Consistent with the decline of all great civilizations, the collapse of the powerful Roman Empire began with internal decay. The decline did not result from a single occurrence, but from a myriad of changes altering Rome’s course from its glory days to its ultimate demise as an ancient superpower. Some...
Consistent with the decline of all great civilizations, the collapse of the powerful Roman Empire began with internal decay. The decline did not result from a single occurrence, but from a myriad of changes altering Rome’s course from its glory days to its ultimate demise as an ancient superpower. Some of the major causes are outlined below.
Rome reached its greatest level of control over the known world by the year 120 CE, but by 300 CE that control was about to change. The overarching cause of Rome’s decline was its unprecedented expansion. The political and social structure of Rome grew so large that it became impossible to control the four corners of the empire from one unified central government. Ultimately, it was necessary to divide the power between the Eastern and Western Empires. The Western Empire grew weak and began its decline, while the Eastern Empire eventually became the Byzantine Empire, kept a Roman identity, and lasted for centuries thereafter.
Rome decayed from within. The moral fiber of the city noticeably disappeared, and the rise of Christianity helped to change the culture by infusing a religious influence into the structure of the government. Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Eastern Empire to Constantinople, leaving the Western Empire to continue its decline.
According to historian Edward Gibbon:
...the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest and as soon as time or accident has removed artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight.
As Gibbon points out, the house of cards began to collapse, and the situation was ripe for invasion. Rome, especially the Western Empire, became consistently more vulnerable to attack. Eventually, Germanic tribes, particularly the Goths, invaded and sacked the city of Rome, followed by a number of barbarian tribes. The Roman government that fostered imperialism had built up a huge and powerful army over centuries, which posed a threat to the Germanic tribes. In response, the tribes unified and Rome’s depleted legions, consisting in large part of barbarian mercenaries and other non-Romans with no great ties to the empire, were unable to defend the city. The recognized end of the Roman Empire came in the year 476 CE when the last Roman emperor was deposed by Germanic prince Odovacar, who took control of the shattered Roman army.
Following the fall of Rome, daily life became difficult. People fled their homes in desperation. Water supplies were cut off. Starvation and illness were widespread, and Roman buildings either collapsed or were destroyed by invaders, leaving the populace to seek shelter in shacks. These conditions lasted until Christian kingdoms developed during the Medieval Era.