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Topic: End of the Roman empire

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Subject: End of the Roman empire
Date Posted: 4/25/2009 2:08 AM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2009
Posts: 3,025
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I am an ancient and classical masters level student.  With Adrian Goldsworthy's book "Why Rome fell" coming out soon, does anyone have any insights on why Rome met its demise.  Obviously there are several suggestions out there.  It cannot be only one cause but a conglomeration of them.

Subject: Fall of Rome
Date Posted: 6/27/2009 9:20 PM ET
Member Since: 6/27/2009
Posts: 2
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I read Gibbon's Decline and Fall, but it's been a while and I've forgotten most of it, but I think he had five main reasons to which he attributed the Fall of Rome - one was slavery, this because according to him slaves do not reproduce to replace themselves,

                           two,  Christianity, for removing suitable men from army/civic duties to church,  and generally pacifying Romans

                            three,  epidemic of plague that depopulated much of countryside

                            four,     decline of birthrate of Romans-this was evident even at the time of Augustus when he passed several measures

                               penalizing    Romans for not having enough childen (women who had not produced 4 children could not ride in a litter)

                            Not sure about last one but it could be high taxes in Rome which caused the wealthy to flee the City to their country estates

                                  where they were unable to complete their civic duties  (Huge country estates also caused decline in the sturdy farmer-types 

                                   who were the backbone of the original Roman Armies)   I think the average Romans were sick of being inducted into their

                                    endless wars because it was recorded that many rural types would cut off their thumb to avoid military service.


                                 I'm anxious to read the new book and see if he has reached any new insights.


                                 Gloria H.


Date Posted: 6/29/2009 11:37 PM ET
Member Since: 11/6/2008
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Rome lost its military superiority on a man to man basis.  The barbarians armies became better equiped and learned to use better tactics.  (things which they learned from the Romans.)

Last Edited on: 6/29/09 11:39 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 7/2/2009 12:55 AM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2009
Posts: 3,025
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I always felt Rome spent much of its resources and talent fighting amongst itself. 

Marius vs Sulla, Caesar vs Pompey, Augustus vs Antony, etc.

The likes of Cicero, Cato, Caesar, Germanicus, Aurelian, Probus, Stilicho, and Aetius died or committed suicide as a result of other Romans.   

I recieved the book and Goldsworthy believes the same thing.  I only got 20 pages into it but it looks really good.


Date Posted: 7/2/2009 6:34 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
Posts: 9,755
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When I read what stuff I can find handy, what impresses me is the number of tribes, mostly Germanic, who were making increaslngly sustained forays for about 300 years. A simple conclusion would be that Germans whip Italians every time. But I don.t think it was that simple. How do you assess the role of the barbarians, Donald?

Date Posted: 7/2/2009 10:53 PM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2006
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The barbarians took advantage of the split within the empire by Diocletian.  The western half was unable to defend itself as adequately as before when the empire was unified.  They also lost a large income from the eastern trade routes. Romans began using mercenaries who would desert for a bigger paycheck or if the Romans were fighting the mercenary's home territory.  So the Roman army was not as dependable as when it was comprised of citizen-soldiers.   Also, the Visigoths were so poorly treated by the Romans when the Goths asked for help against the Huns that the Goths had little to lose in turning on the Romans.  They were already being starved and sold into slavery among other mistreatments.  It is the Goths who sacked Rome on more than one occasion and it is a Goth who declared himself king in 476 CE (AD) ending the Roman Empire in the west.  The east of course continued on as the Byzantine Empire. 

Another poor economic decision by Diocletian was to require sons to follow in their father's profession.  The move was originally to slow the number of farmers who left to move to the city for other type jobs but it also forced some of the least qualified people into certain careers.   The excessive number of slaves contributed to the economic decline of the empire as the lower working class could not compete.  Unrest was also aggravated by the different sets of laws - one for Roman citizens and the Laws of Nations for the rest.  Of course the citizens were given the preferential treatment even if it was not deserved.    The downfall was the result of a slow decline but the barbarians usually get the credit for ending the empire in 476 CE (AD) although they could not have done it without the weakening of the empire in politics, military strength, and especially economics.

Date Posted: 7/3/2009 7:38 AM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2009
Posts: 3,025
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i would say the barbarians became stronger as the Roman Army became weaker,  It was a perfect storm.  Basically with the year of the four emperors, armies realized they could sell themselves to the highest bidder.  During the third century crisis this really became common as armies left the frontier, named and murdered emperors, murdered their own generals, switched sides for monetary payments, and refused to march.  The civil wars of the fourth century left very little of the Roman army,  Soldiers like Stilicho and Aetius defended the empire by basically playing barbarian tribes off against each other.  Rome's last victory at Chalons was basically a battle with barbarians and a moderate Roman force let by Aetius.  The Visigoths basically carried the day as they carried heavy losses. 

Date Posted: 7/3/2009 11:25 AM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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Donald, A sudden inspiration has struck me. Regarding Rome, also the U.S.A. You are with the great Abbott, Texas philosopher and thinker who says,  Power is as power does, /Else power slips away.Right? 

(not really a flippant remark, and definitely not intended to disrupt the flow of this thread, one of the most interesting I have read)                                                                                                                                                                                                

Subject: Take a look at Justinian's Flea
Date Posted: 7/5/2009 3:28 PM ET
Member Since: 6/11/2008
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This book takes a very interesting approach to the question. The answer is multifaceted.

Date Posted: 7/7/2009 1:05 PM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2009
Posts: 3,025
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I think the problem with Rome and Greece,  was that they fell away from their founding ideals and that they turned the sword onto themselves.  I think the Greeks while not totally autonomous had a common culture.  At their best they held off the the Persian invasions.  Athens was sacked twice yet the Athenians did not throw in the towel.  The Age of Pericles was the high point for Athens and for the most part all of Greece.  Yet it seemed that Athens and Sparta could never quite find common ground.  Athens and Sparta and all of their allies destroyed each other,  Fortunately for the West, Macedonia was able to conquer almost all of Greece and not Persia.    The once proud Athenians who foud Darius and Xerxes tooth and nail, capitulated to Philip and Alexander with barely a fight. 

The highpoint of Rome was their victory over Hannibal.  When most nations would have capitulated Rome kept fighting.  Sullust details how after the war the social fabric fell apart.  Greed and avarice became common.  Public service lost its meaning.   This was the initial catalyst to the fall of the Republic.  After the golder age under Augustus, Rome had several problems.  For the whole length of the imperial age, Rome could not get the issue of succession under control.  At best they could get a Titus or Hadrian, at worst you could get a Nero or Commodus.  If no successor was named civil war would ensue.  This is where the army fell apart, naming emperors, killing emperors, or selling out to the highest bidder.  Also the Romans devoured their own.  Many of the greatest minds and abilities were killed by Roman hands.  This self destructive nature would bring down any nation or empire.    Just imagine how devastating the war was between General Lee and General Grant.  Now imagine that happening a dozen or so times in our history.