The Western Roman Empire once a force to be reckoned with became a fatality of their own success in 476 AD. As Rome was under attack from invading armies it was also caving in from within its vast borders through political, social and economic factors that affected the lives of all Western Romans and eventually lead to its fall. A factor for the collapse starts through the political errors that were made from within the widespread empire. In 284 AD when Diocletian split the Roman Empire into the Eastern and Western Roman Empire it set up the Western Empire for failure. Rome was dependant on trade to feed its large population and its army spread along the borders and while on campaigns (Cartwright).
With the split of the Empire, trade was not as simple for the Western half. As well as having trade problems the Western Roman Empire was poorly situated making it prone to invasions. Corrupt Emperors caused much of Romes unrest as their actions were not always in the interest for the better of Rome but for their own gain. Emperors lost Roman Morals as the empire evolved and often became paranoid of losing power through opponents such as the Senate. There was corruption throughout the government on all levels including in the Praetorian Guard whose job was to protect the emperor but only had gained too much power over the fate of the Emperor that the corrupt unloyal bodyguards often decided when an emperor was to go based on their own beliefs and did this by murdering the emperor ( Causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire). A major political factors that lead to the fall of Western Rome was the overuse of taxation. The Roman Government was financially unstable and increased taxation was a way to pay for expenses like the Gladiatorial games and the army. Fewer people paid taxes limiting the development of Rome.
Emperor Caracalla named almost all males in Rome a citizen to force them to pay more taxes so that he could increase the army’s pay by 50% to keep their loyalty(Desjardins). Conquered Barbarian tribes that surrounded Roman borders had high taxes imposed upon them which caused frequent rebellions (Causes for the Fall of the Roman Empire). The poor people of Rome were made to pay high taxes but the wealthy high officials granted themselves special tax exemptions (Death of the Western Roman Empire). Taxes created fear with common people at that time for the reason that local officials were required to collect taxes and whatever they didn’t collect from the tax quota they would have to pay out of their own pocket, This regularly caused violence and disorder to Rome ( A history of Western Society).This lead to social problems within Rome such as an increase in violence. The unemployed became dependent on handouts from the emperor because there was a lack of jobs due to the increase in slavery. Handouts consisted of reduced grain prices, bread, or pork and olive oil depending on the emperor.
To qualify for the handouts you had to be living in the city of Rome. As more people became unemployed they moved to the city to be supported, 300,000 people received handouts until Caesar had cut the amount to 150,000 (Hazlitt). The growth of Christianity was a turning point in Rome, It changed the way people perceived the world around them. The beliefs and morals of Romans changed, as Christianity grew so did the act of manumission which was when a slave was freed. Romes slave workforce slowly went into a decline which Rome heavily relied upon.
Constantine was baptized on his deathbed and Christianity legalized in 311 AD with these actions Christianity spread throughout the empire and the beliefs that came with Christianity replaced Roman morals. Emperor Theodosius ended the Olympic Games because they honored Zeus (Giotto’s) which goes against Christian beliefs to believe in one god. The Institution of slavery is the biggest reason for the fall of Rome because it is an economic issue but is intertwined to almost all the problems that Rome faced and is prominent in political, economic and social issues.
Slavery was part of daily life in Rome as slaves could be bodyguards, cooks, waiters, cleaners or laborers. Rome was dependant on slaves. Slavery took jobs away from the common people of Rome and lead them to depend on the government for handouts. Slaves were sent back from all over the conquered lands that the Roman army fought and were sold. Rich Romans bought up land from poor farmers and made slaves do all the work then sold the product that was made for a higher price, actions like this only widened the gap between rich and poor in Rome.
Slavery halted technical development throughout the Empire because slavery discouraged invention of machines because there was such a surplus of human muscle at the peak of the empire (The Enduring Past). Slavery is most prominent in Rome compared to other ancient civilizations because they became so reliant on slaves to do most of the common work for them. Approximately 300,000-350,000 of the 900,000 living in the city of Rome were slaves (Roman Slavery). This only weakened their empire as there were few jobs for common people of Rome. Without jobs, people couldn’t buy basic supplies they needed to live so they started to depend on the government for handouts as well as barter for food and this made people as well as the Empire poor. As slavery in Rome is taking place common people of Rome are making less money and start to spend less and rather barter, This leads to inflation and coinage debased in Rome because people start holding onto their money as prices increased and the value of silver coins decline to the point where a single silver coin had only 5% silver (Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire). The prices of basic goods become unaffordable to the already poor people, Inflation affects trade which Rome was reliant on an overall took wealth away from the peopleThe Roman army weakened and became unloyal to the emperor as there was less money to pay and support the troops. Roman soldiers became loyal to their military leaders that paid them and not towards Rome.
The once triumphant military lost the cause of fighting for Rome. To make up for the decline in soldiers in the army barbarian tribes that were conquered and settled along the borders of Rome were offered to join the Roman military and fight for Rome against other barbarian tribes such as the Visigoths, Vandals, and Franks that often started battles along the ample Roman borders. Rome had gotten too big and was unable to defend its borders.
Unloyalty and lack of funding towards the Roman army weakened the Empire and gave room for an invasion from surrounding tribes that eventually took place and ended the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD.The Western Roman Empire became a victim of their own success through political, economic and social factors they faced from the institution of slavery, the split of the empire, growth of Christianity, political corruption and a widening gap between the rich and poor. “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” – Ariel Durant