The Roman Empire was without a doubt the most powerful governing body in the Mediterranean ever. Why did Rome fall? There was not any single cause to the fall of Rome. It was many things occurring in succession to each other.
After the Punic wars with Carthage, Rome acquired many new lands that it did not have before. During peace times it was easy to govern these areas but during war times it proved difficult. The government had to pay soldiers to patrol the frontiers of the empire; it could no longer rely on the loot to serve as the pay for the soldiers. This took a significant amount of money out of the Roman treasury. Some emperors wanted to save money and made the army too small to have control over such a large empire.
The economy of Rome was also suffering. Rome was importing goods from its colonies but wasn’t exporting nearly as much. This created an imbalance of trade. The colonies were creating their own finished goods and no longer relied on Rome for them. New coins were then made out of lead and gold to devalue the currency. Merchants now charged more money because these new coins were not worth as much as the old ones. This created inflation, this problem plagued the empire until its fall.
The problem of succession also contributed to the fall of Rome. There was never a set system of succession. After the death of an emperor, generals competed with each other for power. Once someone gained power they didn’t rule for long; someone often assassinated them. This weakened the authority of Rome; corruption was common and law was almost non-existent.
Diocletian tried to make reforms to make the empire as strong as it was before. He realized that the empire was too large for one person to govern, he split the empire in half and took control of eastern part himself. He then appointed a co-emperor to rule in the west. He also reorganized the problems in the civil service and made them responsible directly to the emperor. He increased the size of the army and trained them better. To improve the economic health of the empire, Diocletian set limits on prices and wages to slow down inflation. To give some stability in agriculture and manufacturing, he ordered people to stay in their jobs. There was no room for promotion. Diocletian died in 305 A.D.
In 324 A.D. Constantine took over as emperor. He reunited the east and west under his own rule. He also built a new capital at Byzantium, on the Bosporus. He named this city Constantinople. Constantine wanted a new capital that would be a Christian city, not a pagan one. He continued the policies of Diocletian. People saw no need to work hard with no chance of getting ahead. These reforms only slowed down the process of collapse. After Constantine’s death in 337 A.D., the empire was again divided.
To the north of the Rhine and Danube rivers, lived a group of people known as the German tribes. They were herders and farmers who had migrated from Scandinavia. As their population grew, they began to look for new land. They decided that moving into the Roman Empire was a good idea. The Roman army was spread thin and could barely cope with the Germans. In the fourth century, the Huns, a nomadic people from central Asia, began attacking the German tribes. Thus the tribes looked for protection from the Huns in the Empire. They received permission from the Emperor to live in the Empire. A couple of years later the Romans sent an army to defeat the Germans and failed to defeat them. This proved that Rome was not invincible. The Germans continued to sack the west; they invaded Italy and sacked Rome. Rome bought peace by giving the Germans most of Gaul and Spain. The Huns then marched into Rome and they were soundly defeated by Rome and its German allies. The west of the Empire became a mess with no one in any real control.
In the east, Constantinople continued to be the capitol city. Its rulers called themselves Roman emperors and its people were Roman citizens subject to Roman law. True, the western portion of the Empire was crumbling, but all through the fifth and sixth centuries the people of the east could say without a doubt that the Roman Empire had not fallen.
There was no certain official date when Rome was considered to fall. Many historians though, believe it was in 476 A.D. A small German chief, Odoacer captured Rome and proclaimed himself king. The city of Rome was finally overthrown. Despite this, the people who lived throughout the Empire considered themselves Roman citizens and followed Roman laws. In the East Rome was still strong. Even today we have adopted many of the Roman ways of life. Rome influenced every civilization after and in a sense we are all Roman citizens.
The great Empire of Rome, the greatest power to ever rule the Mediterranean had fallen. It was unthinkable. Their faults in politics, economics and other things contributed to their fall. There was no one single cause; it was many things happening at once, which caused the fall of Rome. The leaders of today should look at Rome’s mistakes and be sure not to make the same ones again.
Filed Under: European History, History
Fall of the Roman EmpireThere were several reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire. Each one intertweaved with the other. Many even blame the initiation of Christianity for the decline. Christianity made many Roman citizens into pacifists, making it more difficult to defend against the barbarian attackers. Also money used to build churches could have been used to maintain the Roman empire.
Decline in Morals and Values
Even during PaxRomana (A long period from Augstus to Marcus Aurelius when the Roman empire was stable and relativly peaceful) there were 32,000 prostitutes in Rome. Emperors like Caligula and Nero became infamous for wasting money on lavish parties where guests drank and ate until they became sick. The most popular amusement was watching the gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum.
There were many public health and environmental problems. Many of the wealthy had water brought to their homes through lead pipes. Previously the aqueducts had even purified the water but at the end lead pipes were thought to be preferable. The wealthy death rate was very high. The continuous interaction of people at the Colosseum, the blood and death probable spread disease. Those who lived on the streets in continuous contact allowed for an uninterrupted strain of disease much like the homeless in the poorer run shelters of today. Alcohol use increased as well adding to the incompetency of the general public.
One of the most difficult problems was choosing a new emperor. Unlike Greece where transition may not have been smooth but was at least consistent, the Romans never created an effective system to determine how new emperors would be selected. The choice was always open to debate between the old emperor, the Senate, the Praetorian Guard (the emperor's's private army), and the army. Gradually, the Praetorian Guard gained complete authority to choose the new emperor, who rewarded the guard who then became more influential, perpetuating the cycle. Then in 186 A. D. the army strangled the new emperor, the practice began of selling the throne to the highest bidder. During the next 100 years, Rome had 37 different emperors - 25 of whom were removed from office by assassination. This contributed to the overall weaknesses, decline and fall of the empire.
During the latter years of the empire farming was done on large estates called latifundia that were owned by wealthy men who used slave labor. A farmer who had to pay workmen could not produce goods as cheaply. Many farmers could not compete with these low prices and lost or sold their farms. This not only undermined the citizen farmer who passed his values to his family, but also filled the cities with unemployed people. At one time, the emperor was importing grain to feed more than 100,000 people in Rome alone. These people were not only a burden but also had little to do but cause trouble and contribute to an ever increasing crime rate.
The roman economy suffered from inflation (an increase in prices) beginning after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Once the Romans stopped conquering new lands, the flow of gold into the Roman economy decreased. Yet much gold was being spent by the romans to pay for luxury items. This meant that there was less gold to use in coins. As the amount of gold used in coins decreased, the coins became less valuable. To make up for this loss in value, merchants raised the prices on the goods they sold. Many people stopped using coins and began to barter to get what they needed. Eventually, salaries had to be paid in food and clothing, and taxes were collected in fruits and vegetables.
Wealthy Romans lived in a domus, or house, with marble walls, floors with intricate colored tiles, and windows made of small panes of glass. Most Romans, however, were not rich, They lived in small smelly rooms in apartment houses with six or more stories called islands. Each island covered an entire block. At one time there were 44,000 apartment houses within the city walls of Rome. First-floor apartments were not occupied by the poor since these living quarters rented for about $00 a year. The more shaky wooden stairs a family had to climb, the cheaper the rent became. The upper apartments that the poor rented for $40 a year were hot, dirty, crowed, and dangerous. Anyone who could not pay the rent was forced to move out and live on the crime-infested streets. Because of this cities began to decay.
Another factor that had contributed to decline and fall of the Roman empire was that during the last 400 years of the empire, the scientific achievements of the Romans were limited almost entirely to engineering and the organization of public services. They built marvelous roads, bridges, and aqueducts. They established the first system of medicine for the benefit of the poor. But since the Romans relied so much on human and animal labor, they failed to invent many new machines or find new technology to produce goods more efficiently. They could not provide enough goods for their growing population. They were no longer conquering other civilizations and adapting their technology, they were actually losing territory they could not longer maintain with their legions.
Maintaining an army to defend the border of the Empire from barbarian attacks was a constant drain on the government. Military spending left few resources for other vital activities, such as providing public housing and maintaining quality roads and aqueducts. Frustrated Romans lost their desire to defend the Empire. The empire had to begin hiring soldiers recruited from the unemployed city mobs or worse from foreign counties. Such an army was not only unreliable, but very expensive. The emperors were forced to raise taxes frequently which in turn led again to increased inflation.
THE FINAL BLOWS
For years, the well-disciplined Roman army held the barbarians of Germany back. Then in the third century A. D. the Roman soldiers were pulled back from the Rhine-Danube frontier to fight civil war in Italy. This left the Roman border open to attack. Gradually Germanic hunters and herders from the north began to overtake Roman lands in Greece and Gaul (later France). Then in 476 A. D. the Germanic general Odacer or Odovacar overthrew the last of the Roman Emperors, Augustulus Romulus. From then on the western part of the Empire was ruled by Germanic chieftain. Roads and bridges were left in disrepair and fields left untilled. Pirates and bandits made travel unsafe. Cities could not be maintained without goods from the farms, trade and business began to disappear. And Rome was no more in the West. The total fall of the Roman empire.