“History repeats itself” is a phrase oft-repeated and widely believed. It is not to be taken literally. History does not exactly repeat itself, but there are patterns that we see time and again. In its essence, human nature remains the same, so the similar paths are taken, and mistakes repeated. In historical discourse analysis, rises and falls of civilizations and the same military mistakes made during wars are some common examples of history repeating itself.
The Impact of Climate Change on Civilizations
History has shown people that the falls of civilizations is inevitable. The reasons may be different, but we can still detect similar patterns. Climate change is one of them that keeps recurring. There are many civilizations that, at the height of their power, were brought down by nature. For example, the Akkadian Empire is one of the oldest known empires, located in the region of Mesopotamia. Abrupt climate change destroyed it to such an extent that its main city, Agade, was completely lost to history. A 300-year-long drought literally dried the entire city so that even its location is a mystery now (Zublin). Unfortunately, this catastrophe happened later again.
History repeated itself with the Mayan civilization, brought down from the height of its power due to two major droughts: one in the 9th century, and a second, worse drought in the 11th century. After the second wave of droughts, the Mayan civilization never recovered (Wyle). Both great civilizations were brought down to their knees by nature.
Splitting of the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was once the superpower of the world. It stretched throughout a large territory, uniting the East and the West. Rome became the largest and one of the most powerful cities in the world during its time. However, as it often happens with all great empires, the Roman Empire was also plagued by many problems which eventually split it. Whether this was done intentionally, under the influence of Diocletian in 286, or unintentionally, during the Crisis of the Third century, the Roman Empire has seen the same patterns of the history that repeated itself.
The first time the Empire split was during the Crisis of the Third Century. There were three separate political entities: the Gallic Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire. Economic depression, lack of strong leadership after the death of Alexander Severus in 235, and destruction caused by invading armies were some of the reasons for this split. From 235-284, the Empire saw 20 emperors rise and fall, and it was only when Diocletian came to power in 284 that the Empire was stabilized and united (Mark). However, the Empire was split yet again, this time on purpose, under the influence of Diocletian who wanted to make governance easier. He remained the ruler in the West part of the Empire while his son-in-law, Marcus Aurelius Valerius, was named the new Caesar in the East (Wasson). While Constantine ruled a reunited Empire, it was not long before the Roman Empire continued to split and reunited several times until the Empire finally broke apart in 476 (Mark). The Roman Empire, it seems, was doomed to repeat its own history several times because it was not possible for any of its rulers to effectively govern such a large territory.
Invasion of Russia
Modern history also has many parallels, including the mistakes repeated by famous leaders. One of them, made by Napoleon in 1812 and by Hitler in 1941, was to invade Russia right before the winter season.
In 1812, French Emperor Napoleon gathered a massive army, with more than 900,000 soldiers, to invade Russia. Napoleon had developed a Continental System of trading with Russia to cripple British trade and economy. However, in 1812 a treaty was signed between Russia and the British Empire; Russia was no longer willing to cooperate with the Continental System (Greenspan). As a result, Napoleon invaded the country with a massive army. Although he had some big victories and even managed to occupy Moscow, he could not hold the city. The country was too broad for him to control from Moscow especially with a big part of his army dead. Remained soldiers were suffering from the lack of supplies, and Napoleon was forced to gradually retreat from the country. What made matters worse was the oncoming winter which resulted in hypothermia from the unrelenting cold as they had only summer clothes that were unable to protect them. Coupled with continuous attacks from the Russian peasants and the army, whatever discipline and morale his army had was completely shattered. In the end, Napoleon was expelled from the country with his now-small, broken down army. It weakened his hegemony in the region as his military strength was reduced to a fraction of what it used to be. It allowed the rest of Europe to finally defeat France in the Battle of Waterloo (Greenspan). Therefore, Napoleon made a critical mistake that cost him his country.
Hitler’s defeat in World War II was similar to this. Nazi Germany and Soviet Union had started out as allies, but the great Soviet Union was a thorn in Germany’s plans to rule Europe. Hitler wanted to eliminate this threat. Hence, Operation Barbarossa began in 1941. The surprise invasion launched the Great Patriotic War, as Stalin called it, in Soviet Union. It motivated Stalin to join the Allies, thus ensuring Hitler’s defeat. Hitler and Napoleon both made the same mistakes of invading the massive Russian land which was completely unfamiliar for them. After a few initial victories, both armies ran out of supplies and soldiers. Hitler faced the winter of 1941-1942 that was not only early but one of the worst seasons to hit Russia. The German leader was so hopeful of a quick victory that he never prepared his army for such conditions. His soldiers, similar to French army, were dying due to starvation and hypothermia. (Roberts, 2009). The failure of Operation Barbarossa was a turning point for Nazi Germany. It broke their military strength and gave the Allies the time they needed to finally defeat Hitler’s Germany.
Throughout its long history, the Roman Empire faced many problems such as successive wars and economic depression. It was difficult for one ruler to effectively govern; therefore, it was eventually split. In this manner, the Empire was doomed to repeat its own history. Hitler, on the other hand, was doomed to repeat the mistake that Napoleon had made of invading the vast Russian land without preparing for its brutal winter. This fallacy was the turning point in their fortunes and led to their final defeats. However, falls of empires are not always due to mistakes of leaders. Climate change is a factor that humanity cannot escape. Therefore, it can be concluded that history has always repeated itself, and people will see the same events in the future that happened long ago in the past.
Greenspan, Jesse. “Why Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia Was the Beginning of the End.” History, 22 Jun. 2012. www.history.com/news/napoleons-disastrous-invasion-of-russia-200-years-ago. Accessed 11 June 2018.
Mark, Joshua. “The Crisis of the Third Century.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 9 Nov. 2017. www.ancient.eu/Crisis_of_the_Third_Century/. Accessed 11 June 2018.
Mark, Joshua. “Roman Empire.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 22 Mar. 2018. /www.ancient.eu/Roman_Empire/. Accessed 11 June 2018.
Roberts, Andrew. “Second World War: Frozen to death by the Fuhrer.” The Telegraph, 25 Jul. 2009. www.telegraph.co.uk/history/britain-at-war/5907564/Second-World-War-Frozen-to-death-by-the-Fuhrer.html. Accessed 11 June 2018.
Wasson, Donald. “Diocletian.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2 Feb. 2014. www.ancient.eu/Diocletian/. Accessed 11 June 2018.
Wyle, Robin. “Severe Droughts Explain the Mysterious Fall of the Maya.” BBC, 22 Feb. 2016. /www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160222-severe-droughts-explain-the-mysterious-fall-of-the-maya. Accessed 11 June 2018.
Zublin, Fiona. “The Drought That Led to the Death of a Whole Civilization.” Ozy, 5 Mar. 2017. www.ozy.com/flashback/the-drought-that-led-to-the-death-of-a-whole-civilization/74696. Accessed 11 June 2018.