Why Did the Western Roman Empire Collapse? The Decline of Rome

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Why and When Did the Western Roman Empire Fall? The Decline of Rome

The sun sets on all empires, but why and when did the Western Roman Empire Fall?

In the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire almost collapsed, with this period known as the Crisis of the Third Century. One of the reforms to help avoid any further crises came in 293AD, when the Roman Emperor Diocletian instituted a system of reform to partly address the issues around succession. He implemented a system of Tetrarchy, which means government by “four persons ruling jointly.”

What this meant in the Roman context was that the administration of the Roman Empire was split between two emperors, called augusti, who then each choose a junior Emperor who would go on to succeed them, called caesares. This mean that Diocletian and Maximian ruled as co-emperors, with Diocletian ruling in the eastern provinces and Maximian governing the western provinces. They both appointed caesares, who then succeeded them.

This orderly system proved somewhat short-lived, as Constantine usurped this system in large part and went on to control the entire Empire for a period. Theodosius I was the last Roman Emperor to rule over a unified Empire, whose reign lasted from 379-395. After the reign of Theodosius I, the administration of the Roman Empire split into 2 separate imperial courts (one in the Latin West, and the other in the Greek East).

The reasons for the fall of the Western Roman Empire are extensive and debated, and they include economic factors and the strength of the Roman army. One factor pointed to is also the migration of peoples across Europe. Beginning sometime in the 4th century AD, vast numbers of people migrated into and across Europe, with many groups settling in parts of the Western Roman Empire. These groups included the Huns, the Goths, and the Franks.

During this period that last a few centuries, Rome itself was sacked on various occasions. In around 390 AD, the Celtic leader Brennus captured the city of Rome, holding it for months. Shortly after, in 410, Rome was sacked once again by the Germanic people of the Visigoths. The writing was on the wall.


Britannica, Roman Empire https://www.britannica.com/place/Roman-Empire

Wikipedia, Fall of the Western Roman Empire https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_the_Western_Roman_Empire

BBC - The Fall of Rome https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/fallofrome_article_01.shtml

Creative Commons Imagery:

MapMaster https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Invasions_of_the_Roman_Empire_1.png Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

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