The Roman Empire: What Went Wrong?

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Chris Cheng
CLSC 300I
The Roman Empire: What went wrong?
Rome was founded as a small farming town in 753 BC. It grew to a vast empire that enveloped the whole Mediterranean Sea. It spanned from the western shores of what is now Portugal, to as far as the modern day Persian Gulf to the east. It remained as the world’s largest and most powerful empire in the ancient world for about 1100 years. But by 476 AD, the stress of war and the multiple sackings of Rome proved too much for the once mighty empire. There have been many theories and debates by scholars and historians on the cause of the fall of Rome. A list of these theories was assembled by John P. Adams, a professor who taught at University of California Irvine. Some of the more outlandish include: 1) The people, provided with free “bread and circuses,” became lazy. 2) Widespread homosexuality among the upper classes led to a decline in the birth rate among aristocrats, thereby reducing the available pool of leadership manpower. 3) Pipes and utensils made of lead poisoned the aristocracy, lowering their birth rate and the intelligence level of this most important class (Sugars, CLASSICS 300-I). While the above examples can provide a laugh or two, there are several major events which contributed greatly to the fall of the Roman Empire.

One event that I think must be included when talking about the Empire’s demise is the shift from a polytheistic religion to a monotheistic one. Since the beginning of Rome, the people believed that gods and spirits existed everywhere. They existed in rivers, trees, and even land. An example of this appears in a translated passage from the book written by Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans did. Livy, a historian in ancient Rome, wrote a passage which tells the story of a man named Horatius Cocles. Horatius was forced to jump into the Tiber River during a battle. But before he does, he cried out “Father Tiber, I piously invoke you. Receive these arms and this...
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