The Fall of Rome
The Fall of the Roman Empire
Decline: Most of the historians believe that Roman Empire ceased to exist as an entity when Germanic leader Odoacer defeated the last Roam Emperor Romulus Augustus in 476 AD to become the first King of Italy. However, some historians believe that Roman Empire did not fall in 476 AD, as the Eastern Roman Empire continued to exist for another 1000 years after that. The term ‘Fall of Roman Empire’ usually refers to the fall of Western Roman Empire. Roman Empire was, for almost 500 years, world’s greatest superpower. Its eventual demise is attributed to a number of different reasons.
Menace of Barbaric Tribes: Rome countered military adventures of barbaric tribes like Goths, Vandals and Germans for many years and kept them under check. However, towards the last years of the empire military defeats against these tribes weakened the empire. These tribes slowly and gradually increased their spheres of influence inside Roman territory and in 410 AD, Goths under the command of King Alaric, ransacked the city of Rome. It was eventually a Germanic military leader, Odoacer, who defeated the last western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus in 476 AD and became the King of Italy.
Dwindling Slave Trade: Roman society depended greatly on the slaves. These men and women not only served their masters in their homes, but also worked in the fields, mines and mills of the empire. Roman military was the largest source of acquiring these slaves and after every military victory; thousands of slaves were brought to the empire and sold off.
As the expansion of Roman Empire ceased and Roman military stopped wining conflicts against now stronger than ever foes, this supply of slaves dried up. This adversely affected the economy of Rome which was hugely dependent on slave force. This served as a crippling blow to the economy of Rome which was rocked by sharp decrease in agricultural and industrial production.
Division of Empire: Roman Emperor Diocletian divided the empire in eastern and western part in 285 AD. The step was taken to make the administration easier. It however, created rift between the two parts and they frequently quarreled over resources, territories and military aid. Eastern part was farther from troublesome Barbaric tribes and consequentially thrived under peaceful circumstances. It grew more stable and economically sound. These internal problems weakened the empire, particularly the restive western part.
Weakened Roman Military: Roman military was once famous for its discipline and efficacy in combat. Roman Empire owed its greatness to its legions that fought numerous wars and won them to expand the empire across Europe, Asia and North Africa. However, as the empire expanded, so did the demand for recruiting more soldiers.
This demand could not be met by recruiting Roman citizens only. Roman commanders had to recruit non-Romans like Gauls, Goths, Thracians and Germans. These non Roman soldiers did not have any solid commitment with the empire and they often defied their superiors in battle. Their actions eroded the discipline of legions and their ability to win wars which contributed to the fall of empire.
Rise of Christianity: The adoption of Christianity as the state religion in late 4th century AD, adversely affected the values on which Roman Empire stood. The ancient Roman religion viewed emperor as having a divine stature. Christianity ended this and ended the obsession of people with state and empire.
Political Instability: Frequent internal conflicts and political instability weakened the empire from within. The wars of succession pushed the empire into crisis. This instability gave enemies of the empire a chance to pursue their agenda and make territorial gains.