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What the Romans Have Done for Us

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Reggie: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Xerxes: Brought peace?
Reggie: Oh, peace? SHUT UP!

Many tyrants and invaders will claim they make life better for their conquered subjects. Depending on the system of government they set up, the success of their Propaganda Machine and the unpopularity of the previous regime, this might actually be true. The most devoted revolutionaries and dedicated independence enthusiasts will usually argue against restoring the old regime entirely. The more lucid and sober of this group of zealots will even concede that in some ways life was even worse before the tyrant took power.


Most frequently, this perspective or discussion is presented early in the first act when the setting is being defined and the stage set, either as the illusion that most of the people being oppressed are under (later revealed to be a false impression after a lot of Kick the Dog) or sometimes as a genuine explanation as to why the locals have put up with the Evil Empire prior to the events of the plot in the first place. This is an extremely common justification for the feudal or despotic nature of civilizations in works set After the End. It also shows up in some Historical Fiction and fantasy to explain and justify feudalism.

In non-fiction, this kind of discussion is usually intended as a form of Alternate Character Interpretation for groups usually thought of as inferior or villainous. If this is lampshaded later in the work, the setting is probably attempting White-and-Grey Morality. If it's outright ignored by everyone in the setting, it probably overlaps with Strawman Has a Point. Of course, taken too far, this can also serve as Wants a Prize for Basic Decency on the part of The Empire, where the capacity of a few Pet the Dog moments on the part of a villain faction, amounts in the end as mere fodder for Bread and Circuses propaganda.


Compare No Delays for the Wicked, Benevolent Alien Invasion, and The Extremist Was Right. Also see Repressive, but Efficient for claims about how a country's own tyrannical ruler improved society.


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    Anime and Manga  
  • In a conversation between Lelouch and Kallen in Code Geass, Lelouch admits that Area 11's economy is much stronger than Japan's was before Britannia invaded (But on the other side of the equation, Britannia's oppression of the native population caused the crime rate to skyrocket).

  • In an early episode of Hello, from the Magic Tavern, when Usidore makes one of his epic speeches about defeating the Dark Lord and all he stands for, the guest points out that the Dark Lord's tax system is superior to what existed before. Usidore acknowledges this and concedes that the tax system will stay in place.

  • Tod Spengo tries to invoke this in Mom and Dad Save the World, but since the things he brought to the people he conquered (The Mind Probe, the Magna-Beam and the Death Ray) are all things that serve purely to prop up his enormous ego without bringing any benefit to his subjects, it falls flat.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian is the Trope Namer, to the point where you have to wonder why they want to rebel from Rome in the first place.
    • Of course Rule of Funny and Artistic License – History firmly apply as the sequence credits the Romans with introducing many things to Judea that had already been in place before they took over (such as wine, which is already mentioned in the first book of the Bible) thanks to local rulers such as the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great or to previous invaders like the Persians and Greeks. It also didn't make up for things such as high taxation - itself mostly a result of corruption, perceived insults to Judaism and the (brutal) Roman way of stifling dissent and crushing rebellions.
    • Likewise, the Romans had no real sense of mission civilisatrice. They certainly never sold their conquests or justified it the way the gag above implies. That's more or less an anachronistic post-Victorian projection back to the Roman era. The Roman justified their conquests on their military superiority and they didn't need any other reason for justifying their greatness other than being Roman, and indeed they were proud that they captured and defeated advanced civilizations like the Carthaginians and the Hellenistic Greeks.
  • Undercover Brother has a bit probably inspired by Monty Python's Life of Brian, although replace Jews and the Roman Empire with African-Americans and the Republican Party.

  • On the Discworld, many Ankh-Morpork elites dislike Vetinari, because he opened the city to dwarf and troll immigrants and is generally unorthodox. Still, they admit that the city is safer and more prosperous than it has been in a long time, and Vetinari's predecessors were much worse. It's why he has Vetinari Job Security.
  • Eragon has Galbatorix, who is universally identified as an evil emperor and practically self-identifies as evil, but has also ushered in a golden age of humanity and displaced a rather miserable and stagnant age that preceded it with something that's better even for most of the non-humans in the setting.
  • George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman uses this trope to explain The British Empire. While Fraser, via his anti-heroic protagonist, doesn't back out from the racism, looting, plunder involved in the imperialist conquest, he does note that the British Empire did bring modernization to several different parts of the world, promoted free trade and transport and that it was the British Navy which nearly single-handedly ended the slave trade.note 
  • In the second Infinity Blade novel, after the Worker of Secrets plants an imposter God-Emperor on the throne to eliminate the real one's ties to his allies and access to his resources while letting his empire fall to ruin through complete lack of leadership, Siris and Isa bitterly admit that, while the God King was a cruel, megalomaniacal tyrant, his rule was still much better than the current anarchy. It even turns out that the cruelty was just a ploy to rile up the population enough to send the Sacrifice needed to power the titular Infinity Blade every generation, and he decides that after Siris and Isa (begrudgingly) help him reclaim his throne, his people are due for a few millennia's worth of Golden Age.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin often invokes this via "What The Targaryens Have Done For Us". It's generally admitted even after the ousting of the Targaryen regime that the Valyrian monarchs centralized most of Westeros into a single realm, which put an end to endemic warfare between the Seven Kingdoms, for the most part put an end to Ironborn reaving, kept the Faith of the Seven on a leash and also developed trade via the creation of a new city like King's Landing, while earlier rulers also abolished horrible practices like Droit du Seigneur and made laws common across the realm.
  • In Technic History, the Terran Empire is an autocratic, militaristic regime built as a desperate response to chaos. It also brings peace, civilization, more-or-less just rule, trade, freedom of movement and protection in a universe where such things had disappeared.

    Live-Action TV 
  • in The Big Bang Theory, Raj is dismissive about the British in India, despite the fact he went to The Sanskriti School For Well-Born Boys - an exclusive private school which would have been modelled on similar establishments in Britain, a place where not just academic ability, but also social connections, would guarantee its pupils the best career opportunities after leaving. Raj is also from New Delhi - a new city designed and built while under British rule, planned to bring the very best of British government, culture, society, and basic infrastructure such as roads, public utilities and sewers to India. note  The fact Raj is in America with a doctorate and an academic career can be traced right back to the British legacy in India.
  • Game of Thrones: House Targaryen were dragon-riding conquerors who unified a continent with dragonfire and solidified a dynasty that lasted for 300 years. In that time they abolished Droit du Seigneur, built King's Landing, the Kingsguard, and put the Faith of the Seven on a leash, and permanently suppressed the Faith Militant until Cersei revived it. You can't blame Varys for going to Dany to bring back that old time Targaryen autocracy.
  • Horrible Histories:
    • A sketch has the wife of a crusader saying "Aside from [reels off a list of everything brought back from the Crusades] what have the Crusades done for me?"
    • Inverted in any sketch that brings up Puritan rule in England-they never fail to mention Oliver Cromwell banned music, theater, sports and Christmas.note 
  • The Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode "Holier Than Thou" points out that while the Chinese have generally stomped on civil rights and horrendously mistreated Tibetans, they have given Tibet electricity, running water, and secular education. They also point out that the theocracy of the Lamas that originally ran Tibet weren't all that saintly themselves. For example, eye gouging was commonly used as a punishment for crimes.
    • It must be noted that the 14th Dalai Lama himself never denied any of these facts and has outright admitted this. As shown in the Martin Scorsese film Kundun which he gave support for, as a Lama he tried to bring reforms and modernize Tibet which was a theocracy. He provided people rights and released prisoners. He also expressed sympathy for the plight of the Chinese during World War II and initially sought an alliance with Mao, which the Chinese abrogated. Since his exile, the Dalai Lama has even stepped down officially and has stated that he would be satisfied with greater autonomy for Tibet, similar to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Penn and Teller's critique was more directed against Western fans who view the pre-invasion Tibet as a sort of Shamgri-La due to ignorance though.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Forgotten Realms setting, supplement Forgotten Realms Adventures. After Cormyr invaded Tilverton there was much grumbling by the inhabitants. However, the influx of Cormyrean merchants and trade increased their wealth, and the military garrison and the wall erected around the town reduced raiding by bandits and monsters.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout: New Vegas Caesar's Legion is generally hated and feared in the Mojave Wasteland, being a merciless slave empire. However, a couple of people admit that they've done a better job at keeping their territories safe from raiders than the democratic NCR has.
    • The NCR themselves could also qualify, as most New Vegas locals are tempted by the vast material resources and industrial muscle of the post-apocalyptic superpower giving a good standard of living, but ultimately aren't too keen on the aggressive taxation and bullying politics that come with being annexed. If you're the type to prefer Liberty Over Prosperity, you may find yourself agreeing with them.
    • In Fallout 4, the Brotherhood of Steel is seen as an antagonist faction taking over by pretty much everyone else in the setting, but they do genuinely secure their parts of the region for civilian use against even the super-mutants, who roll pretty much everyone else in the game.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, Gaius tries to sell you on this notion right before fighting you, arguing that Eorzea is too corrupt to be worth fighting for and that its gods are no better than the Primals you've been quelling. By this point you've seen evidence that all four city-states do indeed have serious problems (and you later find out that the one time the gods of Eorzea were summoned, they nearly destroyed the land exactly the way an unchecked Primal would), but given how the Garlean Empire's answer to said problems would be to transform each and every one of them into little more than drafting pools for their war machine and exterminate the beast tribes outright, it's not hard to reject his argument out of hand.
  • The gameplay of Rebel Inc. involved appeasing the local populace, which can include passing initiatives on providing them with infrastructure development, education, and healthcare providers. As the support level and reputation increases, it can cut into reducing Insurgent support due to this trope.
  • In Touhou, the sealed-away valley of Gensokyo only has a Human Village because its Youkai population are dependent on human fear and superstition in order to exist, and it is kept in a state of near Medieval Stasis (to prevent a rise in rationalist thinking) with no formal government (to prevent uprising). Despite this, it's been noted by multiple characters that humans may actually have the better end of this relationship - the youkai's efforts to protect their lifeline have made the village a much safer and more comfortable place than appearances would suggest, while their numerous competing factions limit how much they can actually abuse their power. Added to that, most of Gensokyo's residents don't want the kind of rapid modernization that the rest of Japan went through, preferring to adopt new technologies only once a "properly Gensokyo-ish" version is available that will integrate smoothly into local culture (something that often requires youkai help).
  • In Tyranny, you can try this argument on the residents of the land you're trying to conquer in the name of Kyros the Overlord. Some are accepting of Kyros's Peace, while others need a bit more "persuasion".

  • In Girl Genius Gil pokes holes in Zola's ideas about Baron Wulfenbach's "tyranny" by bringing up his infrastructure projects, and reminding her that every other government in Spark-ruled Europa is even worse. Granted, he might be a bit biased seeing how he's the Baron's son and heir.

    Web Video 
  • In Season 1, Episode 4 of YidLife Crisis, Chaimie asks what the Greeks in the Books of Maccabees were offering that was so bad, pointing out their contributions to math, philosophy, democracy, etc.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In the David and Goliath segment of "Simpsons Bible Stories" after Bart/David kills Nelson/Goliath II he is jailed for regicide because it turns out in addition to being a tyrant he built roads and hospitals and he was a better and more loved king than Bart/David.

  • Adam Hart-Davis hosted a series of documentaries titled "What The [Civilisation]s Did For Us" which focused on how some generally unpopular periods in British history (Roman occupation, Victorian times) led to important parts of British society.
  • Historians and writers of The Roman Republic and The Roman Empire would point out that Romans were quite open about "What have the Carthaginians/Greeks/Egyptians/Persians done for us".
    • The Latin historian Sallust quotes Julius Caesar making an oration citing this in his book The War with Catiline:
    Caesar: "Our ancestors, Fathers of the Senate, were never lacking either in wisdom or courage, and yet pride did not keep them from adopting foreign institutions, provided they were honourable. They took their offensive and defensive weapons from the Samnites, the badges of their magistrates for the most part from the Etruscans. In fine, whatever they found suitable among allies or foes, they put in practice at home with the greatest enthusiasm, preferring to imitate rather than envy the successful."
    • It is absolutely true that the Romans (like the Greeks before them) saw themselves as superior over barbarians (i.e. non-Romans: other Italian tribes, Greeks, Gauls, Germans, Britannics, Persians, Judeans et al.) but that superiority was civic and military. The cultural and intellectual nationalism of the Romantic era (which underpinned colonialist propaganda) was not really a thing for the ancient Romans. During the Punic Wars, the Romans admitted to have reverse-engineered Carthaginian triremes to match their rivals on sea, and even during the third and final Carthaginian war, express orders were given to preserve Carthaginian texts and other knowledge about agriculture for their benefit. The Romans were also remorseful about killing Archimedes (who allied with the Carthaginians) during the siege of Syracuse, as well as accidentally burning the library of Alexandria during Caesar's invasion.
    • Likewise, the Romans admitted that Greeks were superior to them in language and culture despite conquering and subjugating them. Caesar admitted that Egyptian astronomers were smarter than Romans and borrowed from them to devise the Julian calendar. Indeed, part of the reasons why Romans were so proud and smug was because they saw themselves as the underdog defeating and subjugating smarter, richer and more powerful civilizations. The Romans also were big on syncretism and always hungry for new religious fads and despite the fact that the Persian Empires of Parthia and Sassanid were historical holdouts against the Romans, they still borrowed stuff from Persian culture most notably the highly popular Mithras and Manichean beliefs which could have potentially displaced Christianity being that they were far more popular among the lower-classes than Christianity was for a while.
  • An old joke about Fascism states that at least it makes the trains run on time. In actual fact, they never did. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were highly inefficient and incompetent on bureaucracy and only got on as well as they did for as long as they did (which was not very long after all) was because they came to power in advanced nations with developed bureaucracies, and the infrastructure was relatively sound before them.
    • The things that might be considered products of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, collectively: development of Italy's film industry (the first film festival Venice and the studios Cinecitta was built and sponsored by Mussolini himself), the first affordable car (the Volkswagennote ), development of rocket technology (Wernher von Braun), plus the first anti-smoking, animal protection and conservation laws (the latter two of which remain in Germany).
    • The Autobahn, which is often cited as something the Nazis did has actually relatively little to do with them aside from propaganda. The first Autobahn was built in 1932 and inaugurated by one Konrad Adenauer, at that time mayor of Cologne and a staunch (conservative) anti-Nazi. While the Nazis did build a lot of Autobahns (mostly for their alleged military value, which in the end consisted in allowing Eisenhower to waltz in even easier than he otherwise would have), the plans they used had been drawn up in Weimar times and the Nazis used cheap labor in make work programs and later forced labor to get something done the Weimar Republic could not afford (partially due to austerity policies and partially because public housing was a much larger priority). The Autobahns people today use sometimes still use the original Nazi routes but have of course been rebuilt and replaced many times since then.
  • Defenders of Communism and the Soviet Union will often invoke this. They note that the Communists generally spread literacy and education to the lower strata of society, played a major role in spreading female employment and promoted social revolutions across the world, such as American Communists organizing black neighborhoods in the South during The Great Depression, and Fidel Castro backing Nelson Mandela and sending doctors across Africa to poor neighborhoods. As noted by Noam Chomsky: "The Soviet dominion was in fact that unique historical perversity, an empire in which the center bled itself for the sake of its colonies, or rather, for the sake of tranquility in those colonies. Muscovites always lived poorer lives than Varsovians...Throughout the region, journalists and others report, shops are better stocked than in the Soviet Union and material conditions are often better. It is widely agreed that 'Eastern Europe has a higher standard of living than the USSR'."
    • Karl Marx himself also noted that capitalism had been vital in destroying far worse institutions like slavery and feudalism. One of the more interesting lines in the manifesto reads "The Bourgeoisie note  has been a truly revolutionary class in the past"
    • In former Eastern Bloc countries outside the USSR itself, defenders of the Soviet Union tend to dismiss the atrocities of Soviet occupation and the following repressions by puppet regimes with "they freed us from the nazis" and "you'd be speaking German if not for them" arguments.
  • Related to Majored in Western Hypocrisy, occasionally apologists of colonialism and imperialism both in ex-colonies and ex-empires will try and invoke this as a justification or post-facto rationalization as a "good thing". It's noted that the ideas that drove anti-colonial resistance movements, i.e., democracy/nationalism/self-determination came from contact with the West. Resistance leaders don't deny this, rather they point out that these ideas should be practiced and extended to all people and they could be spread without conquest and colonization. When asked about "Western Civilization", Mahatma Gandhi famously stated, "I think it would be a good idea."
  • Many infrastructure projects in former colonies were built by the colonizers. Of course, mostly for entirely self-serving reasons (most railway lines will link a mine to a port rather than two major cities) but several countries in Africa have not notably extended their railway network since colonial times. With the rise of China as a global power, Chinese investment is building railway lines, highways, ports and other infrastructure - again mostly for entirely self-serving reasons, but the countries which receive this type of self-serving "aid" are not exactly in a position where numerous investors line up around the block to give credits at favorable rates.
  • In the run-up to the British referendum on whether or not to stay within the EU, the Guardian newspaper's website carried a sketch in which Patrick Stewart played a bluff, no-nonsense prime minister opposed to the European Convention on Human Rights, who asks his cabinet what it's ever done for them. They all agree with him enthusiastically, but one by one they point out that it's provided the right to a fair trial, privacy laws, religious freedom, freedom from slavery, etc. Eventually he loses patience and says that they don't need European bureaucrats to enforce all those things:
    Patrick Stewart: This is Britain! The land of Magna Carta! We invented human rights, for God's sake! We should be writing our own bill of rights, and foisting it on the Europeans! [chuckles] Let's see how they'd like it then!
    Adviser: ...Ah. W-we've already done that, actually.
    Patrick Stewart: What?
    Adviser: Well, after we won the war, British legal experts did draft a bill of human rights to help Europe sort itself out, you know, protect people from abuses of state power, that kind of thing.
    Patrick Stewart: Eh?
    Adviser: Oh yes.
    Patrick Stewart: ...You sure?
    Adviser: Oh yes.
    Patrick Stewart: Well...well, eh...that's good. [Pause] What's it called?
    Adviser: ...The European Convention on Human Rights.
    [Pause. The rest of the cabinet stare at the table, embarrassed.]
    Patrick Stewart: ...Oh, FUCK OFF! [Gets up and storms out]
  • As today's closest analog to the Roman Empire is the US, people outside the US might ask themselves, "what have the Yankees ever done for us?".
    • Eagleland types 1 go with You'd be speaking German without themnote  to they defended you against Soviet Russia to, oh well they kinda went in and toppled a democratically elected popular leader, bummer that.
    • As far as Western Europe is concerned, the US Government's Marshall Plan played a major part in its post-war development and rebuilding, sparking an economic boom across multiple nations. While there's some grubbing and sniping among some, notably about them doing this to keep the commies down and creating a new market for their surplus goods and so on, it's generally accepted to have been beneficial and many people argue in favor of Marshall Plan-like initiatives to relieve poverty.
    • Of course there's the Internet, developed as a direct result of the US Government's DARPA program to fund bleeding-edge scientific initiatives, which ultimately revolutionized global communications and which everyone everywhere agrees is here to stay.
    • NATO often complains about the heavy handedness of the United States which is a good point. However, Donald Trump pointed out to other NATO nations that the US pays 67% of the Defense Budget of NATO despite have only a 3rd of NATO's entire population. To be fair, out of total budget, the USA pays only 22%. The issue comes in that NATO nations sometimes complain about US troops being in their countries... when the USA is the one having to make the weapons to defend said countries. Said countries don't use US weapons and don't make or import enough of their own to protect themselves. The other problem is NATO countries complaining about the USA getting too quick to launch an attack... when the USA does the majority of the lifting in agreed upon military actions.
  • While Balkan countries mostly avert this trope regarding the Ottoman empire (blaming its centuries-long influence for issues like corruption and backwardness dating all the way back to the Enlightenment which had no equivalent to the Ottoman world), it is commonly admitted that the empire enabled some cultural contributions to the countries. For one, just like Muslims, Christians could also become "Hadji" (normally a title reserved for Muslims who had made a pilgrimage to Mecca) by making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem since it was now within Ottoman borders. Balkan cuisine is also the result of a strong Ottoman influence, evidenced by its reliance on tomatoes and potatoes, which were brought from America during Ottoman times.