The Fall Of Western Roman Empire

Essay add: 29-09-2015, 20:58   /   Views: 784
The Fall Of Western Roman Empire

The fall of the Roman Empire is generally perceived to have culminated through one single, though profound, event: the sack of the great city of Rome. The event itself, where the glory of Rome and all it represented came crashing down, is often perceived to be the marking stone for the end of Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. However, the actual “fall” of the empire consists of more than just the invasion of Rome by the Goths, and the causes of this collapse, and what it represented, is highly debated by many modern day historians.

Michael Rostovtzeff is such a historian, who feels that the actual destruction of the Western Empire constituted the decay of an ancient civilization the Romans represented. This culture was symbolized by the economical, social, and political manifestations of the Roman Empire as well as the intellectual and spiritual aspects that comprised different facets of actually maintaining and running an empire as large as what western Rome once controlled (Rostovtzeff, 10). Though Rostovtzeff does articulate that the invasion of the Western Roman Empire through the ‘barbarians,’ i.e. the Germans and Sarmatians, played a part in hastening the decay of the Empire, he stresses that it is the “barbarization from within” which led to the disintegration of the empire (Rostovtzeff, 1). He points out how even before the barbarian invasion, the cities of the Empire were slowly decaying, with the social system following suit, foreshadowing the eventual decay of an ancient civilization.

He points out that an aspect of this decay is the tremulous stability the Roman way of life had over the people of the empire. In page two, he clarifies this opinion by stating how the people of the

Empire, the ‘masses’ of the country, could no longer be absorbed by the cities and what Rostovtzeff believes is that “the barbarism of the country begins to engulf the city population.” This is the main point throughout the essay, that the mentality of the lower classes, which he calls the “masses,” of the empire became so prevalent that they encroached upon the sensibilities and society that was the backbone of ancient civilization, antiquity incarnate.

He explains that it was “the mentality of the lower classes, based exclusively on religion and [was] not only indifferent but hostile to the intellectual achievements of the higher classes” (Rostovtzeff, 11). I think that this division of Rome, into higher and lower classes, may have constituted towards the eventual decline of the way of life of the ancient Romans. The higher classes may have been so unassailable to the lower classes that they did not take to what the aristocrats did and the creative forces that Rostovtzeff mentions never took root in the minds of the lower classes. He explains how the ‘base’ mentality of the lower classes seeped into the upper classes and came to dominate it, in essence lowering the standards of Rome. He says how “the more primitive forms of life among the masses were not absorbed by the higher forms but triumphed over them in the end” (Rostovtzeff, 15) which to him represented the barbarization of the empire from within itself.

A way in which the lowering of the civilization of Rome is demonstrated, according to the author, is through the “triumph” of Christianity. On page twelve, the author claims how Christianity was an example of the creative forces still present in Rome, how the creation of the Christian Church and the adoption of the faith to suit the upper classes utilized the great minds of Rome and demonstrated the power of such ingenuity. Yet it is the adaptation of these same intellectual ideas to influence the lower classes that led to the lowering and downfall of these minds, the minds that gave birth to the empire of Rome. The second paragraph on page twelve goes on to explain how it is the slow but inevitable absorption of the higher classes by the masses that leads to the lowering of the standards of Roman civilization. What hastened this absorption was the flow of barbarian elements from the outside, which played a part in the physical disintegration of the standards of Rome and all it represented.

Rostovtzeff puts forward an interesting question about this decay of civilization: “why was the city civilization of Greece and Italy unable to assimilate the masses?” (Rostovzteff, 12). Why was this way of life just for the cream of society and did not infiltrate the masses, did not lift the standards of the majority from what they were into the representations of the empire? Maybe if this culture had been assimilated, the roman way of life would have prevailed as there would have been no discord from within the Empire and the Empire itself could have presented a united front to the barbarian attacks. As Rostovtzeff explains on page twelve, if this culture had prevailed then modern civilization would just be a continuation of what the Romans had already established and perpetuated. Instead we had to lay the foundations of civilization upon the ruins of Rome. To explain this fully, Rostovtzeff introduces to the reader various views put forward by other historians for this lack of assimilation, and his own opinions about these observations.

Firstly, the political problems of the Empire are often cited for its breakdown. The creation of the empire itself stifled the creative forces of the time as everything became regulated and uniformity prevailed. Rostovtzeff cites Kornemann on page thirteen, who felt that it was the reduction of the armed forces by Augustus, which was maintained by successive emperors, that led to the decay of the empire yet this leaves the fall of the Roman civilization solely on military aspects and echoes the superfluous argument that it was the barbarian invasions which alone led to the fall of Rome. The reduction itself was due to another problem plaguing the empire, that of the it’s reduced economy. The economic ramifications are dismissed completely by Rostovtzeff as he says the world is always going through economic cycles, which constitutes of periods of recession and progression (Rostovtzeff, 14). He feels that the economic simplification of the Roman way of life was not the decline of the ancient world but one aspect of a whole. One aspect itself cannot be unanimously declared as the ultimate cause; rather it is a network of aspects that come together and slowly chip away at the foundations of which the Empire rested.

Ferrero’s idea, which Rostovzteff points out as weak, says that M. Aurelius undermined the Senates authority on which the “whole fabric of the Roman state rested” by choosing his own successor, and this greatly reduced the power of the senators in the eyes of the masses and therefore divided the society even farther. The consequent murder of Commodus and usurpation of the throne, which led to civil wars, destroyed the power and influence of the Senate and deprived it of the only legitimacy it had in the eyes of the population (Rostovtzeff 13). For if the senate could so easily be overcome, could not the great city of Rome? Rostovtzeff puts little weight behind Ferrero’s theory as he explains that the powers of the emperors themselves were still legally derived from the Senate and that the emperors were just the Senate’s puppets. He also points out that this concept of the authority of the Senate behind the emperor’s action was too subtle too register in the minds of the common folk. Obviously, Rostovtzeff feels the masses are either too busy with their own problems or too intellectually challenged to recognize anything.

He puts forward the “true character of the crisis of the third century” (Rostovtzeff, 13), which was not the struggle between the senate and the emperor but between the cities and the army, made up of the peasants. He also chides Ferrero’s theory of the masses having no representation in government. Rostovtzeff rightly points out that if this were the case, Roman politics would have naturally evolved to become a representative government. He even goes on to say that our representative governments might not necessarily be why modern civilization has flourished; indeed this form of government could just be an aspect of our civilization and not the cause of it. He asks if we have “the slightest reason to believe that modern democracy is a guarantee of continuous and uninterrupted progress, and is capable of preventing civil war from breaking out under the fostering influence of hatred and envy?” (Rostovtzeff, 14) Indeed until Rome fell, the Romans must have believed that their form of government must be the greatest institution in the world, to have culminated in such a large and culturally eclipsing empire. Most modern historians, according to Rostovtzeff, believe that democracy is antiquated and corrupt, and that the only true form of government is the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which in turns means a destruction of civil liberty and imposes upon all the values and beliefs if a select group of people. Ironic, since the senatorial way of government imposed the values and beliefs of that particular group of people upon the rest of the Empire.

The decline of the population of the Empire is another view that Rostovtzeff attempts to explain to the reader. It represented a decline of the “assimilative forces of the civilized upper classes;” the lower class became more prevalent than the upper as they, and their ideals, multiplied. The upper classes did not have the brute force to assimilate the lower classes to their way of thinking and so in essence became absorbed by the mindset of the lower class. Though why exactly this is a bad thing is never fully explained by Rostovtzeff. He keeps on reiterating that the upper class and all it represented was absorbed and eventually overcome by the ‘baseness’ of the lower class but never fully explains what aspects of the upper class were so ideal as to be the backbone of the entire Empire. Were the upper classes that morally and socially perfect as to be set upon pedestals and be made examples of to the lower classes? According to Marcellinus in his “Faults of the Roman Empire” in Brian Tierney’s The Middle Ages Volume 1: Sources of Medieval History, the upper class are depicted as having no morals or even respect for themselves, always feasting and carousing without a care in the world. Was this the upper class that Rostovtzeff wanted the masses to emulate? He never makes it clear. Were the only creative forces of the empire present in the upper class? Surely, that is an unjust assumption to make yet we, the reader, are left with the idea that the lower class was so contemptible and derisory and the upper so perfect that it was the consequent absorption of the depravity of the lower class which resulted in the downfall of the ancient Empire and the glory it represented. Maybe it was the corruptness of politics or the gradual disintegration of morals and values of the aristocrats that led to cracks and weaknesses in the foundation of the Empire, in the society that constituted the Empire, but Rostovtzeff portrays that this degradation of values and beliefs was somehow gained from the masses alone.

Article name: The Fall Of Western Roman Empire essay, research paper, dissertation