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COMMENTARY: HISTORY FROM ANCIENT TO MODERN

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Fall of Rome

There are a few misconceptions around as to why the Roman Empire fell. First we can cut out the silly metaphor. Rome didn't "fall." The western half of the Roman Empire disintegrated. Rome was in the western half of the empire, and so too was the city of Ravena. The emperor in the western half of the empire lost much of his authority. The western half fragmented politically while the eastern half of the empire, ruled from Constantinople, remained unfragmented for centuries to come?

Today we still have people who equate the "fall of Rome" with a decline in morality, as if the empire and rule by the emperors were keeping the world on a high moral plane. Saint Augustine, who was around at the time of the disintegration, had a better view. He described Rome as wicked, as based on self-love, robbery, violence and fraud. The Romans, he claimed, were the most successful brigands in history. But still we have evangelists suggesting that today's world of wickedness is equivalent with a loss of virtue that accompanied the Fall of Rome, as they try to explain the coming apocalypse and rapture. Some attempts to explain Rome's demise are a little like blaming 9/11 on God's punishment. Some people believe that eat-drink-and- be-merry is a path to perdition and think of Rome as an example.

Rather than representing virtue, in the eyes of those of us who see immorality in violent conquest the Roman Empire had a morality problem from its beginning. Empire's are not nations. They embody conquered peoples, and they have populations less willing to defend against the intrusions of outsiders than are nations. Rome's rulers feared the ethnicities they ruled and were unwilling allow them to have arms to defend themselves.

There was also the corruption and various oppressions issuing from the empire's authorities and the rich that contributed to many common people thinking that the empire and its authorities were not worth fighting and dying for.

The Western half of the Roman Empire disintegrated because it was vulnerable to invasions from Germanic peoples from outside the empire and because it was a shabby political entity. Empires are not nations. They are not united by people with a common national identity. Imperial authorities in Rome failed to defend their power because they were unable to organize or mobilize more than a feeble resistance to the Germanic invasions.

The Eastern part of the empire, centered in Constantinople, did not have the length of border to defend that the Western part of the empire had, but eventually it too would be unable to defend itself militarily and would disintegrate. The city of Rome was overrun and sacked by the Goths in 410 and this was just a part of the disintegration. Constantinople's empire disintegrated and weakened well before the city fell militarily to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Copyright © 2005-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.