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Old February 15th, 2011, 11:26 AM   #1

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The Fall of the Roman Empire


Few topics in pre-modern history have spawned so much speculation and debate as the demise of the Imperium Romanum. The thinly-veiled monarchy that controlled most of Europe and the entirety of the Mediterranean world by the 2nd Century AD gave peoples on three continents a common language, currency, culture, and - with the rise of Christianity - religion. Yet, by the 7th Century, most of its provinces were in the hands of various "barbarian" peoples, from Franks to the Ummayad Khalifate.

Literally hundreds of theories have been put forward in the past several centuries, to explain the "decline and fall" of this Empire. For some, the question is whether the Empire was violently brought down by the destructive incursions of barbarians, or whether it was slowly and peacefully digested by the gradual influx of Germanic migrants.

Others, have put forward theories that border on being silly. Some have suggested that the Romans became impotent from taking too many hot baths; others think that they were killed off by lead poisoning. Macabre and often amusing theories about the demise of the Romans are just as diverse as those concerning the extinction of the dinosaurs.

In this thread, I would like to simply ask my fellow Historumites: how do you view the fall of the Roman Empire, and the "barbarians" who were supposedly responsible? Can it be truthfully said that the Empire "fell", and if so just how and when did it fall, in your opinion?

Discuss.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 11:36 AM   #2
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It was the Roman elite themselves who were responsible. Their interests lied rather in preserving their own status, thus starting a process of over-exploitation which led to an economic stagnation from AD 170, following the great plague.

The reason for the fall of the Western Roman Empire was imperial overstretch.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 11:40 AM   #3

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My own humble opinion:

The Roman Empire never really recovered from the Crisis of the Third Century (235-284 AD). The triple dilemmas of foreign incursions (particularly by an equal power, the resurgent Persian Empire), plagues, and civil wars brought about by ambitious generals and unruly armies, came close to completely breaking the Empire in the 260s.

The Empire "got lucky" under the leadership of the "Illyrian Emperors" in the 270s and 280s, who solved the most pressing of the military problems. Diocletian and his Tetrarchy, and the House of Constantine, recognized the ugly truth - that the Roman Empire had become too big to be ruled by one man. It was if the Empire had awaken from the pleasant sleep of the 1st, 2nd, and early 3rd Centuries to an unpleasant reality full of ambitious generals, armies with local sympathies, and barbarians on every front.

Gothic, Vandal, and Hunnish invaders in the 5th Century came upon an Empire that had effectively destroyed itself. Look at Honorius; even in his own lifetime this emperor was noted for his successes in civil wars against usurpers, but his colossal failures against Alaric and the Goths.

I think there were a myriad of smaller factors that brough the Empire down, but I think the single biggest factors were the local loyalties of the armies, and the ambitions of frontier generals. It was simply too big an empire to remain united, and ultimately I am only surprised that its age of glory lasted as long as it did.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 11:40 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post

In this thread, I would like to simply ask my fellow Historumites: how do you view the fall of the Roman Empire, and the "barbarians" who were supposedly responsible? Can it be truthfully said that the Empire "fell", and if so just how and when did it fall, in your opinion?

Discuss.
This is an interesting thread and intend to make an elaborate answer later.

Barbarians: the theory of a hostile takeover is just old and hardly aplied as of today; the entire concept of the fall of the Roman empire would be a huge surprise for the western middle age men who firmly believe in the continuation of the empire.

Fell: I will also adress this later but it must be pointed out that there are tons of dates to the so called fall of the empire.

476AD
480AD
565AD
632 AD
1453 AD
1461 AD
1806 AD

Nowadays, the opinion is quickly shifting from "fall" to "changes"
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Old February 15th, 2011, 12:55 PM   #5

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With the benefit of hindsight we can identify the empire's greatest weakness the highly traditional nature of Roman thought. Nowhere is this traditionalism more painfully evident than in the attitude that Romans of the second century took to their army.

Arrian of Nicomedia, as governor of the Roman provinces of Cappadocia from 130 138, commanded an army that repelled an invasion of Alan tribes from the steppes of central Asia. He was also a learned scholar of ancient history. Like many Romans Arrian admired Alexander the Great, and his work on the Macedonian king remains the foundation for modern study of that era. Yet therein lay the problem; for all his accomplishments on the battlefield, when formulating tactics, Arrian recommends infantry formations that are adaptations of the fourth century BC phalanx used by his military hero. In writing n cavalry, Arrian is only slightly more up-yo-date when he commands innovations borrowed from the Gallic and Spanish tribes in the first century BC.

An inscription in North Africa records a series of speeches that Hadrian gave when visiting the area praising the drills performed by the auxiliary units. Tellingly, one of the formations praised was exactly the same Spanish cavalry drill described by Arrian. The coincidence of this identical tactic being used in two separate parts of the world smacks of the dead hand of tradition. The North African troops that Hadrian was inspecting were the garrison stationed at the border of the Sahara, yet there is nothing to suggest that he took into account the very different requirements of desert warfare.

The Roman army was drilled under the maxim: if it ain't broke don't fix it. However, what worked in the past failed to work as circumstances changed and Rome's traditionalist mindset blinded it to the fact that things were breaking. For a long time there was no strategic or tactical evolution.

Senior Roman officers were trained, first and foremost, in the arts of administration. This was the Achilles' heel of the Roman army in the second century. Rome had no war college, and Roman commanders understanding of warfare seems to have been based upon analysis of past success. In learning by rote the career details of their illustrious predecessors, they failed to take on board precisely those essential qualities innovation and flexibility that made the great truly great.

Marcus Aurelius's invasion of Persia in AD 163, for example, was based on a plan devised by Julius Caesar in 44 BC, while the northern wars fought during his reign dragged on because the enemy refused to offer battle under conditions that Roman commanders had been schooled to deal with.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 01:25 PM   #6
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Actually, I disagree. The Roman Empire in the 2nd century had different equipment than in the 1st, and the army in the 4th century had different equipment in comparison with the 3d.

In 9 out of 10 encounters, the Romans defeated the barbarians, only to have them replaced by new waves of barbarians.

I would say that the reason why Rome fell while China continued is that Western Europe is characterised by many peninsulae and mountain chains, effectively separating large chunks of territory from one another. China is largely one big fertile plain (at least the core of the Chinese Empire).

Moreover, the Roman Army turned into a beast which the state with it's de-centralised bureaucracy did not manage to administrate. Even when Diocletian created a real, imperial bureaucarcy, it just slowed down the pace of the civil wars, without ever ending them.

The Roman Army's technical ineptitude was largely non-existent and is a myth. They absorbed barbarian weapons if they proved to be superior.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 02:37 PM   #7

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I'll be following this thread with great interest, but without saying much, as anything after the Crisis years is a bit of a mystery to me. I did just begin Gibbon though, so that should enlighten me somewhat.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 02:40 PM   #8
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It was basically a conflict between the Eastern and the Northern armies, about what priorities the Roman defence policies should have (The Germans or the Persians), as well as strategic divisions within the general staff.

In the 1st century, about 80% of the legionnaires were Italians.

In the 3d century, about 5% were Italians.

Their loyalty was not directed towards the country, but towards the general and his subordinates.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 04:37 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Caspius View Post
The Roman Army's technical ineptitude was largely non-existent and is a myth. They absorbed barbarian weapons if they proved to be superior.
I wouldnt even call a myth because it was not take in consideration by historians such as Paul Erdkamp, Adrian Goldsworthy, Michael Pavkovic, Arthur Keaveney, Lukas de Blois.

Nevertheless, this thread, so far, operates on an outdate vision of the so called fall of Rome; and the myth of Barbarian invasions.

---

As of China, Chinese civilization endured but so did the roman one. Political institutions known as China ceased to exist throughout the ages and then were restored in later periods even if ruled by foreigners as the Mongols or the Manchu.

Roman political institution disappeared (god knowns when) but its civilization and culture live on; certainly evolving but then again all cultures evolve.
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Old February 15th, 2011, 04:59 PM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Publius Aelius Hadrianus View Post
Nevertheless, this thread, so far, operates on an outdate vision of the so called fall of Rome; and the myth of Barbarian invasions.
Pray explain why the "Barbarian Invasions" were a "myth" and "outdated vision".
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