The Fall of the Roman Empire



The Roman Empire at its peak governed over most of the Eastern world. After the death of Julius Caesar, who had destroyed the Roman Republic, an empire was the easiest was to keep the state going (Kagan-1998-pg. 92). An empire is rule by an emperor, whose range of power is virtually unlimited (Grant-1990-pg.164). Because of the Emperor’s supreme power, careful selection of these persons is necessary. Changes in the Emperor selection process lead to a selection of leaders who were distracted with tasks other than the development and continuance of the Empire. These changes in the selection process and the irresponsibility in many emperors was a major factor in the decay and collapse of the Roman Empire.
After the death of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire was born. His successor was Octavian, his adopted son, who was titled Augustus. The tradition was to keep the position in the family. However, this was not always a wise move. Chosen as Emperor at age seventeen, Nero was the last Emperor of the Julio-Claudian family (Gibbon-1776-pg. 63). “He brought the Julio-Claudian dynasty to an ignominious end.” (Brooks-1972-pg.147) His reign was officially stricken from the record by members of the Roman Senate, and his descendants were prohibited from ever taking the position (Brooks-1972-pg.148). “Nero involved the whole empire in his ruin.” (Gibbon-1776-pg.65) He was more concerned with art, drama, and games that ruling the Roman Empire (Brooks-1972-pg.148). There were other problems with selection as well. At one time, the position was auctioned off to the highest bidder, a man named Julius Didianus (Gibbon-1776-pg. 93). This is not exactly a model of executive authority. The enraged public rejected his authority, and his liberality (Gibbon-1776-pg. 94). “Unless public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a leader will soon degenerate.” (Gibbon-1776-pg. 92) The public’s immediate uprising was fatal to Julius, but at the same time the public peace was greatly disturbed (Gibbon-1776-pg.95). Selection of Emperors for hereditary reasons and other foolish methods proved to be unsuccessful for the most part. A position of supreme authority deserves more attention. However, this never happened. By about 250 AD, the old custom of the Senators appointing the Emperor was long forgotten (Grant-1978-pg. 363).
“An empire was the easiest way of keeping the state going and preventing a final breakdown. But this goal could only be achieved if the army provided necessary support.” (Kagan-1988-pg.92) However, there were many unsound spots in the makeup of the Empire (Stobart-1961-pg.246). “The weakness was at the center.” (Stobart-1961-pg.246) In addition, very few emperors were impressive enough to live up to the gigantic responsibilities of the purple robes. The Roman army was a main reason for the early success of Rome. Eventually, it was the army who selected the Emperor, completely oblivious of the Senate (Grant-1990-pg.62). This may be argued to be a good connection, but the Emperor was not always on the side of the army (Kagan-1988-pg.95). In addition, the main motivation for a military Emperor was greed, not the success and continuance of the Empire (Grant-1978-pg. 363). If the Emperor was skilled in military matters, some important aspects of Roman government were overlooked, such as economics and the preservation of Roman cities. The unstable situation of the Emperor led to a paralysis of the Empire’s defenses and finances (Grant-1978-pg.363). One of the main causes of disunity was the tension between the Emperor and his generals (Grant-1978-pg.437). This created many problems in itself. One of the primary reasons for a weakening in the Empire was the inability to resist its invaders (Grant-1990-pg.60). That, in turn, was caused by the army’s lack of respect for the autocratic power of the Emperor (Grant-1990-pg.60). The Empire struggled through many army-government conflicts. Between 218 AD and 268 AD, there were about fifty different Emperors (Grant-1978-pg.363). All but one of these emperors were murdered, the remaining one dying of natural causes (Brooks-1972-pg.196). There was obviously no respect for these emperors from the Roman Public.
Between 235 AD and 284 AD there were many claims to the throne by military generals. It is obvious of the instability of the Roman government at this time. The emperors gradually began to sway towards totalitarianism, struggling to maintain law, order, and security (Brooks-1972-pg.196). The Roman Senate’s power