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The reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire have been discussed by the modern historians at length. The most popular reason that has been accepted by many scientists is the barbarian expansion that was not eliminated or addressed properly at the time when changing the situation was still possible. At the same time, the possibility of the so-called “barbarian” tribes overcoming the highly-developed Roman Empire appears to be unbelievable and causes doubt. The leading opinion on the matter suggests that the true reasons for the collapse of the state include both internal and external factors; brought together into a system, they have served to destroy the once great Roman Empire.
The Fall of the Roman Empire
Hands present numerous suppositions concerning the possible reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire. Even though the author appears to advocate the barbarian invasion as the primary reason, other featured explanations also should be mentioned. The internal weaknesses that would be described by historians included the drawbacks of slavery,1 a decline of the population,2 the growing spirit of pacifism among the population along with a questionable decline of production,3 decreasing the popularity of Rome,4 and others. The external factors that are noteworthy include the plague,5 climatic change, exhaustion of the soil, malaria.6
At the same time, the most famous external reason for the collapse oft he Roman Empire is the barbarians invasion. It is not unlikely for one to wonder how the uncivilized barbarians could have conquested the highly developed Roman Empire. The article by Goffart is devoted to this question. As Goffart points out, “barbarians” is the generic name that the Romans used for all the foreign tribes. In fact, Goffart points out that the barbarians did not have to be uncivilized.7 Technically, the word means “foreigner,” but it contains a negative connotation. It is not surprising, therefore, that an Empire collapses under the pressure of foreign force. However, as Goffart also points out that the Romans had centuries of experience of fighting these tribes (for example, the 390 B.C. burns of the Rome by the Celts). Apart from that, even though the invasion is normally associated with Germanic peoples, these tribes have not been homogenous; there was no unity among the barbarians8 This means that the Roman Empire did have the chances of eliminating the danger. Goffart advocates that the state did not try to. It allowed the problem to persist, mostly due to internal reasons. Even though Goffart claims to be targeting the problem of the barbarians, he devotes a great part of the paper to the internal difficulties of the Roman Empire, which demonstrates the correlation between the two sources of deterioration.
By the time of its collapse, the Roman Empire has learned to value peace. It no longer sought to expand or eliminate rivals. In fact, Roman emperors tended to enroll barbarian troops to fight the domestic disturbances which appear to have prepared the land for the barbarian expansion. The disturbances within the state did take place; they were caused by the difficulties of managing a great, highly-developed state in the context of “limited resources of the empire, its social tensions, ambitious generals, and aggressive neighbors9
Beginning with the fifth century, barbarians started gaining control of the country. The process is described as “prolonged and ambiguous”10, and it is difficult to challenge this point. The empire failed to reclaim the possessions for numerous reasons (both internal and external) that could include the lack of resources or the strengths of the Goths11 as well as the lack of unity between provinces and the desire to keep the peace.12 Goffart also demonstrated the differences in the fates of the West and the East roman empire. According to him, the conventional explanations of the barbarian conquest of the latter (that included longer frontiers and fewer resources) are not incorrect. Still, he points out other internal challenges, for example, the relative youth of the state and the possibility of rivalry, as well as the excessive spending and weak governance of the ruling family.13 As Goffart points out, Constantinople was the polis in which “the ruin of the Roman Empire began to be affirmed”14, and this process demonstrates the way the internal and external challenges that the Empire faced led together to the collapse of the state.
As the analysis of the articles presented above shows, the barbarian expansion, while it appears to be among the primary reasons of the Roman Empire collapse is not the only one. The question of less-developed “tribes” destroying the highly-developed Empire appears to be somewhat biased since the term “barbarian” does not necessarily presuppose low development of the people. At the same time, the “highly-developed” Empire appears to have been failing to address it internal conflicts or provide the proper government for its provinces. The problem of the barbarian threat was not addressed properly by the state when it was still possible, and, as a result, the foreign force seized the opportunity of weakening the Empire. I fact, numerous other reasons have assisted the process of the Roman Empire collapse, and most of them were internal.
Goffart, Walter. “Rome, Constantinople, and the Barbarians.” The American Historical Review 86 (1981): 275-306. Web.
Hands, A.R. “The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West: A Case of Suicide or ‘Force Majeure?” Greece & Rome 10 (1963): 153-168. Web.
1 A.R. Hands “The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West: A Case of Suicide or ‘Force Majeure?”, Greece & Rome 10 (1963): 153-168. Web.
2 Hands, “The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West: A Case of Suicide or ‘Force Majeure?”, 158.
3 Ibid., 161.
4 Ibid., 164.
5 Ibid., 165.
6 Ibid., 166.
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7 Walter Goffart, “Rome, Constantinople, and the Barbarians,” The American Historical Review 86 (1981): 275-306, Web.
8 Goffart, Rome, Constantinople, and the Barbarians,” p. 279.
9.” Ibid., 283.
10 Ibid., 302.
11 Ibid., 288.
12 Ibid., 289-290.
14 Ibid., 302.