Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with Regards to its Economics.

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Justin Thompson

June 29, 2011

History of World Civilizations to 1500

Prof. Hardy

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with Regards to its Economics

Upon examining world civilizations on a large-scale time spectrum, it becomes evident that specific characteristics can be universally applied to define a presence of a strong society.  Some of these characteristics include agricultural surplus, government, urbanization, and more.  Although these characteristics can be used to certify a society’s existence and power, they can also be used to reveal a society’s flaws, giving historians a platform from which to speculate reasons for a society’s decline.  Through identifying some of the said characteristics, the Roman Empire is widely considered as being an extremely powerful state during its time. There is no shortage of explanations for the fall of the Roman Empire. Religious fanaticism, the growth of an autonomous military caste, and the decay of political morality; each of these has been proclaimed the chief cause of Rome's destruction. Though the previous explanations are most certainly factors in the empires decline, upon further examining the decline of the Roman Empire, the most plausible explanation for its decline lies in the state’s government, more specifically its economics. Although one can argue that there is one, single reason for the empire’s decline, it should be noted that the decline of Rome should be seen as part of a complex process without a single, concise explanation. The decline of Rome was the result of a complex process of interwoven weaknesses, defects and contingencies.

        The system of governance of the Roman Empire was flawed from the start. Unlike the Republic, there did not exist a strict set of rules determining who had the power to command what. The “checks and balances” developed during the Republic were far out of place by the time of the mid-Empire. The Empire was born out of civil war and turmoil, and did not give much consideration or foresight. What is more, the method of succession was not permanent – the Emperor could nominate whomever he chose to succeed him, or in the event of his death it may be whoever bullied their way to the top. In the latter years, the Praetorian Guard, the supposed protectors of the Emperor, often murdered and replaced him with someone of their choosing. Even the Roman Kingdom, despite being an autocracy, had rules and traditions in place to protect against such chaos. Beginning with Caesar Augustus and lasting until the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the majority of emperors had enough sense and good judgment to maintain, solidify, and even expand the boundaries of the empire, while the worst ones did not at least get chance enough to do too great harm. Beginning in the 3rd century however, this no longer applied.

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During the rule of Constantine in the 3rd and 4th centuries, Christianity became a staple in Roman life, ultimately aiding in the decline of the empire.  When Constantine granted religious tolerance to the empire and eventually made Christianity the official religion, he not only set Christians free to establish their own culture and society but he also opened the doors to religious conflicts between monotheistic and polytheistic worshipers.   This conflict would become apparent once Christianity began to take a strong hold on Roman life, leaving pagans to be ridiculed and eventually subject to Anti-Pagan laws during the rule of Constantine’s sons. After Constantine ...

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