The Fall of Rome
The Roman Empire at its height spanned much of the known world. Rome through its military conquests had put a chokehold on the entirety of the Mediterranean Sea, thus asserting itself as the channel through which all trade within Western Europe occurred. Such geographical dominance included Roman territories ranging from Roman conquests in what are today, England through territories in Africa and the Middle East. Roman successes as described demonstrated the authority Rome commanded at its zenith, similarly, it also foreshadowed a dooming trend that eventually incurred the ultimate downfall of the Western Roman Empire. While Rome’s destruction cannot be attributed to one crucial mistaken that directly lead to their immediate demise, there are certain trends that when combined played an intricate part in causing Rome’s fall. Rome’s success was perhaps the direct cause of their destruction. As described by Herodotus in “The Histories” Hubris is the leading cause for the destruction of empires. Rome at its height overextended its self for its governmental structure, thus by over expanding it lost a sense of Roman nationality among its army, citizens, and even its bureaucrats. Countless factors have played a hand in the downfall of Rome; however, Rome’s overexpansion was the causation for all other ensuing factors.
Roman insatiability for annexing new territories has been evident throughout the empires history; it was a mindset that lead to their ascension as a world power. Rome in order to become the empire they were known for was first charged with creating a nation. Rome’s first conquests of expansion began by controlling the Italian peninsula, the most crucial backbone to their empire. Previously Italy had been a segmented peninsula controlled by various tribes and principalities, however, Rome due to its military might was able to successfully annex and subdue the peninsula. As accounted by Polybius “They succeeded everywhere to a marvel, and reduced to obedience all the tribes inhabiting Italy” ( Histories. Polybius 1.6).
The Roman Empire at its peak governed over most of the Eastern world. After the death of Julius Caesar, who had destroyed the Roman Republic, an empire was the easiest was to keep the state going (Kagan-1998-pg. 92). An empire is rule by an emperor, whose range of power is virtually unlimited (Grant-1990-pg.164). Because of the Emperors supreme power, careful selection of these persons is ...
Conquering Italy however did not quench Rome’s thirst for expansion. “I may now fitly close this book. I have completed the introduction and laid the foundation on which my history must rest. I have shown when, how, and why the Romans, after becoming supreme in Italy, began to aim at dominion outside of it” (Histories. Polybiuspg.2.71).
Rome’s fervent hunger to expand, was a trend that propelled Rome to further its conquests past the Italian peninsula.
Rome in the year B.C.E. 264 had set its gaze upon its nearest neighbor in the Mediterranean Sea, and island that would strategically give them partial dominance over the pertinent water trade routes of the known world-Sicily. “I shall accordingly have to describe what the state of their affairs in Italy was, how long that settlement had lasted, and on what they reckoned, when they resolved to invade Sicily. For this was the first place outside Italy in which they set foot” (Histories. Polybius. pg. 1.5).
Roman expansion into Sicily initiated the onset of what are known as the Punic wars with Carthage- a series of wars that played a crucial role in shaping the Roman Empires rise to domination. The Punic wars marked a period of turmoil and bloodshed within the Roman Empire. The ensuing three wars tormented both Rome and Carthage for over a century ranging from 264-146 B.C.E , and was the catalyst for hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides. It is pertinent to note that the Punic wars not only taxed Rome for its resources, but also perhaps for the first time illustrated an outside entity challenging the power of Rome, and ultimately serving as a validation of Roman supremacy. Following the defeat of Carthage Rome annexed what was left of Carthage’s territories, in essence doubling the Roman Empire within a period of less than a century. Such a drastic change to Rome effectively changed most if not all aspects of Roman culture. Rome has now morphed from a consolidated nation occupying the peninsula of Italy, to in essence a confederacy that was now comprised of multiple territories of varying cultures -A feature of Rome that will eventually lead to de-nationalism and finally Rome’s fall.
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Rome following its annexation of Carthage proceeded to further its territories at a rapid pace, a pace, which would soon prove to be detrimental to the empires infrastructure. Rome circa B.C.E 150 had expanded its boundaries as far west as England and eastward expansion ranged into Asia. The empire at this time had become the largest most powerful governance that Europe had ever seen, however, their vastness also served as the empires primary weakness. In order to control these previously sovereign regions Rome was charged with controlling each province with a strong military hand. A sufficient police presence was necessary to subdue potential revolutions, and to ensure each local principality paid proper taxes to the empire. In order to contract the necessary manpower to raise such a police force the empire had enacted a policy of annexing the previous nations army along with their land. While this policy was implemented before in Roman history, the rapid growth of Rome and the vastness of the new territories assumed proved to undermine the efficiency of said policy. Roman legions were now comprised of soldiers from numerous parts of the world, thus birthing a sentiment of de-unification within the army; leading to a rise of regional factions amongst the empire- which intern caused the overall decay of the sense of nationalism within Rome. Perhaps the most telling account of the Roman army during the first century is the Northern Britons chief Galgacus’ analysis on the state of Rome.
Do you suppose that the Romans will be as brave in war as they are immoral in peace? …their own army, an army which, composed as it is of every variety of nations, is held together by success and will be broken up by disaster. These Gauls and Germans, and, I blush to say, these Britons, who, though they lend their lives to support a stranger’s rule, have been its enemies longer than its subjects, you cannot imagine to be bound by loyalty and affection…All the incentives to victory are on our side. The Romans have no wives to kindle their courage; no parents to taunt them with flight, man have either no country or one far away. (Galgacus,
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The barbarians statements not only reflect the gaping holes the Roman army faced but rather shed light on the current state of Rome as a whole. The rapid addition of multiple once free territories caused an unprecedented division within Roman culture. A divide that brought forth a series of revolts, thus causing the need for an unimaginably large military force, however, requirement of such a vast military eroded the economic stability of Rome. A shift from capital being invested into Roman infrastructure, to financing the grossly enormous army lead to social and economic malaise within the empire. The cost of the army had gotten to be too steep for the economy to the point were the only means of maintaining the legions was to exploit the Roman citizens of their capital and products. Corruption had now sunk its teeth into the very foundation of Rome.
Who does not know that wherever the common safety requires our armies to be sent, the profiteers insolently and covertly attack the public welfare, not only in villages and towns, but on every road? They charge extortionate prices for merchandise, not just fourfold or eightfold, but on such a scale that human speech cannot find words to characterize their profit and their practices. Indeed, sometimes in a single retail sale a soldier is stripped of his donative and pay. Moreover, the contributions of the whole world for the support of the armies fall as profits into the hands of these plunderers, and our soldiers appear to bestow with their own hands the rewards of their military service and their veterans’ bonuses upon the profiteers. The result is that the pillagers of the state itself seize day by day more than they know how to hold. (Emperor Diocletian, Roman Civilization pp. 463-73.)
Unfortunately for Rome they had now embarked on an irreversible path to destruction, their overexpansion had laid the framework for a mired of detrimental problems that seemingly feed off each other.
... building these highways and roads, the Roman army could travel faster. The Roman pony express was the fastest mail ... Before he proclaimed himself dictator of Rome, he was a governor in Spain and Gaul. Caesar realized ... was to celebrate all the gods in the empire. Rome was a vast city with many buildings, but ... cities in the world, Rome was arguably the most famous city in history. Rome starts to rise in ...
Corruption in Rome spread from the top down; as Rome added new territories, they appointed new Roman aristocrats to govern said areas. This inevitably led to an unbalanced relationship between the Roman governors and the native people they ruled. Once again because the unbalanced budget the local governors were charged with rising as much funds as possible from their citizens, causing a sense of unease within each individual territory. “Now in addition to these injuries, wherewith the arts of [greediness] afflict the provinces, comes the appalling greed of the provincial Governors, which is ruinous to the taxpayers’ interests. For these men, despising the respectable character of their office, think that they have been sent into the provinces as merchants…As for the Governors, the buying of recruits, the purchase of horses and grain, the monies intended for city walls – all these are regular sources of profit for them and are the pillage for which they long.” (Oxford: 106-14, 122-23.) These feelings of unease soon turned to violence, turmoil, and eventually complete anarchy as the once free citizens of the north, or Africa, resented Roman rule. Uprisings became rampant throughout the empire ranging from Jewish protests in the east, to Briton revolts in the West.
At this point Rome has now become an unstable state, where chaos was the only reliable quality within Rome. “Because of the superabundant prosperity of those who exploited the products of this mighty island Sicily, nearly all who had risen in wealth affected first a luxurious mode of living, then arrogance and insolence. As a result of all this, since both the maltreatment of the slaves and their estrangement from their masters increased at an equal rate, there was at last, when occasion offered, a violent outburst of hatred. So without a word of summons tens of thousands of slaves joined forces to destroy their masters…” (Diodorus Siculus. 2. 1-48.) Rome at this point has now fallen into a state of chaos in which political, social, and economic stability is now in failing.
Rome at this point is now at its most vulnerable stage throughout its history and in all practicality is open to invasions and insurrections on all fronts. Similarly, soon following this social chaos, Rome was left open to attacks from the Huns in the East and Briton rebellions amongst others in the West.
What were the most important reasons for the decline of the Roman Empire Why The seemingly unstoppable Roman Empire was bound to fall after the many aspects that made Rome such a dominant empire started to fade away. Rome was the center of the world and the thought that such a worldwide power could decline was unheard of. It was not built in a day; therefore it couldn t be destroyed in one day. ...
When Attila’s brother Bleda, who ruled over a great part of the Huns, had been slain by Attila’s treachery, the latter united all the people under his own rule. Gathering also a host of the other tribes which he then held under his sway he sought to subdue the foremost nations of the world—the Romans and Visigoths. His army is said to have numbered 500,000 men. He was a man born into the world to shake the nations, the scourge of all lands, who in some way terrified all mankind by the dreadful rumors noised abroad concerning him. (An Account of the Person of Atilla. In William Stearns Davisp. 322)
In all practicality, the fall of the Western Roman Empire ensued directly following the invasions by the various Germanic tribes and the Huns in fourth century.
There were, countless factors that influenced the fall of Rome the key factor from which most if not all others issues steamed from was Rome’s overexpansion and insatiable need for furthering its empire. Out of Rome’s over expansion came a segregated territorial confederacy instead of a unified nation, corruption of local governors, and finally perhaps the most crucial steam of overexpansion, a failure of the Roman economy due to the endless need of fueling their enormous army with citizen taxes.
( Histories. Polybius. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. translator. London, New York. Macmillan. 1889. Reprint Bloomington 1962 pg. 1.6).
Histories. Polybius. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. translator. London, New York. Macmillan. 1889. Reprint Bloomington 1962 pg.2.71).
(Histories. Polybius. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. Translator. London, New York. Macmillan. 1889. Reprint Bloomington 1962 pg. 1.5).
(Galgacus, an ancient barbarian leader. Speech to his soldiers, recorded by Roman historian Tacitus. In Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricola, 29-33 c. 98 A.D.)
(Emperor Diocletian, Price Edict 301 A.D. In Roman Civilization, vol. 2, The Empire, edited by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), pp. 463-73.)
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), pp. 106-14, 122-23.)
Diodorus Siculus, Library Books 34/35. 2. 1-48.
(An Account of the Person of Atilla. In William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History:
As Greece reached the height of its prosperity Rome which lye slightly to the west slowly began its rise as a civilization. The Greeks centered their culture around Art and literature whereas opposed to the Romans who settled their culture upon warfare and leadership. Without planning, would rise very steadily as an empire. Shortly before Christ most of the surrounding cities and nations were at ...
Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), p. 322)