Roman Colonisation of America

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Roman Colonisation of America

Post by Oranje Maan on Tue Dec 26, 2017 5:24 pm

Recently, I found a video looking at what would have happened if Rome started to colonise America. I found it disappointing and greatly disagreeable. Yet, it is an interesting idea in alternate history: Roman colonisation of the Americas.

Now, I'm going to take a more questionable and realistic route in regard to this. Don't expect a global Roman Empire. For this, I'll be starting off in Pax Romana, where Rome would be able to focus on colonisation of a far away continent. Also, as a note, for simplicity, all native Americans tribes and civilisations will simply be called natives. Sure, it's quite a wrong thing to do to a region with a large range of diverse cultures, but I cannot find much information about tribes and civilisations during this time period.

First off, there has to be a reason and a way for the Roman Empire to go so west when America wasn't known to them. Trying to prove Earth's roundness would be meaningless, as it has already been proven through other means. The only reason I think they would go west is the same reason Christopher Columbus went west, to go around the world to the oriental and make a trade route that way. That is close as it can get, though it would be somewhat impossible as it would require a country opposing Rome to have a near monopoly on all of spice trade between the east and west (as what happened with the Ottomans). If that, were to happen, though, Romans would want to find an alternative route rather than paying large tarriffs to an unfriendly country.

Some may try to go around Africa to get to the east, others go west until they reach the orient. It may seem like a very bad thing to take a long, long route west (especially if there is no giant landmass between to stop and supply at), but it needs to be known that Christopher Columbus thought that the distance was a lot shorter than it actually was. He thought that Asia was longer than it actually was and that the earth's diameter was shorter than it is really. Thus, a trip many miles west would sound less ludicrous than it would with our knowledge of the distance between the Hispania and the orient (even if it is still kind of ludicrous).

There is still the question on how to sail so far. Romans would need to stock for months of voyage (even if they would only need less since they find a closer continents of the Americas). Ships would need to be fitted for something other than mediterranean weather. For this, we're just going to assume that the Carrack is invented for this type of travel in Pax Romana times. This is probably the only way how any ship at the time would be able to get to the Americas. Trying the viking way of going from Iceland to Greenland and then to America would make no sense. There is little evidence to Iceland being known to Rome, and Greenland was never known to them. It would make more sense to keep a western path as what was originally seen with Christopher Columbus's first voyage.

If Romes sail west, they would most likely find themselves in the regions of Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina (if they continue on a more western course out of the mediterranean), or the Carribean (if they go more south as Columbus did). To them, like Columbus, it would be Asia originally. However, when they realise that no known markets in the orient are there, they realised that this is a new continent, as how Amerigo Vespucci concluded so.

The Roman Empire now knows of a new continent between Asia and Europe. Would they colonise it? This is set in the Pax Romana times, so them not being able to finance a colony would not be a concern. The natives will probably face destruction due to disease just like in our timeline. With vast lands with much untouched resources and less of a native enemy, it's likely Rome would do colonisation.

Suppose that the first Roman colony is on the island of Haiti in the year 0 AD. It would probably be a few dozen people living in on the shore with small wooden huts. Natives, while nearly killed off by disease, would pose a large threat, as they did to early English and Spanish settlements. The colony, at first, may seem to be more of a cost than a benefit. However, there is the big thing of sugarcane. In Roman times, it was nearly all in India. If the Romans ever got a small amount of their own, they could easily grow it there and produce their own supply, given that they have some slave labour there as well. That would make the colony profitable, and incentivise further expansion. More colonies would pop up in places such as Cuba, the Bahamas, or Florida. The colonies would have much independence, due to their distance making rule from Rome virtually impossible.

The Romans would be colonising during the Late Preclassic era in mesoamerica. There are some structured societies like the Mayans. However, with European diseases, they may be greatly weakened or even collapse. That wouldn't mean that they would be easily conquerable though. Colonial soldiers couldn't be counted on. There is a large distance between Hispania and the Americas. Even if they had carracks, the time and cost it would take to send a part of the Roman military to their would be so much. These would have to be done during the more peaceful and stable times of Pax Romana, otherwise it would not be worth it. Established colonies in modern day Mexico and Central America would require much defence since the opponents there are more suited to the climate and are more advanced than natives in Haiti, even if civilisation in mesoamerica is damaged by disease. Pirates would be an issue, along with maintaining Imperial authority in the area.

By 100 AD, Rome would have established a firm hold on their colonies. It would likely to have at least a million people in its colonies. A local armies would be able to take on natives. Rome would be holding possessions such as Cuba, the carribean, Eastern Mexico, and parts of Florida. As it is the only power capable of colonisation at the moment, it doesn't need to worry about others colonising the Americas. The colonist would probably be seen inferior to people born in Europe, as how other colonist of British and Spanish colonies were seen as inferior to British and Spaniards in Britain and Spain. The Profit from sugar production (and possibly tobacco) would be beneficial to the Empire, allowing it to have more of a miltary and handle expensive provinces more. They would continously push back natives and expand further north into North America, or South into South America. However, this would create a large borders for the colonies. These large borders would be difficult to maintain, and would probably make the regions next to them more of an expense than a profit. Natives may start to form confederations or kingdoms, if they can trade resources for weapons with the Romans. This may backfire for the Romans, as natives are now more organised and armed.

By the Crisis of the Third Century, these colonies would act almost on their own. Common interaction with natives and little interaction with other cultures means that they are less similar to the roman culture. They may follow the same Roman beliefs, but their Latin would become distant to the Latin in Rome. During this time of instability, Rome would most likely be unable to fund transportation to the colonies. The colonies at this time would be mostly self-sustaining, at least all of them combined. If the crisis comes to the Americas (such as a colonial revolt), then things might go greatly out of hand fast. Colonies would be fighting each other to fufil the basic needs. Native kingdoms or confederations can use this time to conquer land from colonies. When Aurelian comes to power, he would need to send a large army to stop the advance of natives and end rebellions. Disconnected trade from the colonies meant that the Roman Empire had lost a great source of income, meaning that any military force that required that money couldn't be used. Any expansion with those armies may be lost and not taken back. The colonies, while put back in order, have taken great losses. Some settlements have been destroyed, while others are now under the rule of natives. The colonies will be a good source of income, but not as once they were.

The colonies are now in the late antiquity. Their borders probably stretch no more north than Texas, and no more south than Ecuador. Christianity in the colonies might not be as prominent as it was in Europe, even after Constantine made it legal. The colonies at this point would probably be considered the far-west part of the Roman Empire. The Migration Period would not be an issue for the region, as they are too far to have barbarians coming over in a large scale. However, the region may soon no longer take onto Roman rule, as the Western Roman Empire declines. With no Roman ruler, anrachy is to develop. Generals would use this to leader their local armies to take key Roman settlements in the regions.

The former colonies would now become competing kingdoms in the Americas. Technology would decline, but they would still be known to Europeans. Trade and travel between the Americas and Europe would still exists, just not as large during Pax Romana. These kingdoms would probably keep their Roman roots, but centuries of being away from Rome means that their Latin and Traditions would be greatly transformed. Christianity would start to be accepted by many. Fighting natives would always be a problem for every new kingdom that rose. This would be made worse as native populations start to recover from the epidemics of long ago.

In summary, Roman Colonisation would make the Americas an extension of Europe in the middle ages. There would likely by feudal Christians kingdoms and empire in the Americas fighting off pagan natives. Vikings in Canada would be less significant, as people already know of the Americas. Any empires that arose from clonising the Americas, like Spain or Britain, would not exists. There are obviously more things I could talk about, but that's where I'm ending this. While it may not cause a Global Roman Empire, it would have changed the world completely.

This is just my perspective on the stance. It's likely to be way different to what others say, so I want to here what you think about this.

Oranje Maan
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Re: Roman Colonisation of America

Post by Thorfinn Karlsefni on Mon Jan 08, 2018 12:17 am

Fascinating. I agree the empire would still have fallen apart. I wonder though... would the trade routes have remained in operation? Or would there have been several centuries when the New World was out of contact with the Old World, and both followed divergent paths of social evolution? Maybe a new Empire of sorts would emerge and conquer it's neighbors, thus unifying the Americas in a Super-State with subject peoples including Toltecs and Romans? Would Christianity have come to dominate the New World as it did Rome, or would the political and economic divide blocked this by the 3rd Century? Maybe a Pagan Roman/Mayan Pantheon worshiping empire would be found covering the whole of the Americas by the time contact was re-established...
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