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Old February 24th, 2014, 06:01 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by RoyalHill1987 View Post
The abundance of mineral resources in the British Isles was probably one of the main reasons for the Roman conquest of Britain.
It was mainly to bolster Claudius.

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The Romans discovered the Dolaucothi vein soon after their invasion
So it wasn't the original motive.

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and I suspect demand for imports had very little to do with Rome's problems.
It led to a drain of gold, a problem recognized by Tiberius IIRC.

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The real problem was government inability to control spending, ultimately caused by a runaway political machine that had lost control over its own apparatus (i.e. the army).
The Illyrian emperors did much to alleviate that. Aurelian was a harsh disciplinarian.


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The triumph of Christianity had nothing to do with the military ability of the Empire. There is nothing especially 'pacifist' about Christianity in the first place.
Early church authorities like Tertullian opposed military service for christians. They were apparently quite influential for, although some christians served, there appears to be a connection between christian triumph and a chronic scarcity of citizen recruits. Augustine reversed the pacifist position but too late for the survival of the west.

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Aside from what Jesus himself is reported to have said, there is the fact that the Christian Eastern Roman Empire continued to wage bloody wars for the next thousand years after the fall of Rome,

Explain that if you want to continue the argument.
The East was lucky in that it wasn't the principal target of 5th century barbarian conquest (as opposed to raiding/extortion). Since little of its territory was permanently overrun, if affected at all, it was able to survive the period in which christians were still unwilling to fight.


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In addition, has nobody looked at Rome's rivals, such as the Persians? It's all very well to talk about Rome being 'doomed' to collapse once its conquests finished, but what about Sassanid Persia? Does the same hold true there as well?
Right, I never believed a cessation of conquest doomed Rome.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 06:03 AM   #22
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IIRC the third century currency debasement owed much to exhaustion of precious metal sources. It wasn't their fault but more the fault of fatcats who spent too much on imports.
Come on now, the Empire was run by fatcats, even with the barracks emperors in charge. How was it not their fault? If anything, the Roman cultural ethos did not place much importance on the production of high-value finished goods, so in the end the only ways to keep the system going was hoping there would be abundant sources of metals to mine, or rich, easy enemies to plunder, or by some miracle harvests continued to grow and grow in size with no famines in between. We know that they eventually ran out of the first two, and the latter would not be possible until the Industrial Age.

I'm willing to bet that the golden age of the Antonines would have been a lot less golden had Trajan not looted Dacia, and the 'new' golden age of Severus would not have been had he not looted Parthia.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 06:14 AM   #23
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There were three main reasons for the Fall of Rome (according to Gibbon). The increase in military skill by the Northern tribes (such as the Visigoths),
Stilicho beat them but with barbarian troops who, once alienated, left Rome defenseless and even helped sack it...

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the growing strength of the Persians,
Persia was probably at its apogee relative to Rome in the mid third century. Sassanid Persia suffered from the same pathologies as parthia, leading to occasional severe weakness, exploited by Odenathus and Carus in the wake of Sapor's heyday. In the fifth century the persian front was quiet.

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and the constant civil wars that sapped the strength of the Roman army.
Did the mid third century civil wars prevent the late 200s comeback with a revived military?

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The Roman army wasn't that large at its peak (only 300000 men against the millions of barbarians)
The barbarians didn't invade with millions of troops. Note how Aurelian and Probus succeeded in booting them out.

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so I would be inclined to feel that the civil wars were the most important factor.
Na, they had long been a problem, and not decisive. The real change by c 400 was christianity....It was Goldsworthy btw not Heather, who blamed civil wars.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 06:20 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by auhcxam View Post
know that they eventually ran out of the first two,
I believe Constantine found new sources of gold so a good new solidus replaced debased third century coins.

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I'm willing to bet that the golden age of the Antonines would have been a lot less golden had Trajan not looted Dacia, and the 'new' golden age of Severus would not have been had he not looted Parthia.
I dunno about a "lot less." Rome certainly had ample gold before the dacian conquest, which was principally intended AFAIK to eliminate a dangerous foreign enemy.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 06:36 AM   #25
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I believe Constantine found new sources of gold so a good new solidus replaced debased third century coins.
Do you have evidence for this? The solidus was a smaller coin with gold content less than the already-debased aureus; ie. it was pure gold but not as big as the coin it replaced.

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I dunno about a "lot less." Rome certainly had ample gold before the dacian conquest, which was principally intended AFAIK to eliminate a dangerous foreign enemy.
The point is, regardless of what his intentions were in invading Dacia, the Roman economic system continually required infusions of precious metals from outside the Empire, to replace the gold and silver being drained by imports. The Romans weren't much good at exports, so their only real option was to take it by invading their rich neighbors. Once they ran out of rich and invadeable neighbors, the whole system began to unravel. None of the later Emperors, pagan or christian, managed to solve this particular economic conundrum so I'm rather skeptical on the whole emphasis you're placing on Christianity here.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 07:14 AM   #26

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@Starman

I see your comments are very focused on the fifth century AD e.g. the Persian frontier was quiet, the Germanic barbarians, etc.

Saint Augustine lived from c.350 to 430AD. So you're claiming that there was a brief 'window' or period of time when Christian pacifism affected the Roman Empire's ability to raise troops - a period that presumably ended at some point following the Gothic sack of Rome 410 and Augustine's book written in response.

Certainly, by 530AD and the Roman conquests of Justinian in Africa, Italy and Spain, the Romans were putting troops into ambitious foreign wars of conquest again. And of course, the Persian frontier was anything but quiet in the sixth century AD - the two states were almost constantly at war from the middle of Justinian's reign until the end of the century, culminating eventually in the catastrophic Persian war beginning in 602AD, which ushered in the Dark Ages in Anatolia and the Balkans and opened the door to the Arab conquest of the Near East, finally marking the end of the Ancient Classical world and the advent of the Medieval.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 02:57 PM   #27

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Many thanks to everyone so far for brilliant contributions!

I do want to try to focus on determining when, how and why 'decline' commenced rather than the actual process of dissolution in the fifth century.

'General' reasons acting over centuries are usually less helpful- in theory one can blame Romulus and Remus for starting it all! There may have been proccesses beyond the vision or power of a single ruler, however powerful or autocratic, to recognise or counter. On the other hand, some rulers may have taken decisions whose consequences were huge.

I am interested to note the number of people citing Christianity. Whilst there is a suspicious proximity of the prevalance of that creed with the fall of the Empire, I am not aware of Heather, Goldsworthy or any other historian of repute citing this as a cause: and if it is to be cited- what is the mechanism by which it is deemed to act? I cannot see any evidence that Christianity tuned all Romans into conscientious objectors and pacifists, or that Aryanism was somehow much more militaristic in favour of the Barbarians.

Arguements that the Empire must live on conquests not only ignore the Empires ability to budget year on year over centuries but ignore the fact the great majority of conquests occurred under the Republic.

Brunt, in 'Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic' highlights the reduction in the legionary assidui class and the need by the Republic to resort to the pool of manpower offered by the poor. This in turn, he asserts was under constant pressure through the ever growing slave based economy, which tended to increase slave and freedman numbers and operate economic pressure on the poorer citizens and reduced their numbers steadily.

This operated it seems, until there was need to bring in the next pool of manpower and taxes- make all non Roman citizens into Roman citizens. This sufficied to see through the third century crisis.

I consider that the nail in the coffin however, setting active decline in motion, were the reforms of Diocletian, especially the economic reforms.Of course, he did not intend anything other than rejuvenation. But- By attempting price control he made many trades inoperable: by state control of the economy tying people for life, and their offspring too, to vocations,he destroyed the nature of classical civilisation which had operated, bringing in a feudal serfdom which is often cited as commencement of the Middle Ages. The operation of farms by superrich familes utlilising slave labour on a huge scale made these enterprises efficient, but made the lot of the poor citizen unenviable.

Despite this, had those reforms not taken place, some other solution would have had to be found to deal with inflation and the need to maintain the larger army now instituted.

The overall efect was a drop in citizen population and alienation of the mass of the citizenry, who began to prefer Bagaudae brigandage or barbarian rule to Roman, a hitherto uncommon phenomenon. The imposition of Christianity may have acted to widen the alienation or provide amelioration in the promise of a better life in the next world. In the end, neither money nor manpower could be found as before and we find the Roman state having to utilise foederate tribes as military manpower. Despite Diocletion supposedly doubling the army in size, his reforms in spreading troops in packets along the frontier and instituting cavalry based central armies seems to have caused problems. By 375, the armies available seem to have been much smaller rather than larger and the empire was far less resilient in terms of raising new armies than it had been in 270.

It may be that the battle of Mursa in 351, supposedly a bloodbath, caused a critical loss of western troops and at Argentoratum in 357 Julian could muster few troops. Despite this he mounted an effective invasion of Persia.

I therefore consider the onset of decline to be around 300 rather than 180-220.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 03:05 PM   #28

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I agree with the people above who think the notion that Christianity had any part in the decline of Rome to be a little weird. Especially if the argument is that it caused a shrinking of the army. If anything, 4th century armies were larger and more active than those of the third century. By the later fourth century, part of the issue with Barbarians was that they fought with the same quality organization and technology as the Romans. Betraying the Goths and later Stilicho was a good way for Rome to lose a great number of its troops, and increase their enemies to great numbers all at the same time. By the fifth century, the "Barbarian" generals were mostly superior to the Romans; Geiseric is a great example.
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Old February 24th, 2014, 03:06 PM   #29
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I believe Constantine found new sources of gold so a good new solidus replaced debased third century coins.
The gold aureus was never debased. It did change in weight over time but it was always pure. The gold coin shrank from the 8g of Caesar to 6.5g by the reign of Marcus Aurelius and then 5.5g during Diocletian's economic reforms. Finally Constantine set it at the 4.5g at which it would remain for centuries as the solidus of the Byzantines.

Where did he get it all from? I'm betting it was through trade and taxes for which Constantinople was ideally placed. The economy was robust enough that by the time Justinian came to power he was able to spend an estimated 300,000 pounds of gold in his attempts to recover the West.

That was really what caused the unraveling of the whole Roman system in the West, economic collapse resulting from the loss of trade and tax revenues and resource-rich territories which weakened the ability of the military to cope with the barbarian migrations.
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Old February 25th, 2014, 03:09 AM   #30
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'General' reasons acting over centuries are usually less helpful- in theory one can blame Romulus and Remus for starting it all! There may have been proccesses beyond the vision or power of a single ruler, however powerful or autocratic, to recognise or counter. On the other hand, some rulers may have taken decisions whose consequences were huge.
On the contrary, I think the 'general' reasons as you call them are very helpful, in that they show us not only what the problems were but that the solutions to them were also mostly out of the control of any individual leader. The decisions made by individual emperors or leaders certainly had effects in exacerbating or relieving the underlying issues, but did not ultimately address them in any significant way. We could certainly blame Romulus and Remus for starting it all, but then the topic of the thread is the decline of the Empire, and the reasons for the rise of Rome also have a lot to do with its decline. So pointing fingers at Romulus or any other historical personage might tell us a bit, but not nearly enough, hence the resort to 'general' reasons.

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Arguements that the Empire must live on conquests not only ignore the Empires ability to budget year on year over centuries but ignore the fact the great majority of conquests occurred under the Republic.
On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the Empire knew how much money it needed year on year, but its efforts to obtain that money mostly resulted in economic or socio-political dislocation - in other words, when the government needed money but wasn't receiving enough, it simply became more draconian in applying the existing methods: either by taxing provincial subjects too much, debasing the currency, or killing rich men and confiscating their property. Efforts to find out, for example, how to make taxpayers more productive so that they could afford to pay more taxes, were few and far in between (not that I'm suggesting it was even possible).

Squeezing money out of provincials on a lavish scale, whether by exploitation of existing provinces or conquest and plundering new ones, did indeed peak in last century of the Republic and the first century of Augustus' new order; it was the tried-and-tested Roman method of extracting resources needed for their socio-political order and one which the Romans were never able to move away from.

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This operated it seems, until there was need to bring in the next pool of manpower and taxes- make all non Roman citizens into Roman citizens. This sufficied to see through the third century crisis.
This exactly reinforces the points I make above: that when the established methods of extracting resources began to falter, they simply tried it on a much bigger scale than before. It was a band-aid that did not solve the underlying issues, if they were even solvable.

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I consider that the nail in the coffin however, setting active decline in motion, were the reforms of Diocletian, especially the economic reforms.Of course, he did not intend anything other than rejuvenation. But- By attempting price control he made many trades inoperable: by state control of the economy tying people for life, and their offspring too, to vocations,he destroyed the nature of classical civilisation which had operated, bringing in a feudal serfdom which is often cited as commencement of the Middle Ages. The operation of farms by superrich familes utlilising slave labour on a huge scale made these enterprises efficient, but made the lot of the poor citizen unenviable.
Again, I consider this to simply be an extremely draconian application of the Romans' tried-and-tested methods - Diocletian knew that the existing system wasn't working, but his attempt at solving the problem basically ended up being a really severe version of the old system.

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Despite this, had those reforms not taken place, some other solution would have had to be found to deal with inflation and the need to maintain the larger army now instituted.
If there's one thing the Romans were not know for, it is coming up with and applying sea-changing solutions: even great reformers like Augustus had to cloak their programs in a veneer of conservatism and restoration of a mythical past 'golden age'.

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The overall efect was a drop in citizen population and alienation of the mass of the citizenry, who began to prefer Bagaudae brigandage or barbarian rule to Roman, a hitherto uncommon phenomenon. The imposition of Christianity may have acted to widen the alienation or provide amelioration in the promise of a better life in the next world. In the end, neither money nor manpower could be found as before and we find the Roman state having to utilise foederate tribes as military manpower. Despite Diocletion supposedly doubling the army in size, his reforms in spreading troops in packets along the frontier and instituting cavalry based central armies seems to have caused problems. By 375, the armies available seem to have been much smaller rather than larger and the empire was far less resilient in terms of raising new armies than it had been in 270.

I therefore consider the onset of decline to be around 300 rather than 180-220.
I agree with most of what you said here, except that putting a clear "turning point" to the Empire's decline implies that if somehow a different emperor had come along had been made the decline could have been delayed or avoided entirely, which really doesn't mesh with the evidence. The Romans' decline more resembles a body slowly aging, weakening and increasingly unable to fend off outside diseases, rather than one which stupidly decided to walk into the wrong part of town and was violently murdered.
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