Monday, January 9, 2012

Roman Empire Research paper

Roman Empire Research Paper

It is hardly imaginable that such a political entity as Roman Empire, having been the dominating super-power in the ancient world in political, economic, and, of course, in cultural sense, could come to such a sad end when it had fallen from the hand of barbarians. Although, it is often said that the Roman Empire has collapsed because of the invasion of the barbarian tribes, the invasion itself is only the top of the iceberg. The real reasons for the empire’s collapse are hidden in the political and social problems Roman Empire experienced at the time, plus that these problems were enhanced by several circumstances. There are basically two ways of explaining the collapse of Rome. The first one, the so-called institutional approach, which tries to find the reasons in the long-term processes and looks closely at internal structures, such as social structure, government, etc. goes back to the times of Diocletian and Constantine I and examines the origin of the Roman Empire weakness at the time point when it was attacked by barbarians. The second group of scholars has adopted a political approach and looks at short term causes of the empire’s collapse.

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The long-term approach is the more traditional one and is more focused on the army problems. Generally, it suggests that the seeds of collapse were sowed at the time of Diocletian (284-305) and Constantine I (305-337)1. These emperors split the army into border and mobile components. Border troop soldiers, soldier-peasants that were hired in the case of necessity, were not very efficient and difficult to organize. Another mistake that has lead to decreasing army’s fighting efficiency is that Diocletian and Constantine allowed many barbarians into the Roman army. Thus, the weakness of the border troops meant that emperors needed more mobile troops, so they decided to expand the army, which produced a need for more recruits. Simultaneously, the landowners have lost scarce workers, and the costs for holding such an army increased. To cut the costs, barbarians were taken into the army.

External conditions have also played a role in the crises of the empire. Many of the small barbarian tribes who had opposed the early empire united into more powerful confederations such as Goths, Franks and Alamanni. When, as a result of internal power conflicts, the Goths were driven into the Empire by Huns defeating the army of Valens at Adrianople in 378, Romans could not destroy these Goths any more, so the Goths were brought to to settle on the Balkans in 382. Once a group of barbarians had entered the Empire, the Romans could not employ the full military strength to keep other tribes out. So, the barbarian tribes crossed the Rhine in 406 and occupied all the western Empire.

The scientists arguing the short-term theory suggest that the key factors in the Empire’s collapse are the internal political conditions. These commentators do not argue that the army was ineffective, but add several suggestions more. They point out that the Romans made no changes to the structure of their army for a long time, so that the military organization was not up-to-date.

The second important point is the internal conflicts and civil wars during the fourth and fifth centuries. Very often, when the Roman army was forced to fight itself caused a constant drain of resources, both financial and personnel, resources that might have been turned against external enemies. The civil wars included Constantine against Licinius (316, 324), Magnentius agianst Constantius II (351-353) and Theodosius against Magnus Maximus (383-388) and Eugenius (392-394). In the fifth century there also were conflicts among the generals, for example, Aetius against Bonifatius2. Although civil war was a political problem, it had severe military effects, often provoking barbarian raids and weakening Rome’s ability to respond to them. This has lead to the trend by which the Emperors did not have enough support from its commanders-in-chief. Many scientists think that if there was a single reason for the defeat of Rome, it was not military failure, but the poor leadership.

Third, there were many economic problems present in the Roman Empire at the time of its collapse. The paying for enough troops in the huge Roman army to fight was was quite a burden for the tax payer and produced hostility towards the state. The number of small farmers has dropped significantly creating a real economic recession.

Beyond the civil wars, there were even more political problems at the time. For example, the balance in the constitution was more theoretical than actual: "...each part (senate, magistrates, citizens) has the power to hamper the others or to cooperate with them, their union is adequate to all emergencies”(Polybius)3. There was a lot of corruption in the country, while everyone was seeking his or her own profit, and not the consolidation of the Empire. Most of the power-wars among the elites were for the places in senate. The aristocrats, composed of patrician and wealthy plebeian families, aimed at and admission to the Senate became almost the inborn privilege of these families. The Senate, which in original function maintained no law making, and little administrative power, became a powerful governing force.4 Another problem is often labeled as Expansion and Imperialism, which has produced several negative consequences. First, the Roman citizenship was given only to Italians, while as provincials remained subjects. Of course, this fact produced a lot of tension between the two groups. Second, the Roman constitution, which could be effective for governing the city-state, was very inefficient to rule the whole empire with. The legislation was kept from positive change because of corruption.

The last, and probably, one of the more serious problems was the erosion of the Roman society. Many scientists name the slavery system as the main cause of social and economic weakness. Although the slave labor was assumed to be “cheap”, its cost was enormous because of the social tension it produced. The tasks performed by slaves, who were not motivated at all and hated their masters, were performed with minimum efforts and concern for quality. Slavery made social structure full of conflicts, which influenced political and economic areas. So, when the barbarians came, the Roman Empire had no chance.
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