The Fall of Rome

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  • 0:05 Reasons for Fall
  • 0:46 Internal Corruption
  • 1:38 Division
  • 2:17 Outside Invasion
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson explains the gradual fall of Rome. In doing so, it highlights corruption, division, and outside invasion as the main reasons for the fall of the Eternal City.

Reasons for Fall

As the familiar saying goes, 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' As the not so familiar saying also goes, 'It didn't fall in a day either!' To explain this saying, we're going to look at the gradual decline of Rome, culminating with its sacking in the year 476 CE. In doing this, we're going to blame internal corruption, division, and outside invasion for the demise of Rome, known to the ancient world as the Eternal City. Although there are a plethora of reasons for the fall that we could cite, most of them can be traced back to these three.

Internal Corruption

Let's get started with internal corruption. As the Empire grew, it became very hard to govern and control. Violence began replacing law and order. Instead of emperors, generals, and politicians being chosen on the basis of merit, positions of power were paid for or gained through violence that could rival any modern day mob movie.

Adding to the problem, the rulers of Rome - many of whom had bought or murdered for their positions - had little desire to actually govern, let alone preserve the city. Without a strong central power base, civil wars waged between feuding political groups, while corrupt officials levied devastating taxes on the people of Rome. Inflation soared, commoners died of starvation and disease, and the lights of the Eternal City began to dim.


In an attempt to keep the light of Rome from completely dying, one emperor, Diocletian, stepped in with a plan to save the day. However, his 3rd-century plan actually gives us our second reason for the fall of Rome: division. Seeing that the Empire was just too large to govern effectively, Diocletian decided to divide it into Western and Eastern halves. When one of Diocletian's successors, the famous Constantine, officially moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople in the first half of the 4th century, the center of political power moved with it.

Outside Invasion

To history, the Eastern part of the Empire came to be known as the Byzantine Empire, while the Western half remained under the faltering control of Rome. Since the political force of the Empire had moved East, Rome was, in a manner of speaking, left to fend for itself against not only corruption from within, but also our third reason for its fall: outside invasion.

As the Byzantine Empire of the East began to thrive, Rome and its surrounding areas faced further decline. With the political power of the Empire now in the East, and with the city of Rome suffering from corruption from within, the ancient city was ripe for attack. Soon nomads from the North, known as the Germanic tribes, began attacking along the northern borders of the Empire.

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