Short Essay Four: The Fall of the Roman Empire
The question of what led to the decline of the Roman Empire is a complex subject which historians have debated for centuries. Edward Gibbon suggested in the late 1700’s that the moral fabric of the Roman citizenry was inferior to that of the victorious barbarian invaders. Joseph A. Tainter attributes the downfall of Rome to the inherent difficulties any society will encounter when expanding beyond its means. This idea seems especially unikely in the case of the Roman Empire which, in fact, remained vastly wealthy even in the time of its supposed decline. Thus, there are many conflicting arguments concerning the definition of the "fall" of Rome what exactly this “decline." Did Roman civilization cease to exist, the victim of superior enemies challenging its greatness? Did Rome simply "die" of old age, as a result of some historical law? Or did Roman civilization merely evolve past the empire, and become the sapling of what we now call modern civilization. It is this paper’s intention to prove the latter. The downfall of the Roman Empire was not a catastrophe, but a natural transition into a Christian civilization more capable of surviving in post-antiquity. The primary sources collected in the ETEP module, of course, provide the best evidence to use in this regard. The evidence of Procopius, a historian writing in the 6th century, is a good place to begin. He documents the capture and sack of the city of Rome in A.D. 410 by the Visigothic (Germanic) king Alaric. According to Procopius, Alaric outsmarted the Romans and took the city by force, causing widespread destruction and devastation. From the evidence of Procopius, the reason for the "fall" of Rome was the incompetence of the Roman defenders (including the weak Roman emperor) and the cleverness and determination of the barbarian king, Alaric. While such conclusions are resonable, one must rememer that, even though the city of Rome...
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