Rome was actually the greatest empire in world history. It rose from a simple beginning to a wealthy and powerful empire. Before its fall, it had 80 million people with its territory stretching from today’s Scottish board all the way to the Persian Gulf (Ermatinger, 12). Different historians have listed reasons that led to the decline and eventual collapse of the great empire. These reasons include, rise of Christianity, military decline, attacks from foreign tribes, economic decline and division of the empire into the Western and Eastern blocks among others. This essay will argue that it was possible to prevent the collapse of the great Roman Empire.
One of the reasons that greatly contributed to the collapse of the empire was the separation of the eastern and western halves with each having its own army and emperor. The eastern half was economically stronger than the western side because of its rich urbanized areas such as Greece, Egypt and Persia. The division of the empire weakened it because it no longer operated as one solid block with one economy and army. Some people say that the collapse was inevitable. Such people need to consider the saying, “United we stand divided we fall”. The collapse of the empire would not have come if the empire remained united (Heather, 61). The division weakened the army and put authority in the hands of two different emperors. The western side developed a stronger economy than the eastern and therefore the two zones could no longer rely on each other to overcome common problems. Keeping the unity of the empire would have prevented its collapse (Heather, 78).
Placing the empire under the reign of 22 different emperors was also a contributing factor. This devalued the emperor’s position. In trying to solve the instability threat, Diocletian made himself the “dominus” of the empire and initiated several land and occupational reforms which came with negative consequences. Although these events contributed to the collapse of the empire, they were preventable. One would argue that the reforms were necessary at the time. However, it would have been better to prevent the rule of the 22 emperors from taking place than to start solving its consequences. Diocletian needed to create laws that prohibited the fragmentation of the empire under these 22 emperors (Ermatinger, 89).
The advancement of Barbarians into the territory of the empire was another huge problem. The Roman Army under Emperor Valens lost in battle when it confronted the Visigoths in 378 A.D. The emperor died in the war. In the 100 years that followed, more Barbarian tribes occupied part of Roman Empire territory. In 429 A.D the Vandals took the providences in North Africa. These two clashes finalized the fall of the Western Empire. These problems were not unsolvable. Actually, the protection of the Western Empire was possible and this would keep off the Barbarians and Vandals (Winkler, 34). Some historians argue that this was impossible because these tribes were stronger than the Roman Empire. Such a view is distorted. The solution to this problem lay in the unity of the two empires. Their unity, cooperation and working together would have helped. A combined army of the Eastern and Western empires would have safeguarded the border of the Western empire and kept off invading tribes.
Economic problems also led to the fall of the empire. Its economy relied on slave-supported agriculture and therefore did not embrace new technology such as windmills. It also failed to sustain its huge army because the tax base was becoming smaller and inflation was common. Some people say that these were fatal problems to the empire and that the emperor had very little to do because his efforts were futile. However, an honest view would be that these problems had solutions (Heather, 90). The empire’s reliance on slave labor was unwise because slave labor was becoming unsustainable. Developing and fully embracing the use of new technology and other devices was the solution. Technology would have multiplied production and therefore dealt with the inflation problem by creating wealth.
Christianity was also a major threat to the empire. It actually contributed to its collapse. Emperor Constantine’s conversion was a weakness in the empire’s strength. The problem was in the interpretation of the Christian teachings because people thought that taking up arms against their enemies was unbiblical (Ermatinger, 50). The Romans also viewed their emperor as a god and this further weakened the position of the emperor. Christians believed in a higher unseen God who was not the emperor. This reduced the emperor’s power and credibility. Some people argue that relying on the army and the sword would have contradicted the Christians’ faith in God. However, the empire and its army needed to remain firm against invaders despite their Christian faith. This was the only solution possible (Ermatinger, 56).
Other problems were military and political in nature. Political amateurs also participated in the fall of Rome. The emperorship had army generals dominating it and corruption also thrived. With time the army became disloyal to Rome and started operating as mercenaries. Due to financial difficulties the government employed German soldiers to fight for the empire against other German tribes because they were cheap (Winkler, 77). This was a big compromise and its consequences appeared later because these fighters were unreliable. It is possible for one to think that this was a huge problem whose solutions were out of reach. However, examining the core of the problem reveals that the failure of the economy was the source of the rebellion of the army. The emperor needed to make economic reforms and ensure efficiency in tax collection. This would have made enough money available to pay more soldiers and maintain the existing ones. After the fall of the Western empire in 473 A.D., the Eastern half survived for another 1000 years before the Ottoman Empire brought it down in 1453 A.D. (Winkler, 45).
Ermatinger, J. William. The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
Heather, Peter. The fall of the Roman Empire: A new History of Rome and the Barbarians. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Winkler, M. Martin. The fall of the Roman Empire: Film and History. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.