The rise and fall of the Roman Empire

It’s always important to understand what came before so as to understand what came to be… A particular scholar even coined the phrase ‘you have to know your history to know where you’re going. In the case of Rome, in this instance, their predecessors have a lot to do with their being; in fact their predecessors built Rome (the city). The Etruscans were a people who lived in the Italian Peninsula before Rome flourished their origin is said to be somewhere in the Asian Minor. Their rule is said to have begun somewhere in the first millennium when they imposed it on the Iron Age natives they are known for pottery and bronze and for their beautiful tombs, under their rule Rome flourished! Of course this was a few centuries later around 509bc and around this time the roman kings overthrew them and incorporated their cities into theirs. Thus begins the Roman Empire.

The Romans had two types of people in their ‘caste system’ so to speak; the plebeians and the patricians. The Patricians were the wealthier upper-class citizens while the plebeians were the poorer lower class. These two were the basic make-up of the Roman Empire. Rome was ruled mostly by patricians and its overall influences seem to have been art and intellect therefore suggesting freedom of spirit.

The Greek and the romans seem to have nothing in common their paths and the way they were ruled and even their forms of social expression being very different and yet their paths seem intertwined. ‘The Romans have an image in history very different from that of the creative, liberty-loving, self-destructive Greeks who preceded them…’ (A. Esler 2004) Roman women it seems had more freedom than Greek women, being able to attend public gatherings alongside the men and being able to work in public places as well while the Greek women did not have such freedom.

The Romans as described by my textbook were ‘reluctant imperialists’ However just counting the wars that came after I deduceD that they could have also been described as victorious anarchists. There was; Italy, Carthage, Macedon, Greece, Western Persia, and Ptolemaic Egypt surely they defeated every strong nation there was! Apparently though defeating other nations was easier than dissipating the civil unrest within their ever expanding borders… these wars and the loot they pillaged during them allowed for the purchase of excessive land, slaves and the luxuries of the Greek and Asiatic people. Corruption was the norm because the rich it seemed didn’t pay taxes while the poor did… This caused dissent amongst the ranks of the poor who were expected to suffer in silence. The ensuing bitterness saw the poor rising up to claim their dues.

The rest of this time is marked with uprisings and change. Julius Caesar, came, saw and conquered, seeing it into its prime. He seems to have been the man for the people lowering taxation, allowing citizenship to people from conquered lands, made a program for public works, passed laws to provide for the landless, reorganized the administration in place to stop corruption as well as many more things that worked for Italy. Of course this caused dissention in the ranks yet again however this time it was with the rich. This probably was the reason he was stabbed to death by a group of conspirators lead by his own lieutenants.

All hell broke loose is probably the best way to describe the next ten years stopped finally by August Caesar also known as Octavia.  August Cease’s reign begins with him and his allies forcing the senate to grant them the power to restore the state. He is known not only for his military strength but also and most importantly because he restored peace. He didn’t just restore peace he created it seems a peace that maintained itself and lasted for 200 years something not only his predecessors but others from different empires would have found it very difficult to do. The Roman maxim under which he ruled ‘let justice be done though the heavens fall’ seems to have been his gift to the roman people.

After him enters the crisis of the third century which sees many rulers and a lot of confusion. None of them living up to or long enough to establish anything of note and after this, the decline and fall of the Roman empire which is baffling at best. How could an empire so strong fall? Was it confusion? Population decline?  Anarchy?  Strife?  Weakness from within? History suggests that empires built on what Rome was built on don’t just fall and yet it did… how? Historians have no conclusion. This empire, beautiful in its art forms majestic in its imperialism, strong in its culture just dissipated leaving behind a wealth of political history to learn from.

The above was written for a World Civilizations Class, USIU