10 Causes of the Fall of the Roman Empire

There are more than 10 causes of the fall of the Roman Empire . In fact the reasons were multiple and all interconnected, according to experts.

The Roman Empire was maintained from 27 BC until 476 AD, with more than 500 years. During its most powerful time, the Roman territories extended in the lands of the west and south of Europe (next to the Mediterranean sea), Britania, Asia Minor and North Africa, where Egypt was included.

Fall of the Roman Empire, an artwork of Raphael

Massive land losses began in AD 376, with a large-scale invasion of Goths and barbarians. In 395, after winning two very destructive civil wars, the Emperor Theodosius died, leaving a major collapse in the army. In addition the territories that were still plagued of Goths, were in the hands of his two children who were not able to govern.

The invading barbarians had established their own power in most of the area of ​​the Western Empire, which never had the strength to rise again, despite its legitimacy held for centuries and its cultural legacy remains to this day.

It is interesting to note that in the period preceding the fall of the Roman Empire (known as Late Antiquity) the empire's cultural contribution was emphasized, through and even beyond its political fall. This was what marked the end of the Old Age and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Top 10 Most Important Causes of the Fall of the Roman Empire

1- Decline in values ​​and morals

Even during the Pax Romana (stable and relatively peaceful period), there were more than 30,000 prostitutes in Rome. Emperors such as Caligula and Nero are historically famous for their wasting money on luxurious parties, where guests ate and drank wine and spirits until they became ill.

The most famous popular entertainment during this era was to see gladiatorial battles of the Roman Coliseum.

2- Public health and diseases

In the Roman Empire there were many environmental and public health problems. Only those who were more wealthy had water that came to their houses through lead pipes. Previously to that, the aqueducts even purified the water, but finally it was thought that the pipes of lead were better.

Due to water poisoning, the death rate was very high among the citizens of higher status.

But lead poisoning not only caused death, but also infertility, loss of memory and a significant reduction of cognitive abilities, in addition to other symptoms that expanded in the Roman nobility. The ruling class became less intelligent, another of the causes of the fall of the Empire.

In addition to this, the continuous interaction of people with the coliseum, where contact with dead bodies and blood were frequent, spread a lot of diseases. The most affected were the people who lived in the streets, contagious of a great amount of diseases.

Also, the consumption of alcohol was important, which generated another significant problem of public health.

3- Poor technological development

Another factor that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire was that during the last 400 years of the empire, the scientific achievements of the Romans were limited to engineering and the organization of public services.

The Romans came to build wonderful roads, bridges and aqueducts, as well as establishing the first system of medicine for the benefit of the poor.

The problem is that they relied too much on the work of humans and animals, so they lagged behind the invention of a lot of machinery that could have done the same tasks much more efficiently, such as the production of raw materials.

The Romans reached the point of not being able to provide sufficient goods for all its growing population, whereas in parallel they no longer conquered other civilizations to absorb its technology. In this way, they began to lose territories that they could not maintain with their legions.

4- Inflation

The Roman economy underwent inflation (excessive increase of prices) just after the reign of the emperor Marco Aurelio. When the conquests of the Roman Empire were halted, the flow of gold from the new territories to Rome began to decline.

In addition to this, the Romans had spent a lot of gold to pay for their luxurious goods, so there was less gold to use in the coins. In this way, while the amount of gold used in the coins was decreasing, the coins became less valuable.

In order to sustain this loss of value, the merchants raised the prices of the goods they were selling. Because of this measure, many people stopped using coins and began bartering for the things they needed.

Eventually, wages began to be paid on food and clothing and taxes to be collected in the form of fruits and vegetables.

5 - Urban decay

The wealthy Romans lived in"domus", or houses with marble walls, floors made of multi-colored tiles and windows closed by small glasses. But most of the Romans were not rich.

The common people lived in small, smelly houses, like apartments of six or more floors that were known as islands. Each island covered a whole block. At first there were more than 44,000 apartments within the walls of the city of Rome.

The apartments on the first floor were not occupied by the poor, since the rent was more expensive. But the higher the feeble ladder they had to climb, the cheaper the rent was. The high departments that leased the poorest were dirty, unventilated, crammed with people, dangerous and too hot.

However, if the people did not have the money to pay these rents, they had to live in the streets, infested with crimes and diseases. All these events caused the cities to begin to decline.

6- A divided empire

10 Causes of the Fall of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was divided not only geographically, but also culturally. There was a Latin empire and a Greek empire, where the Greek had survived only because it had more population, a better army, more money and more effective leadership.

By the third century, the city of Rome was no longer the center of the Roman Empire, which had spread from the British Isles to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Egypt, Africa. The immense territory presented a problem that needed a quick solution, and this one arrived during the reign of the emperor Diocleciano.

He decided to divide the empire into two, leaving the capital in Rome and another east of Nicomedia. Then the eastern capital would be moved to Constantinople - the ancient city of Byzantium - by Emperor Constantine. Each of the capitals had its own emperor.

On the other hand, the Senate, which always functioned for its ability to advise the emperor, began to be largely ignored and the power to focus on a stronger militia.

Rome ceased to be the center of the Roman Empire - some emperors did not even know it - and the cultural, economic and political center of the Empire began to be Constantinople or Nova Roma.

In addition to this, there existed the competences between the same members of positions of power and the aspirations of the commanders of the armies to become emperors. In ancient Rome, the Romans held together by a common belief, something in what they believed and what they served.

During their last years, the emperors were afraid of being overthrown by their army commanders and assassinated them, as was the case of the great general Flavio Estilicón, who died by orders of the Valente emperor. If the Roman Empire itself killed its generals, then they had no one to protect them.

7- Invasions of Barbarians

10 Causes of the Fall of the Roman Empire 1

Rome received the barbarians, term that was used for all type of foreigners and groups that arrived at the Roman Empire. These served as tax providers or soldiers for the militia, even some of them reached positions of power.

Nevertheless, Rome began to lose territories at the hands of the barbarians - Vandals and Goths, especially in North Africa, that never managed to be recovered.

In spite of this, historians agree that a culture as strong as the Roman one was not going to fall so easily in relation to the culture of the barbarians, who did not possess any knowledge as far as politics, economy or social subjects.

This is why it was not culture that made the Roman Empire fall, but rather the weaknesses that the system itself had within it, including decaying cities (both in material and moral terms), lack of taxes, overpopulation, inadequate leadership, and More important, a defense that was not able to withstand the sieges of the invaders.

An example of this was the fall of the last Roman emperor, Rómulo Augústulo, to Odoacro, who had been commander of the Roman Army. Entering the city without encountering opposition, Odoacro easily dethroned the young emperor of only 16 years.

Upon taking the city, Odoacro became the leader of the only thing left of the powerful west of the Roman Empire, the peninsula of Italy. By this time, Rome had already lost control of Britain, Spain, Gaul and of course North Africa.

8- Too much military spending

Keeping an army that defended the borders of the Roman Empire from the constant attacks of the barbarians was a permanent expense for the government. Funds earmarked for maintaining the militia left very few resources for other vital activities, such as providing public housing, maintaining quality roads, and improving aqueducts.

The Romans - frustrated by these decadent conditions of life - lost the desire to defend their Empire. For this reason, the army had to begin recruiting foreign soldiers, recruited from other countries or removed from the hordes and crowds. Such an army was not only very unreliable and also tremendously expensive.

For this reason the emperors were forced to raise taxes frequently and this again led the economy to inflation.

9- Christianity and Decreased Civic Virtue

The famous historian Edward Gibbon explains that it was the adoption of Christianity that made the Romans"soft." From being a brutal and stubborn Republic, with an iron resistance to the invaders, they became a more interested population in the life after the death, than to live in the present.

This is a rather ideological theory, since Christianity also served as cohesion for the Roman Empire at the time of dividing into Rome and Constantinople.

10- Political corruption

Rome is famous for some questionable emperors, including Nero and Caligula, to name a few. Always choosing a new emperor was a difficulty and the Roman Empire never clearly (unlike the Greeks) determined clearly how a new ruler should be chosen.

The election was always a debate between the ancient emperor, the Senate, the Praetorian Guard (the Emperor's private army) and the common army. Eventually, the Praetorian Guard began to have all the power to choose the new emperor, who later rewarded them.

This began to generate problems as in 186, when the Guard strangled the new emperor. Then the practice of selling the throne to the highest bidder became an institution. The Roman Empire had 37 emperors who were killed over 25 years.


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  6. Frequently Asked Questions about the Roman Empire. Retrieved from roman-empire.net.
  7. 4 reasons why Rome fell (Or did it ever fall?). Retrieved from warhistoryonline.com.

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