The Byzantine Empire, sometimes known as the Eastern Roman Empire, was the predominantly Greek-speaking continuation of the eastern half of the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Its capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), originally founded as Byzantium. It survived the 5th century fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Both “Byzantine Empire” and “Eastern Roman Empire” are historiographical terms created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire as the Roman Empire.
Several events from the 4th to 6th centuries mark the transitional period during which the Roman Empire’s east and west divided. In 285, the emperor Diocletian (r. 284–305) partitioned the Roman Empire’s administration into eastern and western halves. The borders of the Empire evolved significantly over its existence, as it went through several cycles of decline and recovery. During the reign of Justinian I (r. 527–565), the Empire reached its greatest extent after reconquering much of the historically Roman western Mediterranean coast, including north Africa, Italy, and Rome itself, which it held for two more centuries. During the reign of Maurice (r. 582–602), the Empire’s eastern frontier was expanded and the north stabilized. However, his assassination caused a two-decade-long war with Sassanid Persia which exhausted the Empire’s resources and contributed to major territorial losses during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. In a matter of years the Empire lost its richest provinces, Egypt and Syria, to the Arabs.
The final centuries of the Empire exhibited a general trend of decline. It struggled to recover during the 12th century, but was delivered a mortal blow during the Fourth Crusade, when Constantinople was sacked and the Empire dissolved and divided into competing Byzantine Greek and Latin realms. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople and re-establishment of the Empire in 1261, Byzantium remained only one of several small rival states in the area for the final two centuries of its existence. Its remaining territories were progressively annexed by the Ottomans over the 15th century. The Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 finally ended the Empire.
The Major Causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire
Antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor
Decline in Morals
Political Corruption and the Praetorian Guard
Fast expansion of the Empire
Constant Wars and Heavy Military Spending
Barbarian Knowledge of Roman Military Tactics
Unemployment of the Working Classes (The Plebs)
The ‘Mob’ and the cost of the ‘Games’
Decline in Ethics and Values
The Antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor. The Roman Emperor had the legal power to rule Rome’s religious, civil and military affairs with the Senate acting as an advisory body. The emperor had power over life and death. The powerful, spoilt, wealthy Roman Emperors inevitably became corrupt and many lived a debauched, deluded and immoral lifestyle. The Roman Empire saw many examples of antagonism between the Senators and the Emperors. Either the Senators didn’t like the Emperor or the Emperors was at odds with the Senators.
One of the main causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire was the Decline in Morals. The decline in morals, especially in the rich upper classes, nobility and the emperors, had a devastating impact on the Romans. Immoral and promiscuous sexual behavior including adultery and orgies. Emperors such as Tiberius kept groups of young boys for his pleasure, incest by Nero who also had a male slave castrated so he could take him as his wife; Elagabalus who forced a Vestal Virgin into marriage, Commodus with his harems of concubines enraged Romans by sitting in the theatre or at the games dressed in a woman’s garments.
The decline in morals also affected the lower classes and slaves. Religious festivals such as Saturnalia and Bacchanalia where sacrifices, ribald songs, lewd acts and sexual promiscuity were practiced. Bestiality and other lewd and sexually explicit acts were exhibited in the Colosseum arena to amuse the mob. Brothels and forced prostitution flourished. Widespread gambling on the chariot races and gladiatorial combats. Massive consumption of alcohol. The sadistic cruelty towards both man and beasts in the arena.
One of the main causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire was the Political Corruption and the Praetorian Guard. The power of the Praetorian Guard, the elite soldiers who made up the bodyguard of the emperor, led to political corruption and grew to such an extent that this massive group of soldiers decided on whether an emperor should be disposed of and who should become the new emperor! The story of Sejanus, who was the commander of the Praetorian Guard during the reign of Tiberius, illustrates the extent of the power of the Praetorians. At one point the Praetorian Guard sold at auction the throne of the world to the highest bidder.
Another cause, was the Fast expansion of the Empire. The rapid growth in the lands conquered by the Empire led to the need to defend the borders and territories of Rome. The people of the conquered lands, most of whom were referred to as Barbarians, hated the Romans. Taxes on the non-Romans were high and constantly increased. Frequent rebellions arose.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the Constant Wars and Heavy Military Spending. Constant warfare required heavy military spending. The Roman army became over-stretched and needed more and more soldiers. The barbarians, who had been conquered, and other foreign mercenaries were allowed to join the Roman army.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the Barbarian Knowledge of Roman Military Tactics. The knowledge that the Barbarians gained of Roman style of warfare and military tactics by serving in the Roman army were eventually turned against the Empire and led to the sack of Rome by the Visigoths led by an ex-army soldier, Alaric.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the Failing Economy and high inflation. The Government was constantly threatened by bankruptcy due to the cost of defending the Empire, the failing economics, heavy taxation and high inflation was another cause for the fall of the Roman Empire. The majority of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire failed to share in the incredible prosperity of Rome. The amount of gold sent to the orient to pay for luxury goods led to a shortage of gold to make Roman coins. Roman currency was devalued to such an extent that a system of bartering returned to one of the greatest civilizations the world had ever known.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the Unemployment of the Working Classes. Cheap slave labor resulted in the unemployment of the Plebs in Rome who became dependent on hand-outs from the state. The Romans attempted a policy of unrestricted trade but this led to the Plebs being unable to compete with foreign trade. The government was therefore forced to subsidize the working class Romans to make up the differences in prices. This resulted in thousands of Romans choosing just to live on the subsides sacrificing their standard of living with an idle life of ease. The massive divide between the rich Romans and the poor Romans increased still further.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the ‘Mob’ and the cost of the Gladiatorial Games. If the thousands of unemployed Romans became bored this led to civil unrest and rioting in the streets. The ‘Mob’ needed to be amused – spectacular gladiatorial games had to be provided. The cost of the gladiatorial games was born by the Emperors, and therefore the state, and corrupt politicians who sponsored the games to curry favor and support with the ‘Mob’. The cost of the gladiatorial games eventually came to one third of the total income of the Roman Empire.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the Decline in Ethics and Values. Life became cheap – bloodshed led to more bloodshed and extreme cruelty. The values, the ideals, customs, traditions and institutions, of the Romans declined. The basic principles, standards and judgments about what was valuable or important in life declined. The total disregard for human and animal life resulted in a lack of ethics – a perverted view of what was right and wrong, good and bad, desirable and undesirable. Any conformity to acceptable rules or standards of human behavior was being lost.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was the Slave Labor. The number of slaves increased dramatically during the first 2 centuries of the Roman Empire. The Roman’s dependency on slave labor led not only to the decline in morals, values and ethics but also to the stagnation of any new technology to produce goods more efficiently.
Romans could rely on the slave manpower for all their needs but this reliance inhibited technological change and growth. The treatment of slaves led to rebellion and several Servile (Slave) Wars, the most famous being the revolt led by the gladiator slave, Spartacus. In the later centuries of the Empire and the advent of Christianity the attitudes towards slaves changed. With manumission (the act of freeing a slave) the number of slaves declined together with the manpower that Rome was dependent upon.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire were the Natural Disasters. During the time of the Roman Empire there were not only foreign wars, civil wars, street fights, fires and revolts there were also natural disasters such as plagues, famines and earthquakes. As in all periods and societies the people looked for someone to blame and different religions to turn to.
One of the main causes for the fall of the Roman Empire was Christianity. Life and the future seemed hopeless for the millions of people who were ruled by Rome where an early death was almost inevitable. Christianity taught the belief in an afterlife which gave hope and courage to the desperate. Eventually the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, proclaimed himself a Christian and issued an edict promising the Christians his favor and protection. Attitudes in the Roman Empire changed from being antagonistic to becoming calm.
In conclusion the last of the causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire was the Barbarian Invasion. Rome had fierce foreign enemies. There were great Barbarian armies consisting of warriors such as the Visigoths, Huns and the Vandals. The final death blow to the Roman Empire was inflicted by these Barbarians. The city of Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and by the Vandals in 455 signaling the disintegration of Roman authority and the fall of the Roman Empire.
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