The fall of Rome was a significant historical event that marked the end of the era of this kingdom. Herodian, a Greek historian and contemporary of those events, systematically described the entire process, targeting his narrative to an oriental audience to describe the unique traditions and norms in Roman culture (Herodian). Based on his notes, one can identify a number of factors that led to the fall of the empire. Although his narrative was more focused on gaps in the military sphere, the decline of Rome was the result of many other problems associated with the unreasonable turnover of power and the lack of competent domestic policy. The fall of the Roman Empire, viewed by Herodian, is an iconic historical marker that proves that even in such a powerful state, internal strife can lead to the collapse of a long-standing order.
Main Causes of the Decline of the Roman Empire
One of the reasons that led to the decline of Rome was the weakening of its army, which affected the authority of the empire and its military failures. Herodian mentions the siege of Aquileia and notes that the failure of the siege demonstrated the unpreparedness of the Roman army and the poor command that caused the retreat (5). The military background of the problem is mentioned by the historian most often. Since the previous successes of the Roman Empire were largely due to its conquests, the inability to prove its status as the strongest European state reflected the decline of its military power and internal problems.
At the same time, given not only military problems, one should pay attention to the attendant difficulties that influenced the fall of the Roman Empire. The difficult financial situation could result in the inability to maintain budgetary expenditures at the same level, and the army’s successes were impossible without sufficient rewards its soldiers used to receive after victories (Herodian 8). As a result, faced with these challenges, a series of constantly changing emperors had to introduce new taxes and duties, which, in turn, caused discontent among the population and stimulated oppositional moods in society. The Roman Senate could not solve these problems since the treasury was accountable to the emperors. Their internecine struggle did not allow for an effective monetary policy to address the most pressing needs and focus on the key development issues. As a result, unable to provide financial stability, the rulers of the Roman Empire faced a crisis that weakened the Roman army and, consequently, the stability of its foreign policy.
The weakness of monetary policy entailed accompanying difficulties, one of which was the decline of the empire’s army power. When analyzing the invasion of Italy at the initiative of Maximinus, Herodian describes the famine that the Roman soldiers faced (1). Being aware of the existing food shortages and insufficiently high pay, the Roman citizens did not express a desire to join the military units, and those who were already there were exhausted. Thus, focusing on the military weakness of the Roman Empire and its internal strife was the key message that Herodian unleashed in his narrative. However, in addition to internal difficulties, foreign policy changes in Europe also influenced the decline of Rome.
Weakened in battles, the Roman Empire could not resist one of its new rivals – Byzantium. The new state, formed as a result of the decline of Rome, had more developed forms of the socio-economic structure. Roman citizens honored their emperors, who frequently changed at the time of the empire’s decline, and showed patriotism, although many of the people were not free (Herodian 9). As a result, the economy of Rome was based on slaves. In Byzantium, although the institution of slavery was preserved, the key role in the development of the economy was played by free and property-dependent peasants, as well as city artisans. By the time of its decline, Rome remained the cultural and political center of Europe. Byzantium did not claim leadership, but the policy of preserving the Roman heritage was successful, and due to the reform of the internal system, the new state developed into a stronger empire. Therefore, when listing the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire, one should take into account both internal challenges, including the weakness of the army and ineffective financial policies, and external difficulties.
The analysis of the fall of the Roman Empire shows that the power was unable to survive its internal problems, which led to the loss of prestige at the international level and the decline of the army. The financial crisis, the unwillingness of citizens to join the military, and an archaic socio-economic structure became the reasons for the transition of leadership to Byzantium that arose against the backdrop of the Roman fall. The frequent succession of emperors at the dawn of the empire also negatively affected the stability of statehood. As a result, the decline of the Roman Empire was a logical result of the difficulties and problems that existed in it in the third century.
Herodian. History of the Roman Empire Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by Edward C. Echols, University of California Press, 1961.
“Herodian.” Livius.org, Web.