CAUSES FOR THE FALL
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
A. By 476 AD Germanic invasions have
totally destroyed the old Roman Empire in the west.
1. The Germanic tribes had been a constant
source of pressure on the empire for centuries.
2. Many tribes had moved peacefully into the
empire and had become citizens of Rome.
3. Britain was overrun by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.
4. Gaul was overrun by the Franks and Burgundians.
5. Spain was overrun by the Vandals.
6. Italy was taken over by the Ostrogoths,
Visigoths and later the Lombards.
(While the Germanic invasions were the obvious
causes for the fall of Rome, the underlying
causes were much more significant for historians.)
B. Social Causes.
1. Slavery had weakened the moral fiber of the
citizens and a large discontented mass of people
had become disenfranchised.
2. There had been a decline in the traditional
3. Moral decay was evident as depicted in its
literature, amusements, and lifestyles that often
portrayed gratuitous sex and violence.
4. Patriotism declined as people lost their
allegiance to the state.
5. Christianity challenged the traditional character
traits and caused people to neglect the state
when they concentrated on personal salvation.
C. Economic Causes.
1. As productivity declined, Rome became
more dependent on foreign products.
2. A breakdown in the labor force occurred
as the traditional work ethic declined.
3. The infrastructure of the cities declined and
began a steady decay.
4. A balance of trade deficit began to occur.
5. The cost of government, including the military
and welfare, became burdensome.
6. Class economic warfare broke out between
the rich and poor.
7. Parts of the empire were not taxed while
others were overtaxed.
8. The small farm all but disappeared.
D. Political Causes.
1. The Romans never really solved the
problem of succession.
2. The government was not designed to
rule a large, polyglot empire and reform came too late.
3. The government became increasingly run
by the rich and the military.
4. Citizens lost interest in government as it
became distant to them.
5. The military became less loyal to the country
- it became a job not a mission.
CRISIS, RENEWAL AND COLLAPSE
I. The "Barracks Emperors" (235-284)
A. Twenty Emperors ruled during this period.
B. All were connected to the military.
C. All but one died a violent death.
D. Germanic invasions from the north
increased dramatically during this time.
II. Diocletian (245-305)
· Reorganized the empire into a "Tetrarchy",
or rule by four.
· Empire was divided into two halves,
with each half subdivided into
· Removed much of the influence of the
military eliminated any pretense of a republic.
· Sometimes remembered as the emperor
who attempted to systematically and brutally
· Reportedly starved himself to death when
he became too weak to rule.
III. The period (305-324) saw a renewed struggle
to hold back the barbarians as well as increasing
Pressure to split the two halves of the empire
into separate and distinct units.
IV. Constantine (274-337)
· Rome's last great emperor.
· Converted to Christianity after the Battle of
Milvain bridge in 312.
1. defeated a rival for emperor
2. reported seeing a vision of the
cross in the sky prior to the battle
· Issued the Edict of Milan which legalized
Christianity in the empire.
· Built a new capital on the Dardenelles and
named it after himself, Constantinople.
· Called the first Church council at Nicaea in
325 AD to determine the nature of Jesus.
· Died in 327 while attempting to christianize Persia.
V. The Roman Empire quickly collapses with
only a few emperors leaving a lasting mark on the empire.
· Julian (332-378)
1. known as the "Apostate"
2. remembered for trying to restore
the old Roman religion
· Valens (354-378)
1. last Roman emperor to try and
drive out the barbarians
2. killed at the Battle of Adrianople in 378
· Theodosius (379-395)
1. made Christianity official state religion
2. totally divided the empire into two
separate entities after signing a treaty
with the barbarians to preserve the eastern empire
· Romulus Augustus (c. 476)
1. last Roman emperor
2. abdicated at the age of 16
· Odovocar (476-?) - Germanic chieftan who
proclaimed himself emperor of Rome in 476
after occupying the city.
VI. Although the western empire collapsed,
the eastern empire continued on, now being
known as the Byzantine Empire, until it
was overthrown in 1453.