The Roman Empire: How Long Will It Last?


The fall of Rome is an event in history that has been studied by many historians.  How could an empire so vast and powerful come to an end?  Americans, especially, look at the events that toppled the Roman Empire in search of occurrences that our society might be able to avoid so we may continue our global influence.  Explore the reasons for the fall of Rome based upon the following categories: political, social, economic, military failures, religious problems, or outside forces, and argue, which cause was the primary reason for the collapse of the Empire. 


Guiding Question:

What was the primary reason for the fall of the Roman Empire:

political, social, economic, military failures, religious problems, or outside forces?


Task Checklist

¨    Read, translate, and analyze the following primary source documents. Record this information after reading each document on the graphic organizer provided to you.  You are looking for how each piece of evidence connects to the Fall of Rome


¨    Weigh the evidence collected and rank the causes of the Empire’s collapse.  Record this information on the ranking sheet at the end of this packet.




Political Factors


But there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them.

Galgacus (30 CE): On Roman Imperialism (Galgacus was a Celtic military leader who fought against the Romans and lost c. 83 CE)



When the report of the murder of the Emperor Pertinax spread among the people, consternation and grief seized all minds, and men ran about beside themselves. An undirected effort possessed the people---they strove to hunt out the doers of the deed, yet could neither find nor punish them. But the Senators were the worst disturbed, for it seemed a public calamity that they had lost a kindly father and a righteous ruler. Also a reign of violence was dreaded, for one could guess that the soldiery would find that much to their liking.

Herodian of Syria (3rd Century CE): History of the Emperors II.6ff: How Didius Julianus Bought the Empire at Auction, 193 CE (Herodian is a Roman historian. He writes about Emperor Pertinax who was the first of five emperors to rule in a single year.)



At present [in Augustus's time] Egypt is a Roman province, and pays considerable tribute, and is well-governed by prudent persons sent there in succession. The governor thus sent out has the rank of king. Subordinate to him is the administrator of justice, who is the supreme judge in many cases. There is another officer called the Idologus whose business is to inquire into property for which there is no claimant, and which of right falls to [Augustus]. These are accompanied by [Augustus’] freedmen and stewards, who are entrusted with affairs of more or less importance.

Egypt under the Roman Empire (22 CE): A Description of Egypt Under the Principate (After Octavian/Augustus was declared Emperor, Egypt became a part of the new Roman Empire.)



Augustus looked for a successor in his own family; I look for one in the state, not because I have no relatives or companions of my campaigns, but because it was not by any private favour that I myself received the imperial power. Let the principle of my choice be shown not only by my connections which I have set aside for you, but by your own.

Tacitus (109 CE): The Principle of Adoption (Tacitus is a Roman historian.  Augustus was succeeded by his stepson Tiberius)





Social Factors


Others place the summit of glory in having a couch higher than usual, or splendid apparel; and so toil and sweat under a vast burden of cloaks which are fastened to their necks by many clasps, and blow about by the excessive fineness of the material, showing a desire by the continual wriggling of their bodies, and especially by the waving of the left hand, to make more conspicuous their long fringes and tunics, which are embroidered in multiform figures of animals with threads of diverse colors.

Ammianus Marcellinus (c.330-395 CE): History, XIV.16: The Luxury of the Rich in Rome.



For much as men differ with regard to places in which they live, or in the law of their daily life, or in natural bent, or in active pursuits, or in whatever else man differs from man, in the case of this disease alone the difference availed naught. And it attacked some in the summer season, others in the winter, and still others at the other times of the year.

Procopius: The Plague, 542 CE



Gaius Caecilius Claudius Isidorus in the consulship of Gaius Asinius Gallus and Gaius Marcius Censorinus [8 B.C.] upon the sixth day before the kalends of February declared by his will, that though he had suffered great losses by the civil wars, he was still able to leave behind him 4,116 slaves, 3,600 yoke of oxen, and 257,000 head of other kinds of cattle, besides in ready money 60,000,000 sesterces. Upon his funeral he ordered 1,100,000 sesterces to be expended.

Pliny the Elder (23/4-79 CE): Natural History, XXXIII.47: A Wealthy Roman's Fortune (Great fortunes under the Empire fell into two general classes---those founded on commerce, and those founded on land. Isidorus must have been a great territorial lord. His estate was worked by cheap slave labor rather than peasant farmers.)



The younger Pliny spent on his native town of Como 11,000,000 sesterces, though by no means a very rich man. He founded a library, a school, and a charity institute for poor children; also a temple to Ceres, with spacious porticoes to shelter tradespeople who came to the fair held in honor of that goddess. His grandfather had already built for the town a costly portico, and provided the money for decorating the city gates.

The Manner of Roman Charity (This is an example of an act of generosity during the time of the Empire.)






Economic Factors


Messenio, a slave, soliloquizes: Well, this is the proof of a good servant: he must take care of his master’s business, look after it, arrange it, think about it; when his master is away, take care of it diligently just as much as if his master were present, or be even more careful. He must take more care of his back than his appetite, his legs than his stomach---if he’s got a good heart.

Plautus, Menaechmi, Act V, Sc. 4. (c. 200 CE) How a Faithful Slave Should Act.

(There was no real motive for a slave to behave himself. There might be a hope of ultimate freedom, but that depended entirely on the kindness of the master.)



The slaves, distressed by their hardships, and frequently outraged and beaten beyond all reason, could not endure their treatment. Getting together as opportunity offered, they discussed the possibility of revolt, until at last they put their plans into action.

Diodorus Siculus, Library; Books 34/35. 2. 1-48



[The Romans] allotted the cultivated part of the land obtained through war, to settlers, or rented or sold it. Since they had not time to assign the part which lay waste by the war, and this was usually the greater portion, they issued a proclamation that for the time being any who cared to work it could do so for a share of the annual produce, a tenth part of the grain and a fifth of the fruit.

Appian (c. 134-133 BCE): The Civil Wars – On the Gracchi