The Roman Empire Falls – Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.

The Course of Empire Destruction. Artist: Thomas Cole, PD image.

The Roman Empire Falls – Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.

The Course of Empire Destruction. Artist: Thomas Cole, PD image.

After reigning for period of nearly five centuries as the world’s greatest superpower, the Western Roman Empire, fell. However, the Eastern part managed to remain in power for another millennia as the Byzantine Empire. The subject of the’ reasons for the fall of the roman empire’ is still in debate; however several theories have been suggested over the years.

1. Corruption and unsteadiness in government

Proclaiming Claudius Emperor. Artist: Lawrence Alma-Tadema, PD image.

Appointing a new emperor was a not an easy task since the Romans did not have any effective system of naming an emperor. The former emperor, the Senate, the Praetorian Guard (the emperor’s personal bodyguards) and the army would debate on whom to name as the next emperor. The position of emperor in Rome was a dangerous job, but during the troubled times of the second and third century it became near fatal being the emperor. The Praetorian Guard, gradually, gained the complete power to select the new emperor. The new emperor would then reward the guard and the guards in turn gained more influence, and thus the cycle continued like this. Eventually, the guards began to sell the throne to the highest bidder, starting with when they strangled and killed an emperor in 186 A.D. This way, 37 emperors were crowned within a period of 100 years and 25 of them were removed by assassination. This contributed greatly to the instability of the country, leading to the weakening of the nation.

2. Decline in morals

Christian Dirce by Henryk Siemiradzki, PD image.

This was a fault especially with the rich upper class citizens, nobles and emperors, of Rome. People lost their values and carried out immoral and promiscuous acts, especially the emperors, who had male and female slaves just for their pleasure. One emperor Commodus, had an entire harem of women and used to sit in the theatre or games with them and himself dressed in women’s clothing. This enraged the Romans. This of course effected the lower classes as well. Drinking, gambling, chariot races, gladiator combats, drinking large amounts of alcohol, exhibiting sadistic cruelty to both man and animals, and other very lewd behavior became widespread with the Roman people. The people became extremely cruel and blood thirsty. The Roman values, traditions and customs all were lost the people. They lost sense of what was important and valuable in life.

3. Rapid growth of the empire

Painting showing a centurion supervising the building of Hadrian’s Wall. Artist: William Bell Scott, PD image.

At its height of power, the Roman Empire stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates River in the Middle East. The country had a massive area to govern. Despite the success, the land and borders had to be defended. The inhabitants of the captured lands were mostly known as barbarians and they loathed the Romans. Since the taxes of these people were high, there were frequent rebellions. Romans had an excellent system of roads, but yet, they could not communicate effectively or fast enough to manage their territory. Keeping their land safe from enemies was a huge struggle. Moreover, due to this reason the Emperors Hadrian built the famous Hadrian’s Wall just to keep the attackers away. Thus, the expenses for the military increased, while the resources for other vital activities decreased. This led to the weakening of the empire. To maintain the army, the country was forced to employ from foreign lands and the barbarians as well. An army like that was very unreliable and also expensive.

4. The failure in economy and increase in prices

Sale of bread at a market stall.
Roman fresco from the Praedia of Julia Felix in Pompeii.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Naples). Author: WolfgangRieger, PD image.

The expenses for the army were high and therefore the prices were increased. The empire’s income in gold reduced when they stopped conquering lands; however, the Romans still spent a lot of gold on luxury items. Thus, there was less gold to be used in coins and this in turn led to the decrease in the value of the coins, i.e. the coins became less valuable. Therefore, the merchants increased the cost of their goods. The people could not cope with these high costs, and eventually stopped using coins. Instead, they started bartering to get what they needed, i.e. they exchanged goods without involving money. Finally, salaries were paid in clothing and food; and taxes were paid in fruits and vegetables.

5. Lack of employment

Byzantine workers by an unknown artist, PD image.

Since slaves were used for labor for cheaper prices than Roman commoners were. This resulted in the commoners being unemployed and becoming dependant on the handouts given by the state. Wealthy men could use slaves for their work but famers who had to pay workmen could not produce their goods as cheaply as them. The farmers, therefore, either lost or sold their land and thus the number of unemployed citizens increased.

6. Invasion of the Barbarians

Map of the “barbarian” invasions of the Roman Empire showing the major incursions from 100 to 500 CE. Image credit: MapMaster, (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Rome had many enemies such as the barbarians who inflicted a great blow on the Roman Empire. The barbarians consisted of Visigoth, Hun and Vandal warriors. In 410 the Visigoths led by King Alaric successfully plundered city of Rome. The Vandals raided the city again in 455. In 476 the Germanic leader Oadoacer, forced the emperor Romulus Augustulus from power. Since then German chiefs ruled the western part of Rome. The year 476 was marked as the year the Western Empire suffered its deathblow.

7. Weakening of the Roman army

Byzantine infantry by krstovukoje

In history, the Roman army was once the envy of the ancient world. However, during the decline of Rome, this began to change. When the emperors could not recruit enough Roman citizens as soldiers for their army, they had to employ mercenaries (soldier hired to fight a country other than their own). The majority of the army was eventually foreigners such as the barbarians. These new soldiers were fierce warriors; however, they were not loyal to the empire. In addition, they frequently turned against their employers. By serving the roman army, the barbarians learned their knowledge of military tactics and eventually used them against the Roman Empire itself. In fact, many of the barbarians that sacked and led to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, were previously soldiers in the Roman army.

8. The inefficient technology

Scene from daily life on a mosaic from the Great Palace of Constantinople, early 6th century, PD image.

During the last 400 years of the empire, their scientific achievements became limited to engineering and the organization of public services such as building roads, aqueducts, bridges etc. Since they relied mostly on human and animal labour, they could not invent many new machines or technology that would have helped make the production of goods more efficient. In addition, since the Romans were not conquering new land they could adapt new technologies. In fact, they were not gaining land but losing it. Due to their inefficient technology, they could not provide enough to goods for their increasing population.

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