The Golden Age in Rome, from about 96 to 180 CE, was a time of unparalleled prosperity for the Romans. It was a period of five good emperors, who brought peace and wealth to the Romans. The Romans were influenced by other countries in the Mediterranean, through trade and conquest. Although the Romans were prosperous, their decline began soon after the end of the Golden Age.
While many claim that Christianity caused the downfall, the fundamental cause of the collapse was weakening in military, causing the allowance of barbaric invasion and a decline in the economy.Historians claimed Christianity played key a role in the downfall of Rome. Edward Gibbon, an 18th century historian, believed that Christianity was the source of Rome’s quandary. Gibbon argued “Christianity had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire… The active virtues of society were discouraged. ” (Gibbon, 1788). Christianity required unfaltering devotion and dedication, averting the attention of the Roman citizens.
This took away from the strength that had previously been exerted in running the empire.The Christians also believed in god before the Emperor. This often angered the Emperor and diverted his focus from the concern of the downfall. Christianity united the citizens against the rise of the empire. Though many agreed with Gibbon, their theory was flawed. The Roman military played a large part in Roman society. The military was mainly composed of farmers.
The Roman emperors were generals in the military, and led warriors into battle. Many emperors erected arches to promote their victories in the military.For example, Constantine constructed an arch to commemorate his victory over Maxentius in 312. The Romans won most of the battles they fought, and they were successful.
They expanded into new areas, gaining new resources. This brought wealth and prosperity to Rome. This also caused the Roman economy to be dependent on the military’s success. The military was the base of the Roman descent.
Adrian Goldsworthy, a British military historian, believed that the fall was due to ongoing civil wars from within fighting for power.He stated “… Military and civil powers were made separate…. It was very difficult to raise and supply an army large enough to deal with serious problems on the frontiers” (Goldsworthy, 2009).
Since the military was unprepared for outside invasions, they were left vulnerable to the Barbarians. As the Germanic tribes began to defeat the Romans, the military became even weaker, and they were no longer able to hold their position nor fight effectively. To strengthen the military, higher taxes were issued.This drove citizens off of land that they could no longer pay the taxes for.
Arnold Hugh Martin Jones, a 20th century historian, believed that the military caused a collapse in economy. He states “… oppressive taxation (necessitated by the increased number of soldiers…) rendered some agriculture unprofitable, leading to a flight from the land, a fall in population…” (Jones, 1964). He explains how this led to a vicious cycle of even higher taxes for the remaining cultivators, and a higher demand for food.The Barbaric invasions also destroyed land, putting more farmers into unemployment.
They had trouble finding enough money to survive, so the farmers migrated to the city. This added to the city’s already large unemployment rates. Another example is the Roman prosperity that had previously been acquired through expansion and new recourses. As the expansion stopped, the incoming wealth stopped as well. This caused the collapse in economy. The prices began to rise, and people were beginning to lose their hard earned savings.Due to the large amount of inflation, Constantine, the emperor, tried to fix the prices.
His plans did not succeed because they were unrealistic and unforceable. The economy could no longer sustain itself nor function properly. There were multiple reasons for the fall of Rome. These include Christianity, over-expansion, weak leadership, and the military. Many historians, including Gibbon, Goldsworthy, and Ferrill, have debated this topic since the downfall. Some agree in saying that military is the key cause of the fall, but the topic is and will continue to be debated.