Fall of Rome - the military's role Essay

This essay has a total of 1850 words and 7 pages.

Fall of Rome - the military's role

The Military’s Role in the Beginning of the End of Rome

The fall of Rome occurred over many centuries and was caused by several factors including
military decay, barbarian invasions, and the failure of the government to respond to these

While these problems existed to a greater of lesser degree, since the end of the 2nd
century, their effects were accelerated by the reforms of the emperors Constantine and
Diocletian. These reforms changed Roman life as well as the face of the Roman army, moving
it away from its classical infantry-based structure to a more cavalry-based system. The
army was reorganized into lightly armed troops called “limitanei” who defended the border,
and large mobile armies composed of troops called “comitatenses”. The border troops were
given land to live on around forts they protected. This structure led to farming becoming
the job of the border troops so that they could feed as well as protect those on the
frontier. Over time, this in turn led to out of date weaponry and neglect in training. The
weakness of these troops meant that more mobile troops were needed to compensate, and an
easily penetrable border as a result of the weakness led to the need for highly efficient
mobile armies. Since the cavalry were the most mobile unit of the army, they began to be
the favored military unit. With forces strung along the border and concentrated large
mobile armies, an increased number of recruits were required; however, land owners were
reluctant to let themselves or their kin be recruited because that left less workers for
their farms. At the same time, the division of the empire into outer imperial provinces
and inner provinces controlled by the Senate had its own effect. Since the armies largely
remained in the outer imperial provinces, the people of the inner provinces were out of
touch with the army and were no longer attracted to service, again reducing the available
pool of recruits. One reason that many avoided Army service was because Roman citizenship
was now offered freely, where in prior times military service had been a path to
citizenship. The result was less manpower available for Rome. The Roman army was left with
no choice but to recruit barbarians, who could in this way both find employment where they
had no skills, and hope to obtain Roman citizenship. At the same time the weakness of the
border troops had allowed more barbarians to migrate into the empire then ever before. Not
all of these were friends of Rome, or potential recruits.

The admittance of these barbarians into the army throughout the fourth century helped to
lay the beginning foundations for the complete “barbarization” or “germanization” of the
Roman army. There were two types of barbarization. The first consisted of recruiting
individual barbarians into Roman units. There was no systematic opposition to recruiting
or promoting these men as individuals into the legions; they did make it to higher ranks,
and had been a part of the empire since the first century BC. The second type of
barbarization involved the short-term use of entire barbarian groups or allies. They
served as integral units supplementing Roman forces, many times even during Roman civil
wars. Barbarians who became a part of Rome in this way were given “federate status,” which
meant that they were under their own rulers, paid no taxes, and were allowed to carry arms
among mostly disarmed Romans. Federate troops fought under their own commanders and were
not subject to Roman training and discipline. “Many attribute the collapse of infantry
morale and discipline to the influence of these federate barbarians” (Ferril, 129).
Besides clothes, shelter and the other necessities of life, some barbarian groups were
also given weapons factories by Rome. However, this left the Romans susceptible to attack
by the now well-armed barbarian groups within the Empire, who were becoming stronger as a
result of Rome’s own actions.

By the 4th century AD, the Roman military had become noticeably weaker, especially to
those barbarians who had for years been penetrating Rome’s borders. Soon barbarians began
to infiltrate the Western Empire on an even larger scale then they had previously done,
first as small groups of settlers and mercenaries, but eventually as entire tribes. They
detected military problems and began to establish small kingdoms (e.g., Gaul, Spain). This
was the beginning of the Germanic kingdoms; many of whom were within Rome’s own borders.
The empire was becoming less and less organized and, as time passed, the Germans began to
assert themselves more and more, the Empire was beginning to fall apart.

Continues for 4 more pages >>