Fall of the Roman Empire

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1 Fall of the Roman Empire Fall of the Roman Empire The fall of the Roman Empire has been romanticized in history for the last 1500 years In our imagination it was a single event: The barbarians sacked Rome Civilization collapsed bringing an end to the Classical Era The Dark Ages began and would last for 1000 years In reality, Rome began a steady decline dating back to the end of the 2nd century CE The decline increased rapidly by the 5th century but only in the western half of the Empire When the barbarians finally defeated the (Western) Roman Empire it was simply the final blow to a structure rotten to its core The fall of the Roman Empire can be attributed to a number of factors including: 1. The Split of the Empire into West and East 2. Government corruption and political instability 3. Economic problems and overreliance on slavery 4. Overexpansion and military expenditures 5. Weakening of the Roman Legions 6. Christianity and the loss of traditional values 7. The migration and invasion of barbarian peoples Splitting the Empire 293 CE Emperor Diocletian split the Empire into East and West After a series of civil wars in the 3rd century in which Diocletian emerged victorious, he believed this divide was necessary to maintain order This divided created a huge disadvantage for the West as the wealth of the Roman Empire lay in the east Trade with other wealthy civilizations such as Persia, India, and China would flow into the Eastern Roman Empire but not the West Though Emperors would later attempt and sometimes succeed in ruling both halves (i.e. Constantine the Great) the Empire would effectively remain divided Government Corruption and Political Instability Romans never created an effective system for choosing a new emperor Political favors would be given out by the new emperor to those who had given him the title 1

2 Civil wars were endemic in the 3 rd and 4 th centuries between competing emperors further weakening the Empire The Praetorian Guard (Emperor s personal body guard) would play a major role in selecting the emperors 193 CE the Praetorian guard strangled the emperor and installed a new one Over the next century Rome had 37 emperors 25 of whom were assassinated The Praetorian Guard even sold the throne to the highest bidder on occasion Economic Problems Inflation Once Rome stopped conquering new lands, the flow of gold into the Roman economy decreased Gold was being spent for and used in luxury goods less gold to use in coins The amount of gold per coin decreased the coins became less valuable Unemployment For centuries, the wealthy used slaves on large farming estates called latifundia Regular Roman farmers could not compete with prices and lost or sold their farms They flooded Rome and poverty, along with crime, skyrocketed Slavery Rome s economy was based on slave labor to till the fields, build the infrastructure, and mine resources such as iron, silver, and gold When the Empire stopped expanding there was no longer a fresh influx of conquered peoples to enslave Overexpansion and Military Expenditure Rome expanded rapidly in the first and second centuries CE stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf Incredibly difficult to administer and defend Rome struggled to maintain enough troops and resources to quell local rebellions and defend against outside attacks The 4 th and 5 th centuries saw new peoples from outside the Empire invading and migrating into the Roman world Military spending increased leaving little for public works such as road, bridge, and aqueduct repair Weakening of the Roman Army Rome owed its power to its military and the Roman legionnaire who was the heart and soul of that military machine The Roman soldier was a citizen who had a stake in defending and expanding the Empire As the Empire became increasingly corrupt with the rich getting richer there were not enough regular Roman citizens to fill the army Foreign mercenaries were needed to help defend the Empire unprofessional, unreliable, and very expensive By the 5 th century the Roman army was a shadow of its former glory and incapable of defending against the invading and migrating barbarians 2

3 Christianity 313 CE the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity 380 CE Christianity became the state religion Christianity displaced the polytheistic Roman religion which viewed the emperor as having divine status Shifted focus away from the glory of the state and onto a sole deity Bishops and other church leaders took an increased role in political affairs, further complicating governance Christianity as a contributing factor to the fall of Rome remains controversial Some historians see the new religion as fundamentally changing the cultural fabric of Rome War, strength, conquest (Mars) replaced with Love, forgiveness, charity (Christ) Others argue Christianity's influence pales in comparison to other factors such as military, economic, and administrative Barbarian Invasions Barbarian a term used to describe anyone or any group that was not Greco- Roman Beginning in the 4 th century and increasing in the 5 th century, many Germanic groups began migrating into Roman territories There are a number of possibilities for this migration including climate change, population increases, and migrations/invasions of other groups further east such as the Huns The Roman military was incapable of stopping this movement of people At times, Rome would hire some of these groups to defend against other groups Rome could have strengthened itself by incorporating these peoples into the Empire Instead, Roman xenophobia and cruelty kept these new peoples oppressed forcing them to fight Three barbarian generals would play major roles in the fall of the Western Roman Empire Alaric the Goth Attila the Hun Odoacer I The Goths The Goths were a Germanic tribe whose origins are unclear Some accounts have them migrating from Scandinavia, others from north of the Black Sea It is believed they were the first Germanic tribe to convert to Christianity The Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote of them in 75 CE They were later defined by the Romans as Visigoths (Western Goths) and Ostrogoths (Eastern Goths) 378 CE - The Battle of Adrianople The Romans were defeated and Emperor Valens was killed by the Visigoths the Roman Army would never recover 3

4 Alaric I Alaric was a general and then king of the Visigoths from CE The Goths had moved into Roman lands from the east, pushed by other tribes They had fought for and against the Romans as they tried to find a new home within the borders of the Empire Many Goths would fight as soldiers in the Roman Army and some would settle in Roman towns and cities The majority of the Goths remained with Alaric in makeshift villages and camps constantly on the move but feeling safe amongst their own people Growing hatred and racism towards barbarians amongst Roman citizens led to two events that would provoke the Goths into action: The arrest and execution of the Roman General Stilicho who had promised land to Alaric in exchange for helping defend the Empire The massacre of tens of thousands of wives and children of the Goths serving in the Roman military by the Roman population 30,000 Gothic soldiers defected from the Roman military and joined Alaric Alaric would lay siege to Rome Did not intend to take it but instead wanted to force the Romans to keep their promise Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire as it was overcrowded and dirty the new capital was Ravenna The city was still an important symbol to the Roman people The Romans delayed and made more promises only to break them August 24, 410 CE Alaric entered Rome and the Goths would sack the city over three days Rome would never recover from the psychological damage The Goths It should have been different The Goths could have helped save Rome Alaric had not wanted to fight Rome, he had wanted his people to settle in and become part of the Empire Racism towards barbarians led to horrible suffering for the Goths Alaric forced Rome to its knees because he had no other option Historical accounts say that Alaric made sure the Goths treated the inhabitants of Rome humanely as they plundered Rome s treasures The Huns The Huns were a nomadic tribe whose origins and even appearance remain a mystery They were expert horsemen, seeming to be one with their steeds, rarely seen dismounted They are thought to be responsible for The Great Migration as various groups moved west into Roman territory to escape their brutality: Included Goths, Alans, Vandals 4

5 Attila the Hun Ruled the Huns from 434 until his death in 453 CE Before Attila s time the Huns had moved west from central Asia and entered Roman territory The Romans and the Germanic tribes were completely unprepared for the Hun style of warfare the mounted archer The Empire was forced to pay hundreds of pounds of gold a year to the Huns to stop them from destroying Roman towns and villages 451 CE - A combined Roman and Visigoth army would barely defeat Attila at Orleans in modern- day France 452 CE - Attila marched on Rome, devastating many Italian towns on the way According to legend Pope Leo went out to confront Attila and convinced the Hun to turn back with the fear of god In reality, Italy was suffering through a famine and there was little food to supply the Hunnic army Attila died at his wedding celebration the following year Odoacer Germanic general who lived from CE Odoacer and his army was the hired military might behind the last two Western Roman emperors 476 CE Deposed the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus (still a boy) and made himself king of the Italian Peninsula Roman power in the West was officially over and 476 is the traditional date given for the fall of the Western Roman Empire The Dark Ages The Western Empire would now be ruled and fought over by Germanic warlords Roads and bridges were left in disrepair, fields left untilled Cities could not be maintained without produce from farms, trade and business ceased People left the cities and returned to an agrarian lifestyle in the country The Dark Ages in Western Europe had begun The Byzantium Empire The Eastern Roman Empire would remain for another thousand years This Eastern Empire was not a world that Julius or Augustus Caesar would have recognized It was a Christian Empire almost from its beginning when Constantine I moved the Roman capital to Constantinople Heavy cultural influences from the Middle East along with Greek becoming the main language would make the Byzantium Empire a very un- Roman world Justinian The Great Eastern Roman Emperor CE Some historians consider him the last true Roman emperor Last emperor who spoke Latin as a first language 5

6 Attempted to resurrect the imperial power of the Roman Empire Would reconquer and briefly hold parts of the old Western Empire including Rome and Italy CE the Plague of Justinian would cripple the Byzantium Empire, devastate the army, and cut short Justinian s reconquest of the West All of the gains in the West would be lost after the death of Justinian Justinian The Great would be most famous for his law code the Code of Justinian which would lay the framework for laws that would influence the world for centuries 6

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