Fall of Rome essay examples

There are two essays here–scroll down please

Allison Aghjayan
Dr. Murnane
AP World Civilizations II
November 23, 2010


Too Big for the Military to Defend:
Rome’s Inevitable Collapse Due to the Size of its Empire

Many factors caused the fall of the Roman Empire, but overexpansion was the catalyst that accelerated its decline. Among the minor factors contributing to Rome’s fall were population decrease, moral corruption and loss of territory. However, the major factor in Rome’s decline was its large size. Overexpansion made it hard for the emperors to support the empire, creating disunity and instability. Disunity and instability weakened the Roman military, leaving them vulnerable to the outside attacks that caused the fall of Rome. First, disunity resulted from overexpansion. Diocletian created disunity between the Eastern and Western empires when he split the territory in half in 286 CE (Markel, 51). This split left the Western half too weak to defend itself, contributing significantly to its fall (Elton). Also, overexpansion deepened the divide between Christians and Roman Pagans. Christianity’s peaceful doctrines rivaled Roman paganism’s violent attitude, decreasing people’s support of the military (Gibbon, 2). Second, overexpansion destabilized the currency and the government. Emperors who had to fund the massive empire made coins with less precious metal attempting to generate the necessary revenue. However, the resulting inflation made it impossible for legions and soldiers to afford the equipment they needed, leaving them weak. Moreover, instability in the government occurred when ambitious men vied for the emperorship causing civil wars, unrest and rivalries. Civil wars drained the available military resources needed to fend off an outside attack. In short, overexpansion led to disunity and instability, which weakened the military and caused the collapse of Rome.
Since Rome’s fall was multifaceted, there are both minor and major causes that added to Rome’s collapse. Among the minor causes were population decrease, moral corruption and loss of territory (Donn). First, the Roman population decreased because there were diseases and food shortages, making it difficult to manage farms and supply the military (Donn). Another minor cause was what may be seen as moral corruption. Romans invested time and money in brutal Gladiatorial fights and, “Emperors like Caligula and Nero became infamous for wasting money on lavish parties where guests drank and ate until they became sick” (http://www.rome.info, October 2, 2010). Finally, loss of certain strategic territories was a minor factor. For instance, when Rome lost its territory in northern Africa in 439 AD it exposed its coast along the Mediterranean Sea to raids. Also, The Western Empire lost some wealthy provinces to the Eastern Empire when the territory was split in 286 CE (Elton, 2). Although population decrease, moral corruption and loss of territory contributed to Rome’s decline, they are not major influences to the fall of Rome.
The main stimulus in the fall of Rome was its large size, which made it impossible for emperors to manage the empire. Rome became too big to defend, fund and govern. First, Rome’s territory was too large to defend because its borders extended over four thousand five hundred miles (Constable, 163). The frontiers had become too large for the outdated military to control and attacks, “occurred with alarming regularity along the length of the frontiers” (www.romanarmy.net, October 1, 2010). Second, because of the large size of the empire, Rome was unable to generate enough revenue to “… build new roads, to support the legionnaires, and to enable more growth” of the empire (Donn). Emperors tried to raise money by increasing taxes, but without the money generated by conquest, they were incapable of replenishing the empire’s treasury (Bartlett). Third, with a domain stretching from northern Europe to the Middle East, one man alone could not govern the entire Roman Empire. Decrees and laws sent out were enforced according to the interpretation of the governor of a province, and the emperor could not make sure the laws were followed. This deepened the disunity in the empire between people and the government in Rome (Donn). The large size of the Roman Empire prevented emperors from properly defending, funding and governing the empire, creating the weaknesses that allowed nomadic tribes to invade.
As a result of Rome’s large size, disunity was created between the Eastern and Western Empires and between people who practiced different religions. The first division, caused by overexpansion, was created when Emperor Diocletian and his successors split the empire into pieces, beginning in 286 CE (Markel, 51). The split created weakness in the western half because it no longer had the economic and military support of the eastern half of the Roman Empire (Donn). In fact, “…few transfers of money or troops [occurred] between the two parts (Elton, 2). The split of the empire left the Western Empire weak and susceptible to invaders. Similarly, there was conflict between the two halves of the empire. Not only because the western empire had a Latin influence and the eastern half had a Greek influence, meaning that they gradually developed different manners, interests and religions, but also because of the two different emperors in charge (Gibbon, 2). Discord between two emperors was most evident between the sons of Theodosius I, Arcadius and Honorius, who controlled the Eastern and Western empires. The Eastern Empire did little to help the Western Empire which was suffering from attacks. Even when the brothers were no longer in power, the Eastern Empire was always slow to aid the Western Empire (Gibbon, 2). The large size of the Roman Empire caused the split that left the western half too weak to defend itself, allowing nomadic tribes to invade and conquer Rome.
As Rome came to encompass many conquered peoples who had different cultures and religions, further divisions occurred. This divide between people was evident between Christianity and Roman Paganism. Christianity provided an entirely different belief system that sharply contrasted Roman Paganism, for instance it was monotheistic (Markel 66). Christianity threatened the devotion of people to the Roman Government and drew loyalty away from the state. Christianity valued peace and loyalty to God, unlike Roman Paganism that celebrated war heroes and violence. This, too, added to the military’s demise as Christians were less inclined to support military campaigns. The divide between Christianity and Roman paganism drew loyalty away from the government and the military, aiding Rome’s fall.
The Roman Empire’s large size not only created disunity but also instability. Instability was evident in the currency. Vast amounts of money were needed to finance the empire’s military and public works (Donn). However, not enough money could be generated because no more revenue was flowing in from conquests, and by the fourth century taxes had already been raised to crippling amounts (Kagan, 59).  Also, there was enormous inflation in the currency. Inflation was caused when emperors, starting with Emperor Nero, added less and less precious metal to coins in order to manufacture more money. However, they debased the currency and caused inflation, giving the coins less value (Gill). Since Roman coins no longer had the expected value, trade decreased and the empire generated even less money (Donn). Inflation also caused a shortage of money in military funding. Without payment, the legions collapsed, disbanded and were unable to defend their borders, allowing nomadic tribes to invade. Rome’s emperors were not able to generate the money necessary to fund the Empire’s many needs or combat inflation, inevitably leaving the empire vulnerable to invaders.
Instability also occurred in the government as a result of the empire being too large. Rome’s massive territory and wealth was tantalizing to ambitious military leaders and government officials, causing civil war as they vied for control (Elton). The first civil war was between 235 and 285 AD, where over twenty different emperors ruled, creating turmoil in the empire (Baker, 316). Diocletian’s reign ended the civil war, and he tried to make reforms but largely was unable to bring stability to the military or economy (Markel, 70). Again civil wars occurred in the, “fourth and fifth centuries. The frequent occasions on which the Roman army was forced to fight itself caused a constant drain of resources” (Elton). Some of the civil wars were Constantine versus Licinius in 316 AD and 324 AD, Theodosius I against Magnus Maximus and Eugenius from 383 to 388 AD and the Roman generals Aetius against Bonifatius in the fifth century (Elton). The civil wars within the empire did not support the economy, and only wasted money weakening the empire’s resistance to nomadic tribes and eventually leading to the empire being overrun by them.
Rome’s multifaceted fall cannot be attributed to one major cause coupled with smaller minor causes, but rather the Fall of Rome resulted from a chain of ‘cause and effect’ events and inter-related factors.  In this way, Rome did not fall merely because of its size, but collapsed due to the instability and disunity its size created. Disunity was evident because of the conflict between the Eastern and Western Empires and the split religious loyalties of the empire’s inhabitants. Similarly, instability was created in the currency due to the empire’s demand for money, and instability was a result the government’s civil wars.  The large size of the empire, disunity in the empire, and instability left the Roman military too weak to defend itself. Rome fell because its large size created disunity and instability within the empire, weakening the militaries resistance to the raids and attacks of nomadic tribes, eventually causing the empire’s downfall.

Works Cited
Baker, Simon. Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. Random House Group
Company, 2007.

Bartlett, Bruce. “How Excessive government Killed Ancient Rome.”
The Cato Journal. The Cato Institute, 1994. Web. 30 Sep 2010. <http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cjv14n2-7.html&gt;.

“Changing Ethos and Strategy.” The Roman Military Research    Society. The Roman Military Research Society, 2008. Web. 1    Oct 2010. <http://www.romanarmy.net/Latearmy2.htm&gt;.
Constable, Nick. Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome. New york, NY: Checkmark Books,
2003. Print.

Donn,Don . “ Emperor Valens and the Barbarians.”mrdonn.org.    Np., n.d. Web. 30 Sep 2010.     <http://rome.mrdonn.org/barbarians.html&gt;.
Donn,Don . “The Roman Empire is Split into Two Pieces.”    mrdonn.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sep 2010.    <http://rome.mrdonn.org/twoempires.html&gt;.
Elton, Hugh. “Late Antiquity in the Mediterranean.” ORB Online Reference Book. 1996.

“Fall of the Roman Empire.” Rome.info. Rome.info, 2009. Web. 26 Sep 2010.

Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Print.

Gill, N.S. “Economic Reasons for the Fall of Rome.” About.com:Ancient/Classical    History. The New York Times Company, 2010. Web. 26 Sep 2010.    <http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/fallromeeconomic/a/econoffall.htm&gt;.

Kagan, Donald. The End of the Roman Empire. 3rd ed. Lexington:    D.C. Health and Company, 1992. Print.
Markel, Rita J. The Fall of the Roman Empire. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century    Books, 2008. Print.

“Why Did Rome Fall? (Overview).” World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-    CLIO, 2010. Web. 26 Sept. 2010. <http://ancienthistory.abc-clio.com/&gt;.

Kiana Nedele
AP World History
22 October 2009

The Fall of Rome: Death by Overexpansion


The many factors that led to Rome’s fall were serious indeed; however, they would have been easily countered and many may not have occurred without the main catalyst—overexpansion.  By the second century C.E., the empire had become huge and bloated and could grow no more.  From this one factor a myriad of others soon grew, including poor leadership, government debt, a weakened army, and civil unrest.  When outside factors appeared, such as disease and military competition, once-mighty Rome was unable to fend off the constant assaults.  As government control weakened, the policy became “every man for himself” as various generals set themselves up as regional rulers.  Battered inside and out, Rome could bear the pressure for only so long.  Overexpansion and the host of problems it caused combined to spell the death sentence for Roman civilization.


The Roman lust for power was potent, and as a result, they set out to systematically destroy all enemies.  Armies marched north, south, east, and west, conquering everyone in their paths, including Rome’s one true competitor in land and trade, the Phoenician colony of Carthage.  Prisoners of war were sent back to Rome in chains, profiting the booming slave trade and providing entertainment for the masses in the form of gladiatorial contests.  All lands and natural resources were seized by the government, providing the state with multiple sources of revenue.  By 180 C.E., Rome had reached its apex.  It was one of the largest and most powerful empires in the world.

A scant 50 years, later, however, Rome was already in the process of decline.  Glutted on the spoils of war, the empire simply could expand no farther.  The loss of new territories meant that there were no new sources of income for the country.  The slave trade, which now supplied almost all manual labor, was weakening.  Rome’s slave trade had been fueled by war, but now that the Romans were unable to conquer more territory, they had no prisoners to send home.  The empire had become too big for its former budget to cover the costs of maintenance, but with the loss of new revenue, there was no new budget to be had.  The additional costs of providing for the holiday circuses and paying for the building and upkeep of such edifices as the Emperor Domitian’s palace, which occupied the entire Palatine Hill, added even further strain to the government treasury.  Rome began to go into debt.


Military standards began to decline as well.  Manning all borders of the empire was a herculean venture that the empire could no longer afford.  With borders sometimes nearly a thousand miles away and no new land available for army pensions, citizens had little incentive to join the army.  Instead of the increase in recruits that would be necessary for continued upkeep of defenses, the Roman army was actually losing people.  As a result, mercenaries soon made up the main bulk of the army.  These men had no real loyalty to Rome, only to money.  Rome’s debt skyrocketed.  Less money was allocated to pay for weapons and armor.  Rome’s defense force was rapidly weakening, losing all of the qualities that had made it powerful.

Civil unrest also grew due to overexpansion and the ever-growing list of problems it created.  During the years during and immediately before Rome’s peak, Roman armies had been able to squash rebellions of up to 70,000 people.  However, as military standards went downhill, the army had a harder time putting down uprisings, and as this fact grew ever more apparent, rebels began taking more risks, drawing the army out and stretching it to its very limits.  People were more inclined to join uprisings as well; government debt had caused myriads of new taxes to be imposed and meant less public entertainment.  As hatred for the ruling classes grew, the government’s command slipped.  Rome was losing control.

Disease also helped stir up civil unrest and weakened military defense, worsening the effects of overexpansion.  Evidence of the bubonic plague and malaria along with other illnesses has been found in Roman remains.  Sickness meant the army lost significant numbers of soldiers and became even more ineffective than ever.  Outbreaks of disease also were probably seen as omens of what to come or as the gods’ judgment on the current government.  Many upper class citizens made their dislike for the common folk abundantly clear; plebeians could and did lie dying in the streets without any sort of government aid or even a decent burial.  Public resentment toward the upper classes probably increased greatly.
When outside forces such as the Visigoths and Huns arrived, Rome must have seemed easy pickings.  Constant attacks along the border wore down the already weakened army.  Roman generals often fought each other for control as they set themselves up as regional rulers, harbingers of Rome’s impending doom.  There was also little civilian support for the Roman rulers, and many villages joined the outside forces in bringing down the Roman government.

Rome’s doom was brought about by a combination of many factors, which weakened the internal structure so badly that when invaders arrived, they faced little or no opposition; in its heyday, there is little possibility that the Roman army would not have been able to utterly destroy these assailants.  Although the empire’s downfall was caused by many factors, it was precipitated by overexpansion, whose various effects multiplied and combined with outside problems to bring once-mighty Rome to its knees.


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