The Fall of the Roman Empire Essay

The Fall of the Roman Empire

      Largely, the article was concerned on the various issues that contributed to the fall of the mighty Roman Empire, which according to many historians was clouded with doubts as to the real causes. It was held by many scholars that Rome during this time was still in fine form and its fall could not have been caused by the attacking Barbarian hordes that were too unmatched with Rome’s military ability, economic prosperity, and level of intelligence. Thus, the causes of the fall of Rome had been the subject of research by many historians and scholars.

Brief Summary of the document

The fall of the Roman Empire did not come as an abrupt defeat in the hands of the enemy rather it came through a gradual decline. The Roman Empire suffers various internal societal issues that largely contributed to is fall. Among these issues were the flattering greatness and prosperity that ripened “the principle of decay[1]”, the degree of conquest, the tyranny done by soldiers who had acquired “the vices of strangers’ and mercenaries[2]” which exploited the very freedom of the republic and last remaining military spirit was lost and “buried in the cloister.”[3]

            On the imperial level, selfish desires and ambition corrupted the discipline that made them formidable before the very eye of their enemy. In all fronts, the Roman Empire was facing formidable opponents armed not with spears or swords but with various grave and scandalous issues that were rocking the empire from within. These issues encompassed all the different segment of society including religion, the separation of the empire between the east and West which promoted an oppressive arbitrary system that weakened the monarchy, and often bloody religious conflict which according to the article has diverted the concentration of the emperors from camps to synods. All these issues contributed to the decay of the mighty Empire which resulted to its downfall in the hands of the Barbarians in the year 476 A.D.

Discussion of Key Terms

            Some of the key terms that had played important role to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire were Honor and Virtues. These two words according to the document was the “principle of the republic” wherein determined populace to strived to deserve the somber immensity of a triumph. Edward Gibbon noted that the vast extent of the Roman Empire “was governed    by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue.”[4] The document repeatedly mentioned virtue which was often associated to the military.

Virtue according was defined as the power of getting good with justice. In his written book entitled Meno Plato cited a statement of an unnamed poet concerning Virtue, the poet goes, “the virtue is to delight in things honorable, and to have the power of getting them.[5]” Historians and scholars agreed that the Roman Army had the virtue of being well disciplined. The author of the document mentioned that the designs of Conquest “were maintained by virtues of prudence and courage. However, the long dominion of Rome, and the vices of strangers and mercenaries acquired by the soldiers eroded their virtues and they became the oppressors of the freedom of the republic.

Another term that played an important meaning during the Roman times that was used by the author was of the document, was the word ‘honor.’ During the Roman times, honor is greater than one’s life. This is clearly illustrated in the following episode written by a Roman Historian as follows,

“Lucretia was the wife of a noble man in the era of the Roman Kings, about 500 B.C. A prince of the ruling Tarquins visited her while her husband was away and demanded her favors. If she refused, he would kill her, as well as her male slave, and leave their bodies side by side with the implication of adultery. Lucretia had a choice of losing her reputation for fidelity or being unfaithful. She yielded to Tarquin. She then summoned her husband and relatives and described the outrage. After receiving promises of vengeance, she drew a dagger and took her own life.[6]”

            According to Barry O’Neill, When Lucretia chose her good name over actual virtue “neither her family nor Livy reproached her for it, and she became a heroine to his readers” (p. 88). This episode depicts the Roman concepts of honor during this period. In the document, the writer stated, “Honor, as well as virtue was the principle of the republic.[7]” Prior to the fall of Rome in 476, the honor that once valued more than life was reduced by material prosperity and the notion of greatness to conspiracy and injustice.[8]  Another term that bears important meaning to the rise and fall of Rome is the term ‘legions.’ The writer mentioned this term in paragraph 2 regarding their contribution towards the moral decay of the society during the fall of Rome. The writer of the article stated these legions ‘acquired the vices of strangers” which transformed their character from a virtues legion of soldiers to become oppressors of the republic.

            The Roman legion according to Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible was the “principal division in the Roman army. The term was derived from legion and Latin legere meaning to gather. Octavian introduced this new military division, numbering each legion between sixty to eighty persons. They were not simply militia men, but were highly trained and professional soldiers.[9] The Roman legions were instrumental toward the rise of the Roman Empire as according to the writer of the article, they were responsible for the many victories of Rome in battle. However, they were also instrumental in the collapse of the Roman Empire through their oppressive conduct in the society.

Comments on the document’s historical significance

            The document is historically significant, yes, but I should say that it is not because of its historical contents. What the author has discussed was actually written by many different authors and most of these had a more profound discussion of the topic. The document was historically significant because the author was able to present his ideas in straightforward manner, and in a contextual approach.

            The writer rightly pointed out different causes of the fall of the Roman Empire which probably not many author would dare to point out. The author cited Christianity and religion as among the causes of the Roman Empire deterioration. However, the author was careful to add that while Constantine’s Christian religion ‘hastened the fall of the empire, his religion has softened the brutality of the fall, and appease the fierce temper of Barbarian conquerors. Thus, the content of the document in its sense is historically significant, but its historical significance also includes the way the author sees the historical events that contributed to the decline and fall of the great Roman Empire.


Freedman, David Noel; Myers, Allen C.; & Beck, Astrid B. Eerdmans Distionary of the Bible USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000,

Gibbon, Edward Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Plain Label Books, 1966.

Halsall, Paul “Medieval Sourcebook: Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West                             

O’Neill, Barry Honor, Symbols, and War USA: University of Michigan Press, 2001

Plato, Meno  Kessinger Publishing, 2004

[1] Medieval Source Book: Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire
[2] Ibid, (par. 2)
[3] Ibid (par. 4)
[4] Gibbon, E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Plain Label Books, p. 168
[5] Plato Meno Kessinger Publishing, 2004, p. 2
[6] O’Neill, B. Honor, Symbols, and War USA: University of Michigan Press, 2001, p. 88
[7] Halsall, par. 1
[8] Halsal, par. 1
[9] Freedman, D. N.; Myers, A.C.; & Beck, A. B. Eerdsman Dictionary of the Bible USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000, p. 799