Ancient Rome began as a small town in Italy and eventually grew into an empire that contained most of Europe, Britain, Western Asia, Northern Africa, and the Mediterranean islands. Rome became an empire soon after Julius Caesar came into power and conquered France. Augustus, who was Julius Caesar’s adopted son, took the throne after his father’s death. Augustus created a golden age of peace and prosperity, known as the Pax Romana. Although Rome seemed to be flourishing, it began to decline and the year 476 is known as “the fall of Rome.” There are many theories surrounding the causes of the decline in Rome, including, agricultural exhaustion, invasions, and lack of military might.
Ellsworth Hunting, the author of Climate Change and Agricultural Exhaustion as Elements in the Fall of Rome, argues that agricultural exhaustion is the cause of the decline of Rome. Hunting states that, “seven jugera, or about four and one-half acres of land, sufficed for the tillage required to support an average family. Agriculture was so intensive that farms of this small size, supplemented presumably by pasture land, supported a contented, self-respecting, and progressive population” (Hunting, ). Cities within Rome were small, and the citizens of these cities were independent and created a government to fit the needs of the people. The second century before Christ marked a major change, “under Scipio in 196 B.C grain began to be distributed from state granaries to poor citizens. Seven jugera were no longer sufficient for the average farmer” (Hunting, ). Many farmers became poverty stricken and instead of sowing their fields with a scientific rotation of carefully tilled crops, they were turning them over to pasturage. At this point, farmers reaped only four times the seed that they sowed. Conditions only became worse, farms were abandoned, tenants fell into chronic debt and were little better than slaves.
Agricultural decline lead to economic decline and the creation of a system of taxation. Taxes should be proportioned to the income of the people who pay them, but the decline in agriculture left many people poor. A tax that was easily paid from a full grain bin becomes oppressive when the grain bin is half empty. Poverty lead to the concentration of power in the hands of the few. Ward-Perkins, author of The Fall of Rome: and the End of Civilization, states that, “the key internal element in Rome’s success or failure was the economic well-being of its taxpayers” (Ward-Perkins,). Families who were unable to pay the taxes required to keep their land, were forced to leave. Some families even sold their children into slavery because they could not provide for them. Since taxes were used to empower the army, Rome’s military might declined significantly.
The Roman military began to employ barbarian allies and mercenaries for protection. Employing barbarians caused revenue to leave the Roman Empire and enter foreign states, which caused inflation. The Persian Empire took advantage of the weak Roman military and managed to capture a Roman emperor, leading to a Roman civil war. Civil wars were frequent and caused military deaths, civilian deaths, and wasted resources. Trying to put an end to civil wars within Rome, gave foreigners an opportunity to invade with little pushback. One foreign invader that was extremely successful were known as the Huns.
Edward Gibbons, the author of History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, believed that the Huns was a major factor in the fall of Rome. He argues that, “the barbarian world was agitated by the distant revolutions of China. The Huns, who fled before a victorious enemy, directed their march towards the West; and the torrent was swelled by the gradual accession of captives and allies. The flying tribes who yielded to the Huns assumed In their turn the spirit of conquest; the endless column of barbarians pressed on the Roman empire with accumulated weight; and if the foremost were destroyed, the vacant space was instantly replenished by new assailants” (Gibbons, ). The Roman empire did not stand a chance against the Huns. Agricultural decline, heavy taxes, and the lack of military might, left Rome open to foreign invasion.