Overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Israel are the ruins of the ancient city of Tiberias. It was founded by Herod Antipas, named after the Roman Emperor Tiberias, and became a refuge for Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem. Its modern incarnation suffered a devastating earthquake in 1927 and a flood in 1934.
In its long history, however, nothing was more catastrophic than the Edict of 301 A.D. "Uncontrolled economic activity is the religion of the godless" said the Edict's author, the Emperor Diocletian. Under his reign, the Roman Empire became a Soviet-like police state where prices, wages,
and contracts were tightly regulated by government and taxes were levied upon income, goods, services, and property. Indeed, according to the early Christian writer, Lactantius (c.260-340 A.D.), under the Edict there were more bureaucrats, tax collectors, regulators, policemen, and accountants to oversee the economy than farmers, merchants, fishermen, and craftsmen to produce the wealth to be taxed and regulated.
The citizens of Tiberias were so burdened by property taxes that they fled to the countryside to become sheep herders and the city was abandoned. It was left to become weed-engulfed ruins not by natural disaster or hordes of barbarians, but by legions of civil servants, lawyers, and enforcers.
What really turned Tiberias and other overtaxed Roman communities into ghost towns was the lack of ethical philosophy with respect to the institution of private property. It never occurred to the Romans that private property that is taxed and taxed again (as opposed to one-time fees like sales tax) is a priori property of the State and that residents who call their homes "theirs" are really tenants. Nor did it occur to them that a man who elects a government that seeks to put more money in his purse by taxing his neighbor is little more than a thief.
The most devastating effects of the Edict of 301 were social and cultural. Old people were driven out of their homes of many decades by an inability to pay taxes and young people could no longer afford to live in the towns where they grew up. This is something that contemporary Levittowners can relate to and having known and worked over the years with many senior citizens and young couples, I think I can say that for them, Diocletian still sits on his throne.
Historians mark Diocletian's reign as the beginning of the Roman Empire's protracted decline. It lasted another 150 years. But its decline could be measured, in its day, one neighborhood at a time.
In case you are curious, political struggle over the persecution of the Christians forced Diocletian to abdicate the throne in 305 A.D. and although the taxation and regulation of his Edict continued, he retired to his estate in Salona (untaxable) whose ruins can still be seen today.