autocracy of Domitian, to the chaos of 68-69 AD when, in the span of twelve months, Rome saw four separate emperors.
Trajan was welcome relief and was generally considered by his contemporaries to be among the finest emperors in Roman history.
Trajan’s successors included Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, both of whom were also were also reputed as highly effective rulers.
But that was pretty much the end of Rome’s good luck.
The Roman Empire’s enlightened rulers may have been able to make some positive changes and delay the inevitable, but they could not prevent it.
Rome still had far too many systemic problems.
The cost of administering such a vast empire was simply too great. There were so many different layers of governments—imperial, provincial, local—and the upkeep was debilitating.
Rome had also installed costly infrastructure and created expensive social welfare programs like the alimenta, which provided free grain to the poor.
Not to mention, endless wars had taken their toll on public finances.
Romans were no longer fighting conventional enemies like Carthage, and its famed General Hannibal bringing elephants across the Alps.
Instead, Rome’s greatest threat had become the Germanic barbarian tribes, peoples viewed as violent and uncivilized who would stop at nothing to destroy Roman way of life.
Corruption and destructive bureaucracy were increasingly rampant.
And the worse imperial finances became, the more the government tried to “fix” everything by passing debilitating regulation and debasing the currency.
In his seminal work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon wrote: