Rome’s Decline

The Roman Empire was one of the greatest empires of the ancient world, uniting Greece, Egypt, North Africa and the Near East with the Celtic lands of Europe under a single system of government. It became the major ancient civilization after the civilization of Greece.

Rome began its life on the banks of the Tiber river. According to the traditional history of the city, supported by Livy and other historians, Rome was founded in 753 B.C on 7 hills enclosed by a wall along the river Tiber. Early Rome was ruled by several Estrucan kings and eventually in 510 B.C, monarchy came to an abrupt end after Tarquin the Proud was overthrown. 510 B.C is the traditional date for the beginning of the Roman republic. Rome remained a republic from 510 B.C – 27 B.C. By 31 B.C, it became an empire under the reign of Augustus Caesar.

There are several factors responsible for the decline of the Roman Empire. They are as follows-

1. Germanic Invasions

Photo taken from Vox.

One of the prominent reason among them was the attack by Germanic tribes like the Goths in the first half of the third century AD and the Vandals in 455 AD. The Battle of Hadrianopolis in AD 378 was the first major military battle in which Romans were defeated by the Visigoths. After the victory at Hadrianopolis, the Visigoths plundered Greece and moved into Italy. Eventually, a division of the Empire took place as the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire in AD 395. Later, the western Roman Empire split up into a number of Germanic kingdoms.

2.Over taxation

Another factor for the decline was the heavy taxation levied by the state. A.H.M Jones has called the high rate of taxation as ‘over taxation’. The reasons for heavy taxations were due to the policies of Diocletian( AD 284- 305) and Constantine( AD 324- 337) and also because of military organization of the Empire on a gigantic scale. The agrarian economy of the Western Roman Empire became the worst affected. The western oligarchy passed on the increasing weight of state taxes to peasants, coloni, artisans and petty- traders.

3. Spread of Christianity

Photo taken from Vox.

Edward Gibbon had assigned a major portion of the responsibility for the decline to the influence of Christianity in his book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan legalized Christianity in 313, and it later became the state religion in 380. Meanwhile, Popes and other Church leaders took an increased role in political affairs, further complicating governance

4. Economic Crisis

To avoid heavy taxation, many members of the landed aristocracy fled to the Western Roman Empire. With the shift of the landed aristocracy to the countryside, the centralized state became weaker in the west and ultimately collapsed. The economic crisis of the later Roman Empire was much more pronounced in the west and this was the area where the development of the slave mode of production had found its fullest expression.

5. Barbarian invasions

Attila the Hun

There were also a series tribal movements which had their origin in Central Asia around the middle of the fourth century AD. One of the most famous such invasion of Rome was led by Attila the Hun. Historians infer that the population appears to have diminished in many provinces ( especially western Europe) judging from the diminishing size of fortifications built to protect the cities from barbarian incursions from the third century on. When these Eurasian warriors rampaged through northern Europe, they drove many Germanic tribes to the borders of the Roman Empire.

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