After the fall of Rome and the Roman Legacy

Why the Western Roman Empire fell?

The Roman Empire’s decline occurred gradually, from 235 to 500. During this time the empire struggled, occasionally regained vitality, and then succumbed to a death in the West and a transition in the East . Since 1776, when Edward Gibbon published the first volume of his "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", Decline and Fall has been the theme around which much of the history of the Roman Empire has been structured. "From the eighteenth century onward," historian Glen Bowersock wrote, "we have been obsessed with the fall: it has been valued as an archetype for every perceived decline, and, hence, as a symbol for our own fears."

Some scholars saw things in almost as blatantly racial terms and viewed the basic failure of Rome as a consequence of permitting too many barbarian Germans to enter its frontiers. The preoccupations of each age have usually been reflected in their views on Rome’s fall. Social problems and class tension have sometimes become fashionable explanations, often in combination with economic factors.

Another observation from the Fall of Rome is that autocratic governments lose the backing of their people. From its inception the Roman Empire ignored the role of citizens in the formation of their government. With the loss of real senatorial power under Augustus, no citizen group could challenge the imperial system. The army became the only group that could effect change, and this power was confined to the leadership, not the rank and file. All the Western emperors after Theodosius were utter failures, and the incompetent rule of Honorius probably accelerated the West’s fall more than any other factor.

The economic factor is also important: Since the West could not draw upon Eastern wealth to pay its mercenaries, it taxed its citizens for the revenue, giving rise to citizen apathy, tax evasion, and the West’s ultimate financial and political collapse. The Roman Empire has often been accused of driving its population into the hands of the Germanic invaders because it levied high taxes and engaged in economically oppressive behavior.

Pagans blamed everything on the Christians for neglecting the old gods who had guided and protected the empire. In turn, Christians blamed pagans for clinging to the old mistaken beliefs, while a few began to link the end of Rome with the end of the world. St Augustine wrote his monumental City of God to explain to Christians that in the end all human states, including Rome, the greatest of them all, would pass.

The empire’s collapse served as a warning for other nations and empires. By trying to understand and explain Rome’s fall, each nation might avoid the same “mistakes” and thereby “save” itself. The most important lesson is humility: Any nation can fall, such as the Ottoman Empire or the Chinese Manchus dynasty, both of which fell in the early twentieth century after 500 years of rule.

There are, of course,other lessons to learn from Rome’s fall; even the ancient Romans argued that their society would collapse because of their decadence. This became a call for action in late antiquity to return to the idealized earlier days, when people supposedly behaved with more decorum and restraint. Modern societies also argue that they are corrupt and decadent. In America this ideology has been used to discredit the current culture. For years, the 1950s have been seen as an era of peace and propriety that gave way to the turbulent 1960s, Vietnam, the 1970s, etc.

The Byzantine Empire

Popular wisdom holds that the Roman Empire collapsed in 476 when German tribes swept across the Rhine and destroyed the Roman state. But the empire did not fall, since the East continued, with the Latin West developing differently than the Greek East. After Rome had been sacked twice and pillaged thoroughly, and most of the earlier imperial capitals—Trier, Milan, Sirmium—were either destroyed or in decline, Constantinople stood unequalled and unconquered. The East—the Balkans (modern Croatia, Serbia, and Bulgaria), Greece, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Syria, Palestine (modern Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan), and Egypt—did not fall. In fact, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) controlled the empire for centuries.

 There is a strange kind of gap or hiatus between the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of Renaissance Italy. The civilized world is supposed to have suffered an eclipse. Not even the glories of Charlemagne's court and the brilliance of medieval scholarship are of any consequence. It is assumed that from 400 to 1400 A.D. the progress of the arts and sciences, and indeed all cultural life, came to a halt.This version of history is more than an oversimplification: it is a misrepresentation.  For between the old Roman Empire and the Renaissance lay the great age of Byzantium. It endured for some eleven centuries, and formed a strategic bridge between antiquity and the modern world. It not only preserved the two unifying elements of the Roman Empire—Roman law and state organization, and the inherited tradition of Hellenic culture—it added a third and even more powerful organizing force: Christianity.

 Please follow this link to continue reading about the Byzantine Empire:

The Roman Legacy

The Greeks failed to practice their political thought on any scale larger than of the city state. Only until the rise of the Roman power and the consolidation of Roman rule, the Western civilization for the first time acquired a pattern of political order. Rome absorved and preserved Greek culture and education within political structure that stretched from York in Britain to Alexandria in Egypt, from the Atlantic to the Euphrates.

We can say that the Roman invented the concept of modern city as it is nowadays template, theater, baths, roads, market place...and even bruthels... Some European town centres are still laid out as the Romans planned them, with a large open space at the centre corresponding to the forum and roads that intersect at right angles. Brigdes, markets and other public landmakrs often occupy the sites where the Roman first place them.

The Romans’ talent for engineering found its most spectacular expression in huge aqueducts. Rome became the capital of a huge empire, introducing its language, laws, and calendar to most of Europe before succumbing to Germanic invaders in the 5th century AD. Never the Western was more unified. You could travel from Egypt to Rome with one passport and one currency.

The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts to supply water. The city of Rome itself was supplied by eleven aqueducts made of limestone that provided the city with over 1 million cubic metres of water each day, sufficient for 3.5 million people even in modern day times. Powered entirely by gravity, they transported very large amounts of water very efficiently. Sometimes, where depressions deeper than 50 metres had to be crossed, inverted siphons were used to force water uphill. The Romans also made great use of aqueducts in their extensive mining operations across the empire, some sites such as Las Medulas in north-west Spain having at least 7 major channels entering the minehead.

Roman Aqueduct in Segovia

When the Romans conquered a new area, its inhabitants had to learn the language of their conquerors, because the new administration was conducted in Latin. This was not the language of literature or public speaking, but the everyday speech of peasants and soldiers (vulgar latin). Today, the Romance languages, which comprise all languages that descended from that Latin, are spoken by more than 600 million native speakers worldwide, mainly in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Additionally, the vocabulary of Germanic languages like German or English contains a large percentage of Latin words. In case of English, the proportion of words with a Latin or Romance origin is estimated to be over 50%.

The more formal, official Latin was preserved by the Christian Church. All Church ceremonies were conducted in Latin and it was the language spoken in monasteries. As these places were the main centres of learning during the middle ages, Latin became the language of scholars. By the 16th century Latin was used all over Europe by scholars, diplomats and scientists. This tradition has survived into modern times; a qualification in Latin is still an entrance requirement for some universities and colleges, whatever subject the students intends to study.

Today, the Latin Alphabet, the script spread by the Roman Empire to most of Europe, and created from the ancient Greek alphabet, is the most far-spread and commonly used script in the world. Spread by various colonies, trade routes, and political powers, the alphabet has continued to grow in strength, although used variantly. During the Middle Ages, the Latin alphabet was adapted to Romance languages, direct descendants of Latin, as well as to Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and some Slavic languages.

Although the law of the Roman Empire is not used today, modern law in many jurisdictions is based on principles of law used and developed during the Roman Empire. Some of the same Latin terminology is still used today. Also, US Supreme Court Justices often refer to Roman law when formulating their opinions. The general structure of jurisprudence used today, in many jurisdictions, is the same (trial with a judge, plaintiff, and defendant) as that established during the Roman Empire. The Romans ideas of justice and rights, as outlined in the Justinian Code, (AD528-534), remain relevant today. Some modern legal systems, such as that in France, are based in a large part on the Justinian Code; others, though now very different from it, still display their origins in the Roman system.

Roman bridges were among the first large and lasting bridges built. They were built with stone and had the arch as its basic structure. Most utilized concrete as well. They also built many dams for water collection, such as the Subiaco Dams, two of which fed Anio Novus, one of the largest aqueducts of Rome.

The Alcantara Brige, Spain, a masterpiece of ancient bridge building

The Roman public baths, or thermae served hygienic, social and cultural functions. The baths contained three main facilities for bathing (notice that the Romans did not have soap. To remove dirt and sweat they covered their bodies with oil which they then scraped off with strigils (scrapels made of wood, bone or metal))

Some of the technologies invented or developed by the Romans:

Amphitheatre, Aqueduct, Arch, Bath, Bridge, Cameos, Sanitary sewer, tunnels, etc...

The ancient Romans learned the arch from the Etruscans, refined it and were the first builders to tap its full potential for above ground buildings: The Romans were the first builders in Europe, perhaps the first in the world, fully to appreciate the advantages of the arch, the vault and the dome.

Throughout the Roman empire, their engineers erected arch structures such as bridges, aqueducts, and gates. They also introduced the triumphal arch as a military monument.

Arc of Constantine
By the 1st century, the Romans had learned how to blow and shape molten glass to make anything from a simple jar to an exquisite drinking globlet. The use of concrete was developed in the 2nd century BC. The Romans discovered how to make an excellent mortar out of volcanish ash, and so were able to build very strong structures.

Roads were common at that time, but the Romans improved their design and perfected the construction to the extent that many of their roads are still in use today. Many roads built by the Romans are still in use today.

The concept of an empire - territory unified by one set of laws and governed by a central body - was first tried by Alexander the Great but died before he carried this out. The Romans brought many benefits to the areas they conquered: improved buildings; trade; a legal system; and the vast economic resources of the empire. The imperialist system was later copied by many rulers, with varying degrees of success. In AD800 the Frankish king Charlemagne was crowned 'Emperor of the Romans', in imitation of earlier Roman rulers. Later Frankish and German leaders continued this tradition, and named their territories the Holy Roman Empire. This institution remained in existence in Germany until 1806. Though Roman in name only, it demonstrates the potency of the Roman empire as a historical model. In the 18th century the revolutionary movements in France and America were inspired by the ideals of the Roman Republic to overthrow the monarchic rule. The USA is still governed by a body called the Senate. By the 19th century some western European countries had empires all over the world, to which they, like the Romans, tried to export their culture and governmental systems.

Elements of Roman local government survive today in the Roman Catholic Church. Its managerial units, known as dioceses, were invented by Diocletian for civic purporses and only later adopted by the church. The idea of a religious empire with its own leader - the Pope - and its own laws is itself derived from the Roman imperial administration.

The Romans turned slavery into an international business. When Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, he brought back a million people with him as slaves, They would have been sold at slave markets in Rome and throughout the empire. When times were desperately hard, some citizens probably sold their relatives or even themselves as slaves. Greek slaves were thought to be the cleverest, so they were the most expensive. They worked in richer Roman houses as doctors, tutors, musicians, goldsmiths, artists and librarians. Slaves owned by good masters in the country often lived better than poor citizens in towns. They worked in pleasant surroundings, and could marry and have children. Many also ran small farms of their own.

In Roman times, people knew little about how the body works or what causes diseases. Most doctors worked for the army and could only perform very basic operations. So, if a member of the family fell ill, he or she was usually treated by a friend with a little knowledge of herbal remedies. Many people thought sickness was a punishment from the gods. So they tried to find a cure by chanting spells or praying to particular gods with special healing powers. Rosemary was used in remedies for bad eyesight, fennel was supposed to calm the nerves, sage was used in cough mixtures, lemon balm was believed to cure headaches.The Romans gained most of their knowleadge of medicine from the Greeks. Hippocrates, a Greek doctor who lived in the 5th century BC, described all the illnesses he encountered and recorded how he treated them. In the 1st century AD a sort of state health service began. Under this scheme, each town had a number of doctors who were exempt from tax.

Tabula Peutingeriana:

It is an illustrated itinerarium (road map) showing the cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire. The original map upon which it is based probably dates to the 4th or 5th century and was itself based on a map prepared by Agrippa during the reign of the emperor Augustus. The present map is a 13th century copy.

The three most important cities of the Roman Empire, Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, are represented with special iconic decoration. Besides the totality of the Empire, the map shows the Near East, India and the Ganges, Sri Lanka (Insula Taprobane), and even an indication of China. It shows a "Temple to Augustus" at Muziris, one of the main ports for trade to the Roman Empire on the southwest coast of India. In the West, the absence of the Iberian Peninsula indicates that a twelfth original section has been lost in the surviving copy.

Large cities are represented by thumbnails of variable size and a special importance is given to the thermal cities. The metropolises of this map are Rome, Constantinople and Antiochia. Immediately below the metropolises in size are Nicomedia (Izmit), Nicaea (Iznik), Aquileia and Ravenna. Ancyra (Ankara) seems to be a town of the same size as Ravenna but its name was not written. The same applies to Alexandria.

The table appears to be based on "itineraries", lists of destinations along Roman roads, as the distances between points along the routes are indicated. Travelers would not have possessed anything so sophisticated as a modern map, but they needed to know what lay ahead of them on the road and how far. offers a reconstruction of the Tabula Peutingeriana with internet technology.

- Aquileia was an ancient Roman city in Italy with a population of 100,000 in the second century AD (Today only 3500)
- Carnunto was a Roman army camp on the Danube in the Noricum province. It was made a municipium by Hadrian (Aelium Carnuntum).
Marcus Aurelius resided there for three years (172-175) during the war against the Marcomanni, and wrote part of his Meditations there. Septimius Severus, at the time governor of Pannonia, was proclaimed emperor there by his soldiers (193), to replace Emperor Pertinax, who had been murdered. In 308 the Emperor emeritus Diocletian chaired a historic meeting with his co-emperors Maximian and Galerius in Carnuntum to solve the rising tensions within the tetrarchy.
In the 4th century, it was destroyed by Germanic invaders. Although partly restored by Valentinian I, it never regained its former importance, and Vindobona became the chief military centre. During the Barbarian Invasions Carnuntum was eventually abandoned and used as a cemetery and source of building material for building projects elsewhere. Eventually, its remains were covered by decaying plant material. In fact the walking level is now 1.5 metres higher.
- Vindobona was at the current Vienna.

With a population of over 500,000, including a Jewish colony of 70,000, and a thriving economy because of its strategic position at the crossroads of trade routes south to Palestine and Egypt, east to Persia and west to the Asia Minor peninsula, Antioch was justly called "Antioch the Great, Queen of the East." Josephus ranked it as the third greatest city of the Roman Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria (Josephus Jewish Wars 3.29).



Further notes (authors notes):

(notes about The legacy of Rome - A new appraisal, R. Jenkyns ' ):

At the zenith of 'Hellenomania', in 1821, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in the Preface to Hellas:
"We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece. But for Greece--Rome, the instructor, the conqueror, or the metropolis of our ancestors, would have spread no illumination with her arms, and we might still have been savages and idolaters; or, what is worse, might have arrived at such a stagnant and miserable state of social institution as China and Japan possess."

In the first place, much of what we know about the Romans' abuse of power comes from themselves; they had at least an ideal of good government. The Romans may not have lived up to their high profession, but hypocrisy is at least vice's tribute to virtue; if we try to imagine self-criticism from an Assyrian or an Aztec, we may be thankful for small mercies. Secondly, if we feel indignant at the Romans, it is because we think to judge them by our own standards.
The Greeks give us the language of political theory--democracy, monarchy, tyranny, and so on--but the Romans have had the greater influence on political practice.
As long as most of the continent remained absolutist, foreign observers noted the Roman character of British institutions: as late as 1851 Nassau Senior was told by an Italian nobleman, 'When I read Cicero's letters, I fancy myself reading the correspondence of one of your statesmen. All the thoughts, all the feeling, almost all the expressions, are English.'
It would be absurd to claim that English history has been determined by Roman example; but ideas have their part to play in the historical process as well as social pressures and sectarian passions.
At the begining of this century there were still three rulers who bore the title Caesar--the Shah of Persia, the German Kaiser, and the Russian Tsar; indeed, for 2,000 years, until 1978, there was, more or less continuously, a 'Caesar' ruling somewhere in the world. The importance of the Roman legacy here lies not in the creation of a monarchy, for of course there had been many monarchic empires before, but in the combination of absolutism with a highly developed system of law. Those who look in Roman law for something like 'human rights' are likely to come away disappointed; but as a system for regulating family, property, and people's dealings with one another it is formidable.
'Roman' was a juridical term, and anyone, of any race, could become a Roman citizen (it is a curious fact that not one of the Roman poets, so far as we know, was a native of Rome itself).
The combination of autocray, law, and the idea of a world-wide citizenship was to influence the European experience profoundly. The feeling preserved in Europe, long after the break-up of the Western Empire, that in some sense the West as a whole shared the citizenship of a common culture, was surely due to more than its inheritance of Latin Literature and the Latin Language; it derived in part from the nature of the Roman empire itself.
The idea of a Christian empire beings with Constantine; nearly five centuries later Charlemagne's coronation by the pope inaugurated a new 'Roman Empire' which was to last, at least in name, for a thousand years
In the East, the Byzantines maintained a 'Roman Empire' continuosly until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 (indeed, the greater part of Gibbon's Decline and Fall is devoted to times and places which we would not now call 'Roman' at all). Though Greek, they called themselves Romans, Rhomaioi, because they felt themselves to be the inheritors of a common tradition, both classical and Christian. A Greek in Turkey is 'Rum' to this day.
Even if we accept it, classical Rome is fundemantally important to Christian history for several reasons. Mist simply, the Pax Romana provided a reasonably stable and politically unified world within Christianity could spread.
For the spiritually hungry, Roman religion had nothing to give: it lacked moral or theological content, and it was incapable of growth or adaption; in the midst of a sophisticated, Hellenized civilization, it remained stubbornly primitive. 

The triumph of Christianity remains one of the most mysterious of historial processes, but it can at least be said that in the Roman world it had no serious rival
The popes in due course assumed the title of the highest Roman priesthood. 'Pontifex Maximus'. There was no theological content in that: non continuity exists between the pagan religion of Rome and the new faith. The office of Pontifex Maximus had indeed been a political and social rather than spiritual distinction.
The early Christian churches of Rome and Ravenna show a traditional Roman building type, the basilica, adapted to a new purpose with unflagging invention; and they are unmistakably 'late antique' in character, not 'early mediaval'.
A large part of that inheritance has been the Latin tongue itself, the base of the modern Romance language and a complex influence upon English. 
Most of English's abstract vocabulary is classically derived, and closer to the Romance languages than to Germany. 
The main Germanic influence on modern English is upon word formation and sentence construction, and enters from the United States ('uplift', 'ongoing', ''Said White House spokesman Ziegler...')

Ovid has had the greatest influence of any Latin poet after Virgil, because his works, aboe all the Metamorphoses, gave later ages their chief source for Greek mythology.
Classical Roma produced no original philosopher (though an exception might made for Lucretius, whose intellectual originality is not enough recognized); but Cicero's philosophical works, through derivative, have made him one of the educators of Europe... Cicero's treatise on moral obligation, De Officiis - Tully's Offices' to the 18th century . was part of a gentleman's education; it taught virtue and good manners, but also that glory - the pursuit of personal distinction - was a proper end of man
The end of classical civilization in the West - roughly between AD 450 and 650, with regard to transmission of texts - is not so much the story of the violent physical destruction of the Roman empire as was once thought, but rather a matter of the barbarization of Roman civilization over 200 years or so, as the army, teh governments officials, the business classes , and the very population assumed the styles and customers first of the Ostrogoths and then of the Lombards. In the course of time, the forum, the bath, and the temple fell into disuse and decay, their traditional roles in civil life forgotten as the public city-state was replaced by the private tribal kingdom. As Roman Civilization faded, the Roman education of Public School and private tutor slowly diminished; the body of literature that was the common property of the educated in Antiquity cesaed to have an audience, and as the market for books disappeared for publics stationers vanished.
Order and stability, once the obligation of the state, became the Church's responsability. Literacy, necessary both to the teaching of a religion dependent on Scripture and to the functioning of the Church as administrative heir to the Roman state, became the near monopoly of the Church, which acted in effect as the civil service of the tribal kingdoms for the next 500 years.
Gradually the Roman ruling class was replaced or absorbed by Lombard (or in Gaul, y Frankish) peoples had little need, and even less ability, to maintain the physical infrastructure of Roman civilization: the forum, public baths, roads, libraries, temples.As these became unnecessary, they were increasingly neglected.
The legislation of the Visigoths in Spain and France shows a strong influence of Roman law. Visigothic law was the best developed of all Germanic laws, but it underwent a massive Romanization from the end of the fifth to the middle of the seventh century. The Church played an important role, for 'the Church lives according to the Roman law' (ecclesia vivit iure Romano). There are no traces of organized schools of law, where juriprudence in the proper sense of the world could have flourished.
The vigour of the Carolingian renewal of the period 751 to 814 can in part be explained in terms of the youth of the ecclesiastical establishment. The Carolingian programme of renewal was consciuosly based on Antiquity. Order and stability lay in a vigorous revival of that which was useful and applicable from the Roman past. The text of virtually every ancient Latin author is today edited largely from Carolingian manuscripts. Texts of only a handful of authors (Tibullus, Propertius, Cartallus, etc...) are not reconstructed from manuscripts of the Carolingean renaissance. By the end of 9 century, the Carolingians had produced a remarkable number of manuscripts, over 6700 of which survive. Althogether only some 1865 Latin manuscripts survive, wholly or in part from all the centuries before AD 800. Although the Carolingian renewal was faded, as teh political structure that brought it into existence collapsed, the job of transmission was done. The libraries of the great centres, episcopal and monastic, were replete with ancient and patristic authors.
By 12th century Cathedral schools grew into Universities in response to the need for trained priests to minister to an ever-growing urban flock and to win back disaffected social groups from heresy
In the 12th century there was a revival of jurisprudence which was closely linked to the full accessibility of the Corpus iuris civilis. That the origins of European legal science should be sought in Bologna is gernally accepted
Richard de Fournival (1200-1260), chancellor of Amiens Cathedral, formed a library of some 300 books in the artes, Arabic astronomy, medicine, and theology, which included Seneca's Tragedies, Cicero's Verrines and De Oratore, Tibullus, and Propertius; shortly after his death, his collection became the foundation of the library of the Sorbonne, which had only recently been established (1257) in Paris as a house of studies for priests.
Certain ancient works were antithetical to Christian theology, such as Seneca's Tragedies; serving no useful purpose in the early Middle Ages, they perished, uncopied (as the Tragedies nearly did)
The rediscovery of Tacitus and the translation into Latin of Polybius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Plutarch made clear by the early sixteenth century that very little indeed was certain about Rome - even the year of its foundation

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