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- 6f. The Fall of the Roman Empire
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- Review: Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization- Bryan Ward-Perkins | Would-be-historian
- The Fall of Rome
Moreover, he had served in his youth as a hostage to the Eastern Romans and thus had learned the language of those highly civilized bureaucrats. And like Odovacar, he was also a Christian and, although Arian, managed to maintain good relations with the orthodox powers-that-be, not that he wanted to live among them. To this day, however, his strained relations with his secretary Boethius , an orthodox Christian, dominate the accounts of his regime—Theodoric ultimately had Boethius executed—but the Ostrogothic king would be better remembered for building a sound and effective government centered in Ravenna northeastern Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea , where his tomb can still be seen.
It is fairer to him, perhaps, to recall his relationship with Cassiodorus , Boethius' successor to the post of secretary, who was also an orthodox Christian but not so contentious a man. Cassiodorus quietly oversaw the copying of many Classical manuscripts, which was an important contribution to the preservation of Greek and Roman literature and thought during the Middle Ages. All in all, whether or not any of them knew it—and quite a few probably did—these men were folding the tents of culture, packing its bags and quenching the fires of scholarship. The West was readying itself for its Medieval "camping trip.
The classic conundrum of antiquity, "Why did Rome fall? Few of the suggestions have made much of an impression. Many involve "invented histories" of some sort, speaking volumes about the answerer and syllables about the issue. More than one may be dismissed off-hand as so far from what-really-happened that, though they represent someone's history, it's clearly not the Romans'. For instance, Rome did not fall because of the distractions pursuant to sexual indulgence. Given the influence of Christianity which the Romans had adopted as their exclusive religion by then, the conduct of those living in the fifth century after Christ was relatively sober.
Indeed, if the data point to any venereal villains across the great expanse of Roman history, it is the Julio-Claudians who oversaw the height of Roman power in the first century CE and were truly perpetrators of immorality at large. So, to make an argument relating sexual behavior to Rome's "fall"—and to judge it fairly from the historical evidence—involves the ludicrous conclusion that the erotic felonies of a Caligula or Nero, in fact, sustained Rome's triumph, instead of corroding it at its core.
That suggests that, to prevent the collapse of their society, the Romans should have kept the orgies up, so to speak, which is patently ridiculous. Simply put, sex—reproduction maybe, but not sex!
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Likewise, the climate and ecology of the time cannot be adduced as the reason for something so earth-shattering as the "Fall of Rome. All may have appealed to some but none to all or, more to the point, a majority of scholars. And some of these answers have come from very good scholars, the likes of Edward Gibbon , the pre-eminent classical historian of England in the later half of the eighteenth century.
Brilliant though it was, the thesis he expounded in his monumental and highly engaging magnum opus The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire —he argued that the rise of Christianity emasculated the native vigor of Rome, leaving it open to more virile conquerors, i. For example, if Christianity so weakened the Roman West in late antiquity, why didn't it weaken the other half, the staunchly orthodox East which survived nearly a millennium after the collapse of the West? Perhaps it's true that Christianity redirected the attention of many Romans away from affairs of state, but it did not undermine their civilization.
To the contrary, it was as natural an outgrowth of their culture, as "Roman" as all sorts of other things they did: theatre, epic poetry, gladiators, ship-building, all of which were imports, just like Christianity. Any hope of finding a better answer depends on assessing exactly what was happening in Rome at the time of its "fall" and the data do, in fact, point to some clear and significant trends.
First of all, there's strong evidence of a steady decline in population across the entire Empire from the second century CE on. For example, peaking at around a million or so in the Classical Age, the population of the city of Rome gradually dropped over the course of the next few centuries, reaching a low point of a mere six thousand by the 's. The reasons for this drastic if incremental reduction in human resources are not clear, though many Romans' luxurious lifestyle and their concomitant disinterest in producing and raising children must have played some part.
So did plagues, no doubt, as well as constant warfare on the frontiers and perhaps even lead-poisoning, evidenced in human skeletal remains recovered from Pompeii which show that the Romans there were indeed exposed to high concentrations of the lethal element. Nevertheless, it's unclear how widespread this problem was. Second, economic data point to other factors which doubtlessly contributed to the situation. Well-documented among the travails of third-century Rome—a full two centuries prior to its notorious "fall"—is a particularly long period of financial crisis which inaugurated the slow collapse of the economy in the West.
This economic depression was due in large part to the failure of the Romans' system of conquest and enslavement. When the flow of cheap slaves began to dry up, estates throughout the Empire could no longer live off the abuse of human resources on which they had formerly depended. So without any real industry or much agricultural machinery to work the land—Roman land-owners did know about water wheels and windmills but archaeologists have found evidence of very few being used in this period—the aristocrats of late Rome apparently watched the collapse of their economy and disdained practical matters such as retooling their farms to ensure their viability.
Finally, political affairs contributed to the difficulties plaguing late Rome. The general incompetence of emperors and the failure of traditional politics in the West led to a wretchedly corrupt political structure, characterized by an oppressive burden of taxation levied to support the growing army of soldiers barbari! This, in turn, led to inflation and debasing of Roman coinage, which bred a lethal mix of apathy and angst that inspired many Romans to flee politics and later the poleis "city-states" of the Empire, the urban foundation on which rested most of ancient life.
With that, actual power in Rome fell into the hands of local lords, and the concept of shared Roman civilization itself came under siege. But states have survived disasters far worse than any or all of these. In sum, none of the theories or factors mentioned above explains why there's no simple answer to the simple question, " Why did Rome fall? To a scholar, that demands an all-out Aristotelian response, a syllogism, an analysis of the question in terms of its principal elements, which are three: why, Rome, fell.
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Since "why" cannot be answered until the other components of the question have been determined, it's best not to start there. First, then, when we say "Rome," what do we mean? The city? The empire? Its government?
6f. The Fall of the Roman Empire
Its people? That Rome fell to the Visigoths in , to the Vandals in , not to mention its other earlier "falls" such as the one to that most-Roman-of-all-Romans, Julius Caesar himself 45 BCE , and its near capitulation to Hannibal before that. So if it's right to put the events of in the same category—they were hardly as destructive physically or psychologically as those which preceded—the ouster of Romulus Augustulus can hardly labelled " the fall of Rome," when compared to other ruinous sieges and takeovers of the city.
The Eastern Empire stood for nearly a millennium after , nearly as long again as classical Rome itself. So Rome as Empire can't be right. That definition doesn't work either. They're still there. They're called Italians. So, if the people of Rome ever "fell," apparently they got back up again. That's out, too. Whatever the answer, the question of which "Rome" fell in lies at the heart of the problem, and most of the answers that have been offered incline toward one but not all of the connotations the name Rome can carry.
Yet, all are inherent in the question, at least when it's phrased so simply as "Why did Rome fall? Hopefully, "fall" will prove a less obscure term than "Rome," and it does, unfortunately.
But that's really not how things happened in late imperial Rome. Nothing went "boom"—"blaarhhh! There must be a better metaphor and, if a derogatory term is in order—and speaking positively about Rome in the fifth century seems out of the question, without completely recasting the issue—it would be more suitable perhaps to say Rome "dissolved.
Scholars, after all, can hardly sit around seminar tables in serious discourse debating the reasons why the ancient cookie "crumbled. So then, how about "leak"? All those present the same problem, though the gradualism inherent in any of them represents a significant step toward accuracy in reflecting the slow disintegration inherent in Rome's "fall," the far-from-instantaneous process of wasting away that characterizes the end of classical antiquity.
Still, The Decline and Rot of Rome?
It's hard to see that on anyone's best-seller list. So, with the implications of "Rome" unclear and, worse yet, tied to the misguided metaphor of "falling," our inner Aristotles can see that it's categorically pointless to proceed to "why. It is, in fact, a loaded question, because it presupposes that Rome did fall, encouraging us to think in what may turn out to be inaccurate and unproductive ways.
The real question is whether Rome fell, not why? True, the Roman state did something monumentally unpleasant in the 's CE, especially for those citizens of Rome acclimated to the benefits of life in the Empire.
Review: Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization- Bryan Ward-Perkins | Would-be-historian
That's why many Romans in the day left the city for the countryside or monasteries or God's merciful embrace. But that change did not happen overnight, or even over a decade. The historical data do not support any firm break between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, certainly nothing like the social upheaval that followed in the wake of the Black Death as it surged across Europe. There, the impact of an explosive catastrophe can be seen in every corner of the European landscape.
The Fall of Rome
But doeis not equal The historical truth, if any exists, is that Rome did not fall; rather, it evolved. Roman coloni farmers tied to the land gradually became Medieval serfs.
The patron-and-client relationship, so central in Roman society, slowly assumed the name and nature of the lord-and-vassal bond, the social order underlying much of European society in the Middle Ages. So, if Rome fell, it was only in slow motion, very slow motion. But change did come to Rome in the fifth century—as it has to every society in every century of human history—and a particularly drastic change it was. Many of the conventions which had once ruled the ancient Romans' lives evaporated, never to re-emerge.
Primarily, citizenship in Rome offered little or no protection to its denizens, like membership in a club that was now defunct. That, in turn, precipitated an even more serious casualty, the loss of pride in being Roman, and of all things that perhaps lies at the heart of the problem. From Potsherds to People. Born and brought up in Rome, he has excavated extensively in Italy, primarily sites of the immediate post-Roman period.
His principal interests are in combining historical and archaeological evidence, and in understanding the transition from Roman to post-Roman times.