The from its core location in Rome, spanning

        The decline and collapse of the Roman
Empire during the Classical Period (600 BCE to 600 CE) was particularly
complex.  The overlying primary causes
were the over-expansion of the empire, coupled with declining populations, and
accompanied by military and government instability.

        The Roman Empire exhibited many symptoms
of decay after about 180 CE.  There was
statistical evidence in the declining population in addition to growing
difficulties in recruiting effective armies to defend the vast boundaries of
the expansive empire.

        The primary cause of the collapse during
this period was due to the over-expansion of the empire.  During the Classical period, power was
established by land; so, empires focused on accumulating and controlling as much
land as possible.  While this strategy
initially contributed to the power of the empire, it ultimately lead to their
decline, since the vastness of the empire became too much to control and
defend.  In the Roman Empire, they
expanded too far from its core location in Rome, spanning cultures that did not
blend in and overstepping the ability of the state to control its land.  As the empire expanded into North Africa and
began to expand into the modern-day Middle East and Northern Europe, it had
reached its limits.  It was difficult to
maintain and protect the roads and bridges needed for trade.  Many in the Roman Empire relied on trade, so
when the legions spent less time repairing roads and bridges and guarding
travelers; bandits and pirates attacked travelers and ships, leading to a sharp
decline in trade.  Less trade meant fewer
taxes. 

        Changes in population added to the
problem of collecting enough revenue. 
Beginning in 165 CE, a series of plagues killed millions of people in
the Roman Empire, drastically reducing the population.  The lands often lay fallow, producing no
taxes.  The financial base of the empire
eroded as peasants had difficulty paying ever rising taxes.  Rates were high in part because many large
estates in both areas were no longer taxed. 
Rich Roman land owners resisted paying taxes to a government that was no
longer providing services, and often a landlords armed guards drove tax
collectors away.  In addition, much
church land was not taxed.  When local
officials tried to force peasants to pay their taxes, some fled to local
landlords for protection from tax collectors and marauding bandits, asking to
live on their estates in exchange for working the land.  Land owners welcomed these additional
laborers, who worked for almost nothing. 
In Rome, large estates attracted craftsmen who were having trouble
finding markets for their goods.  These
artisans made tools and other implements, and the estates became increasingly
self-sufficient.

        As these lands became difficult to
control and produce revenue, an unstable government plagued with power
struggles was unable to meet new needs.  They
system of estates gave great political power to landlords and did provide some
local stability.  But, in the long run,
it weakened the power of the emperor.  The
Roman Empire had key problems recruiting bureaucrats who could enforce laws and
collect taxes, as well as, protecting its expansive borders with their own
troops.  Therefore, they had to rely on
barbarian mercenaries who were not particularly loyal to the governments that
hired them.  As the quality of imperial
rule declined, as life became more dangerous and economic survival more
precarious, the systems began to deteriorate irrevocably.  Would-be rulers usually fought for the
throne, and soldiers, hoping for shared rewards, supported their generals.   Between 235 CE and 284 CE, 25 out of 26
emperors died violent deaths, which did not create a strong or stable center to
control its wild ambitions in expansion. 
 As a result, Roman citizens also
began to question the imperial leadership and its ability to protect the
empire’s economic interests.

        From about 284 CE to 337 CE, there were
a few emperors who tried viciously to turn the tide of the collapse, to no
avail.  Attempts to regulate the economy
ultimately caused tax revenues to decline again.  The army deteriorated further and when the
Germanic invasions began in earnest in the 400’s, there was no resistance.

        The collapse of the Roman Empire was
characterized by the over-expansion of the empire, coupled with declining
populations and revenue, and accompanied by military and government
instability.

 

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