The Roman Empire was one that pertains to modern politics, in that, by studying Rome's trials and struggles, a modern nation might be able to overcome its own problems, perils, and challenges, and use its own opportunities, wisely. Therefore, it only makes sense for people of today to want to ask the question of why Rome fell. Some say that since all states and empires in history have fallen, the real question that should be asked is why Rome lasted for so long. Although it is obvious that states fall, the question asked should be about why Rome fell after such a long period of sustaining an empire. Many historians have decided to look at Rome's decline due to simultaneous attacks from different groups of barbarians. But, in order to answer the question of why Rome fell after a great period of upholding an empire, the first deeper questions to be answered should be about Rome's internal crumbling. One of these questions should be about how Rome's military came to a point at which it was able to be overcome by attacks from barbarians. Other questions should include the state of the economy, politics, and the infrastructure. With the answers to these questions, nations and states of today might be able to overcome an "inevitable" end, like that of Rome. One of Rome's major problems preceding its decline was the lack of respect for authority, among the people (both civil and military). This basically led to a lot of political chaos, because of all the corruption that was born, and it started to decay the military. Rome's economy was declining, after a long period of stagnation, especially because of the large-scale hoarding of bullion, which people of Rome started, and because the trade deficit of the eastern regions of the Empire served to stifle the growth of wealth in the west. Therefore, the major reasons for the fall of Rome, although at first glance might seem martial, are truly those that have to do with Rome's political and economic state. Starting in the 3rd Century, there was a decline in the value of money, which caused everything to cost more. The vast majority of the people in the Empire were peasants, and those who farmed, would have profited from the rise in the price of their crops. The others, who lived in cities, had rents fixed by five-year leases, causing their rents to not change until the end of the lease. Therefore, the majority of people did not suffer too much from this, and the landowners did not suffer much, either. The people who worked for the government were paid from the money obtained from taxes. Since taxes couldn't radically be raised, although the value of money was rapidly falling, the people working for the state were being paid less and less. This led to corruption. As historian A. H. M. Jones puts it (in Constantine and the Conversion of Europe), Soldiers could, and did, help themselves by looting, and civil servants by corruption and extortion: it was during this period that the custom grew up whereby civil servants charged fees to the public for every act they performedeven the tax collector demanded a fee from the taxpayer for the favor of granting a receipt. (Nardo, 33)
This was really bad, as the soldiers ended up fighting, robbing, raping, and otherwise harassing their own country-men and women, calling this their means of getting food, clothing, and money to travel. As money became more and more worthless, the upper class began losing their noblesse oblige (the obligation of the nobles to state and society), the spirit of patriotism was vanishing in the middle class, the discipline of the military was decaying, and there was nothing to take the place of any of this. Hypertrophy was the worst thing that happened to Rome; Rome grew too big too fast. Because this happened, it became harder and harder for one person to rule over such a vast domain, the outskirts of which weren't really as secure as the rest. Because of this, and the economic and political chaos of the 3rd Century, there was disunity, chaos, enemy incursions, economic decline and the deterioration of social order and loyalties, which started spelling out the end of the old Roman world, by the mid-260's. But, the Empire was pulled back together by a strong emperorDiocletian. Diocletian stopped Rome from falling to bits, at that moment, and helped to prevent this for quite a while. What Diocletian did was quite cleverto prevent the Empire from falling to bits, he, himself, broke it up in an organized fashion. He renewed the Empire, having restored peace, by breaking the Empire into two halves, which were divided into halves, in turn. He did this, because he realized that the West and the East of Rome weren't culturally united. He was the emperor who knew, and was willing to accept the problem of Rome's hypertrophy, and in doing so, he split the Empire. Diocletian tried to pull the Empire out of its decline, by making such laws as those that prohibited people from leaving the land where they were born, and the occupation of their father. Other such laws were fixed prices for everything. (Gibbon) Even after all of Diocletian's great tries to make the economy progress, and later just to make it stop where it was, the Empire's fall was inevitable, as other factors were causing it to decline. Around the mid-4th Century, the standard of living for the poor and that of the rich, had a great gap in it. The rich, who bought great plots of land for nearly nothing, and built huge luxurious villas on them, were taking in some poor people into their land. These tenants, who had no means of paying the landowners, other than working the farms, had to work the land if they desired to stay on the land. These landowners, who despised taxes, all decided to slowly drag themselves out of the Empire's control. These plots of land, called latifundia, were basically the predecessors of the Medieval Manorial system, which took over right after the fall of the Empire. (Reasons for the Fall of the Roman Empire) This was pretty bad, but what was worse was the idleness of the rural peasants combined with the fact that they produced nothing. This was what caused the farmers to go to the latifundia, in the first place. This put the Empire in a position where it had to provide the rural masses with food and entertainment, so that there wouldn't be civil unrest, and they wouldn't fight the government. Rome undoubtedly "fell" completely, when barbarians attacked from too many places at once, and the Romans kept losing territory, leaving them with nothing but the city of Rome. Then, even the city was sackedthree times, in fact. But, what happened before, what led up to all of this, is what is really important, and closely examined. All of this was examined by one man living at the time of the decline of the empire in which he was living. Edward Gibbon was the early-19th Century British historian who so famously wrote a book about the decline and fall of Rome, which turned into the basis of modern scholarly thought about the fall of the Roman Empire. His points of why the empire fell included the ideas of the nature of civil society and the role of religion in the Roman Empire. One of his most famously rebutted-against points is that the rise of Christianity, for various reasons, constituted the major reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire. To some extent, this is true. (Rome's Decline and Christianity's...) Around the mid- and late-4th Century, most Christian writers attacked paganism viciously. One of the common themes of the time was that God had placed the Roman Empire on earth, so that Christianity might rise out of it, and spread to the rest of the world. If this was true, then the next step in logical thinking asserted that whether the Roman Empire lasted, did not really concern true Christians. This shows how the Christians at the time could care less for the survival of Rome, which made them un-patriotic inhabitants of Rome. Since Christianity was rising so quickly in numbers, more and more people applied to this general Christian form of thought, which eventually caused the people to lose interest in attaining political stability, and they even wanted to lead their lives in Christian, not Roman, ways. This would certainly bring about great change, and in the process, maybe even the fall of the Roman Empire. (Nardo) It was true that Christianity was bringing about much change in the Empire. There were periods in the Roman Empire when some emperors decided to persecute the Christians, blaming them for a military loss, or political chaos. After long periods of this (emperors who sought to kill all Christians), came emperors like Constantine, who were Christians themselves, and therefore stopped the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Milan, which Constantine passed with Licinius in 313, stated that the Christians would be tolerated, and not persecuted any longer. Indeed, the Christian's morality and ethics were unheard of as far as the Romans' culture went. For instance, near the early- and mid-5th Century, the Church began condemning the common Roman pastimes, such as going to the public baths and the amphitheaters. The former supposedly was an indulgence liable to stimulate carnal appetites; the latter was indeed a cold-hearted viewing of brutalization and murder, of both men and animals. So, by around 440, gladiatorial combat and the like were banned from the amphitheaters. (Nardo) Something that might be viewed as something to justify the Christians against the fall of the Roman Empire is the actual growth of Christianity. As Christianity grew, so did the need for more, and unveiled, churches. With Constantine's Edict of Milan, the hiding of Christians' meeting places was unnecessary. Now, the wealthy Christians, and even the emperors, had big, lavish churches built. These churches soon became places where hoards of treasures were hidden, as the rich gave generously to the churches. The church, in turn, used these donations to give money to Christian widows, orphans, and poor people. The church was even helpful to slaves; before, the slaves had no rights whatsoever, and they were horribly wronged. During Constantine's rule, he decreed that all slaves were to be branded on the arm instead of the face, as they were before. He also decreed that slaves should no longer be separated from their families, when being sold into slavery. He also decreed that the murder of a slave was just as bad as a freeman's, and should therefore be punished with the same penalty. (Fall of Rome, www.acs.ohio-state...) Although Rome had a couple of periods in its history where it was about to fall and crumble, it managed pull itself back up, under the leadership of a great, strong leader, like Diocletian. But, since Rome had already been declining for a long time, and had gotten pretty close to its end, it was nearly impossible for Rome to be completely stable again. A strong leader, in the case of Rome, therefore, was only good enough to delay the inevitable fall of Rome. Because of the military decay caused by the political chaos, which, in turn, was caused by the decline of the economy and the radical changes in the culture of Rome, brought about by the Christians, the barbarians were able to take over the Western Roman Empire.
Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1. Random House, Inc., United States of America. Nardo, Don. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 1998: Lucent Books, Inc., U.S.A. "Reasons for the Fall of the Roman Empire." http://killeenroos.com/1/Rome fall.htm 5/11/04. "Rome's Decline and Christianity's Ascent." http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/ch 23.htm 5/11/04. "The Fall of Rome." http://www.acs.ohio-state.edu/history/isthmia/teg/Hist 111H/issues/rome1.html Ohio State University. 5/11/04. "The Fall of Rome." http://www.tamos.net/~rhay/romefall.html 5/11/04.