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Fall of the Roman Empire

20 Feb 2017History Essays

To modern eyes and minds, the collapse of the Roman Empire resonates dramatically, illustrating both the efficacy of careful government, as well as the imperial corruption. Although Imperial Rome “fell” in the fifth century A.D., strands of Roman culture endured throughout the Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and in Western Christendom, which “preferred the Latin language over the vernacular for the next thousand years.” Such a sophisticated and nearly indelible cultural and political behemoth such as the Roman Empire was not brought down by a single, cause; but rather by a collusion of negative influences. Also at play, perhaps, were positive influences of cultural evolution, as this paper will examine. 

One of the primary reasons for the Roman Empire’s collapse was a cultural and moral “revolution” in the post-Republic Empire, which saw “a revolution not only in political but in moral and even religious manners. By the first century B.C., sexual mores had been abandoned, and the former sanctity of marriage forgotten. Crime, once almost unknown in Rome, became rampant.” 
Similarly, on a cultural and moral level, Mithran cults “contaminated” the “simplicity of the authentic Roman religion;” so, by the late 2nd century A.D., the religion of Mithra “had permeated every level of Roman society. This cult was in fact a vast secret society consecrated to emperor-worship and to the amoral doctrine of radical dualism--the idea that good and evil are eternal, absolutely equivalent principles that must both be appeased.” 3
Roman military strength had always been an important part of the early Roman concept of virtue and morales; that is: a “martial” sense of ethics pervaded early Roman culture. “Her citizen soldiers were fearless and superbly organized. The Roman genius for order soon led to innovations in military science that made the Roman legions a virtually invincible fighting force for centuries.” 

Rome's military pride and conquests reinforced a predilection for warfare that helped to ultimately undermine Roman strength. Even Republican Rome was “unwilling to interrupt her ceaseless warfare at the water's edge, and plunged into overseas empire building at the first challenge from abroad.” In fact, the notion of Rome as a martial state may well eclipse the historical resonance of the Roman Republics or other eras: “the Roman Empire that defined the "classic" may be seen as a dictatorship, supported by military force. 

Roman culture de-emphasized the value of human life and individual dignity. “The Twelve Tables of Roman law required the killing of deformed infants,” and the Roman armies usually fought “without negotiation and without quarter for the vanquished.” This “classic” Rome was facilitated by “a system of government that allowed countless peoples to communicate through a shared culture;”but the hearkening to military conflict ultimately spelled a weakening of power: “Rome failed as the Mediterranean world's sole superpower and the shared culture derived from the study of the "classics" gave way [...] to new cultures, shaped from the amalgam of "classics" with the reformed style of Judaism that became Christianity.” 

Civic unity had long been a strength of “classic” Roman culture. “Until the late second century B.C., Rome had never seen bloodshed from civil unrest. The various disputes between the plebeians and patricians had always been resolved by negotiation and political reform.” Partisan violence finally erupted in the late 2nd century B.C., leaving in their wake, a succession of military dictators. In the next century, “devastating civil wars [...] tore the republic apart” resulted in an end to Roman liberties. “From that time forward, Rome was never free from factional violence.

Political assassinations and riots, unknown in the early centuries of the republic, became commonplace. Rampant civil unrest revealed certain flaws in the Roman systems of government and in the Roman constitution, most prominently: a lack of a representative government. Though Rome “provided for deliberation and even the enactment of laws by the masses in popular assemblies” there was no representative government. 

If there were myriad negative influences working to slowly chip away at the edifice of Roman civilization, as noted in the discussion above, most of these negative influences evolved organically our of Roman thought and disposition, as well by way of “decadence” in the interpretation of civic identity and loyalty. The sprawling mass of Roman dominance resulted in a likewise bureaucracy “connected with the army now stretched beyond the frontiers into tribal lands, creating a form of "Roman" who was brought up outside the empire and yet played a role in the defense of the state. To be in the army, and in the service of the emperor, was to be "Roman, " even if one's roots were beyond the Rhine or Danube. 

This resultant loss of a homogenous Roman identity begs the question of cross-cultural evolution, an historical reality which may have played a key role in the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Peter Brown published his World of Late Antiquity, a book which was to have a remarkable effect on how the end of the ancient world was viewed by historians. Brown defined and described a period, which he termed 'Late Antiquity', stretching from the third century to the eighth century AD; but he saw it as characterized not by the disappearance of Roman sophistication and civilization, but by lively and positive developments. Brown invited his readers to reject the old language of 'decline and fall' and to embrace instead a vision of this as a period when Roman culture was transformed and revitalized. 9

In conclusion it seems evident that the collapse of the Roman Empire emerged from specific “organic” identities at very level of Roman society including the religious, psychological, sociological, military, economic, and cultural levels. Perhaps the term “collapse” is not very accurate, though the obvious tendency to view the evolution of the Roman Empire as sudden and based on a single, primary event will always be a tempting, if specious, view

References

  • Bonta, S. (2005, February 21). Lessons of Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic Provides Lessons That Hint at Flaws in Modern Political Policies. The New American, 21, 36+.
  • Potter, D. S. (2004). The Roman Empire at Bay: AD 180-395. New York: Routledge.
  • Ward-Perkins, B. (2005, June). The End of the Roman Empire: Did It Collapse or Was It Transformed? Bryan Ward-Perkins Finds That Archaeology Offers Unarguable Evidence for an Abrupt Ending. History Today, 55, 12+.

Bonta, S. (2005, February 21). Lessons of Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic Provides Lessons That Hint at Flaws in Modern Political Policies. The New American, 21, 36+.

One of the primary reasons for the Roman Empire’s collapse was a cultural and moral “revolution” in the post-Republic Empire, which saw “a revolution not only in political but in moral and even religious manners. By the first century B.C., sexual mores had been abandoned, and the former sanctity of marriage forgotten. Crime, once almost unknown in Rome, became rampant”(Bonta, 2005).

Similarly, on a cultural and moral level, Mithran cults “contaminated” the “simplicity of the authentic Roman religion;” so, by the late 2nd century A.D., the religion of Mithra “had permeated every level of Roman society. This cult was in fact a vast secret society consecrated to emperor-worship and to the amoral doctrine of radical dualism--the idea that good and evil are eternal, absolutely equivalent principles that must both be appeased.” (Bonta, 2005).

Roman military strength had always been an important part of the early Roman concept of virtue and morales; that is: a “martial” sense of ethics pervaded early Roman culture. “Her citizen soldiers were fearless and superbly organized. The Roman genius for order soon led to innovations

The Collapse of the Roman Empire Page -2- in military science that made the Roman legions a virtually invincible fighting force for centuries” (Bonta, 2005).Rome's military pride and conquests reinforced a predilection for warfare that helped to ultimately undermine Roman strength. Even Republican Rome was “unwilling to interrupt her ceaseless warfare at the water's edge, and plunged into overseas empire building at the first challenge from abroad.” In fact, the notion of Rome as a martial state may well eclipse the historical resonance of the Roman Republics or other eras: “the Roman Empire that defined the "classic" may be seen as a dictatorship, supported by military force (Potter, 2004, p.4).

Roman culture de-emphasized the value of human life and individual dignity. “The Twelve Tables of Roman law required the killing of deformed infants,” and the Roman armies usually fought “without negotiation and without quarter for the vanquished.” This “classic” Rome was facilitated by “a system of government that allowed countless peoples to communicate through a shared culture;”but the hearkening to military conflict ultimately spelled a weakening of power: “Rome failed as the Mediterranean world's sole superpower and the shared culture derived from the study of the "classics" gave way [...] to new cultures, shaped from the amalgam of "classics" with the reformed style of Judaism that became Christianity” (Potter, 2004, p. 4)

Civic unity had long been a strength of “classic” Roman culture. “Until the late second century B.C., Rome had never seen bloodshed from civil unrest. The various disputes between the plebeians and patricians had always been resolved by negotiation and political reform.” Partisan violence finally erupted in the late 2nd century B.C., leaving in their wake, a succession of milytary dictators. In the next century, “devastating civil wars [...] tore the republic apart” resulted in an end to Roman liberties. “From that time forward, Rome was never free from factional violence.

Political assassinations and riots, unknown in the early centuries of the republic, became
commonplace” (Bonta, 2005). Rampant civil unrest revealed certain flaws in the Roman systems of government and in the Roman constitution, most prominently: a lack of a representative government. Though Rome “provided for deliberation and even the enactment of laws by the masses in popular assemblies” there was no representative government (Bonta, 2005).

If there were myriad negative influences working to slowly chip away at the edifice of Roman civilization, as noted in the discussion above, most of these negative influences evolved organically our of Roman thought and disposition, as well by way of “decadence” in the interpretation of civic identity and loyalty. The sprawling mass of Roman dominance resulted ina likewise bureaucracy “connected with the army now stretched beyond the frontiers into tribal lands, creating a form of "Roman" who was brought up outside the empire and yet played a role in the defense of the state. To be in the army, and in the service of the emperor, was to be "Roman, " even if one's roots were beyond the Rhine or Danube (Potter, 2004, p. 443).

This resultant loss of a homogenous Roman identity begs the question of cross-cultural evolution, an historical reality which may have played a key role in the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Peter Brown published his World of Late Antiquity, a book which was to have a remarkable effect on how the end of the ancient world was viewed by historians. Brown defined and described a period, which he termed 'Late Antiquity', stretching from the third century to the eighth century AD; but he saw it as characterized not by the disappearance of Roman sophistication and civilization, but by lively and positive developments. Brown invited his readers to reject the old language of 'decline and fall' and to embrace instead a vision of this as a period when Roman culture was transformed and revitalized. (Ward-Perkins, 2005)

In conclusion it seems evident that the collapse of the Roman Empire emerged from specific “organic” identities at very level of Roman society including the religious, psychological, sociological, military, economic, and cultural levels. Perhaps the term “collapse” is not very accurate, though the obvious tendency to view the evolution of the Roman Empire as sudden and based on a single, primary event will always be a tempting, if specious, view.

References

  • Bonta, S. (2005, February 21). Lessons of Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic Provides Lessons That Hint at Flaws in Modern Political Policies. The New American, 21, 36+.
  • Potter, D. S. (2004). The Roman Empire at Bay: AD 180-395. New York: Routledge.
  • Ward-Perkins, B. (2005, June). The End of the Roman Empire: Did It Collapse or Was It Transformed? Bryan Ward-Perkins Finds That Archaeology Offers Unarguable Evidence for an Abrupt Ending. History Today, 55, 12+

Following in the tradition of the famous 18th century historian Edward Gibbon, Bryan Ward-Perkins argues that the Western Roman Empire dramatically and violently collapsed (rather than by a slower `transformation`) during the 5th century CE as a result of simply being `overrun by hostile waves of Germanic peoples.` Furhtermore, Ward-Perkins suggests that the violent collapse of the Roman Empire led to a shocking decline in living standards for Europeans during the subsequent `Dark Ages.` Write a paper that either supports or refutes the Ward-Perkin thesis.

Make sure you have a thesis (a general argument) and provide examples and details from the monograph and outside sources to supports your statements.

- The first writing assignment is due on Tuesday, November 6. The papers will not be handed in as a hardcopy but instead uploaded to turnitin.com by that date. Late papers will be penalized by one grade per class session. the papers will be graded on-line.
-The length of the paper should be 4 pages double spaced (about 1000-1200 words)
-The paper must be typed in either Times New Roman or Courier 12-point font.
You must provide at least 4 outside sources.
-All sources must be correctly cited using the Chicago Manual of Style. You must also provide a separate Bibliography (besides footnotes/endnotes at the end of your paper.)

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