The Rise and Fall of Empires

The Rise and Fall of Empires

In the latest release from my bestselling Prepping for Tomorrow series, I explore the history of the great empires of mankind and reach a stunning conclusion:

All empires collapse eventually, and America will be no exception. Their reign ends when they are defeated by a larger, and more powerful enemy, or when their financing runs out.

ECONOMIC COLLAPSE, a six-time Amazon best seller while available for preorder, explores this premise in detail, and applies it to the modern societies.

There is ample evidence of this throughout history, which no doubt inspired artist Thomas Cole as he completed his five painting series titled, The Course of Empire. American Poet and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant, called the five painting set remarkable, and echoed James Fenimore Cooper’s words characterizing the paintings as one of the noblest works of art that has ever been wrought. What was it about these paintings that garnered such high praise from two masters of literature?

Over a period of three years beginning in 1836, Cole employed his substantial talents as a writer, coupled with his artistic prowess, to depict a history of the rise and fall of civilization. The five paintings are set at the same location during later times of the day, including different moods and weather conditions.

In each of the paintings, a valley is viewed from a different vantage point, and as the valley progresses through time from its Savage State, to its Arcadian Phase, through the Consummation of Empire, the empire’s Destruction, and then its ultimate Desolation.

There has never been an artistic work that better symbolizes the rise and fall of empires. As you read the description and analysis of each, ask yourself, At what stage is the United States in The Course of Empire?



The Savage State depicts a peaceful valley viewed from the shore with a mountain in the background, surrounded by a tempest at dawn. Early man, dressed in animal skins, stalks his prey and forages through the wilderness. He is a hunter-gatherer, banding together with others like him, for the mutual necessities of protection, sustenance, and perhaps worship.

Other inhabitants travel up the river in primitive canoes. The primitive vessels represent the beginning of transportation and exploration.

On the far shore, Cole provides a vision of a clearing with a grouping of teepees surrounding fire. The Savage State is Cole’s interpretation of an early society being formed. It is an ideal and healthy world, unchanged by humanity.

The first painting in the series represents the beginning of an empire—primitive and serene, wild and fresh.

It’s been said that great empires are rarely formed by willful and conscious thought, but more often out of necessity and mutual benefit. Groups are created by like-minded individuals, who then seek out other groups with which to associate, and trade. Mighty empires were formed when a group of people was large enough and powerful enough, to impose its will on others.



In the second painting of The Course of Empire series—The Arcadian State, the morning storm clouds have cleared, and the new settlers find themselves in the fresh morning of a day in spring. The point of view has shifted, as the mountain is now on the left-hand side of the painting.

Much of the wilderness and its hunter-gatherers have advanced, creating lands with furrowed fields and grazed pasture visible. Various activities typical of the pre-modern world are being carried on in the background—plowing, boat-building, herding, and social interaction.

In the background, a large structure has been constructed signifying the beginning of monumental architecture and the advancement of man’s technical knowledge.

In the foreground, an old man sketches in the dirt with a stick. This activity symbolizes the beginning of advanced scientific and mathematical thought. A young boy draws a primitive stick figure of a woman posing with her staff. These activities herald the start of the society’s culture through drawings and paintings.

But there is also a harbinger of problems to come for this newly formed, agrarian community. A tree stump, apparently cut by man, stands prominently in the painting. Analysts of Cole’s work believed he inserted cut tree stumps into his paintings to comment on the negative effects of an over-expanding civilization. In addition, two mounted horseman, together with a soldier in armor, alludes not only to human control over animals but the need for policing and possible military deployment.

The civilization is growing. It is creating crops and tending to its flock. Each member has a job, a duty that contributes to the new society. An economy is forming as the inhabitants perform a function, get paid in the currency of the day, and use that money to purchase items for their basic needs.



The Consummation of Empire, the third painting in Coles’ series, depicts this newly formed society in the height of its prominence. A bright summer day fills a city in all of its advanced glory, setting the tone for an empire at its peak.

Both sides of the river valley are now surrounded in gold-adorned, marble structures, constructed from elaborate columns and ornate architecture. Contrary to the prominent mountain and the natural setting shown in the first two paintings, the painting’s entire landscape is subject to man and his expansive domination of nature.

The large structure in the background, possible a place of worship, now seems to have been transformed into an enormous domed structure overlooking the river-bank. The mouth of the river is guarded, and ships filled with goods go out to sea to meet with their trading partners. The population is joyous as it celebrates the opulence of the time, raising glasses high and cheering one another on the massive balconies and terraces, overlooking elaborate fountains. Consumption is the norm, not the exception.

The economy is flourishing with an ample combination of production, consumption, and services.

A giant statue of the goddess Athena presides over the scene, symbolizing past wars and significant victories for this empire. But a society built upon war pays a price within its culture. Two boys are playing in the shallow water with their boats. One of the boys is sinking his friend’s toy ship, indicating his comfort with war and dominance.

Finally, Cole provides a glimpse of a scarlet-robed ruler or victorious military leader as he crosses a bridge spanning the two sides of the river in a celebratory procession. Empires are hungry creatures, always needing to be fed with the spoils of victory. To sustain an ever-expanding economy, one that requires more and more sustenance from outside the boundaries of their existence, the Empire must continue to conquer, or perish under its own weight.



It bears repeating. All empires collapse eventually. There have been no exceptions in the history of mankind. Their reign ends when they are defeated by a larger, more powerful enemy, or when their financing runs out, resulting in collapse.

The fourth in the series, The Destruction of Empire provides the observer a wider view of the condition of Cole’s imaginary empire. The painting, of course, portrays the downfall and destruction of the city, in the midst of a threatening storm which is seen in the distance.

An army of enemy warriors sailed up the river, has overrun the empire’s defenses, and is pillaging the city while killing and raping its inhabitants. A woman, who once celebrated with wine, is now fleeing a soldier and throws herself into the harbor, indicating a society which has devolved into sexual violence.

The statues of the city’s mighty warriors have been beheaded. Lifeless bodies covered with blood are strewn about the promenade.

The bridge which supported the procession led by their ruler in the previous painting, has been destroyed. A temporary crossing strains under the weight of soldiers and refugees. Columns are broken, the ornate buildings have crumbled, and flames fan out from the palace situated on the river bank. A palace which once presided gloriously over the city, is now on the verge of ruin.

The front porch of the once magnificent temple has now become the base of an enormous catapult, indicating that the violence of civilization replaced the virtues of religion. The ships which once promoted trade with other civilizations are sinking, or on fire. The once thriving economy has collapsed.

This fourth painting depicts the results of an empire which has lost its way. Through difficult trials and tribulations, it rose to prominence and greatness. But its continued desire to grow and consume was unsustainable. It lost its moral fabric. It became susceptible to collapse both socially and economically, which made it vulnerable to overthrow by a more powerful conqueror.



Sic transit Gloria mundi, a Latin phrase meaning thus passes the glory of the world. The fifth painting, Desolation, shows the results of the collapse of the empire, many years later. Now that the civilization has collapsed, the mountain has returned to its natural state and prominence in the center of the scene.

The remains are viewed in the closing light of the day, completing the dawn to dusk cycle of Cole’s works. Whereas the sunrise is prominent in the first painting, the pale light of the moon is reflected in the river while a solitary column reflects the final light of day.

Nature is slowly reclaiming the ruins of the once mighty empire. The landscape has begun to return to wilderness, and no person, living or dead, are to be seen—only the remnants of their architecture emerge from beneath a mantle of trees, ivy, and overgrowth. As in The Savage State, the deer once again roam freely across the landscape.

The broken statue of their warrior hero stands desolate in the background. The supports of the destroyed bridge, and the columns of the former house of worship are still visible— but only a single column stands in the foreground, its only use as a home for birds.

The infrastructure has crumbled, the economy has collapsed, and the society has ceased to exist—its human inhabitants vanquished.

I ask again, where is the United States in the Course of Empire? Have we reached our peak? Are we beyond that, headed into an era of Destruction?

ECONOMIC COLLAPSE will guide you  through the analysis and provide you warning signs, as well as preparedness tips for the coming economic collapse.



  1. April 28, 2016 / 12:20 am

    Another great comparison to events in the past duplicating our situation now in the US. I just hope painting 5 does not come to pass. The current events sure tend to make me believe we are on that road. Thanks Bobby for another great informative interesting book.

    • April 28, 2016 / 10:41 am

      There is historic precedent for this around the world. Many believe the United States peaked in the 1950s, but social and moral decay which began in the 1960s is leading us down a path contemplated by Coles' paintings.

      I fear we are one bad news story away from collapse.

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