The Rise and fall of the Roman Empire

One interesting dynamic trend in history is the rise and fall of political powers around the world; this has had an impact on all hierarchical macro systems, from simple political structures of chiefdoms to powerful world empires. The persistent collapse of Mesopotamian nations and rise and fall of the Roman Empire has excited the imagination of many researchers and have been a source of controversies by historians on their possible causes. The explanations of these occurrences have ranged from particularistic ones such as the contribution of Christianity in the collapse of Rome, to more general explanations such as the diminishing returns theory on sociopolitical complexity that lead to imperial collapse and decline. This essay focuses on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and what lead to this (Turchin, 2003).

The rise of the Roman Empire

The rise of the Roman Empire was as a result of the use of prestige and power to control relations in numerous cities in Italy. Rome created colonies and made alliances, and gave land to common Romans in these colonies. This land was given under the condition that those given the land would serve in the military. As the colonies expanded, a nation was slowly being created and the population in Rome was growing gradually. In addition, Rome was expanding in terms of manpower by giving citizenship to individuals in cities and colonies that it trusted; it also granted citizenship in cities with individuals who wanted to be identified with the greatness of Rome and those who were willing to fight as Romans.

Between 327 and 311, Romans fought a number of wars with the Samnites, during this period the Etruscan cities had joined in a confrontation against the power of Romans. The Romans together with their associates won numerous wars against the Samnites and Etruscans. By the beginning of the next century, Samnites had gathered enough support from the Gauls and Etruscans to engage Rome in another battle.  Facing all enemies at once was difficult for Romans as they had always won due to the lack of collaboration. Nevertheless, they prevailed due to military leadership and self discipline. In 295, they won an important battle at Sentium, whereby more troops participated than any previous battles. After this victory the wars slowed down and in 282, they came to an end. At this time Rome had been able to conquer all lands under the ItalianPeninsula except for Italy’s extreme south Greek cities and the northern lands which were still under Gauls. (Smitha, 2009)

As the war came to an end, a Greek city in the Italian south coast, Tarentum, was disturbed by Rome’s colony that had been established near it. However, Tarentum had a democratic constitution and it exerted some influence in the south. This city had the biggest naval fleet in the whole of Italy, an army of about 15,000 men, and had sufficient wealth that could buy a considerable number of mercenaries. In previous battles, Tarentum had not collaborated with the Samnites, Gauls, or Etruscans, but slowly it decided to go to war against the Romans. With the help of Pyrrhus, an adventurer from Macedonia, Tarentum engaged Rome in war. Pyrrhus who had a high repute agreed to lead the combined army of Tarentum and the other cities in Italy. Being a former relative of Alexander the Great, he was of the idea that this war would give him an opportunity to widen the authority of Macedonia as was the wish of Alexander. Victory in this war would give him some glory that Alexander had enjoyed. Nevertheless, similar to other Hellenistic individuals, he had underestimated the power of Rome.

In 280, Pyrrhus a 25,000 man army in Italy, this army consisted of elephants, 2,000 archers, and 3,000 horsemen. He fought with the Romans at Herclea, and using the elephants he was able to drive the Roman soldiers back by creating panic amongst the soldiers. He was able to win this battle and a number of others that followed but at the expense of massive casualties, as the Roman soldiers were more ferocious than he had faced before.

However, Pyrrhus victory was short-lived as the manpower of Rome was enormous. By 275, he was defeated and went back to Greece, with this defeat came the end of dream to expand the empire of Hellenists to Italy. This was a great victory for the Romans and in 272, Tarentum give up to Rome and it was allowed to rule itself similar to other cities. In turn, Tarentum was required to acknowledge supremacy of Rome.

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The fall of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire begun to fall after the Pax Romana and the explanations for this fall are several. There are those who argue that it was as a result of one factor, however many people argue that it was as a result of a combination of numerous factors such as military trouble,  monetary trouble, lead, decadence, and Christianity. Other controversial causes are the rise of Islam, chance, and imperial incompetence.

Gibbon’s theory on the fall of the Roman Empire

According to Edward Gibbons, an English historian, the Roman Empire surrendered to invasions by barbarians to a large extent due to the steady failure in civic virtue by its citizens. The Romans had become very relaxed, and they outsourced to barbarian mercenaries their responsibility to defend the Roman Empire.  The mercenaries became so ingrained and numerous that they were able to gradually capture the Empire.  According to Gibbon, the Romans had turned out to be effeminate and were not willing to live a manly and tougher military lifestyle. Further, the degeneration of the praetorian guards and Roman army also contributed. Additionally, Gibbon proposed that Christianity instilled the belief that a superior life existed after one dies, and this made the Roman citizens more indifferent and this weakened the desire of Romans to fight for the empire. Moreover, the comparative pacifism led to the decline of the traditional martial spirit of the Romans. Similar to other enlightened thinkers, Gibbon argue that the middle ages was dark and superstitious age when there were no priests (Potter, 2006).


The Roman Empire had expanded too much and this made it hard to control it, the families and soldiers in far parts of the Empire had taken on the local customs there. This led to increased corruption as there were barbarians and Italian peninsula natives. According Vegetius, the army’s decay emerged from within the army because it had become weak due to the peace that was present and they had even stopped from dress in their protective armor. This resulted in their fear of battles and they became vulnerable to attacks from the weapons of enemies. In addition, the security present at the time led to the decrease in the security drills that were conducted regularly. Vegetius states that the leaders in Rome became useless and they distributed rewards unfairly.


In the Roman Empire, Christians had been persecuted all along but when Constantine came to power he got interested in Christianity. He tolerated Christianity in the empire and even adopted the title of pontiff. Even though he was not baptized and therefore not a Christian, he conferred Christians with some privileges and resolved major disputes of a Christian nature. Constantine may not have recognized how the pagan beliefs of the empire were conflicting with those of Christians. With time church leaders were able to take power from the emperors due to their influence on the public. The beliefs of Christians conflicted with the way the empire was being run and this led to the fall of the empire.


The vandals were a barbaric German tribe which claimed the territory of Romans in Africa, in addition the Visigoths, Alans, and Sueves, took over Spain from Rome. This meant that Rome lost administrative control and revenue from these territories. This revenue was very essential for maintaining the army and this meant that the decreased revenue could not sustain the army.

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Economic factors

Economic factors were also a major cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Economic factors such as inflation, poor management, hoarding and the dole all combined led to the increased financial stress. The key catalysts that led to the economic deterioration were as a result of the lack of a flowing currency in the empire. The reasons for the lack of finances were due to the citizens hoarding of bullion, and the prevalent looting of the treasury in Rome by the barbarians. Together with an enormous trade deficit, these factors lead to the suppressed economic growth. The other factor that led to reduced economic growth was the dole; this led to the increased spending on circuses and bread by the poor and non-working Romans.


Similar to other empires that have risen and fallen, the Roman Empire is no different. Through the famous Roman army, the Romans were able to build a great empire. The Roman army was able to defeat the Samnites, Etruscans, Gauls and the Greeks. All these tribes were fierce enemies who would have won the battles and build an empire of their own. But the military leadership and self discipline of the Roman soldiers enabled them to emerge victorious in the wars. However due to laxity and vain foolishness, the Roman Empire collapsed. Having won many battles, the Romans relaxed and this made them weaker, other factors that lead to the fall of the Roman Empire are Christianity, decay, vandals, and economic issues.

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