Fall Of The Roman Empire


Fall Of The Roman Empire Essay, Research Paper

Towards the end of the second century

A.D., , the Roman empire began to weaken. ecological factors may have been

responsible. In some of the longest settled parts of the Mediterranean,

the number of settlements began to fall – maybe the land, was overused,and

had started to show it affects. The climate seems to have been gradually

getting worse. In the reign of Marcus Aurelius there could have been

plagues. But mostly, the weakness of Rome was the weakness of its political

system. The Roman citizen body was not what it used to be, a clearly identified

group with a direct interest in the res publica.

This change had begun before A.D.

200. Even before 100 B.C., the affects of constant warfare and the amazing

wealth it produced for a very few at the center of it had destroyed social

agreements among the Romans and the government. Military dictatorship

then under Caesar, 27 B.C.-A.D. 14

Only a tiny minority had a real political

role in the res publica as a whole. For a century or more after Augustus,

citizenship continued to be promoted, because it still, outside of Italy,

marked one off from one’s neighbors, and showed that one was a person of

importance. By the middle of the second century, so many people were citizens

that the privileges were gone.

Suddenly, the obligations of citizenship

were much more clear than the privileges. Since the opportunities for conquest

had fallen, those citizens ambitious for advancement or fearful of falling

into the unprivileged mass of the poor had to compete mainly with each

other for the shrinking profits of empire. Indicative of this situation

is the way the Roman citizenry was divided, at first informally and then

by law, into honestiores and humiliores, “more honorable” and “more humble”

citizens. Only the “more honorable” were treated by the imperial authorities

with the respect that had once been due all citizens. The “more humble”

could be beaten, tortured, and executed with little ado. The division reflected

the needs of imperial officials, who needed arbitrary powers to control

what they saw as an over-privileged population. But the process of dividing

the citizenry sharpened the struggle for places in the new elite. Such

competition, and the growing poverty of the government, led to another

great breakdown in orderly government after A.D. 196. Again, would-be military

dictators fought for supreme power. Between 235 and 297 the civil wars

were constant. The boundaries collapsed and Persian and barbarian armies

added to the problems of the empire’s subjects.

A blance of unity was restored only

by a long and destructive reconquest of the empire, first by Aurelian 270-275,

then by Diocletian and his colleagues 284-305. But the easy well being

of the second century did not return. In many areas, especially in the

west where cities were newer than in the east, urban life was damaged.

Following the wars, and in the changed natural conditions, the economy

of the empire, of the civilization as a whole, was not strong enough

to allow all the wrecked cities to be rebuilt. The passage of time would

show that the urban network built before and during the Roman expansion

was in a long slow decline.

More apperaent to contemporaries

was the damage sustained by Roman prestige. The rulers of the fourth century

devoted themselves to restoring the honor of the Roman name and the unity

that had once been based on it. But official efforts in this direction

were less effective in creating a new social solidarity than unofficial

ideologies that came boiling out of the cosmopolitan cities of the eastern


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