The Decline of Rome

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Rome's Decline

Rome was once the finest civilization in the world. The massive empire at its peak around 200 AD spanned more than two and half million miles and encompassed 21% of the world's population. The bigger they are the harder they fall however. The decline and eventual collapse of Rome are extremely significant and mark the shift from the time of the ancients to the beginning of the Early Middle Ages.

The story of Rome is really that of a great empire that overextended itself and slowly fell to ruin. The massive military conquests of Rome fed the political machine that was the Roman empire but eventually the ability to effectively govern and protect the empire became extremely difficult. With insufficient protection and control the cities on the borders of the Roman Empire suffered from frequent barbaric(mainly Germanic tribes) attacks from the 3rd century onward. The larger the beast the more clumsy and cumbersome it seems to become.

I got to visit Rome this summer!

Additionally the vastness of the area to control dictated a more strategic administrative hub for the empire. Emperor Constantine began to use Constantinople, now called Istanbul as his base of power. Constantine furthered himself in history book by converting to Christianity. This move, whether strategic or true helped to sure up power and support of the ever increasing Christian legions now under the dominion of Rome. Christianity henceforth became the state religion of the empire. An additional consequence of the move to Constantinople was to make this the center of the world. Constantinople grew with huge population surge and became the most powerful of the Christian cities(to this day Istanbul remains one of the great cities of the world, housing close to 14 million people on the edge of Europe and Middle East).

Splitting of the Empire

However splitting of the empire was not all beneficial(the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?). By effectively creating two halfs to the Roman empire this led to the intermittent usage of multiple emperors and degraded the power base as one would expect. The Western Roman empire now based out of Rome and Eastern Empire based out of Constantinople began to diverge from one another as culture differences and economic issues between the more Latin based West and Greek East developed. Because of the weaknesses of the West, the East held the true power of the empire.

Throughout this time Rome was continuously under attack by the barbaric peoples of Europe which further weakened the great republic. Soon thereafter, Rome, the center of commerce and trade of the Western Roman Empire was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in 455. This turmoil forced the West to take aggressive action and allowed Julius Nepos would take over as Western emperor. This led to a revolt and position of emperor being entrusted to Romulus Augustus. These political issues led to upheaval and the eventual overthrow and conquest of the weakened Italy by Odoacer of the Ostrogoths.

While continual struggles with tribes of Europe harmed Rome, it was the Gothic War which would eventually be the straw to break the camels back. The Gothic War of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian was meant to reconquer and unify the lost parts of Rome. This over extension of military and resources ended terribly. Like the athlete looking to hit the game winning shot, Justinian took the ball into his hand and air balled. 

The Western part of the Roman empire was essentially destroyed and left to fend for itself. Left to its own accord, the western parts of Europe formed numerous new states and territories but managed to maintain some of its Roman influences. A weakened Eastern Roman Empire, now referred to as the Byzantine Empire would survive until the eventual fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.

While the reasoning behind the fall of Rome may be difficult to ascertain, the results are there for all to see. In death there is rebirth however as the loss of or sacking of Rome really brought the Middle Ages in with all its glory.


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