What went wrong with the roman empire?

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#1
Rome started out very strong and expanded very rapidly but then the empire started getting more and more issues and the expansion slowed down and later west rome started falling apart. Increasingly the government became oppressive and dysfunctional to the point where people benefited from the government falling.


In reality of course the 'collapse' of West Rome was very much avoidable, Justinian I was able to save and expand the eastern roman empire despite a pleage killing 1/3 of their population, crops not getting sun-light and constant hostility from the Sassanid empire.


The remainder of West Rome started improving after Odoacer took over and this continued after Theodoric the Great took over

 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#2
Government control over the economy
The state had long since owned most quarries, salt deposits, and mines; now it forbade the export of salt, iron, gold, wine, grain, or oil from Italy, and strictly regulated the importation of these articles. It went on to control establishments producing for the army, the bureaucracy, or the court. In munition factories, textile mills, and bakeries the government required a minimum product, bought this at its own price, and made the associations of manufacturers responsible for carrying out orders and specifications. If this procedure proved inadequate, it completely nationalized these factories and manned them with labor bound to the job.

Gradually, under Aurelian and Diocletian, the majority of industrial establishments and guilds in Italy were brought under the control of the corporate state. Butchers, bakers, masons, builders, glass-blowers, ironworkers, engravers, were ruled by detailed governmental regulations. The “various corporations,” says Rostovtzeff, “were more like minor supervisors of their own concerns on behalf of the state than their owners; they were themselves in bondage to the officials of the various departments, and to the commanders of the various military units.” The associations of tradesmen and artisans received various privileges from the government and often exerted pressure upon its policies; in return, they served as organs of national administration, helped to regiment labor, and collected taxes for the state from their membership.

Similar methods of governmental control were extended, in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, to provincial armament, food, and clothing industries. “In every province,” says Paul-Louis, “special procuratores superintended industrial activities. In every large town, the state became a powerful employer ... standing head and shoulders above the private industrialists, who were in any case crushed by taxation.”
Who is ... so devoid of human feeling as not to see that immoderate prices are widespread in the markets of our cities, and that the passion for gain is lessened neither by plentiful supplies nor by fruitful years?—so that ... evil men reckon it their loss if abundance comes. There are men whose aim it is to restrain general prosperity ... to seek usurious and ruinous returns. ... Avarice rages throughout the world. ... Wherever our armies are compelled to go for the common safety, profiteers extort prices not merely four or eight times the normal, but beyond any words to describe. Sometimes the soldier must exhaust his salary and his bonus in one purchase, so that the contributions of the whole world to support the armies fall to the abominable profits of thieves.
Such a system could not work without price control. In 301, Diocletian and his colleagues issued an Edictum de pretiis, dictating maximum legal prices or wages for all important articles or services in the Empire. Its preamble attacks monopolists who, in an “economy of scarcity,” had kept goods from the market to raise prices:

The Edict was, until our time, the most famous example of an attempt to replace economic laws by governmental decrees. Its failure was rapid and complete. Tradesmen concealed their commodities, scarcities became more acute than before, Diocletian himself was accused of conniving at a rise in prices, riots occurred, and the Edict had to be relaxed to restore production and distribution. It was finally revoked by Constantine.

he weakness of this managed economy lay in its administrative cost. The required bureaucracy was so extensive that Lactantius, doubtless with political license, estimated it at half the population. The bureaucrats found their task too great for human integrity, their surveillance too sporadic for the evasive ingenuity of men. To support the bureaucracy, the court, the army, the building program, and the dole, taxation rose to unprecedented peaks of ubiquitous continuity.

https://fee.org/articles/will-durant-on-diocletians-socialism/
 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#3
Are crazy emperors to blame?
Generally in the case of emperors discarded as crazy it was about them being in conflict with the corrupt and dysfunctional senate, it wasn't about them being bad rulers.

https://www.thecollector.com/misjudged-roman-emperors/

Arguably the emperor system actually increased the chance of them getting out of their mess since then one good emperors would be enough to fix the various issues (including appointing a good successor). The issue however was that most emperors were not like Justinian I, they failed to implement the required reforms.

Another issue is that making reforms (such as demanding more discipline within the corrupt praetorian guard) was outright dangerous.

Most emperors ended up just kicking the can down the road just buying time.
 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#4
Why the senate becoming corrupt and weak wasn't surprising
The senate was simply too large making it unworthwhile for an individual senator to actually make the right decision for the empire due to the low probability of his vote actually making any difference. The fact that senators had to constantly fight for their posts further pushed them to enrich themselves since otherwise they would be put at a disadvantage against people willing to use these dirty tricks.

https://vintologi.com/threads/elite-rule.24

What ended up happening was that instead of the senate doing what's good for the country they just swept issues under the rug pretending they didn't exist as they enriched themselves at the expense of the country at large. The expansion of the empire only benefitted the elite, ordinary romans instead had to pay for it by often going bankrupt due to conscription.


We are seeing the same issue in the US, due to congress being corrupt and dysfunctional more and more power is given to the president and eventually this will result in the president/emperor getting essentially all the power.
 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#5
Not enough lead in the pipes
One issue with the roman empire is that unlike the north korea they failed to convince the public that their dysfunctional government was good. People were simply not dumb enough to keep believing in the system.
While the lead contamination was measureable, the team says the levels were unlikely high enough to be harmful, ruling out tap water as a major culprit in Rome's demise.
https://www.science.org/content/article/scienceshot-did-lead-poisoning-bring-down-ancient-rome
 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#7
Is moral decay to blame?
Roman historians at the time blamed people not following the moral code "mos maiorum" where generally you are supposed to just do what's good for the republic/empire rather than focusing on advancing your own self-interest.

Modern Historians instead focus on social factors and issues with the Roman constitution.

 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#8
The plebeian council
By 287 BC, the economic condition of the average plebeian had deteriorated further. The problem appears to have centered on widespread indebtedness.[20] The plebeians demanded relief, but the senators, most of whom belonged to the creditor class, refused to abide by the plebeians' demands. The plebeians withdrew en masse to the Janiculum hill, resulting in the final plebeian secession. To end this movement, a plebeian dictator (Quintus Hortensius) was appointed, who ultimately passed a law called the "Hortensian Law" (lex Hortensia). The most significant component of this law was its termination of the requirement that auctoritas patrum be obtained before any bill could be considered by the Plebeian Council.[20] In this way the law removed from the patrician senators their final check over the Plebeian Council.[21] The lex Hortensia, however, should not be viewed as the final triumph of democracy over aristocracy.[21] Close relations between the plebeian tribunes and the senate meant that the senate could still exercise a great degree of control over the Plebeian Council. Thus, the ultimate significance of this law was that it robbed the patricians of their final weapon over the plebeians.[21] This ended the Conflict of the Orders, and brought the plebeians to a level of full political equality with the patricians.

Over time, the Concilium Plebis became the most effective medium of legislation in the Republic, until the introduction of Sulla’s measures in 88 BC.[23]
 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#9
Not properly managing immigration
Rome failed to prevent armed barbarians from entering and then they proceeded to treat them very badly. People often didn't integrate into the roman society. In addition the Rome government very often didn't keep their promoses causing more and more people to turn against them. They relied on mercenaries for their defence but then didn't actually pay them.

 

adolf512

Staff member
Moderator
#11
America is now experiencing the same issues as the Roman Empire with the military expansionism and debasement of money.
Rome started to go downhill once they had crushed Carthage and no longer had to fight for their existance, after that the republic itself collapsed into military dictatorship and over time the government became increasingly bad for the citizens. People started losing faith in the system (for very good reasons).
 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#12
Relying on mercenaries
You may think that relying on mercenaries turned out badly but it was actually very rare for mercenaries to turn on the government as long as they got paid. Instead the mercenaries were far more loyal than most conscripted soldier and in general foreign soldiers were less likely to turn against the government, they didn't really care about politics, they just wanted to get paid.


If it wasn't for the foreign soldiers they hired west and east rome would have fallen far earlier. Odoacer probably wouldn't have taken over in room if he actually had gotten they pay he had been promised.
 

Admin

Administrator
Moderator
#14
Diocletian and the fracturing of the empire
One issue with the empire was that a single emperor had to govern a very wast area, if the emperor travelled to the west to deal with an invasion there the east would become vulnerable. High-speed communication didn't exist.

It's sometimes claimed that diocletian solved the issue with succession by having each senior emperor "ceasar" appoint a junior emperor "Augustus", that however was not something new, marcus aurellius did that with his son Commodus. The new thing diocletian did was to intentionally divide the empire, first into 2 parts and then further dividing it by giving each ceasar some area to govern, unsurprisingly this failed spectacularly right before his eyes after his retirement.

After that the empire would fracture and unify multiple times eventually setteling into one eastern empire and one western empire, this made it a lot harder for the western part of Rome to defend their borders since very often the East would do nothing to aid them, in addition there were several cases where the different parts of the empire were in war with each other.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhTcP9terj0&t=1679s

In reality of course there wasn't actually any real need to divide the empire, all that was needed was to make it more federalised and empower lower level generals to make decisions.

The bigger issue of course was the lack of technological progress in the empire, if they had invented high-speed communication governing a wast area would have become far easier and allow for far more centralisation of power making the government more stable.

The division of the empire did come with a big advantage diocletian probably didn't even consider, by splitting the empire in 2 it allowed one part to carry on after the fall of the other and potentially recapture the territory like Justinian I did to a large extent.
 
Top