|Mr. Spagnoletti / WHI
Ancient Rome DBQ ESSAY: Causes of the fall of the Roman Empire
Name: _________________________________________Date: ______________
QUESTION: What factors were most important in causing the fall of the Western Roman Empire?
In the third century AD Rome faced many problems. In addition to internal decay, the invasion by the Germanic tribes seemed to sound the death knell for the Western Roman Empire. Historians have examined both the internal conditions that weakened the expansive empire and the external force of the barbarian invasions and have presented a variety of explanations for the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
This excerpt is from a textbook, The Course of Civilization by Strayer,
Gatzke & Harbison (1961)
“The basic trouble was that very few inhabitants of the empire believed that the old civilization was worth saving … the overwhelming majority of the population had been systematically excluded from political responsibilities. They could not organize to protect themselves; they could not serve in the army . . . Their economic plight was hopeless. Most of them were serfs bound to the soil, and the small urban groups saw their cities slipping into uninterrupted decline.”
1. What were the basic problems facing the Western Roman Empire
according to the authors?
Excerpt from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward
“The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness (large size)…The introduction … of Christianity, had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The clergy successfully preached the doctrine of patience; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of military spirit were buried in the cloister; a large portion of public & private wealth was consecrated to the…demands of charity and devotion …... the Church, and even the State, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody and always implacable [unforgiving]; . . . the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of tyranny; and the persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their country . . The sacred indolence [laziness] of the monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age . . . the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of Constantine to Christianity.”
2. According to the excerpt from Gibbon, what were two causes for the fall of Rome? Explain both.
This excerpt is from Uses of the Past by Herbert J. Muller.
“First the economic factor …While the empire was expanding, its prosperity was fed by plundered wealth and by new markets in the semibarbaric provinces. When the empire ceased to expand, however, economic progresssoon ceased…. The abundance of slaves led to growth of the latifundia, the great estates that … came to dominate agriculture and ruin the free coloni (farmers) who drifted to the cities, to add to the unemployment there. The abundance of slaves kept wages low.”
3a. What economic issues does Muller identify as causes for decline?
3b. How was slavery a cause for the decline of the Roman Empire?
This excerpt is from The New Deal in Old Rome by Henry Haskell.
“The expenses of running the Empire continued to increase. As taxes failed to produce the needed revenue, the government resorted to devaluation of the currency, . . Prices shot up as they did in twentieth-century inflations in Europe. A pall settled over the population. People felt they were being swept downward by forces beyond their power to control. In the face of overwhelming evils they were helpless. . .(Emperor)Diocletian, with army backing, became dictator, reorganized the administration, and stabilized the currency . . . Unfortunately, like some modern rulers facing a similar problem, he overvalued his new monetary unit. Prices promptly responded with another violent rise. Diocletian recognized the suffering that resulted, but naturally did not understand the cause. The trouble, he thought, lay in greedy profiteering. In 301 A.D. he issued his famous edict setting maximum prices and wages... But this early attempt at price-fixing failed. It is recorded that business men closed their shops, that many articles of commerce disappeared, and that food riots resulted...The heart was taken out of enterprising men.. Private enterprise was crushed and the state was forced to take over many kinds of business to keep the[state] machine running. People were schooled to expect something for nothing. This failure of the of Roman virtues of self-reliance and initiative was conspicuously shown in that pall of the population that was on relief The central government undertook such far-reaching responsibility in affairs that the fiber of the citizens weakened...The most disastrous policy . . . was extravagant spending by the government. Part of the money went into. . . the maintenance of the army and of the vast bureaucracy required by a centralized government . . . the expense led to strangling taxation.”
4a. Why does this historian disagree with the policies of Emperor Diocletian?
4b. What was the effect of high taxation on the people?
4c. What effect did the establishment of a government welfare system
have on the people?
This excerpt is from Romans without Laurels by Indro Montanelli.
“Rome, like all great empires, was not overthrown by external enemies but undermined by internal decay. . . .The military crisis was the result of …proud old aristocracy’s…shortage of children. (Consequently)
foreigners poured into the…Roman army [was] composed entirely of
5. What does this author identify as the cause of problems in the
This excerpt is a primary source written by the 4th century historian Ammianus.
Rome is still looked on as the queen of the earth, and the name of the Roman people is respected. But the magnificence of Rome is defaced by the thoughtless conduct of a few, who fall away into error and vice. Some men think they can become immortal by having statues made of them—as if they could be rewarded after death by being cast as bronze figures that have no sense or feeling rather than by striving to perform upright and honorable actions. And they are even eager to have their statues plated with gold. Others place greater importance on having a couch higher than usual, or splendid clothing. They toil and sweat under a vast burden of cloaks which are fastened to their necks by many clasps. The whirlpool of banquets and other luxuries I shall pass over lest I go too far. Many people drive their horses recklessly over the flint-paved city streets. They drag behind them huge numbers of slaves, like bands of robbers. As for the lower and poorer classes, some spend the whole night in the wine shops. Some lie concealed in the shady arcades of the theaters. They play at dice so eagerly as to quarrel over them.
Such pursuits as these prevent anything worth mentioning from being done in Rome.
6. Why does Ammianus criticize his countrymen?
This map shows the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire prior
7a. According to the map above, what was the cause of the fall of the
7b. Was this a unified attack?
The following document is excerpted from Rats, Lice and History by Hans Zinsser.
“The problem has been dealt with from every conceivable angle, for there is no greater historic puzzle than that of the disappearance of the ancient civilization --a disappearance so complete that not a spark from its embers shone through the barbaric darkness of several hundred years. Historians have analyzed the causes according to the prejudices of their own varieties of erudition [learning] . . [But most of them have] failed to include any consideration of the calamitous epidemics(diseases) which - sweeping the Roman world again and again during its most turbulent political periods - must have exerted a material, if not a decisive influence upon the final outcome. .We believe that a simple survey of the frequency, extent, and violence of the pestilences to which Roman Europe and Asia were subjected, from the year one to the final barbarian triumph, will convince the unprejudiced that these calamities must be interpolated in any appraisal other causes that wore down the power of the greatest state the world has known. A concentration of large populations in cities, free communication with all other parts of the world . . ., constant and extensive military activity involving the mobilization of armies in camps, and the movement of large forces back and forth from all corners of the world these alone are conditions which inevitably determine the outbreak of epidemic disease. And against such outbreaks there was absolutely no defense available at the time. Pestilences encountered no obstacles.”
8. Why did this historian disagree with some of the preceding interpretations about why the Roman Empire declined and eventually collapsed?
Essay: What factors were most important in causing the fall of the Western Roman Empire?