Factors Responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire
The demise of the Roman Empire was caused by both internal and external factors. It was a long process and no single event, lost war, or decision can be said to have caused it. From the year 217AD until the collapse in 476AD, there were only a handful of periods as long as ten years when a civil war did not break out. These wars were not about ideology, but purely for political power. The two main factors responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire are: Succession of Roman Emperors, and the Roman Army’s ability to defend the frontier.
The impact on attitudes and behavior from the emperor down was almost as important as the physical price of civil war. Personal survival became the first objective of every emperor, and shaped all of their decisions and the structure of the empire. In trying to protect themselves, successive emperors gradually reshaped the empire itself. By the end of the third century, emperors could now come from a far wider section of the empire’s population. Any connection with the imperial family—even spurious claims to be the illegitimate son of an emperor—was sufficient to make a claim. In the past, Rome’s emperors had to be wary of only a small number of senators, men who were known to them personally and whose careers meant that they spent many years in and around Rome. Now, they did not need family reputation or political connections, simply the ability to persuade some troops to back them. Previously, when an emperor dies they adopt someone from the extended family by searching for a good young man. However, Marcus Aurelius allows his natural born son to succeed him, rather than finding the best candidate, and it screws up the system. The Late Roman Empire was not designed to be an efficient government, but to keep the emperor in power and to benefit the members of the administration.
A second factor concerns a direct line of historical cause and effect from the...
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