By Marrett Ceo
If the Roman Empire never collapsed, would society be far more advanced than it is today?
That’s the subject of a new history novel, “The Alternative History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” enthusiast Martin Missaiel has been working on since 2012. The Falls Church resident works as architect, but wanted to be more of a storyteller rather than do a research analysis of this period of history and what might have been. He finished the book just this year, motivated by 2020 and current events. The purpose of the book started off being exploratory, wondering what would have happened.
When the tale begins, Saul Brutus has just arrived at the Smithsonian with his wife, Marine. They are there to attend the opening reception for an exhibit on the history of maritime travel. Saul wanders off and it isn’t long before the narrator and Marine hear a scream coming from the Mayflower exhibit.
“It turns out Saul has just returned from a trip to an alternate reality. One in which Rome didn’t fall, and the modern world is a lot different as a result,” said Missaiel, who explained that in his alternate world, society has advanced 1,000 years beyond where it is today. The premise assumes it would have been possible if the most advanced society the planet has ever seen had been allowed to continue along the trajectory it was before it ultimately fell.
Missaiel said he was originally inspired to start the story in 2012 because of his love of history and an overactive imagination. But the parallels he’s started to notice between the fall of the Roman Empire and what is happening in the U.S. today just motivated him to complete his project, which he thought was best told in a novel about an alternate reality.
“In 2012, I started the book as a fun fantastical exploration, but between 2012 and 2020 the parallels between the U.S. now and Rome before the fall were more evident,” Missaiel said. “Most uncanny are the parallels between the current administration and Commodus, the Roman emperor whose reign is commonly considered the end of the golden period of the Roman Empire. I am hoping other people will see the same signs before it’s too late.”
A lot led up to the events transpiring in 2020, which crystallized the similarities between the end of Roman Empire and the modern United States to Missaiel. The timing also conveys a stern warning about the impact of our choices, especially in a critical presidential election year. Had history gone in a different direction than it did, the book may have not gotten as much steam as it did.
The comparison between the Roman Empire and the U.S. are striking. The timing, leadership and tactics facilitated the Roman Empire’s tragic end (compared to other empires, such as Persian or British which ended gradually & gracefully) mirror much of America’s own situation. Or, as his book suggests, the U.S. could possibly redefine a new modern day and wiser equivalent to that once dominant and respected Roman Empire.
“We’ve seen what can happen when a country that leads the world falls on hard times. It can bring the rest of the world down with it,” said Missaiel, who explores what may have been through the eyes of a traveler who finds his way to a parallel world.
What started out as writing the book occasionally while working a full time day job, accelerating the book didn’t get into high gear until 2016. Writer’s block definitely got into Missaiel’s goal of finishing the book expeditiously. Besides being distracted by a day job and coming up with the individual components and the conflict in the story, Missaiel had to seek assistance from his editor and advanced readers friends, especially being a first time reader. He credits his editor especially with sharpening the narrative involved in the story, making it more compelling.
The timing of the book’s release couldn’t be better, with the country deep in a pandemic in the convention stage of a presidential election. The direction and eventual outcome of the November election, in addition to the history and potential paths history can take in the book create a rather interesting symmetry: what really matters in a society, government and overall way of life dictates the future of the direction and eventual outcome the country goes in but the readers will have to draw their own conclusions.