fall of Rome?

Hey all,
A few days ago I had a discussion with some friends and the course of the conversation turned towards discussing and comparing various societies both modern and ancient. The fall of Rome came up and my friends seemed to agree that it was in large part because Rome became "decadent". This seemed overly simplistic (and maybe judgemental) and admittedly I don't know too much specifically on the subject so I didn't chime in, but it did spark my interest =)

I remember in college an anthropolgy professor told the class that complex, resilient societies collapse because of multiple factors acting simultaneously... ie a famine, earthquake, foreign invaders, overpopulation, etc. occurring at the same time. This seems to make more sense to me than a single cause explanation.

Anyone know any reliable, relatively easy to obtain works that can enlighten me on the subject?
Thanks.

Rome never really "fell" in the way its commonly described. And it was never any more "decadent" than any other society before or since.

IIRC, 476 AD is the most common date for the "fall" of Rome. The problem is that that was not the first time Rome was sacked by "barbarians". Rome was in decline as far as controlling its empire long before that. I would say that Rome was a victim of its own success. Rome expanded and brought civilization to a large part of Europe. These societies continued to evolve and eventually decided they didn't need to be paying taxes to some far away rulers. Plenty of local rulers wanted their money and had the armies to take it.

The reality as I understand it is Rome left 3 major heirs. The were the Byzantine empire (the Greek speaking area of the Roman empire who considered themselves Roman and lasted until the Renaissance), The Arabs (who were expanding all over North Africa and into what is now Spain), and the Franks whose empire became known as The Holy Roman Empire (which wasn't holy, Roman, or an empire) and gave their name to modern France.

History is never neat and tidey or easily summorized...

Thanks for the insight.

I like your last statement... "History is never neat and tidey or easily summorized... " I think that's what got me intrigued in history even as a little kid. I wish I had more time to delve into it even now.

Any book recommendations that cover this subject?

476 is the traditional date not because that was when Rome was sacked, but because the magister militum in Rome deposed the Emperor (which had happened many times before) but did not replace him (which hadn't). However, Constantine moved the administrative center of the Empire to the ancient city of Byzantium, which he rebuilt and named "New Rome" (better known as Constantinople). When Roman authority collapsed in the West--which was poorer, less well educated, and frankly the backwater provinces of the Empire--administrative continuity was maintained in the East, in Constantinople, until 1453 (minus a few years around the time of the fourth crusade). Properly speaking, then, the Roman Empire didn't fall until 1453.

I would disagree that the Muslims are successors to the Romans, though they did conquer much Roman territory. There simply wasn't enough continuity culturally or politically to make that a meaningful argument. The Franks are more complicated, since they did incorporate Roman elements into a Germanic cultural and political framework. Even there, though, I wouldn't really want to call it a successor of Rome, though there's a better claim than for the Muslims. Again, it's simply too different and the elements of continuity were transmuted into a very different system.

I appreciate the thoughts... that's one of the reasons I always liked this forum: there's almost always intelligent, interesting and non-belligerent (almost always) conversation.

My original curiosity centered around the western Roman empire. Although I think a comparison of Rome and Constantinople might be instructive... what factors differed between the two seats of power?

I remember foggily (and I could remember wrong) from my HS world history class that Rome and Constantinople became basically 2 separate capitals for 2 separate countries with a shared history.... or was the "fall" of Rome more a loss of territory who's power was seated at Constantinople?

Glenn, All I mean is that once Rome was gone, the new powers in their former territories were the 3 I mentioned. I didn't mean to imply anything more than geographical control.

mtan2, Differences between Constantinople and Rome? Well like I mentioned, I know those in the east considered themselves Roman so they were probably more alike than not. The east was also speaking and writing government documents in Greek rather than Latin. The church's in the east and west eventually split permantly in the 11th century or so. Sorry I can't recommend a book...

By the fourth century, a combination of succession crises as well as the threat of the Persians led first Diocletian and then Constantine to split the administration of the Empire in half--it was simply too big to govern from one point, and the most pressing threat was in the East. But the East was also the most culturally and economically advanced part of the Empire, and so the senior of the two "Augusti" (co-emperors) resided in the East. Later, we called this the Byzantine Empire, though they always considered themselves Romans as noted above--not even Greeks, since the Greeks were pagans. For a variety of reasons (including the relative stability of the East), Germanic migration tended to concentrate on the West, which ultimately contributed to the collapse of Roman authority in that part of the world. Eventually, the one with the least contact with Rome historically (the Franks) would emerge in Gaul, and without realizing that their system of administration was fundamentally different from the Roman, would try to insert themselves into the remaining Roman administrative apparatus in Gaul. The result, after centuries, would be Feudalism, a hybrid of Roman and Germanic elements. The same process did not occur in the East, which maintained far more continuity with Roman practice (e.g. professional armies).

Interesting, thanks Glen.

That explanation actually cleared a few cobwebs on stuff I'd learned way back in school. Looks like I've got some trips to the library and bookstore when I catch a little free time.

Two "Augusti" that's an interesting answer to an administrative problem. I'm assuming the junior Augusti was kind of like his senior's proxy for administrative/leadership duties in the western provinces?

Actually, it's a tad more complicated. Each half of the Empire was divided into two parts, each of which had a pair of rulers. The senior of the two was the Augustus, and the junior was the Caesar; when the Augustus died or retired, the Caesar was promoted to Augustus and he then appointed a new Caesar. In practice, the Eastern Augustus had more clout than the Western Augustus (wealthier provinces, control of Egypt, the main grain producer of the Empire, etc.), but even then he couldn't call the shots in the West.

ttt

I still have a problem with the word "fall".

was it a demographic shift? romans just stopped having kids?

modern italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

I read in some book about the normans in italy, how they found the ruins of rome, a few thousand people living there. cattle grazing among the palaces...

According to Rodney Stark, a sociologist who's spent the last few years studying the rise or Christianity, the Roman birthrate was very low: Romans were engaging in lots of non-reproductive sexual practices, plus abortion, plus infanticide, etc. All this meant that Rome's population was declining. The use of Germanic troops and the practice of settling Germans in Roman territory was a response to the declining population. If Stark is right, arguing that Rome fell because of Germanic mercenaries is putting the cart before the horse--Rome had to rely on Germans because it was already nearly in free fall.

Both Rome's and the Germanic barbarian's cultures were already entertwined from centuries of trade and war.

"According to Rodney Stark, a sociologist who's spent the last few years studying the rise or Christianity, the Roman birthrate was very low: Romans were engaging in lots of non-reproductive sexual practices, plus abortion, plus infanticide, etc. All this meant that Rome's population was declining. The use of Germanic troops and the practice of settling Germans in Roman territory was a response to the declining population. If Stark is right, arguing that Rome fell because of Germanic mercenaries is putting the cart before the horse--Rome had to rely on Germans because it was already nearly in free fall"

I actually learned that same thing in 1994 in a class. That is why many Italians are blonde hair and blue eyed.

The population decline had begun by Augustus's day, apparently, which accounts for the long contact with the Germans, including the immigration.

Re. Italians with blonde hair: that's a later development. The Normans conquered Sicily and Southern Italy in the 11th century, and the Ostrogoths and Lombards much of the rest of it in the 5th-8th centuries IIRC. I don't think Germans moved into Italy in quantity until later; they were mostly in the outlying provinces.

i imagine that the cisalpine gauls had their share of blondes. but who knows?

currently, the lighter complexions seem to be in the areas conquered by the later german incursions - i.e. lombardy. less so in sicily/naples. but that's from a tourist's viewpoint.

the tyrol is another issue ...

Wow. Haven't swung by here in a while. I'm surprised to see my thread is still alive. Good info, gives me more stuff to look up.

what about lead poisoning? lead water pipes, and lead used to sweeten wine. obviously, not as big a deal as demographics, but I've heard it a couple times.

It seems you're using the terms "Germany" and "Germans" like they carried the same meaning in the 1st century as they do now in the 21st century. Correct me if I'm wrong.