Echoes of Rome’s Fall in the EU Migrant Crisis

rome-aqueduct-ruins-rotator-720x480George Santayana famously said that those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.  However, it might be more correct to say that those who cannot recall relevant history will see the errors of the past repeated.  And the handling of the European Union (EU) migrant crisis is a perfect example of why the qualifier is necessary.

Much of the bad policy driving the EU migrant crisis is motivated by a desire to avoid a recurrence of the human rights violations committed during World War II. The popular narrative goes something like this: Only blind, slavish devotion to multi-culturalism can prevent the type of pernicious nationalism that led to the formation of the Nazi party and its fascist affiliates throughout Europe.

So, the nations of the EU admit the unceasing stream of refugees from the Middle East in order to demonstrate that they have transcended their past. What’s worse, they don’t require these new arrivals to learn European customs or conform to European standards of behavior. Increasingly, they’re also hauling anyone who speaks out about the problem into court and charging them with “hate crimes.”

But Europe is focusing on the wrong chapter of its history. The strategic errors of the Roman Empire provide lessons much more pertinent to the handling of the current migrant crisis than anything that can be gleaned from the moral failings of 20th Century dictatorships. Accepting refugees in reasonable numbers that can be effectively assimilated won’t lead to fascism.  However, blindly accepting massive numbers of refugees to avoid political confrontation or military action killed Europe once before.

The original Euro super state, the Roman Empire, fell because it mismanaged a refugee crisis.  In the late 300’s the Huns drove the Goths out of their ancestral homelands. The Goths turned to Rome for refuge. Preferring to avoid any type of conflict, Rome’s political leaders negotiated a deal. They agreed to grant the Goths citizenship in return for military service and labor on Roman farmlands.

The Goths poured into the Empire by the hundreds of thousands, overwhelming local authorities. Considering their culture superior to that of the Romans, the Goths refused to assimilate. In 378 A.D. they rose up and defeated the Roman army at the battle of Adrianople. The Eastern Empire fell.  Only a century later, the remainder of the Roman Empire had been entirely overrun by Goths, Gauls, and related tribes. And Romans found themselves with no choice but to adapt to the now dominant foreign cultures.

There are obvious parallels between the situation faced by Rome during its last century and that currently faced by the European Union. It remains to be seen whether Europe’s preoccupation with its recent past will cause it to repeat the strategic errors of its distant past.


About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    Something we need to worry about is that many of the immigrants from Mexico that are coming here both illegally and legally are not assimilating and are settling in the American Southwest in areas that they believe rightfully belong to Mexico and were stolen when Mexico was defeated in the Mexican-American war. And I am aware that there are many patriotic US citizens of Mexican heritage, but this does not mean that there is not a problem with a lot of people coming here from Mexico not assimilating.

    As a related example, China is encouraging large numbers of ethnic Han Chinese to settle in Tibet and the western, heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang, because China’s government knows that the more Han Chinese that live in these regions the more the regions will lose their separate cultural identities and the less unstable they will be. Also, more Chinese have been settling in sparsely populated areas of Russia’s far east that were seceded to Russia by China in the first Opium War, that some Chinese nationalists want returned to China. This has caused concerns in Russia’s government.

    And as an example of what can happen when two groups of people living in the same geographic area both believe the region belongs to their different countries, one only has to look at the history of Northern Ireland.

    • avatar

      There’s only “peace” in Northern Ireland because neighborhoods are separated by walls. Get caught on the wrong side at night and you might take a beating. Now some Palestinians are saying they want a “one state” deal with Israel, but the Israelis know better. Given the birth rates of Palestinians it would be the end of the country of Israel.

  2. avatar

    Compelling logic, Mr. O’Brien. Your short piece deserves a wide audience. I expect to share it with my senators and representative.

  3. avatar

    Matt the echoes of the Roman Empire can also create great countries through migration: United States of America

    • avatar

      Selecting the migration population to improve a system appears to work ,,, in any case a complex matter … you have a point as well Matt….

        • avatar

          softwarengineer in any moment I am giving any hope forward or negative: only stating facts based in history from the historical intellect point of view which appears you have none left in our old age of retirement.

          . Do you know our history? are you able to use your comprehensive English skills? are you able to make a conclusion based on infer…. did you ever take English 101 at your university? apparently if you did … you forgot or perhaps just a flash of alzheimer…..really… what a pity

        • avatar

          softwarengineer in any moment I am giving any hope forward or negative: only stating facts based in history from the historical intellect point of view which appears you have none left in our old age of retirement.

          . Do you know our history? are you able to use your comprehensive English skills? are you able to make a conclusion based on infer…. did you ever take English 101 at your university? apparently if you did … you forgot or perhaps just a flash of alzheimer…..really… what a pity

          • avatar

            Yes No Change

            Your Progressives Must Hate Millenials and Baby Boomers. We’re the fat cats [?] to sacrifice pensions and pay…give all our money to immigration so you can prosper for a limited time?

            We’re the 100M that were kicked out of the labor force the last 10 years…

            But your economy bis booming??? LOL

  4. avatar

    You don’t have to go back that far in history. The native Americans let in large numbers of people from Europe who out breed them and considered their own culture superior. Just ask a native American how well it worked out for them.

    • avatar

      The American Indians didn’t have a country, a single polity. They were a bunch of Stone-Age tribes scattered across a vast continent.

      So it really wasn’t a matter of them “letting the Europeans in.” Instead, it was a matter of stronger peoples imposing themselves, as has happened throughout human history, **including** among the Western hemisphere’s “indigenous” tribes themselves.

      Regarding how it worked out for them, I think it’s implausible that many of today’s American Indians, even if they’re pure-blooded, would want to exchange the lives they lead today for those of their 400-year-ago ancestors.

      • avatar

        Up to a third of them died during a bad winter. That’s why the elderly people in some tribes were basically abandoned in the wilderness, because they were seen as a burden at the expense of the young. That doesn’t quite jibe with the image a lot of people want to portray today.

        • avatar

          Leland youbiwe them this country to them….They helped n taught the pilgrims to survive the winters…..U shoukd hold hands w Paul n show some earned respect you will never earned as they did n lthis lands ancestors …

          You n Paul are the type of mentality that back then killed the American Indians…

      • avatar

        Paul for sure you are no pure blood either on behalf of the American Indians and your ignorance in making baseless statement n facts..

        So you are basically condemning the Americsn Indians based on their way of Lfe, that is so Unamerican …

  5. avatar

    There were people who wanted the producer of that dumb movie indicted for the Benghazi attack, instead of putting the blame where it belonged which was with Obama and Clinton. They were too scared of insulting the Libyans that they did not send in the military when it still would have mattered. Trump won’t be scared. All this administration did was draw lines in the sand which were promptly crossed.

    Did the Russians not want Clinton? Maybe but none of this was exactly secret at the time, because the speculation was rampant. The real problem was her demonizing Trump voters and catering to Muslims and illegals. They had over a billion dollars and they refused to put it into states like Michigan when local leaders told them the state was slipping away.

    Our far worse enemy is China and we very stupidly allow their citizens to come here and attend our colleges and steal our technology. Numerous Chinese nationals have been indicted for that very thing. In fact they hacked all kinds of identities in 2015 and we did nothing.

    • avatar

      Leland about time you learn accountability……. the truth is we don’t really know what happened…you were not there, i was not there…do you really think Obama and Clinton wanted then killed? you must be really stupid and ignorant to believe that….Ia m sure you don’t….

      Ultimately, there are several layers in the military for this to enable things SO without knowing the facts you are quick to blame….

      For all we know could have been oversights or technology happening at the same time and they will not tells to make public a military equipment failure or weakness ….that made the response not effective or simply a mistake at the low level military making decision….

      SOOOO, there is all these possibilities The People would never be disclosed to…..In summary you cannot blame the head without learning the real facts………… responsible.

      • avatar

        And to be fair to Clinton….while in Congress to testify…I was upset at her response..that the killing did not matter but to avoid this in the future that made her look insensitive….after all his time I realized she meant it as a politician to make sure/envision this must not happen so she answered as what she is getting paid for but completely did not realize/forgot to mention the families that had their love ones gone……..

        Her answer was given on her limitations/inability to avoid the incident at hand… I personally do not believe she wanted them dead and if within her power she would have avoided….

        Clinton is not good at running a campaign, being charismatic like Reagan/Obama/Clinton’s husband but definitely would have made a good president…..she know how to make things works , and would have taken things to the center as opposed all to the left and or right moving forward…a good combination,

        Same combination w/Trump — real inexperience and naive…all talk…big mouth..that can get us in a War…but make the dynamics in Congress( republicans hate him and might do the Rome Cesar to him politically,,,)….move towards the well being of The People is my hope.

        for sure….