The Fall Of Rome

The Roman empire was arguably the greatest, most influential, and most powerful empire of all time. it was an empire that rules the ancient world, conquered vast lands and armies, and was characterized by centuries of leadership. rome went through many different emperors in it’s time, although they only started being called emperors with augustus caesar. many well-known leaders of rome proceeded him, such as julius caesar and pompey. but it was augustus caesar (formerly known as octavian, before he changed his name), who brought the roman empire to it’s height, marking the most prosperous time in the history of the empire, and even beginning it’s downfall.

most people don’t look at augustus caesar as having anything to do with the downfall of rome. after all, he’s the one who was the leader during the time of rome’s ultimate greatness. aside from that, it wasn’t for hundreds and hundreds of years after augustus that the roman empire actually fell. and while many emperors that came after him had more to do with the downfall of the empire, with augustus’ reign, it was the beginning of the end.

that’s because during the period from 30 b.C. - 180 A.d., Rome had reached a period of peace with both the outside world and also with itself. this time period was known as the pax romana, and it was indeed the time when the roman empire was at it’s height, but because of that, there were no new slaves coming in. the roman empire was built of slavery. and the slaves were the prisoners that the romans took whenever they conquered new lands. if they were no longer conquering new lands, then they were no longer getting slaves at the same rate.

during this time period, rome had reached a point where it was tolerant of different religions, and had achieved both commercial and agricultural success. but 40 % of the population was composed of slaves. and these slaves who worked the farms were a huge reason for the agricultural prosperity of the empire.

the openness about religion was also a sign of things to come and an eventual reason for the downfall of the empire. this was the first time the pagan religion was being challenged and that the challenges were being met with acceptance. later on, constantine would reform the empire and change the religion of rome entirety. and the unrest between the people, who felt they were being disrespected by all this, would be another reason for turmoil that would eventually lead to the end.

Now, augustus caesar only ruled from 30 BC to 10 Ad. And in those forty years, he had a tremendous impact, reforming the empire and restoring the republic (or so he claimed). there were four emperors after them, known as the julian emperors, who were not very good. the first was tiberius, and during his reign, jesus christ was killed over in jerusalem. it was tiberius procurator, pontius pilate, who was responsible for that, and it put a damper on the acceptance of religion that augustus had started.

Following tiberius, things got worse. much worse. the next emperor was caligula and he was crazy. after him was claudius, who was an old man, and was forced into the job against his will. and after claudius was nero, the worst and meanest of them all. nero burned whole cities just for fun. he banned christianity from the city all together. and it was because of him, and a refusal to sell to him, that france started cultivating their own wine, instead of sending the grapes to rome, like had always been done before.

Still, the golden age of rome continued despite all of these awful emperors. nero was so hated that he was even overthrown, and a man named vespasian took over. that happened in 68 A.d., and two years later, vespasian got rid of the idea of rome as a republic. He saw that rome was on a downslide, or would be soon, and he wanted to return the empire to it’s glory. Vespasian turned rome into an imperial dynasty and began opening the empire up to trade with asia and africa.

one of the many reasons why rome was so successful during it’s golden age was the abundance of food. agriculture was prosperous here, not only because of the large amount of slave working the fields, but also because of the way military generals were treated upon their retirement. they were permitted to stay around in the same spots where they had served the military, and to become farmers in these areas that they already knew well.

All of this lasted until 180 A.D. that’s when most people look to as the beginning of rome’s fall. the reason is because rome was hit by small pox, which was an epidemic disease. this began during the reign of marcus aurelius, who was one of the most loved emperors in roman history. aurelius was known as the philosopher emperor, a man who thought first and acted later. he was the last of what were known as the five good emperors, but even he could not escape the small pox. the cities population was struck hard by the epidemic, and even aurelius, himself, was killed by it.

It was the son of marcus aurelius, named commodus, who took over. he was not his father and in fact ended up disgracing the empire in many ways. commodus used to enter himself into gladitor competitions, which of course, were rigged for him to win. he was such a poor and unliked emperor, that under his leadership the city of rome broke out into civil war.

From this point on, the emperors were not of the people. instead of making it a priority to be liked, these emperors put their emphasis on making sure that they were feared. they seized power and authority on their own, and were not interested in what anyone thought of them. one might think this idea of making sure they were feared would be a good thing, for then nobody would challenge them, but it was the exact opposite. these emperors were constantly being challenged and overthrown. they were so hated, that many people who knew the risks involved, attempted to go after these emperors anyway, and often were met with success. for fifty years, between 234 and 284 A.D., there were more than twenty different emperors of rome.

by now, the german tribes began putting pressure on the frontiers. they saw that rome was week and that the emperors did not have as many followers or supporters as the used to. rome was an empire filled with unrest, and the german tribes were ready to cash in on this. in 284 a.d, an emperor named diocletian came to power in rome, and decided that something needed to be done. rome was declining more and more, and a stop needed to be made.

Diocletian decided that the empire was too big for any one man to rule alone. he had been a soldier in the roman army, who gained popularity and rose to power. diocletian knew just how vast the roman empire was and how unrealistic the challenge of controlling all of it from one spot was. instead, he divided the empire into sectors, and put different leaders in charge of each area. at first, rome was divided into an eastern and a western sector. Diocletian took control of the east, and named a co-emperor to manage the west. the idea here was to make the empire easier to control and defend. but it wasn’t enough.

When diocletian saw that there were still too many challenges with this, he reformed his idea a little more and made the leadership of rome into a tetrarchy. it would be a system of rule by four. the empire was now divided into four regions, and in each one an augustus who was put in charge of the area, would adopt a Caesar to help him rule.

After diocletian, constantine took over, and he too wanted to preserve the empire before it was too late. like diocletian, constantine had drastic changes in mind, for he saw that the roman empire was in a state of emergency. Constantine moved the capital of the empire to a new city that was in a location which would make it easier to defend. he moved the empire from west to east, to a city that he named constantinople, after himself. by doing this, he strengthened the east, but weakened the west. the west was now open to continued german invasions, and constantine turned his back on them. this was one of the key factors that led to the fall of rome.

Constantine’s move of the capital was meant to help preserve the roman empire. he put more forces along the frontiers and made sure that his new capital, known as byzantium, in constantinople, would be easy to defend. the city had water on three sides of it, and it was strategically designed to prevent invasions. but by putting all of his attention here, and leaving the west to fend off it’s problems without any help from the rest of rome, constantine was basically allowing german tribes to come in.

when the move of the capital from the city of rome to constantinople happened, people in the west were hit with all sorts of problems. chiefly, of course, was that the capital was no longer in their city, and so their city would no longer be defended as heavily. another problem was that constantine raised taxes in the west to help pay for the defense of the frontiers in the east. many people in rome refused to pay these taxes, and knowing that if they stayed around and didn’t pay, they would be persecuted, they fled the city. these people left rome and went to live off in the country where they knew they wouldn’t be bothered for the extra taxes.

but there was still another problem under the leadership of constantine. he was slowly and craftily converting the empire to christianity. the acceptance of different religions that had begun under the leadership of augustus caesar was now being taken to a whole new level. constantine was changing holidays and declaring military victories in the name of christianity. this conversion divided the people between the old religion, paganism, and the new one, christianity. in fact, many believed the main reason why constantine moved the capital of the empire from west to east, wasn’t because the west was facing invasions by german tribes, but because constantine wanted to associate this “new empire” with a new religion. he was hoping to leave the pagan worshipping west behind and to make constantinople a city where military victor and christianity could both flourish. and his way of linking them together was to declare the miliary victories in the name of christianity and tell the people about his religious dreams and how they led him to winning the wars. obviously this was a turn off for many people, who felt insulted by the way constantine was turning his back on them and their religion.

religion is absolutely one of the major reasons for the fall of the roman empire, not only because it was instrumental in leading to the move of the capital from west to east, but also because it started to change the way people were thinking. instead of thinking about what was happening right in front of them, and about how military failure meant certain death, people now began thinking about the afterlife and became more loose about their feelings towards what came after death.

After constantine’s death, things got even worse for rome. he passed away in 337 a.d., and his sons immediately went at each others throats, fighting for power and leadership of the empire. civil wars broke out, and the east and west of rome became divided even more. the country was in disarray, and now it wasn’t just the germans in the west who noticed the turmoil, but also the persians in the east.

the persians had been eyeing the eastern frontier, where constantinople stood, for a long time. they took the building of this great and powerful city, here, as a threat, and when constantine died and his sons brought the empire into civil wars, the persians saw their chance. they attacked in the east at the very same time that the germans were attacking rome in the west. the germans had been attacking here for years now, and they had learned and modified their techniques.

the germans attacked over and over again, hitting all different parts of the western frontier of rome. when they would leave a battle and the romans thought they were retreating, the germans were really just searching for a new spot to attack. this method often caught the romans off guard, for they thought the battle was over and the germans were gone. another method the german tribes used was separating their armies up into smaller groups and then attacking the western frontier of rome in all different places at the same time. the romans were not prepared for this, and the persians got word of all that was happening in the west.

the persians attacked mesopotamia, an area that had been held by rome since early on in the great roman empire. now the romans were driven out. many believe that this double hit of both the west and the east, is the final moment that the empire reached a point of no return. it is quite possible that the romans could have handled either one of the two forces on it’s own, but to take them both on at the exact same time was a feat too great for any force to attain. the empire was just too vast for all frontiers to be covered at once, and it was also difficult to move around from one part of the empire to another.

In 370 A.d., the huns, a group of nomadic warriors who had marched through china defeating the chinese, and then leaving, now entered germany. the huns were a fierce people out to conquer and prove that no army in the world could defeat them. their leaving china so easily after having spent a great amount of time achieving victory there, had confused the chinese. but the huns just marched on with germany as their next stop.

the huns conquered wherever they attacked in germany and drove the germans south. the germans then came in and attacked rome. in 378 ad, the huns followed the germans into rome. emperor theodosius the great, saw that the romans stood no chance against the huns, and so he paid them off to leave. and the huns did leave, along with the german tribes, but as soon as theodosius died, both the germanic tribes and the huns came back.

attila the hun became the leader of the huns in 434 a.d.  in 441 a.d., attila decided to forget about the west and to attack constantinople instead. like before, the romans decided to pay attila off. attila accepted the money and left, only instead of returning to germany, he decided to attack the western part of rome instead. the german tribes were already in the west, attacking rome, and when attila and his forces decided to attack as well, it was too much for rome to handle.

It was the visgoths, a german tribe that was being pushed forward by attila the hun, who sacked rome in 476 A.d. The visgoths killed the emperor and the romans knew at that point that they could no longer stand up to these forces. the byzantine empire in constantinople remained for some time after that, but the roman empire was destroyed. in 540, emperor justinian, ruler of the byzantine empire, made a noble attempt to restore the roman empire, but his people were hit by the bubonic plague and his attempt was put to rest.

there are many reasons for why the roman empire fell, and many are more obvious than others. sure, it was the double attack by both the germans and the persians, not to mention the huns, that put the final daggers into the empire, but there were plenty of other reasons as well. the move of the capital from rome to constantinople, divided the people. so did the change in the religion of the empire, and the rise of taxes in the west to support the east. all of this led to civil wars, which the persians saw and then used as a reason to attack. but then there were also the slaves and the way the empire was too reliant on them, and started to fall apart as soon as the amount of slaves began diminishing. it is very ironic how the period of rome’s prosperity is what began the period of rome’s downfall, since rome was no longer conquering new lands and therefore no longer bringing in slaves to work the land.

it is also ironic and interesting how diocletian and constantine are seen by most as the emperors who tried to stop the downfall of rome, and yet their actions really pushed rome into it’s decline more than those of anyone else. diocletian divided the land, and by doing that, began a division of the people. this made it easier for conflicts to arise, like the civil wars that would begin under constantine’s sons. and constantine himself changed religions, moved the capital, and raised taxes. all of these actions angered his own people and threw the empire into uncertainty and disarray. in the end, the roman empire was just hit by too much at the same time. it’s success became it’s curse, as the vastness of the empire was just too big to defend. the romans prolonged their downfall for hundreds and hundreds of years, and the ideas of diocletian and constantine were certainly creative, but eventually the inevitable happened and the great roman empire fell.