The end of the Roman Empire: Analysis, causes and consequences


That of the Roman Empire was undoubtedly one of the most important geopolitical realities in human history. And this not only for the fact that it extended its dominion over almost the entire world known at the time but also for the enormous influence it was able to exert even after its collapse and dissolution. Collapse which occurred in the western part of the same much earlier than in the eastern one. And not by chance. Since in the former there was a much less prosperous economy than that of its eastern part. This is an essential aspect to understand why the Eastern Roman Empire lived much longer than the Western Roman Empire (a division which was carried out and formalized by the Emperor Theodosius in 395 AD). The latter was characterized by an agrarian economy based on large land holdings and the income that the latter generated for the class of large landowners (and whose work was looked after by “an army” of slaves without rights and essentially without the ability to spend ). Its economic fabric was therefore not very dynamic and completely sterile as regards the production of wealth and social mobility (i.e. it was not possible to create a middle class dedicated and inclined to commercial activity). Contrary to what was found in the eastern part of the empire where trade was very active and was able not only to generate movable wealth (i.e. create capital) but also a dynamic and very active social fabric from the point of view of productivity ( This was one of the strong factors that allowed the Eastern Roman Empire to survive much longer than the Western one, i.e. until 1453). Far from being very different only from a cultural point of view (the western part of the empire was Latin speaking while the eastern part was Greek in language and culture) the eastern and western parts of the empire were also very different from a cultural point of view. economy and the distribution of wealth. It can be deduced that the economic weakness of the Western Roman Empire was one of the elements that determined its collapse. Also as a consequence of an expansive monetary policy which progressively destroyed the value of the currency and which was necessary, starting from the mid-2nd century AD, when military expenditure increased exponentially and the absence of conquests prevented the exploitation one of the most important economic levers for any great empire: The spoils of war. Rome had drawn on it following its victory over Carthage, the annexation of Egypt and the conquest of Dacia. These three conquests not only expanded the territorial base of the empire but also guaranteed immense economic revenues with which the state budget was rebuilt. But after the conquest of Dacia (which took place under Trajan who plundered its huge gold reserves) Rome could no longer draw on the exploitation of the resources of other countries as there were no more significant territorial expansions. Which worsened the economic crisis of the empire. Which, all things considered, was the main cause, together with the military anarchy that occurred from the 2nd century AD, of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.


The Roman Empire reached, at the moment of its maximum expansion under Trajan, truly impressive dimensions. At the beginning of the 2nd century AD. it extended over an area of ​​approximately 4,500,000 square kilometres. Managing the state machinery of such a geopolitical construction was not at all simple. It was easy to manage the army internally. It must be said that the eastern borders of the empire, starting from the mid-2nd century AD. they were under constant pressure from belligerent and aggressive populations who constantly threatened their integrity. This applies both to the Asian borders (where the threat was represented by the Medes and the Parthians) and to the European ones which were put under constant pressure by the Germans (pushed to the west, close to the borders of the empire, by the advance of the Huns in ‘Eastern Europe). These threats required not only a massive economic commitment which weighed heavily on the finances of the empire but also a permanent military mobilization which concentrated in the hands of the various legions (especially those located in Asia Minor, which were more bellicose and prepared to war since they were constantly engaged in battle along the eastern borders of the empire) such a power as to allow the various generals at their head to rebel against the authority of the emperor and dispose of him as they pleased (if not killing him and taking his place). This state of affairs was one of the main causes of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Since the central power had to suffer the insubordination of many rebellious provinces and the conflict between the center and the periphery of the empire became more and more intractable over the years. Added to these power conflicts was the impoverishment of the workforce on large landed estates due to the forced enlistment of an ever-increasing quantity of laborers dedicated to working in the fields. Which mainly damaged the economy of the western part of the empire for the reasons explained above. In summary, the weakening of central power and the consequent military anarchy (which materialized dramatically starting from the second half of the 2nd century AD) consumed the empire from within and laid the foundations for its collapse. Diocletian’s attempt at administrative decentralization (known as the tetrarchy) was of little avail. The political-administrative division of the empire into four parts failed to resolve the conflicts and power conflicts within the latter. The immensity of which made centralized management of the same impossible.


There has been much debate on how much the spread of Christianity influenced the solidity of the empire and its definitive collapse during the second half of the 5th century AD. Certainly the confessional question played an important role in undermining the solidity and social cohesion within the imperial structure. And the persecutions became increasingly ferocious as the spread of the monotheistic Christian religion took root in the social fabric of the empire (especially in a plebeian context). But the confessional conflict certainly cannot be pointed out as a significant reason for the collapse of the empire. It was undoubtedly a factor of weakness that weakened Rome internally. But without the economic and inflationary dynamics (as a consequence of the uncontrolled issuance of money) and the military anarchy that developed within the empire from the second half of the 2nd century AD. it is reasonable to think that Rome could have retained its power for much longer. Even in case of crisis and confessional war. The historical contingency that saw the barbarian populations erupt on the borders of the empire therefore found favor with a system of power that was rather worn out if not definitively consumed. And the strategy of hospitalitas was not enough to appease the lust for power of these people who are as savage as they are warriors. Especially when it became clear to him how worn and exhausted the empire was. This awareness pushed them to the point of sacking Rome itself. The sack of Rome by Alaric’s Goths (410 AD) was an emblematic event. And it decreed, together with the collapse and disintegration of the empire, also the end of a historical era. The era of Roman domination over the then known world. The consequences of such developments were simply impressive. The impact of the invasions did not only concern the existence of the Western Roman Empire as a geopolitical entity (which ceased to exist, as such, in 476 AD) but also the economic, political and social structure up until then existing. As a consequence of the invasions, in fact, we witnessed the depopulation of the cities and the dispersion of a large part of the population of Western Europe in the countryside. This process of ruralization was the premise for the creation of a subsistence economic system, very different from the capitalist model of the Roman state. It was the economic model of the early Middle Ages. Based on the court economy and vassalage relationships. Otherwise known as feudalism. It was this political model. social and economic that characterized the reality of the various geopolitical entities that took the place of the Western Roman Empire following its dissolution (the Frankish kingdom in central Europe, the kingdom of the Burgundians in the Rhone valley, the kingdoms of Goths in Italy and Spain). Which says a lot about the real historical significance of the event and the consequences that this inevitably had throughout Europe.

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