Fall of the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire began with Emperor Augustus and lasted for approximately 500 years until the year 476 AD when Romulus Augustus, at 14 years of age, was ousted by German soldiers. Many critics will point out that the Roman Empire did not fall until 1453 when the Turks conquered the city of Constantinople. These critics state that there was a semblance of continuity between the Roman republic, the great Mediterranean Empire, and the Byzantium Empire that ultimately collapsed in 1453 (Smith 294). Moreover, even after the barbarians took over, they were merely successors to the emperors, and the Roman culture remained. This viewpoint is, however, inspired by contemporary multiculturalism and lacking in evidence.
Many historians argue that the barbarian invasions were a major cause of the fall of the Empire. Between 313- 376 AD, tribes in Germany were fast gaining in popularity, a phenomenon bolstered by the upsurge in insecurity and the economic turbulence being experienced throughout Rome. By 370 AD, the barbarians sensed the weaknesses of the Empire especially after the civil wars, and the Huns were the first to attack. After the Hun invasion, the Germans, who were fleeing from Mongol, followed suit and continued invading even after the Huns retreated. Due to financial constraints, the Empire was incapable of fielding soldiers to ward off the Germans and the Empire finally collapsed.
Even after the Germans took over Rome, much of the Roman culture remained, but the level of this culture fell far below that experienced previously. The Germans were lousy governors who kept all the taxes they collected for themselves. They replaced the corrupt tax collection system of the Roman Empire with a more direct and brutal system that was indistinguishable from looting. The Germans also did not maintain public safety, and merchants were being harassed by brigands and barbarians. It became unprofitable to trade since either the goods did not reach their destination, or there was no one to purchase them upon arrival. Western Europe thus saw a decline in culture and prosperity, and only parts of Gaul and eastern Spain remained prosperous. Eastern Rome, however, continued in its prosperity up until the 1400s. Historians have thus unanimously agreed that the barbarian invasions led to irrecoverable economic shocks as well as culture breakdowns in Western Europe, while the East continued prospering.
Besides the barbarian invasions, the church also played a momentous role in the collapse of the Empire and the transformation of Europe. In the Roman days, the emperors controlled religion, and held the authority appoint the clergy. The Christian beliefs were in conflict with the workings of the empire, and Christianity was deemed a political problem. With the tribal wars and rising poverty, however, Christianity offered comfort to many, and Christian popularity began increasing. People started losing trust in their emperor as well as Roman ways, and the emperor lost control of the people. Without the ability of the Empire to win support or rally resources to wade off the barbarian invasions, the empire ultimately fell. Many historians will, however, argue that the church acted to foster unity and Roman imperialism. These historians will state that the emperors were deemed handpicked by God, and thus the church offered them more legitimacy and power. The histories of these times are, however, filled with theological disputes and rely largely on Church histories. They cannot thus be trusted for accuracy.
The Church has also been deemed pivotal in ushering in the dark ages. It is opined that the church led to the decline in the intellectual culture. It can, however, be argued that this decline was largely due to the dominance of the illiterate Germanic and Northern barbarians. In fact, Christianity helped promote the intellectual culture, as evinced by the fact that it is through Christianity that most late-antique culture survived. While the church contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire, therefore, it did not usher in the dark ages.
Smith, Julia M.H. Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Document.