Reasons for Downward Spiral of Rome
Reasons for Downward Spiral of Rome
Multiple scholars have contended that the primary reason for Rome‘s decline and eventual fall was the receding of the great Empire’s economic might, and the social repercussions that accompanied it On the surface, this may seem quite simple, but in actuality, this phenomenon affected nearly every aspect of Roman life, from the decline of the population to the lack of maintenance of infrastructure.
One of the primary catalysts to the deterioration of the economy was the lack of circulating currency in the Western Empire. Two reasons for the lack of funds are wholesale hoarding of bullion by Roman citizens, and the widespread looting of the Roman treasury by the “barbarians“. These two factors, coupled with the massive trade deficit with Eastern Regions of the Empire served to stifle the growth of wealth in the west. This would have far reaching ramifications that permiate the very fabric of Roman society, as we shall soon discuss.
Ellsworth Huntington has proposed a unique hypothesis relating the changing rainfall patterns and climate in the Mediterranean with the economic problems encountered by the western empire. He basically writes that, as the climate became more unstable, it began to alternate annually between hot droughts and cold rainy seasons. This, for obvious reasons, would decrease crop yields, and would force the Romans to undergo widespread irrigation projects on land which had formerly been self-sufficient. The huge quantities of water needed for this project had to be contained in large reservoirs, and the standing water became stagnant. Stagnant water is the ideal environment for breeding mosquitos, the carriers of malaria. Malaria began manifesting itself at epidemic levels, weakening and killing a large percentage of the population.
The fluctuation in temperature and climate also had more direct effects on the populus. Huntington believed that humans operate most effectively when their environment is at a stable temperature, preferrably between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This ever-changing environment had a negative effect on the average Roman’s intellectual and physical stamina. Huntington believed that this was such an overwhelming phenomenon that he writes, “Even if there had been no change in the racial composition of the inhabitants, no malaria, no agricultural distress, and no invasion of the barbarians, there still would apparently have been a decline” (Huntington). Since the mental and physical capacities of the average citizen were lessened, and the ground less fertile, it should be fairly obvious that the economy would suffer as a result.
Edward Gibbon has maintained that the Roman Empire met its end because of its decaying infrastructure. Rome‘s buildings were severely crippled throughout the years by time and nature. He points to Nero’s fire, which lasted “either six or nine days,” as particularly paralyzing. The innumerable buildings provided a “perpetual fuel for the flames,” and when all was done, “only four of the fourteen regions were left entire; three were totally destroyed, and seven were deformed by the relics of smoking and lacerated edifices” (Witonski). He also noted that the rivers surrounding Rome have, for the most part, highly irregular courses. This resulted in frequent flooding which damaged and destroyed all buildings situated below the hills of Rome. Since Rome‘s currency was being hoarded by citizens and stolen by the barbarians, the empire lacked sufficient funding to repair its crumbling structures.
In essence, the Roman empire crumbled due to insufficient economic power, which came about for a variety of reasons. It lacked the resources necessary to keep such a vast empire intact. The empire reached such a point that it could no longer support itself, becoming top heavy, and crashed down like a tower that had grown too high for its own foundation.