Historians have pointed out that one of the reasons behind the success of the Roman Empire was fact the Romans people treated this Empire as the world. To them the world was equated with their kingdom. This belief formed the social cement something that sustained the empire for the time it lasted.
However this cohesion did not last for ever, there were internal and external forces which were eating the empire itself. Historians have never agreed whether the fall of Rome was as a result of forces from within or it was due to the external forces. Despite the disagreement we all know that this great empire which has been touted as the one that greatly influenced the western civilization fell and its impacts were felt all over. Historians have observed that it took almost ten centuries for the western civilization to recover and create a system that would come close to the Roman civilization.
At its Zenith the Roman Empire stretched from the north across the North Sea to the South of Egypt along the North African Coast to Spain. Its decline and eventually the fall took place over a long period before coming to its bitter end at a round the fifth century. Its collapse followed periods which were characterized by the patterns of weaknesses and bursts of strengths which at times could not be sustained. The forces that led to its destruction have been described to have come from internal structures which led to decay of its social, political and economic structures combined with the external attacks which were carried out by the barbarians.(Gibbon,E 1960)
The actual decline and the fall of the Rome can be dated back to the reign of the Emperor Constantine and the coming and spreading of Christianity. These two factors have been described to have caused irreversible and immense changes in this Empire. Back in the year 312 Constantine was struggling to become an emperor when a remarkable thing happened, he saw a vision in which he was told that for him to win the battle he must embrace the cross, the cross represented Christianity.
He took no chances as he wanted to take over the leadership; he ordered all his troops to have the cross painted in their shields. He won the battle and he became the Emperor. From then on Christianity became an integral part and a force in this empire perhaps marking the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.
Constantine established a form of religious toleration in the empire and he took himself as the pontiff though he did not become a Christian until his time of death. He gave the Christians some privileges in the empire and he foresaw the running of the church where he took part in the major activities such as settling disputes among the followers. Constantine failed to understand that the pagan ways were different from the new religion which was monotheistic in nature.
The emperors who came after him held the new role of appointing the bishops in the church. The church leaders became very influential over the time and started to take power from the emperor. The Christian beliefs were now in conflict with the working of the Roman Empire. In part Christianity led to the weakening of the Roman Empire and later contributing to it fall. It threatened the unity of Rome through its propagation of its beliefs. The Christians refused to serve in the legions further weakening the imperial powers of the empire.
It has been argued that Christianity led to the Roman citizens becoming pacifists making it harder to defend against external forces especially the barbarian attackers. The money that could have been used in the maintenance of the empire was used in the construction of the churches further leading to financial crisis which eventually led to the numerous administrative problems that the empire faced.(Pelikan,J 1987)
Political corruption has been mentioned as one of the many causes that led to the decline and eventual fall of Rome. Choosing a new emperor was one of the most difficult problems facing the empire. Romans unlike the Greek had not established a proper system through which succession could be handled. This was left to the debate where the senate, the emperor private army and the main army itself were involved. Gradually the private army became a dominant factor in determining who was to be the next leader.
They gained the complete authority on this issue. These people were corrupt and they ensured that the emperor who took over would be a person who was capable of being manipulated. The emperor had to reward the guards who became very influential. This became the vicious cycle in the Roman Empire where the emperor who took over were at the whim of the private guards. A practice of selling the throne began where the highest bidder became the emperor.
In less than one hundred years Rome have had thirty seven emperors out of which twenty five were removed through assassinations. This greatly contributed to the overall weakness of the empire leading to the gradual decline which was eventually followed by the fall.(Heather,P 2007)
In the latter years of the Roman Empire farming was carried out on the big farms which were known as the Litifundia.These estates were owned by the rich men who used the slave labor to carry out the farming activities. A farmer who did not have the ability to use the slave labor could not compete with these wealthy men to produce goods which would compete in the markets. The goods produced in the estates using the slave labor were cheaper compared with those produced by the farmers who hired labor. Many of these farmers could not compete with the low prices that dominated the markets resulting to selling their farms.
This undermined the tradition that had been common all over the empire where the farmers passed the family values to his children. It also created a serious problem of unemployment where people moved to the cities but they remained idle. This led to the escalation of the crime in the city. The emperor was also faced with a bigger problem as he had to feed the poor especially people who had been rendered poor due to the poor prices in the market and the unfair competition.
At one time the emperor had more than one hundred thousand people to feed. He had to import grain so that he can afford feeding such a large number of the poor people. These people were a big burden to the empire as they had nothing to do and at the same time contributed to the problem of insecurity n the city. The emperor resulted to using a lot of funds to feed the poor at the expense of maintaining the empire leading to its gradual decline.(Perkins,B 2005)
City and moral decay have been pointed as contributors towards the decline and the fall of Rome. The rich people lived in the houses which were made of marble walls, the floors were colored and the windows were made of glass panes. On the other hand the majority of the Romans were poor and they lived in deplorable conditions.
They lived in overcrowded areas which were characterized by crime and other social evils. The rich were living lavishly while the poor were in deep problems to an extent they could not feed themselves. This led to serious social problems as just like any other society where the gap between the rich is large there is a possibility of a clash. The poor rebelled against the system leading to chaos. These problems persisted for sometime leading to the decay of the cities something that contributed to the eventual fall of Rome.(Lafferty,R 1971)
Inferior technology could have contributed to the decline in the Roman Empire. The achievements in the field of science to the Romans were greatly restricted to the public services and engineering. They concentrated too much on the animal and human labor and failed to invent machines or get new technology which would help them in producing efficiently. They failed to produce enough for the population that was increasing at a higher rate. They reached point where they were not conquering other territories due to the problems that were being experienced at home.
Lack of superior technology hampered their expansionist ambitions. They continued to loose territories as they could not continue supporting the legions further leading to weakened system which could not support itself and was not duly prepared to meet any external aggression.
Maintaining an army to fight the barbarians along the border was draining the funds for the empire. Military spending was leaving few resources for the other important undertakings for the empire such as provision of the public housing and maintenance of quality roads. The empire resulted to hiring gangs and militia to protect the empire as the cost of maintaining an army was become high. The problem with such a move was that the gangs could not be relied on and at times they were very expensive.
Frustrated Romans were quickly losing desire to protect the empire. The empire was eventually forced to raise taxes so that they can have an army which could defend it from the external aggression. This led to serious financial problems which brought the empire down into its knees as the people were revolting and the external forces were closing in. (Ferill, A 1986)
For several years the roman army has held the German barbarians away from penetrating their territory but at this time they were too weak such that they were overrun by foreign forces. They left the border open where the German hunters and herders began to take over the roman islands. In the year 476 AD the German general overthrew the Roman emperor and took over the western part of Rome. This was the final blow of the Empire as the foreigners were in control of the cities.
The cities security deteriorated as the bandits and pirates took over making it hard for any economic activity to be undertaken in the region. Since cities could not be maintained without supplies Rome was no more marking its total fall. The fall of Rome marked the end of an empire that had been so influential. The empire fell due to poor leadership and corruption which allowed the decay and the problems that faced the people to increase. The fall was gradual starting with the lack of a proper system through which succession could be handled. This gave rise to the corruption and other vices which saw the empire gradually declining up to the point where it could not handle the external forces marking its total collapse.
Gibbon, E The Decline and the fall of the Roman Empire, New York Harcourt Brace and co. (1960)
Pelikan, J The excellent Empire; The fall of Rome and the Triumph of the Church, San Francisco, Harper and Row (1987)
Heather, P The fall of the Roman Empire, New York, Oxford University Press (2007)
Perkins, B The fall of Rome: And the end of the Civilization, Oxford University Press (2005)
Lafferty, R The fall of Rome, New York, Doubleday (1971)
Ferill, A The fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, London, Thames and Hudson (1986)