The Roman Empire is one of the most significant states mentioned in both European and world history. Noteworthy, one can trace the legacy of this country in many areas of modern life, from engineering to law. The empire’s dominance was maintained for several centuries, secured by the professional army. Surprisingly, such power did not save Rome on September 4, 476, when the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed (Petro 2021). Nonetheless, interest in this topic is still not fading and questions regarding the “fall of Rome” are the most discussed in scientific societies (Napier 2020). Anyway, the fall of Rome was considered a turning point in the history of Europe, like the Collapse of the Bronze Age, the Renaissance, or the Era of Great Geographical Discoveries. A critical assessment of the “fall of the Roman Empire” and an explanation of the causes of the phenomenon are essential aspects of this paper. The “fall” of Rome is one of the most ambitious events in world history, the reasons for which are multifaceted and diverse.
Argumentation: Causes of the Fall of Rome in 476 CE
The Main Causes of the Fall
The end of the fifth century, when the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist, was the end of the era of antiquity. Together with the empire of the Romans, an entire epoch with its values, ideals, and unique worldview has gone into the past. The ancient foundations have given way to medieval, essentially Christian principles. Thus, the destruction process was facilitated by the invasion of barbarians and a combination of internal and external difficulties. In the II century, there was a noticeable difference between the Eastern aristocracy, whose representatives returned to the noble ancient Greek families, and the Western nobility. In the future, cultural, historical, and political differences will lead to the division of a single state into the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. There was no unity among the Roman citizens and the ruling elite, as evidenced by a whole series of civil wars during the III-V centuries.
However, Barbarian raids are one of the alleged leading causes of destruction of the Western Roman Empire. The transfer of the capital to Constantinople served as an impetus for the development and growth of the eastern part of the empire but simultaneously caused the decline of its western half. The forces of the Western Empire were too weak to cope with the barbaric threats on their own (Gilfillan 1965). Hence, the tribes of the Suevi, Vandals, and others began to seize vast areas and establish their states. By the fifth century, the state had finally ceased to cope with the functions assigned to it. The Roman emperors were forced to make more and more concessions to the barbarians every year (Gilfillan 1965). The emperors could neither stop the chaos within their state nor end the constant raids of barbarians.
In addition, in the IV century, the empire began the decomposition of the slave-owning system, which led to the decline of cities, the return to subsistence farming, the destruction of economic ties between different regions, and the coarsening of crafts. The financial situation worsened, the population disappeared, and crops became less wealthy. The economy of the Roman Empire developed unevenly for a long time. The western regions were less economically developed than the eastern ones, where more significant labor, industrial and trade resources were concentrated, and thus, an unfavorable balance of trade was formed.
There were disruptions and disturbances in trade; finding clothes or seeds to plant was challenging. In general, the Roman Empire did not have the opportunity to dictate the conditions of the world economy but only accumulated a trade deficit due to conquests (Lushkov 2021). To maintain the state and its treasury, the emperors raised taxes, which caused peasants and artisans to go bankrupt en masse (Steel 2013). Thus, against inflation and tax growth, the inequality of citizens began to increase: the rich became more prosperous, and the poor became poorer. Accordingly, these circumstances led to uprisings and wars that lasted long.
Moreover, by the IV century, the image of the courageous Roman legionary had finally become a thing of the past. The Romans no longer adhered to patriotism; they lost all interest in the army service and went there only for money. Due to the lack of volunteers, barbarians began to be accepted into the army, resulting in a decline in military discipline. The progressive barbarization of the army more and more destroyed the contrast between those who defended the empire and those who attacked it. The reforms of the North additionally influenced the fact that the legion camps began to turn into settlements where ordinary, peaceful life flowed. Roman detachments lost their mobility, and soldiers lost their skill. The defense of the empire fell, and Rome became weak because the military stopped defending the country. Thus, Rome was invaded and received threats from the Northern European tribes.
Furthermore, over time, the Romans also lost their former religious and ideological ideals, which were the basis of Roman statehood. The ideas about the former heroes and gods seemed naive to educated people. The idea of a harmoniously developed man was lost, the polis religion and ideology, which embodied the real worldview of the ancient man, collapsed after the abolition of the republic and the establishment of the actual monarchy. Gradually, Christianity began to develop, the foundations of which radically differed from the ideals of ancient Roman mythology. Emperor Constantine proclaimed religious tolerance in 313, which meant the victory of the Christian Church and the final disintegration of the pagan worldview.
Nevertheless, the decay of Roman society began long before 476. Gradually, the economy, social spheres, and military power declined (Steel 2013). Many seemingly small reasons flowed in thin streams into a single stream, carrying the Roman Empire straight to the reefs of collapse. The bulk of the soldiers’ salaries was withheld, which caused them to lose motivation, and it was problematic to recruit new ones due to the demographic crisis. Due to the attacks of external enemies, inflation, and rebellions, the middle class gradually went bankrupt, which affected trade and urban production. Some residents, having lost the opportunity of honest earnings, united in robber gangs.
It was challenging for the state to survive the crisis of the III century, when soldiers’ emperors were constantly replaced on the throne, unable to strengthen the empire. In the III-IV centuries, people on the Roman throne thought on a state scale and were capable of serious reforms. Due to the emperors Diocletian and Constantine, Roman greatness was revived for a while. However, the process of destruction could no longer be stopped.
It is essential to highlight that a wide range of theoretical and scientific-practical historical studies give relatively ambivalent and contradictory results regarding the most important historical event. Therefore, based on this point of view, it seems extremely difficult to make an assumption about the reality of such a phenomenon as the “fall” of the Roman Empire. Many works are devoted to the history of this state, in which various versions of its “great fall” are expressed. If one puts them in one picture, it turns out that there was a rebirth instead of falling.
In this case, the student is inclined to believe that in the history of humankind, there was no “fall of the Roman Empire” due to political transformations and a change in the balance of power, which led to the final rise of the Eastern provinces over the western ones, which lasted from the fifth to the seventh centuries. Firstly, the deposition of the Western usurper emperor Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer was a legal action sanctioned by Constantinople because the legal emperor of the West, Julius Nepos, ruled in Dalmatia. Secondly, after the death of Julius Nepos, power over the West quite legally and legitimately had to pass to the ruler of the eastern provinces.
Summarizing the above information, one should emphasize that Rome’s “fall” was mainly caused by political, social, religious, and economic causes. The crisis hit the entire state; numerous problems within it and constant invasions from outside eventually led to its liquidation. The Roman Empire became weaker yearly due to financial instability, increasing societal inequality, the decline of the army, and the gradual abolition of previous foundations and religious ideas. Regardless, according to the student, the “fall” of the Roman Empire should be viewed slightly differently — the empire rather resurrected and acquired a new look.
Lushkov, Ayelet Haimson. 2021. “Holiday Supply Chain Issues of Ancient Rome.” JSTOR. Web.
Napier, Walter. 2020. “The Memory Remains: Why the Migration Period and the Fall of Rome Continue to be Mischaracterized as a Barbarian Invasion.” Masters Thesis, College of Arts and Humanities.
Petro, Bill. 2021. “History of the Fall of the Roman Empire.” Medium. Web.
Steel, Catherine. 2013. The End of the Roman Republic 146 to 44 BC: Conquest and Crisis. Scotland: Edinburgh University Press. Web.
Gilfillan, S.C. 1965. “Lead Poisoning and the Fall of Rome.” Journal of Occupational Medicine 7 (2): 53-60. Web.