Causes of the “Fall of The Roman Empire” in the West

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Introduction

A multitude of factors ranging from various political, religious and economic factors contributed to the tumble or fall of the Roman Empire in the West which for years was seen as a powerful force that conquered many neighboring countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Iraq. The Western Roman Empire declined and fell in 476 C.E. The main cause of the decline is attributed to the spread of Christianity in the empire which contaminated the traditional practices and way of life of the people. Christianity contradicted the way of life and religious practices of many Romans which surrounded the worship of many Gods[1]. The causes of the fall of the Western Roman Empire occurred on a process that saw the empire lose its strengths and political control and failing to uphold rules and the vast territory started to split into several successor polities. The research paper will delve into the main causes of the fall of the Roman Empire in the west and the explanation of these factors. “The key factors discussed in this research paper include spread of Christianity, attacks by the barbarian tribes, economic difficulties, overreliance on slave labor, the growth of the Eastern Empire, overexpansion and military overspending, government corruption and political instability, making the regions of the romans weak  as well as the arrival of the Huns, and migration of the barbarian tribes.”

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The attacks by the Barbarian Tribes

First, one of the main causes of the fall of the western Roman Empire is the attack of the empire by barbarian tribes which eventually made the military forces of the Empire weak and that led to strings of military losses. According to theories of Western Rome’s collapse, the Germanic tribes were the fearful barbarian tribes that attacked the empire for many years and other tribes such as Goths imposed beyond the Empire’s boundaries. Even though the Western Roman Empire managed to survive the rising of the Germanic in the later 4th century, the ruling of Visigoth King Alaric proved difficult, and the king managed to sack the city of Rome in 410.            

Moreover, Rome kept on suffering under the leadership of King Alaric and lived under steady dangers and attacked again in the year 455 by the Vandals which led to the collapsed in 476 under the Germanic leader Odoacer. Attack by Germanic barbaric tribe was a significant reason for the fall of the Western Roman Empire since its defense collapsed and the empire could not protect its people or enact control of political power and rule of the empire. The attack by the Huns who used bizarre tactics to encroach the Western Roman Empire borders leading to the Battle of Adrianople in 378 C.E.[2] The invasions weaken the military power of the Western Empire and led to the collapse of the empire slowly until finally being defeated in 476 A.D.

Emergence and Spread of Christianity

Another major cause of the fall of the Roman Empire in the west is the emergence and spread of Christianity that diluted the traditional cultural and religious practices of the Romans. According to historian Edward Gibbon, the spread of Christianity is to blame for the fall of the Western Roman Empire since Christian values changed the outlook of the Roman citizen and created a conflict between the religious practice done by Christian and the traditional practices[3]. Christian concepts such as life and death contradicted with the martial Roman spirit splitting the citizens and ultimately played a key role to the fall of the mighty Rome. Furthermore, the loss of traditional values of Romans affected their leadership practices and religious activities since Christianity eradicated the pantheism Roman religion that believed in many gods and perceived the emperor having divine status[4]. Christianity introduced the sole deity and many popes and church leaders took more active roles in leadership and political affairs affecting the governance of the Western Roman Empire leading to its demise. 

The conversion of Constantine into Christianity made governance of the Western Roman Empire very complex even though it helped in conquering the Germanic tribes that had invaded the Empire for centuries. The beginning of the end of the Western Empire was marked by the recognition of Christianity in the 300s A.D.[5] which led to the loss of traditional Roman traditions and division of people. Christianity also affected the social classes of people in Rome since the poor people accepted the religion while the rich remained conservative and valued hierarchical state religion. Even though Christianity was not a strong cause to pin the fall of the Western Roman Empire to, yet it contributed to the weakening and division of the empire and undermine the faith as well as the traditional values of Romans.

Overexpansion and Military Overspending

In addition, another reason for the fall of the Roman Empire in the West is the quick development of the empire from the Atlantic Ocean right to the Euphrates River in the Middle East. The over-expansion of the Western Empire incited military overspending in an attempt to increase security on the vast land and all land which failed. The massive expansion proved it hard to manage the territory which led to the empire facing managerial challenges and that contributed to the downfall of the empire until its fell. In spite of the empire's perfect foundation, infrastructure and road network, the Romans were not able to be intouch with each other well enough to accomplish all operations and holdings of the empire with constant because of the invasion by the barbaric tribes from all boarders. Border security deteriorated and the military kept losing battels to Germanic tribes which contributed to the breakdown of the Mighty Empire.

Emperor Hadrian was made to build a fence to prevent the barbaric tribes out of the empire, however, more funds and support was needed to gather troops and capital to guard its borders from all enemies and this proved hard to keep the empire intact. The lack of funding due to military overspending led to slow growth in technological advancement, Rome’s civil infrastructure which combines to cause the once mightily Western Roman Empire to fall.

Government Corruption and Political Instability

 Another major cause of the fall of the empire in the west is government dishonesty and the political instability of the empire. The rapid expansion of the empire made it difficult for the empire to manage the resources and govern the people into growth and development amid all the invasion and defeat of the military[6]. The poor governance by the emperor saw a decline in the economy and ineffectiveness in the management of resources and inconsistency in leadership.

Moreover, the role and responsibilities of the emperors was a risky job during the ancient times as by the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it was a deadly since many Germanic tribes invaded the empire and disrupted the governance and control of the empire. In about 75 years, 20 men seized the throne of the Western Roman Empire and the civic war contributed hugely to the decline of the empire’s growth, power and ability to rise through the chaos, violence and invasion attacks from barbaric tribes and ended up being murdered. Moreover, the Praetorian Guard murdered and crowned a new sovereign at will, which affected the consistency of leadership plans and implementation of policies that would help maintain the empire and its control.

 The loss of good leaders to war and murder also led to the fall of the mighty Rome in the west, as well as the installation of poor leaders through actioning saw a decline in policies and governance that was needed during that tuff times. The widespread corruption by the Praetorian Guard and Roman Senate saw misappropriation of the empire’s resources and money creating incompetence and poor leadership[7]. The corruption scandals led to many citizens losing trust in the leadership of the emperors which only increase the decline of the empire from once a powerful one that conquered neighboring countries and expanded rapidly[8]. The bureaucratic structure of the Western Roman Empire created barriers to growth and the corruption in case of the evil guard who received bribes to murder current emperors and give the position to the highest bidder. The lack of leadership consistency and incompetence of the newly appointed leaders leading to chaos and poor governance.

Economic Troubles and Financial Issues

As the Western Roman Empire expanded and conquered neighboring countries it began facing serious economic and financial difficulties that halted its progress and development and finally caused its fall in 476. Under the leadership of Augustus, the Wester Roman Empire conquered the northern Iberian Peninsula to settle their growing debts due to expansion and military overspending to defend themselves from the constant attacks and invasions by barbaric tribes. The empire instituted oppressive taxation to the citizens in an attempt to get funds to repay the debts and this affects the growth of the economy and many wealthy individuals and aristocrats fled to the countryside in an attempt to avoid paying oppressive taxes. 

The establishment of agrarian communities and using slave labor affected the progress and economy of the empire which had many poor people and only a handful of wealthy merchants. The use of land to pay off taxes led to the decline of land which affected labor creating a huge gap amongst the wealthy and the poor in the empire. Several Roman citizens fled the nations and migrated to Germanic tribes like the Goths which increased the power of the invasions and attack on the empire and growth of the Eastern Roman Empire simultaneously. Moreover, the severe financial crisis resulting from military overspending and expansion led to the crumble of the empire from inside leading to oppressive taxation and inflation widening the gap between the wealthy and the poor[9]. The economy of Rome suffered from labor deficit and dependent on slave labor to manage the economy which contributed to poor economy as well as more financial troubles. 

 The halt in expansion and conquering of other nations in the 2nd century reduced the produce and delivery of slaves and other war assets that helped the economy of the empire at the time. In the fifth century, the Vandals claimed North Africa and began creating problems for the Western Roman Empire by disrupting trades and prowling the Mediterranean as pirates[10]. The economy started nosediving and the empire decline in terms of agricultural production and commercial activities losing its grip on Europe and North Africa. Furthermore, the decline in agricultural production took a toll on the Western Roman Empire since there were shortages of food supply and prices of food increased. Agriculture was the backbone of the empire since it was their main source of food and they ended up trading up to land and another important thing to the Eastern empire and tended to buy expensive things that affected their economy and financial stability.

The Rise of the Eastern Empire

 In addition, another cause for the fall of the Western Roman Empire is the rise and growth of the Eastern Empire which dethroned the empire in Europe and African trade and economy. During the later third century, Emperor Diocletian isolated the Empire into equal parts, the Eastern Empire situated in Byzantium was effective in maintaining its leadership and governance while the Western Empire struggled against outside attacks, financial and economic crises that led to its collapse. The Easter acquired many trades and bought land from the Western Empire and they grow rapidly and acquiring the majority of trade in Europe. 

 Moreover, most of the Latin speaking West dropped into monetary crisis while the affluent Greek-speaking Eastern Empire developed and become richer. Over the centuries the two-empire competed with one another over assets, and military support which created a rivalry and enmity which also contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire in the west. The strength and success of the Eastern Empire drive the barbaric tribes to attack the Western Empire and their better governance and military power kept their empire safe and more harm went to the west. Eastern Empire Emperors such as Constantine guaranteed the city of Constantinople was well protected and its boarders safeguarded from any external attacks[11]. The Western Empire's political structure, religious issues, and financial crisis led to its fall in the 5th century while the East maintained its governance until its defeat by the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s.

Arrival of the Huns and the Migration of the Barbarian Tribes

The fall of the Western Roman Empire is basically due to the assaults and the arrival of the Huns and the movement of the barbarian tribes in the later fourth century had an impact in the breakdown. The Huns attacked Europe in the later fourth century and in the process drove numerous Germanic tribes closer to the Roman Empire which encouraged their assaults and intrusion of the Western Roman Empire. The Visigoth tribe which was allowed by the Romans to cross south of the Danube were treated with hostility and they attacked the West. The extreme cruelty exalted on the Goths led to the Battle of Adrianople and later Goth King Alaric sacked Rome which allowed other barbarian tribes to take over Britain, Spain and North Africa.14 The fall of the Roman Empire in the West stems from the constant attacks and invasion by the Goths and Vandals that weakened their borders and take away trades in Europe and North Africa.

Furthermore, another cause of the Roman Empire fall in the West is lead poisoning. Majority of the Romans use drinking vessels that were coated with lead and go a lot of their water from the channels through lead pipes. After the financial crisis and economic problems, the Western Empire decline in agricultural production and the empire traded most of its assets to the Eastern to settle debts and buy food[12]. The lack of finance to repair and maintain water sources and vessels lead to the accumulation of poisonous lead that killed many poor Romans. The basic foods of many Romans comprise of beverages that they sipped on lead vessels and lead kettles which contributed to lead poisoning near the later fourth century[13]. Diseases and health issues affected the empire and combined with other political and religious factors, the empire fall in 476 A.D and never made a comeback in Europe and North Africa.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the causes of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west are many including political reasons, religious, financial and external attacks from barbarian tribes. Thcombination of all factors played a key role to the untimely crumpling of the Roman Empire in the west which was once a powerful nation in the ancient world. The continuous expansion through the conquering of neighboring countries led to poor governance and an increased military budget that bankrupted the empire. A decentralized administration crippled with incompetence’s and inconsistencies such as corruption and bribery scandals affected the political governance of the empire making it face more attacks and challenges. The overwhelming debts cause the need for increased exploitive taxes causing many wealthy people to migrate and poor people fleeing the nation and joining the Huns that facilitated the attack and invasion later in the century. Barbaric tribes such as Germanic were a big threat to the success of the empire and the emergence and spread of Christianity eroded the traditional principles and religion of the citizen of rome making them split and alienate more. The fall of the Roman Empire in the West was not because of a single reason but a plethora of many external and internal factors.

Bibliography

Cannon, William Ragsdale. History of Christianity in the Middle Ages: from the fall of Rome to the fall of Constantinople. Abingdon Press, 1960.

Gibbon, Edward. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. F. Westly and AH Davis, 1836.

Gilfillan, Seabury Colum. "Lead poisoning and the fall of Rome." Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 7, no. 2 (1965): 53-60.

Grant, Michael, and Micheal Grant. The fall of the Roman Empire. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990.

Hands, A. R. "The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West: A Case of Suicide or Force Majeure?" Greece & Rome 10, no. 2 (1963): 153-168.

Jones, Arnold Hugh Martin. The later Roman Empire, 284-602: a social economic and administrative survey. Vol. 2. Taylor & Francis, 1986.

Lewis, Naphtali, and Meyer Reinhold, eds. Roman Civilization: selected readings. Vol.1 Columbia University Press, 1990. p40-45.

Andrews, Evan. “8 Reasons Why Rome Fell.” History.com. A&E Television Networks,        

January 14, 2014. https://www.history.com/news/8-reasons-why-rome-fell.  p.1

History.com Editors. “Byzantine Empire.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, August 24, 2010. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-middle-east/byzantine-empire.  p.1


[1] Gibbon, Edward. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. F. Westly and AH  Davis, 1836. p.39-45

2Andrews, Evan. “8 Reasons Why Rome Fell.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, January 14, 2014. p.1

2Gibbon, Edward. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. F. Westly and AH  Davis, 1836. Vol. 2 p26-37

[3] Cannon, William Ragsdale. History of Christianity in the Middle Ages: from the fall of Rome  to the fall of Constantinople. Abingdon Press, 1960. p. 231-247

[4] Cannon, William Ragsdale. History of Christianity in the Middle Ages: from the fall of Rome  to the fall of Constantinople. Abingdon Press, 1960. p.231-247

[5] Cannon, William Ragsdale. History of Christianity in the Middle Ages: from the fall of Rome  to the fall of Constantinople. Abingdon Press, 1960. p. 231-247

6 Grant, Michael, and Micheal Grant. The fall of the Roman Empire. Weidenfeld and Nicolson,  1990. p. 230-231

[7] Lewis, Naphtali, and Meyer Reinhold, eds. Roman Civilization: selected readings

             Columbia University Press, 1990. Vol. 1 p40-45.

[8] Grant, Michael, and Micheal Grant. The fall of the Roman Empire. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990. p.285

[9] Lewis, Naphtali, and Meyer Reinhold, eds. Roman Civilization: selected readings.  

           Columbia University Press, 1990.  p.237

[10] Gibbon, Edward. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. F. Westly and AH  Davis, 1836. p.50-67

[11] Grant, Michael, and Micheal Grant. The fall of the Roman Empire. Weidenfeld and Nicolson,               1990. p.16-19

15History.com Editors. “Byzantine Empire.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, August 24, 2010. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-middle-east/byzantine-empire.  p.1

[12] Gibbon, Edward. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. F. Westly and AH  Davis, 1836. p.70-98

[13] Gibbon, Edward. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. F. Westly and AH  Davis, 1836. p. 124-144

14Heather, Perter. “The Huns and the End of the Roman Empire in Western Europe.” The English Historical Review CX, no. 435 (1995): 4–41.

 

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