The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE DECLINE OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

ABOUT 372 A.D. the Roman Empire was not in a condition to enable it to resist the oncoming tide of barbarian invasion. It no longer possessed either the superior force necessary to keep the invaders out, or the civilizing capacity requisite to absorb and elevate their barbarism. Exactly why and how came to pass this decline of the great Roman Empire, which had seemed to knit together so satisfactorily most of the civilized lands of antiquity, is a problem not easy to solve, especially with the scanty sources at our disposal. Numerous attempts have been made to solve the mystery, and the fall of Rome has been variously attributed to mosquitoes and malaria, to the drain of precious metals to the Far East, and to exhaustion of the soil. Probably the fundamental reason was that the Roman Empire was founded on the ruins of states and civilizations that had already declined, like Egypt, Phœ nicia, Asia Minor, Carthage, and the Hellenic cities of the Greek peninsula, Sicily, and southern Italy. The Empire was a patchwork of outworn nationalities or despotisms and of bygone cultures, which had not been able to save themselves from Rome's attacks and which had little to give to reinvigorate the new whole. The Roman Empire, then, possessed little new life of its own; it was the last stage in the ancient history of the Mediterranean Basin.

Why did the Empire decline?

Greece and Italy, the very heart of the Empire, had shown unmistakable symptoms of decay even before the Roman Empire strictly speaking, had begun. Not only had the Hellenes lost their cherished liberty and political independence, not only had the republican form of government and popular assemblies proved a failure at Rome, but in both Italy and Greece depopulation and alarming economic decline were painfully evident dur

Earlier decline of Greeks and Italians

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