The Fall of Rome the empire weakens

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The Fall of Rome

When the last of the Good Emperors died in 180 AD, the Pax Romana ended. Rome was left without a strong leader to face serious problems that affected the empire. There were a series of civil wars and invasions by tribal peoples living outside the Empire’s borders. The expense of paying the military to deal with these issues caused an economic crisis. Between 235 and 284 AD, 20 emperors reigned; all but one died violently. Military legions became the center of power, assassinating unpopular emperors and elevating their own leaders to the throne.

Rich landowners acquired land from small farmers who went bankrupt and from soldiers who died at war, and turned these properties into mega-farms called latifundia. There were no jobs there for the Roman poor – the latifundia were run by slave labor. As a result, thousands of desperate citizens flocked to Rome looking for jobs and food.

Civil war and invasions affected many aspects of Roman life. Travel became unsafe, taxes rose, and the value of money declined. The result was growing inflation, or a dramatic rise in prices.


The crises of the 200s called for drastic reform. Luckily, two capable emperors rose to power who were able to keep the empire going for another two centuries. The first of these was Diocletian (dy-uh­KLEE-shuhn), who assumed the throne in 284. Diocletian turned the empire into an absolute monarchy, placing himself above his subjects, answering to no one else. He divided the empire in half, creating an Eastern and Western Roman Empire. Diocletian and his assistant (called a caesar) ruled the eastern half, while another emperor (appointed by Diocletian) and his caesar ruled the western provinces. The idea was that the two emperors would eventually step down, and the two caesars would take their place after appointing new caesars to replace them.

Diocletian’s reforms affected almost every aspect of Roman life. Sons had to work in the same trade and have the same social position as their fathers. Peasants were connected to the land they farmed for life. The imperial economy also came under state direction. Diocletian did manage to save the empire from collapse.

Diocletian and his co-emperor retired in 305. Both emperors’ caesars became the new co-emperors, but they soon quarreled. A civil war broke out, lasting until 312 when Constantine, a son of the original caesar, took control after a famous battle outside the gates of Rome called the Battle of

Milvan Bridge. The night before the battle, Constantine dreamed of a Christian cross in the sky with the words “in hoc signo vinces” – with this sign, you will conquer. The next morning, Constantine stitched crosses onto all the battle flags, and told his soldiers to paint crosses on their shields. He won the battle for Rome. His rival Maxentius was thrown from the bridge, where the weight of his armor caused him to sink and drown in the mud and ooze at the bottom of the Tiber River.

Constantine praised the Christian god for giving him a victory, and immediately decreed that no more persecution of Christians would be tolerated in the Roman Empire. No more throwing Christians to the lions in the Coliseum.

Constantine continued Diocletian's policies of rigid state control over society. He built a new capital, Constantinople, or “the city of Constantine” in the eastern half of the empire, which was richer and better-defended than the west. This city is known as Istanbul today.


Despite the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine, the empire’s serious problems continued and were worsened by invading forces along the empire’s borders. In the late 300s, a new nomadic Central Asian people, the Huns, stormed out of the east and began defeating many Germanic tribes. The Huns were fierce and lived by looting and plundering. They struck terror in the people they attacked. Many of their victims fled south.

The Huns formed a vast empire in Eurasia. Around 370 they attacked the Ostrogoths, who lived north of the Black Sea. This motivated the Visigoths to avoid the Huns by moving into Roman lands. In 410 the Visigoth king Alaric captured and sacked Rome.

Pushed by the Huns, other tribes also attacked the Roman Empire. The Vandals, infamous for destroying everything in their path, invaded Rome in the 450s. The word vandal comes from this destructive tribe.

In the mid-400s Attila (at-UHL-uh), the leader of the Huns, led an attack on Gaul. The Roman army allied with the Visigoths and together they defeated the Huns in a great battle in 451. After Gaul, Attila set his sights on Rome but after speaking with Pope Leo I, Attila and his troops left Italy instead.

Despite the Huns’ retreat, the Western Empire lay in a shambles. Germanic tribes ruled most of the western provinces, including Italy. In 476, the King Odoacer (oh-doh-AY-surh) and his army of Ostrogoths defeated the last Roman emperor of the west: Romulus Augustus, a 17-year-old boy. With this, the Western Roman Empire officially ended. The Eastern Roman Empire, however, continued operating for another 1,000 years as the “Byzantine Empire.”

Guess the Test #6 Name: ______________________
Terms: Write a good sentence to define or identify each term or name.
The Battle of Milvan Bridge
The Huns
Alaric the Visigoth
The Vandals
Attila the Hun
Romulus Agustulus

Essays: Write 5 good sentences to explain each topic:

  1. Explain 5 problems that plagued Rome after the Pax Romana.

  1. Describe Diocletian and how he tried to save the Empire.

  1. Describe Constantine and how he helped Christians and Rome.

  1. Identify the German and Asian invaders who attacked and finally brought about the end of Rome:

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