Decline of Rome Most scholars agree that no single problem caused the decline of Rome. Instead, they think that many political, economic, and social problems, both internal and external, gradually destroyed the strength of the Roman Empire



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Decline of Rome


Most scholars agree that no single problem caused the decline of Rome. Instead, they think that many political, economic, and social problems, both internal and external, gradually destroyed the strength of the Roman Empire. The following may help you to understand some of these problems as you list them on the STUDENT SUMMARY WORKSHEET.

Internal causes
Political

1. Rome tried to rule the entire Mediterranean world with a government that was originally designed for a small city-state. The miracle was that it worked for about 600 years. Also, in an age of slow transportation, the empire grew too fast and became too large. Roman citizens gradually lost their feelings of responsibility toward their government. They expected the emperor to look after their needs, but the vast size of empire and widespread corruption made efficient government difficult, even under good rulers.


2. Another political weakness was the lack of a fixed succession to the throne. In other words, no one really knew who was supposed to be the next emperor, and so after about A.D 200 the army made the unmade emperors as it wished. The Praetorian Guard, stationed near Rome, became the greatest single force in deciding who should be emperor. Later the legions competed among themselves in placing their generals on the throne. In addition; the army had been transformed from a citizen group to a ruthless professional force many of whom were barbarians- Goths and Germans.

3. When the empire divided under Diocletian, it hurt the western half of the Roman world because the best administrators and generals served the eastern emperor. Just when the invasions of the empire were strongest, Rome suffered from a lack of capable leaders. Furthermore, as Roman authority weakened, some powerful local leaders withdrew their support from Rome and set up their own independent states.


Economic

1. The most serious problems of the empire were economic. Government expenses were heavy. Taxes had to finance the construction of public buildings, the purchase of grain for the poor, the maintenance of the army, and, in the later empire, the cost of two imperial courts- on in the east and one in the west. Since most of the empire’s wealth came from the eastern provinces, when the empire was divided, Rome found itself without enough of the income it desperately needed. Even unbearably heavy taxes could not produce enough money to run the government. For centuries the Roman government kept itself going by taking advantage of the eastern part of the empire. By the time of Diocletian, however, this source of revenue was exhausted. Civil wars and German invasions hurt trade and agriculture and made tax collection even more difficult.


2. Some emperors tried to fix prices and control business activity, but they failed. Roads and bridges were left unprepared and there was an increase in crime. The harder it became to travel, the harder it was to conduct trade. When trade declined, manufacturing suffered. Eventually, nearly all trade and manufacturing disappeared, and towns began to lose their populations. As commerce declined throughout the empire, prices rose beyond control. Short-sighted Roman leaders began to destroy the value of the money supply by using valueless metals to make coins. As a result, the money became worthless. Heavy taxations practically destroyed the middle-class Romans. The payment of taxes and salaries during this time was often made in food or in clothing. By the end of the empire, the economy in many areas had been reduced to a barter system. In the cities heavy taxes and high unemployment contributed to declining prosperity. The idleness of the wealthy and the expense of providing free grain to the poor further drained Roman resources.
3. Agriculture suffered the same fate as trade and commerce. Nearly all land in the empire had come under the control of a small group of aristocrats. Agriculture, the major contributor to the Roman economy, mainly consisted of large estates call latifundia. Still, the total area of land that was under cultivation steadily declined. Small farmers-once the strength of the empire- gradually lost their lands. These farmers were often forced either to rent land from the large landowners or to flee to the cities where they were forced to join the growing ranks of the unemployed. Eventually, the half-free peasants on the large estates became tied to the land and the latifundia were converted to the production of olives and grapes. Basically, the Roman economy did not produce enough wealth to support a great civilization. What wealth was produced went into too few hands.
Social

1. The loyalty and civic pride that had once kept Rome strong had gradually decayed. For example, because citizens evaded military service many foreigners who had little loyalty to Rome had to be recruited as soldiers. These soldiers lacked the discipline and patriotism of the armies that had conquered the Mediterranean world. Because of this, they were no match for the well-trained Germans who were inspired by loyalty to their chiefs.


2. The mixture of many cultures, religions, and national groups proved to be both strength and a weakness for Rome. New comers to the empire, like the Germans, had greater physical strength and higher moral standards. However, when great numbers came into the empire, roman culture could not absorb them and the barbarians did not develop any real loyalty to the Roman government.

3. Another social problem was the decline in morality throughout the empire. Earlier Romans had been stern, virtuous, hardworking, and patriotic. They had had a strong sense of duty and believed in serving their government. These qualities were not present in the later days of the empire. Romans lost their patriotism, took little interest in the government, and lacked political honesty. In times of difficulty, troops deserted their legions and frontier posts were abandoned.


4. Christianity was also influence that produced mixed results. On the one hand it produced citizens who were honest, hardworking, and obedient, but it preached against the traditional emperor worship and war which weakened both government and the army.
5. Slavery was another problem that weakened the Roman society and the way of life. It had produced a class of people who were always discontent and who often revolted. By replacing the small farmers on the latifundia, slavery created an unemployed mob that moved in the cities. Even though the Roman government tried many different ways to keep the situation under control, including the distribution of free grain and entertainment to the poor, the problem of the unemployed poor in the cities was never solved.

6. Devastating epidemics swept through the western provinces in the fourth century and made the situation worse. The widespread use of lead plumbing and pewter dishware may have contributed to a general decline in the health of the average Roman. A sharp decline in birthrates among Roman citizens of the later empire may also have been the result of serious lead poisoning or other health problems.


External Causes
Barbarian Invasions

1. Between the third and fifth centuries, invaders overran the borders of Rome. The Huns, fierce warriors from Central Asia, pushed across the Volga River and threatened the Gothic tribes petitioned Rome for help. The Romans granted the Visigoths permission to cross the Danube River and promised to support them. However, the Romans failed to live up to their promises of land and food for the Goths and under the leadership of Alaric, these German tribesmen rose up and defeated the Roman army at Adrianople, killing the emperor. This decisive defeat signaled to the barbarian world that Rome was no longer unbeatable and a flood of barbarian tribes crossed the border.


2. The Huns, the Ostrogoths, the Burgundians, the Lombards, the Vandals, and the Franks all entered the empire. In 410, the Visigoths captured Rome and sacked the ancient city, and by the mid-400s Germanic tribes had claimed large parts of the western empire. The eastern half was stronger and more prosperous and was able to resist the outsiders, but the city of Rome was not. In 455, the Bandals sacked and pillaged the city again. In 476, a German general, Odoacer, removed the last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, from the throne and declared himself king. Other Germanic kingdoms were soon carved out of the remaining land of the Western Empire and the once-great Roman Empire ended.
3. Undoubtedly the barbarian invasions played an important role in Rome’s collapse. However, barbarian tribes had lived on the frontiers throughout both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Not until the empire had declined were the barbarians able to break through the frontiers.


Why did Rome Decline?


Internal Causes:


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Political

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Economic

Social


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External Causes:


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Barbarian Invasion




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