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Chapter 6.4: The Decline of the Roman Empire


  1. List at least 3 major reforms of Diocletian

  • Governed as an absolute ruler…limited freedoms

  • Doubled size of Roman army…included POW’s and mercenaries

  • Set fixed prices for goods to control inflation

  • Ordered farmers and workers to stay in their jobs for life

  • Divided the empire into west and east



  1. Who was Constantine? (Time Period, Location, Key Achievements)

4th Century AD, Emperor of Rome…moved the capital to Byzantium…legalized Christianity in the Edict of Milan

  1. Who was Attila? (Time Period, Location, Key Achievements)

  • Chieftain of the Huns, who united them in 444 AD…pillaged many cities within the Roman Empire, advanced on Rome, but withdrew after negotiating with Pope Leo I

Chapter 6.4: The Decline of the Roman Empire



  1. A Century of Crisis

  • Roman Empire began its decline at the end of the reign of the last Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius (AD161-180)

  • Empire greatly weakened by majority of the subsequent emperors

  1. Rome’s Economy Declines

  • Pax Romana- trade flowed over secure trade routes patrolled by Roman legions and ships

  • Gold and silver was confiscated from conquered areas

  • The Empire’s farms grew enough grain to feed the population of the cities

  • During the 3rd century AD, all three sources of prosperity evaporated

  • Hostile tribes outside the empire and pirates on the Mediterranean Sea disrupted trade

  • Frequent wars were costly

  • Wealthy spent so much money on luxury goods from India and China and Arabia, that the empire was drained of gold and silver

  • Empire’s expansion had ended, so there were no new sources of precious metals

  • With the rising cost of defense, the government raised taxes

  • Also minted coins that contained less and less silver (making them less valuable)

  • Economy suffered from inflation= drastic drop in value of money coupled with a rise in prices

  • Agricultural problems: harvest in Italy and western Europe became increasingly meager because overworked soil had lost its fertility

  • Farmland destroyed by warfare

  • Higher taxes imposed by government…many poor farmers abandoned their lands

  • Cheap slave labor had discouraged improvements in technology

  • Serious food shortages resulted

  • Disease spread, and the population declined

  1. Rome faces Military Upheaval

  • Throughout 3rd century AD, Germanic tribes repeatedly overwhelmed the Roman legions guarding the northern frontiers

  • Persia threatened Roman territory in Syria and Anatolia

  • “Barbarians” term used by Romans to mean “non-Romans”

  • AD 260: Persians captured the Roman emperor Valerian

  • Discipline and loyalty collapsed in the army

  • Soldiers were more loyal to their commanders, rather than Rome itself

  • Commanders began fighting amongst themselves for the throne

  • Government relied on mercenaries, foreign soldiers who fought for money, and generally had less loyalty to the Empire

  1. Roman Politics Decay

  • Roman citizens seemed less willing to sacrifice their life for their empire or republic…losing sense of patriotism…seemed indifferent to the empire’s fate

  • Serving in government was once an honor, but by the 200’s, more of a liability, because officials had to pay for public circuses and baths out of own pocket…few people chose to serve in the government

  • Armies remained actively interested in politics

  • 50 year period (235-284) armies in the provinces and Rome proclaimed 50 generals to be emperors of Rome

    • “Barracks emperors”: 26 briefly won approval of Senate, and 25 died violently

  1. Emperors Attempt Reform

  • Empire continued on for another 200 years…mainly because of some reforms, and dividing the empire into eastern and western parts

  1. Diocletian Reforms the Empire

  • AD 284: Diocletian, an army leader, became emperor

  • Restored order in the empire, and increased its strength

  • Governed as an absolute ruler, and limited personal freedoms

  • Doubled the size of the Roman armies

  • Attempted to control inflation by setting fixed prices for goods

  • Ordered farmers to stay on their land, and other workers to stay in their jobs for life

  • To restore prestige, Diocletian claimed descent from the ancient Roman gods

  • Diocletian viewed Christianity as a threat, and passed decrees to persecute the Christians

  • Diocletian believed the empire had grown too large and complex for one ruler

    • Divided Empire into Greek-speaking East (Greece, Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt) and the Latin-speaking West (Italy, Gaul, Britannia, and Spain)

    • Diocletian ruled the eastern half and appointed a co-ruler for the west, General Maximian…each selected an assistant, who would be their successor

    • The East was far wealthier than the west, with most of the empire’s great cities and trade centers

  • Diocletian’s reforms slowed the decline of the empire

  • Borders became safe again…emperor’s prestige was restored

  • Diocletian retired in AD 305 because of declining health

  • However, civil war broke out immediately

  • 311, four rivals were competing for power…including Constantine

  1. Constantine Moves the Capital

  • Constantine gained control of the western part of the empire in AD 312…continued many of the policies of Diocletian

  • 324: Constantine gained control of the east, and restored one ruler to the Roman Empire

  • AD 330: Constantine moved the capital from Rome to the Greek city of Byzantium (modern day Istanbul, Turkey)

    • New capital on Bosporus Strait…crossroads between west and east

  • Center of power shifted from Rome to the East

  • New capital was protected with walls and filled with imperial buildings

  • New name of Constantinople (Nickname: 2nd Rome)

  1. Invaders Overrun the Western Empire

  • Decline of the western Roman Empire took place over many years

  • Final collapse from worsening internal problems, separation of the Western Empire from wealthier Eastern part, and outside invasions

  • Germanic peoples on northern borders of empire

    • Some became peaceful farmers

    • Some adopted Roman ways, Latin, and Christianity

    • Others remained nomads

  • AD 376 to 476, huge numbers of Germans poured into Roman territory: Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Burgundians, Alemanni, and Vandals

  • Gradually, overwhelmed the structures of Roman society and drove the last Roman emperor from the throne

  1. The Huns Move West

  • Main reason for the Germanic invasions of the Empire was the movement into Europe of the Huns

  • Huns were fierce Mongol nomads from central Asia

  • Invading frontier regions of Rhine and Danube around AD 370

  • Pressure from the Huns forced other groups to move as well into the Roman Empire

  1. Germanic Invasions

  • Germanic people near the Rhine River- Franks, Burgundians, and Vandals- fled the invading Huns and entered Roman lands

    • Rhine River froze in 406 Vandal families swarmed over the ice

  • Western Empire was unable to field an army to stop the Germanic invasions

  • By early 5th century: city of Rome was vulnerable to attack

  • 408: Visigoths, led by Alaric, marched across the Alps toward Rome…put city under siege…410 hordes of Germans plundered the city of Rome for 3 days

  1. Attila the Hun

  • Huns then became a direct threat

  • 444, Huns united for the first time under chieftain Attila

    • 100,000 soldiers, terrorized both parts of the empire

    • East: plundered 70 cities (but couldn’t scale walls of Constantinople)

  • AD 452: Attila’s forces advanced against Rome…but weakened by famine and disease

  • Pope Leo I was able to negotiate their withdrawal…Attila died in 453

  • 455 Vandals, under Gaiseric, sacked Rome…leaving it in chaos (vandalize)

  • Famine struck in Rome…population dropped from one million to 20,000

  1. Rome’s Last Emperor

  • Roman emperor in West had become practically powerless

  • Germanic tribes now fought for possession of the western provinces

    • Spain to Visigoths

    • North Africa to Vandals

    • Gaul to Franks, Burgundians, and Visigoths

    • Britannia to Angles and Saxons

    • Italy to Ostrogoths

  • Last Roman emperor was 14 year old Romulus Augustulus…476 deposed by German general, Odoacer, and sent into exile

  • Roman power in western half of the Empire had disappeared

  • Eastern half of empire became known as Byzantine Empire…flourish for another 1,000 years

    • Will fall in 1453 to Ottoman Turks

  • Key cultural influence of Rome


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