Rome was the perfect setting to start an empire. Three seas to the West, South, and East as well as the Alps mountain range to the North guarding Rome. Rome was the ideal homeland for a small empire to expand to great lengths. Natural resources and trade routes also helped Romes economy expand to great heights. Industry such as metal working, agriculture, and trade drove the economy. The origins of Rome originate back when Romulus first brought his people to Italy after the burning of Troy. Romulus quickly built a wall around the city for protection, while he defeated his partner Remus for control of the city.
Therefore, the city is named after Romulus (Rome). Rome quickly developed to great lengths with every defeat over other populations. Romes expansion started with the defeat of their Latin neighbors. Over time, they conquered southern Greek cities, the central mountains, and the Gauls. These territories started to become too many in number for the Romans to handle and slowly they lost control of their empire. Eventually they were taken over and what was once a great empire became virtually nothing. All the greatness that Rome once held, that was a representation of a higher standard, was lost in a short time.
Even Castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually- Jimi Hendrix. These words illustrate how every thing in history has an ending. What might have once been great, must always meet the ending history has in store. According to Walbank, men have repeatedly asked the questions What is the criterion by which we determine the point at which a society begins to decay? What is the yard-stick by which we are to measure progress? And what are the symptoms and causes of decadence? (4). All of these questions bring up valid points.
By what means does man determine when a certain civilization in history starts to deteriorate? And how can we measure progress or itemize the causes of a civilizations decline? There are several theories that attempt to answer these questions about history. According to Walmank, early Christians believed that history follows the apocalyptic plan of four world kingdoms or six world ages. Another theory claims that history develops in cycles, one part follows the next stage, basically stating that history is a wheel in motion (Walbank 4).
Originally introduced by Plato, many philosophers adapted this way of thinking during Romes height. They believed that they could predict the future of Rome and when Romes cycle was complete. Aristotle contradicted these beliefs when he said, the problem of decay in a society is that man is at the root of the problem (Walbank 5). Since mans future is unpredictable, you can not limit history to certain cycles of repetitions because possibilities for the future are endless. Anything could happen at any time that could completely change history. For the first time it is possible to closely examine ancient civilizations.
Historians can now see past the individual person to the life of a society as a whole. Using this new insight, we are able to study new paths that the literary forms did not present. We will continue to use the literary sources for personal details, but the new discoveries uncovered give the literary sources a new angle. Therefore, for the first time in history it is possible to study the time period of Romes decay in detail (Walbank 6). The corruption of Romes leaders is the linked to the empires economy and military decline, and eventually leads to the destruction of the empire.
Positions of power were passed on by birth and was only granted to a select few through family connections. The three major categories of leaders in the empire were the city officials, army commanders, and independent land owners. Slowly officials began demanding more and more respect and authority from the common man. The leaders crossed the boundary of fairness and began abusing the political system. One, symptom, characteristic of the break-up of the late Roman world, was the corruption that poised the whole body politic (Alfoldi 28). Many city officials took the Roman citizens for granted.
For example, upon arrival of an important statesman the citizens were forced to line the streets and embrace the governor. If a citizen wanted to meet with an official, he or she had to receive special permission. When special access was granted, the person must introduce himself or herself to the official by kissing his hand or robe. Emperors would also abuse the citizens by taxing them dry. The Emperor was richer by several magnitudes than his wealthiest subject. His way of life outshone everyone elses, and his domestic staff was much bigger even than that of the city-prefect with 400 slaves in his townhouse (Duncan-Jones 39).
Army commanders would also use the loyalty of the soldiers for their own personal advantage. They would often take control of newly conquered territories and exploit them for their own benefit. Senators would also acquire new territories by claiming that the empire was in debt to the statesman. And since the empire was ran by senators, they would help each other by covering or illegally aiding one another, therefore leading to the economic and social advancement of only a select few. Independent land owners were the most physically abusing of the three rulers.
Because the countryside was less observed by the cities population and therefore itself was less observant of the latters values, it permitted less civilized behavior (MacMullen 84). Although the three rulers had separate intentions, they all ruled their territories through favors and fear. Gifts to the ruler were often expected instead of surprising. I saw a poor man in the course of being forced to pay what he could not pay, and dragged off to jail because some great mans table lacked wine, says Ambrose (MacMulen 86).
In addition to favors and fear, the rulers connections were just as important as money. Everywhere they went they would expect favors from others because of their name or kinship. At the capitol, many decisions were made about promotions to higher ranks for civil service and consulships. Every month the emperor had to grant over 25 different positions to recommended nominees. Even appointing these people to positions was rigged because recommendations for the candidates came from senators who owed those individuals a favor (MacMullen 101).
Fear of commanders ran through the blood of every Roman citizen. For example, according to MacMullen, in one of Ciceros earliest defenses he refers openly to bystanders present on the prosecutions side, men of the highest nobility and greatest power, whose numbers and attendance would thoroughly alarm anyone, litigant or not (89). This is an example of someone of a much lower rank, even though victim of rape, could hardly summon the courage to lodge a suit (MacMullen 89). The extreme wealth of these officials gave them a special quality that would raise them above the law.
Neither authorities, judges, governors, or even the emperor could control them. The fourth century was when troubles began arising that led to the loss of the empire. The economy was a major problem towards the end of the Republic because of the turmoil caused by civil war and the irresponsibility of senators that put money and ambition before their responsibilities to the people and state (Haywood 24). The problems originated back to the great landowners and the bureaucracy. Their greed and ambition had an everlasting effect on the republic.
They helped to sink the empire so low that it was nearly impossible to recover. Many farms were utterly abandoned, the land was concentrated in the hands of a comparatively few large proprietors. The tenants fell into chronic debt and were little better than slaves (Chambers 56). Economic problems persisted even when the rulers knew that something had to be done about the situation. The poor were continually taxed beyond payment, while the rich rarely had to pay taxes. The taxation on the poor became so heavy that it started to use up the financial resources of the taxpayers.
The corruptness of the provincial governors drained the financial strength of the government (Haywood 106). Agriculture was the main industry that helped the economy prosper. If agriculture production started to diminish so would the economy, therefore the empire. This was the situation in Rome that led to the decline. Agricultural production that was once high started to diminish at an alarming rate. One of the key factors that caused the rate of decline was the loss of man power. In order to produce bountiful crops you need a large number of people to work the farms.
According to Boak, The inevitable accompaniment of the population decline was naturally a corresponding decrease in the manpower available for agriculture, industry, and the public services, a condition which became more and more acute from the late third to the fifth century (25). Roman civilization was also dramatically hit by the plague from 167-177AD (Scarre 116). The epidemic had a long lasting and devastating effect on Rome that would last for years. Along with disease Rome had to deal with several military conflicts.
One of the most serious effects of individualism that accompanies the increase of civilization and wealth, is the decrease of the birth-rate (Ferrero 31). During the third century, the loss of life and the average lifespan was drastically reduced. Once a birth rate starts to decline it continues to increasingly descend. Therefore, if a slight decline was noticed in 235, because of the total population loss, by 284 the decline would be very obvious. The decline would continue until a countertrend was established in order to increase the thinning population (Boak 24).
Roman emperors did not take proper action to stop the declining events. Even if counteractions were taken, it was too late for the empire to stop the downward trend. The corruption of Romes leaders is also directly linked to the destruction of the military. The Romans were doing an excellent job at controlling their military, until corruption started rotting the militarys core. Ideally the soldier and the citizen should be one. The feeling of the soldier that he was not accepted by the state was a major problem, but during the second century Rome fixed the situation (Haywood 25).
The common man could now enlist in the Imperial army and were allowed to serve up to twenty years. Non-citizens could also receive Roman citizenship through this method. Military service was very important for Romanization. The soldier would learn foreign languages such as Latin, Punic, Celtic, or Illyrian. He would also learn discipline by any means necessary. The opportunity to participate in the Imperial army was a great service that was sought after by many. This willingness to recruit was a great strength of the Republic (Haywood 25).
Although recruitment was very high for several years, people began to loose pride and avoid the military. Previously stated, the large lands of agriculture required large numbers of men to work the fields. This is when the declining birth rate takes toll on the empire. Rome required food to eat, but they needed men to fight and work. Landowners would pay the government in order to have their workers exempt from military service. Toward the end of the period there was an official rate of exemption that was set at a high price because landowners were trying to exempt so many workers (Haywood 105).
Once again, the greedy landowners put themselves before the good of the state that led to the internal breakdown of the military. Without men to fight off invasions and to continue expanding, Rome would quickly felt the repercussions. Another internal problem that exemplifies the corruption of Roman officials was regulating the succession of the throne. For example, Constantine caused several riots and he killed many people to take control of the throne. His sons even murdered their relatives while seeking the throne (Haywood 108).
Usually when a Roman emperor would die there was not a set successor to his throne. Wars between families and killings would occur in order to succeed the dead emperor. During the decline of Rome, people were very ambitious and thought only of themselves. Succession to the throne was often granted to the man who was the strongest and fought their way into the throne. Another problem that stemmed from corruption was the growing division between the western and eastern parts of the empire. The brutal conquest of Eastern territories left those conquered with resentment towards the West.
There were also many different conditions that each side lived under such as, the East spoke primarily Greek while the West spoke Latin (Haywood 107). The division originated when Theodosius divided the empire in two and split the empire between his two sons. The decision to split up the empire would be an everlasting consequence. The division between the two became more intense and the West started to diminish. The West was being invaded by outside forces such as the Visigoths, Huns, Ostrogoths, Slavs, and the Bulgars. At the same time, the West still had to maintain proper reinforcement for the East.
Here the declining average lifespan and birth rate also burdened the West. The West were always few in numbers compared to their enemies (Katz 112). The military leaders of the West were also non efficient. Because of the decline in the number of men, the Western generals paid mercenaries and Germans to join the Army. The East were also short on men but they had a vast reservoir of money, government, and commerce to keep them stable. An unstoppable force at the time were the large numbered Germanic tribes that tried to enter Roman territory on several occasions. A Roman general named Stilicho, was blamed for the military fall of the West.
The East blamed Stilicho for allowing the barbarians to enter Italy. The legions of Rome, which had long since languished in the gradual decay of discipline and courage, were exterminated by the Gothic and civil wars; and it was found impossible without exhausting and exposing the provinces to assemble an army for the defense of Italy (Gibbon 560). Because of the heavy burden the West endured, the Romans decided to accept the Germanic tribes into Rome and incorporate them in their lives. After a short time, the Roman army had become vastly Germanized. Many Germans were officers in the Roman army.
The fact that landowners would not give up men to join the army was the main reason why Rome allowed so many Germans to join the military (Haywood 118). Along with Haywoods argument, Boak says that the lack of military spirit among the Romans that caused the emperors to depend to such a great extent upon barbarians (26). According to Haywood, It would have been entirely possible for the Romans to have gone on slowly absorbing Germans without letting the process get out of hand until a new situation was created in which in the West a combination of Roman and Romanized German strength was beyond any sort of attack from the outside.
Perhaps the army could have been restored to the old citizen system, as it was in the East (121). The Roman government charted their own destiny when they allowed Germans into the military. The Germans quickly began infiltrating the Imperial army from the inside and worked their way out. Even the manner of life throughout Rome slowly developed and changed into the German lifestyle. Upon arrival, the Germans allowed other civilizations and cultures to enter Rome. Government, military, and riches also began to change hands from the Romans to foreigners.
Slowly, the Roman way of life was suffocated till there was no sign of the once powerful Republic. And in the year 476 the Roman empire fell (Haywood 162). Corruption in all angles of Roman government were present. Instead of working together to continue preserving their civilization they took their power for granted. The feelings of greed and power overcame the Republics leaders and led them astray from responsibilities. The government could have led their people to more prosper times, but instead they followed their own ambitions. Roman civilization did not die a natural death. It was murdered (Kagan 91).