Why did the Roman Republic collapse?

The fall of RomeHow a crisis-ridden world power collapsed

Even in the deepest provinces, its inhabitants profited from developed roads and flourishing long-distance trade; they enjoyed wine with selected dishes, some lived in stone houses with underfloor heating, built basilicas, forums, public baths, aqueducts and theaters. But while Eastern Rome did not perish until 1453 with the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed II, Western Rome experienced a centuries-long crisis from the 3rd century onwards, which culminated in the world of the European Middle Ages.

What were the reasons behind the downfall of this great western power? What part did civil wars, the migration of peoples or the barbarization of the late Roman army have? Why were civilizational achievements also lost with the fall of Rome? Ancient historians and archaeologists are still discussing this today. The popular argument that the late Roman decadence did not withstand the storm of the Germanic peoples is no longer supported today in specialist circles.

"Omnia ornamenta palatii, quae Odoacar Constantinopolim transmiserat ..."

Historians call the unknown author anonymus Valesianus who reported this incident: The handover of the Western Roman imperial robe to Ostrom in AD 476, after the high officer Odoacer deposed the weak emperor Romulus Augustus.
Odoacer banished the young emperor and sent the emperor's insignia to Ostrom with the remark that Italy no longer needs an emperor of his own, but subordinates himself to the emperor in Constantinople.

"That is one thing that is interesting, and the other, that the deposed young emperor is not killed, which would actually have been the normal fate of an emperor. There are very few exceptions in which a man who once wore the purple has not been killed ",

says Dr Henning Börm, ancient historian at the University of Konstanz.

"These are both clear symbols that not only an emperor has been removed from the throne, but that the Western Roman Empire, the Empire in Italy, is actually to be abolished."

The fall of the Roman Empire takes place in two steps:
It was around 550 years ago that the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II defeated Byzantium - the successor of Eastern Rome with the capital Constantinople - and thus sealed its end.
But what happened around a thousand years earlier in the western part of the empire and how it should be interpreted - this is what the scientists are discussing, because it is questionable whether the handover of the imperial robe in AD 476. at Constantinople really meant the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The counter-argument is: The powerful Western Roman imperial court continued to exist for 80 years without the emperor, so the historian Henning Börm prefers a different date:

"The year 554, which no one has ever heard of, but which is important insofar as the Western Roman imperial court is abolished in this year."

The ancient historian Prof. Christoph Schäfer from the University of Trier also points out:

"In some peripheral areas the tendency towards medieval structures sets in much earlier, in the core areas, including the western empire, relatively late, in my opinion from the middle of the 6th century. 476 as an epoch date is absolutely not tenable."

The process of extinction is therefore a creeping one and begins in this country east of the Rhine around 200 years earlier than in the western Rhineland.
Not only the discussion of when the Roman Empire fell, but also which factors led to the fall of the empire, continues to this day.

In the past, late antiquity offered room for speculation.
As early as the 18th century, the British historian Edward Gibbon postulated in his epochal work "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" that Westrom had ultimately failed due to three factors: Christianity, decadence and the Germanic peoples.
In doing so, he joined prominent thought leaders: Montesquieu described decadence as a decisive factor. Voltaire, on the other hand, gave Christianity a not inconsiderable debt for the decline of the Roman Empire.

Today the fall of the Western Roman Empire is viewed in a more nuanced manner, but questions still arise:
Which factors ultimately led to the end of the great power?
To what extent did civil wars and warlords play a role?
What did the migration of peoples mean in this context?

This is of interest not only to antiquarians, but also to contemporary historians and politicians, because the Roman Empire is considered the reference point for all subsequent empires, be it the British Empire or the imperial power USA. And another aspect seems to be of interest, namely that according to certain criteria, possibly patterns, according to which world empires arise, reach their climax and perish.

An empire is born
Rome at the height of power

"We are standing at the foot of the tomb of Lucius Poblicius. The tomb is more than 15 meters high, equivalent to the height of a three-story single-family house. It is one of the best-preserved Roman tombs north of the Alps."

Roman-Germanic Museum Cologne. The archaeologist and director of the museum Dr. Marcus Trier stands in front of the Dionysus mosaic that adorned the floor of a Roman villa around 2000 years ago. Behind it rises the stone monument of Poblicius, which was found on one of the arterial roads under a private house.

"Lucius Poblicius was a Roman veteran who did his service in Xanten and who, after leaving the army, received financial compensation, as was usual, and obviously made an economic and certainly social career afterwards."

The scientists do not know how the veteran earned his living as a civilian. But he must have grown very prosperous.

"Because there is no other way to explain a 15-meter-high tomb made of Lorraine limestone, which had to be fetched here from afar, brought here from the upper Moselle area. Yes, you can see the base area about five and a half meters high, then this one Columns on the grave roof and the good Lucius Poblicius stand in the middle, to the left and right of him are other life-size limestone figures, which should certainly portray family members. "

Lucius Poblicius left the monument for himself and his relatives around 40 AD. erect. It was the time of the expansion of the Roman Empire. Poblicius, who originally came from southern Italy as a military man, decided not to return to Italy after his military career but stayed in what was then the oppidum Ubiorum, an up-and-coming provincial town on the Rhine, which 10 years later became a veteran colony and from then on acquired the highest legal form as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium that could be bestowed on a city in a Roman province.

Around 100 years later, the success that men like Poblicius had achieved became apparent: Rome had become an empire.
Prof. Michael Gehler, historian at the University of Hildesheim:

"This continuous expansion, this gradual growth from a city-state to a world empire with the greatest expansion under Emperor Trajan, with an expansion from the Middle East to North Africa, Spain, England, large parts of northern Europe, Germania, that is an essential point."

"That means, using today's terminology, the Roman Empire would touch three continents," adds Prof. Kai Ruffing, ancient historian at the University of Kassel.

"Secondly, the efficient army, including the administrative reforms and structures that the Roman Empire carried out, was always admirable, also for military historians," says Prof. Michael Gehler.

The logistical effort for the military is enormous, as the Roman Empire has 30 legions at its disposal at the wedding, i.e. around 150,000 - 180,000 men of regular line infantry. In addition, there was the same number of auxiliary troops.

A professional army - according to Dr Henning Börm - a standing army that is divided into:

"In one half, these are the legions in which the Roman citizens serve and the other half, just as strong or even stronger, non-Roman auxiliary troops, which have played a major role from the start."

The recruits of the auxiliary troops are considered highly motivated because:

"When you've finished there, you get Roman citizenship and, if you want, you can perhaps pursue a different career. This army is the decisive power base of the emperors. You can, but don't have to, call Rome a military monarchy or a military dictatorship Emperors have supreme command over the army and the army makes the emperor. "

"In addition, the military had a high economic function," says Kai Ruffing,
"Unlike many other empires, Rome washed money to the periphery, to the military, and there was high demand for various goods at the borders, such as wine or garum, a kind of fish sauce, and this demand again provoked trade in this region. And finally and finally, the military is also a very important point for what we call Romanization or Romanization, that is, the adoption of the Roman way of life. "

For example, the military sites also had their own baths in the periphery. The army built roads and built aqueducts. In this respect, the sheer presence of the army also produced technological progress in the hinterland.
Rome was the epitome of civilization and a fine way of life, which even the citizens of the province did not want to miss: fine pottery from Italy, glasses, North African amphorae, cinnamon and pepper from India, oysters from the Mediterranean, ivory and dates from Africa, tools such as scissors, Needles and loom weights to make fine cloths.
Transporting these goods to the provinces also requires a well-developed infrastructure: trunk roads on which long-distance trade can flourish. Christoph Schäfer:

"The ancient economy is a very complex system. It is still a bit controversial in research, but we have to say that it was a very modern economy, where bulk goods had to and could be transported over long distances, and the only transport routes The ones that were best suited for this in terms of cost, of course, are the waterways, that is, the sea routes and, above all, the inland waterways, that is, the rivers. "

"If you think of the Trier Roman Bridge from 155 AD, this bridge, the bridge piers were built from blocks that were broken near Andernach." adds Dr Ronald Bockius, Head of the Ancient Shipping Research Department at the Roman-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz.

"From Andernach to Trier, that is a good hour's drive today, but in antiquity, if you imagine land transport via the Eifel, that cannot be compared with what the connection via the Moselle and Rhine makes possible."

"The economy in the Roman Empire is not only stronger than that of its neighbors north of the Rhine and Danube or south of the Sahara, it is also more differentiated," says Kai Ruffing.

"The empire was largely monetized, that is, economic transactions were essentially regulated through the exchange of money. We can see a pronounced professional specialization in the wedding, and that alone is a sign that one essentially receives money and services and goods through the Market traded. "

In addition to the military and the economy, there are other aspects that characterize the Roman Empire at its wedding. Michael Gehler:

"An essential point of cultural history is the strong ability to absorb other cultures, let's think of the Etruscan culture, let's think of the Greek culture, which was also absorbed in the Roman Empire, keyword Hellenism, certainly also the question of spiritual and cultural Charisma, let us think of Roman philosophy, which benefited from Greek philosophy, but also of Roman law, which is still taught today at universities in law faculties, of the technological achievements of civilization. And last but not least, we think of the outstanding leaders Let us think of the reformer Diocletian, let us think of the philosopher Marc Aurel and, last but not least, Caesar, these emperors represent very different profiles. "

The complexity, another criterion for empires, increased over the centuries so that after the death of Emperor Theodosius the Great the empire was divided among his sons in 395: However, in this context one can speak less of a division of an empire than of an imperial division, imperial residence in the east was Constantinople, in the west Milan, later Ravenna, rarely Rome. However, in the centuries before there had been several emperors and imperial cities like Trier in order to be able to govern the empire better administratively.
The geographical, power-political, military, economic and cultural-political significance of the Roman Empire has ultimately led to the fact that this empire has its own category. Kai Ruffing:

"The Roman Empire is the paradigmatic empire, one could say, because the historiographical category empire is ultimately derived from it. And it is also the most powerful empire in terms of reception history, because many subsequent states and empires refer explicitly to Rome."

About vandals, Huns and barbarians
The Great Migration

From the movie "Die Feuerzangenbowle":
Teacher: "You have repeated the migration for today. Well, Knebel, tell us which tribe you are best at."
Student: "The Goths."
Teacher: "Fine, then tell us something about the Goths."
Student: "The Goths originally sat - originally the Goths sat in - the Goths originally sat in - Sweden."
Teacher: "Right, and from there they went?"
Student: "From there they went to the Danzig area. And from there they went to Russia. And from there to, yes, they didn't really know what to do and - uh - then split up into the East and to the Visigoths. "

Dr. Philipp von Rummel is Secretary General of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin:
"Probably everyone knows this scene from the movie" Die Feuerzangenbowle ", in which the poor student tries desperately to explain on the map where the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths moved The Baltic Sea begins and then over the Black Sea to the Roman Empire, partly to Africa, and imply this targeted migration process. "

Wild Germanic tribes, desolate hordes of Huns, uncivilized Goths - the migration of peoples is commonly associated with the image of threatening barbarians or, to put it another way, uniform ethnic groups that break out from the periphery and then move into the Roman Empire.

"However, this term has recently come under strong criticism, because both the term peoples is sometimes very difficult for these groups and migration is also very difficult, so there are other terms that are actually more suitable for what we mean For example, the term 'Migration Period' in English, which expresses in a much more neutral way what actually happened there. "

What actually happened there is still hotly debated: Were it really peoples who moved into the Roman Empire on long treks with families, children, old people, household items and cattle? Or were they not rather armies, military units, accompanied by relatives?

For example: the Goths

"The Goths are in a certain special role because they are trying very hard to integrate themselves into the empire first," says Prof. Christoph Schäfer from the University of Trier.

"We can, for example, attach it to Alaric, the famous Alaric who conquered Rome in 410, and Rome is now being plundered. It is very strange when 45 years later the Vandals conquer Rome, an unbelievable amount is still there, such as the seven-armed candlestick , whom Titus abducted from Jerusalem to Rome, the vandals and not the Goths of Alaric remove him. So it can't have been that much with the plundering. And Alaric's goals themselves weren't actually to conquer Rome himself , but actually he just wanted to take on a corresponding military post within the Roman army. "

Alaric was of the opinion that as the commander of his own tribal warriors, a mercenary army in the Roman service, he was entitled to a high post in the west of Rome. Not entirely wrong, because other warlords had done it before him.
The emperor saw things differently, and so there was a military conflict within the system or, to put it another way, a civil war.

"If the Emperor Honorius had acted more skillfully in this case, then things with Alaric and Rome would certainly have been different and Alaric would have found his place within the Roman army."

For example: the vandals

Philipp von Rummel:
"When they arrived in North Africa, the vandals had been on the road for a long time on the borders of the Roman Empire and then inside the Roman Empire, they conquered the country, replaced the old Roman elite there and of course took over their houses, Their living culture, which was very pleasant with bathrooms, beautiful houses, mosaics. The Vandals simply continued to use and maintain everything, by the way, because in the Vandal Empire, magnificent houses were still being built. There were mosaics. So the vandal conquest is at all no break. "

In North Africa, the vandals were already sitting in the proverbial meat pot, because this was the granary of the Roman Empire. Through a peace treaty with Rome, they achieved the status of an ally and were placed in Roman service. But Geiserich, ruler of the Vandals, wanted more: on the one hand to be related to the imperial family and on the other hand to have a Roman career as an army master. Neither was fulfilled due to various circumstances, which gave Geiseric a reason to march to Rome.
Here, too, it became clear that Geiseric initially wanted to be accepted by Rome and sought a high position within the Roman Empire. Ultimately, the Vandals under Geiseric maintained the Roman way of life. The archaeologist Philipp von Rummel also sees similarities with the Goths.

For example: The Huns

"The Huns never lived firmly within the Roman Empire, but from first the Danube region, then the Tisza region, acted militarily into the Roman Empire. The famous Hun King Attila then had a permanent residence with a palace made of wood, but most of him did People still live in tents around this palace. It's very different from the Vandals in Carthage or the Gothic king Theodoric in Ravenna. "

Conclusion: As big as the differences between the individual groups were, most of the people involved in the so-called mass migration have one thing in common:

"All groups, both different Gothic groups, Vandals, Hunnic groups, were primarily military. They were soldiers who acted against the Roman Empire, time after time."

From Foederati and other combat units
The military in late antiquity

"We are standing here in front of a wreck from the late 4th century. You can see the front section of a very slim vehicle, the built-in parts of which reveal that it was a belt-driven, i.e. a large rowing vehicle that had a closely packed crew which sat in two rows in the fuselage. That is a very clear indication of the military use of this vehicle. "

Museum for Ancient Shipping Mainz. Dr Ronald Bockius, director of the museum, stands in front of the remains of an antique hull made of oak.

"The vessel was originally about 18 meters long, in this case only 16.2 were preserved. The stern was missing, the bow has been preserved here. It is a very slender hull, which was manned by at least 24 rowers who were seated opposite each other , 12 on each side. "

The boat is one of five Roman military boats that were discovered in Mainz in the 1980s. In late antiquity, there was probably a pier at the site that stretched to what was then the banks of the Rhine. There the ships were scrapped and have survived thanks to an overlay of river sediments.
Although there are relatively consistent traditions in antiquity with regard to the construction of military ships, a change in shipbuilding can be observed from the late 3rd century onwards. Prof. Christoph Schäfer:

"From the 3rd century onwards, inland warships are being newly developed and built in our latitudes, which are completely adapted to the conditions, are much more simply constructed than the more powerful older models but can be mass-produced."

The motto is now: quantity instead of quality. But the mass of ships is geared exactly to the changed conditions in the empire.
The expansion has long since turned into a retreat: since the fall of the Upper German-Raetian Limes around the year 260 AD. the Upper Rhine forms the border to the barbarians. That requires a new strategy. Prof. Kai Ruffing:

"The military is initially being expanded, and the changes in late antiquity are essentially due to a new threat situation, that is, the Roman Empire is creating new enemies on the Rhine and the Danube border through the large Germanic tribal associations who are pushing the borders."

Since about 300 AD. Non-Romans can also join the regular army. The division between citizens in the Legion and the auxiliary troops from non-Romans has dissolved. Now Romans and non-Romans serve together. As a result, the latter can make a career and reach high officer ranks. Another change are military contracts with allied armies, so-called federates such as Goths or Vandals. Dr. Henning Börm:

"The federates are warrior associations of non-Romans who, unlike those who join the regular army, do not become Roman citizens, but remain explicitly non-Romans, foreigners who fight under their own leaders. These leaders can be called warlords or war entrepreneurs come from the non-Roman area and offer their services to the emperors and are therefore much cheaper and cheaper than the regular Roman army, because you don't have to equip them with your own weapons, etc. "

In return, the federates would like to be supplied by the Roman state.

"You have to think of it this way: They are rather poor people who come from somewhere out of the pampas and who now have everything they can offer the Roman Empire in return for a share of the prosperity, their physical health and their sword arm, and these are these federated armies that come to the Roman Empire as service providers, not as conquerors but to serve the Romans with weapons. "

And then they play a major role in the civil wars.

"Oh yes, even a decisive role, because to the extent that the civil wars that began in the early 5th century escalate, it is of course necessary for the various parties to quickly set up powerful armies. The losses in these intra-Roman conflicts are very high. If you look at that, that's a phenomenon that can be observed for the 3rd and 4th centuries: The great, heavy losses suffered by the Roman army, where some 10,000 people die, they are with one exception, the battle of Adrianople, suffered not in the fight against external enemies, but in the fight between Romans and Romans. "

Almost always it is about better pay or status within the Roman Empire: Federal armies like those of the Goths demand not only higher wages for the soldiers but also a correspondingly prominent position for their leadership. Some barbarians succeed in doing this, as the military in late antiquity also offered unimagined opportunities for advancement for strangers. Late Roman society is highly permeable on this point.
Dr Roland Steinacher, historian at the University of Vienna:

"Stilicho is an example of a man who was born on the edge of the Roman world. His father was probably a vandal living in the area of ​​the lower Danube, but who already had experience, who had made his career as a Roman officer and wished his son the best , enabled his son to advance to the top of the military hierarchy. "

At the head of the military hierarchy was the army master, Magister militum. In this position, Stilicho reported directly to the emperor.

"And Stilicho managed to gain influence in the first level of imperial politics for almost two decades. He then ends quite violently like so many people at the beginning of the 5th century who are at the top of the hierarchy, at the top of society could play their part, but Stilicho is a good example of how mobile, how great the chances of advancement in the military field were in the late Roman world. "

This position of army master, created in the 5th century, was associated with increasing power in the West.

"These army masters obviously succeed to the extent that the emperors withdraw into their palace, which has various reasons to win the loyalty of the soldiers," says Henning Börm.

"At the beginning of the century we can still see that when the soldiers are to choose between the dynastically legitimized emperor and the army master, they decide in favor of the emperor, but already in the middle of the century we can see that the emperors are obvious are largely powerless because the soldiers' actual allegiance now belongs to whoever actually commands them, i.e. the army master. And that is dangerous. The interesting thing, however, is that from around 421/422 the army masters no longer try, unlike in earlier times to then become emperor himself, that is, the disempowerment of the empire is progressing so far that the army masters in the West prefer to put puppets on the throne instead of making themselves emperors, which many would have been able to do. "

The disempowerment of the empire is also evident in the provinces, says Roland Steinacher.

"When the Roman structures no longer function so thoroughly, stronger in the West than in the East, they then also have the phenomenon that military elites take over power in individual Roman provinces, for example the Vandals in Africa, the Goths in Italy or Spain, later the Franks in Gaul, later France. "

A crucial point in this takeover of power was the conquest of North Africa by the Vandals between 429 and 439, the most important province of the Roman Empire, the economic basis, the granary of Rome. North Africa was then considered very rich and raised a lot of taxes. That strengthened the imperial family. When the Vandals interrupted these flows from Africa to Italy, this not only weakened Rome's economic base, but also the imperial family, which never recovered from it. In the absence of taxes, the private armies, the mercenary armies, could no longer be paid. Kai Ruffing:

"Not least of all from this mixed bag, one can say that the loyalty of Germanic army units to the figure of the emperor was increasingly dissolved when he was not able to pay the wages."

Of coins, bills of exchange and commercial goods
The economy in late antiquity

"There are various shops here that sell products that have been brought to Trier from far away, because the people of Trier also wanted to get the luxury that a Roman had here."

Dr. Sabine Faust, head of the collection at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, is in the staging of a Roman shopping street on the occasion of a special exhibition about Roman cities north of the Alps. She points to filigree glasses that are on a shelf:

"Sigilaten, things that couldn't be made here back then, but came here from Italy, from southern France, from other countries, from Africa. Cinnamon and pepper from India, oysters that could be brought here from the Mediterranean so quickly that If we then go to the next one, it is not a shop that sells things that are brought from far away, but local products. The absolute bestseller in the 3rd and 4th centuries is the slogan ceramics, So the wine ceramics from Trier, which have been negotiated as far as Romania, there is a whole shelf with these products on display, then we go to the next shop. "

The Porta Nigra in Trier (picture-alliance / dpa / Friedel Gierth)

There is little evidence of the crisis in the former imperial residence of Trier in the 4th century. Trier is probably one of the regions that initially survived the changes relatively unscathed and is therefore not an isolated case, as new studies show. Kai Ruffing:

"What we can say is that, of course, far-reaching trade relationships were still possible in late antiquity and certainly existed. We can only quantify them very poorly as ancient historians, I would rather say that the continuities in trade predominate, perhaps even into the 8th century. "

However, a certain change in the structure from the 3rd century onwards cannot be overlooked. Christoph Schäfer was able to recognize this when evaluating the shipwrecks found:

"What we do see, however, is that there are significant changes in cargo in the many shipwrecks from ancient times that we know of."

This applies above all to coin finds: On the Roman merchant ships that operated between the 1st and the beginning of the 3rd century AD. had gone under, archaeologists made hardly any noteworthy coin finds. That changed on the ships in the 3rd century:

"Obviously you need money again. And that means that a cashless system, a capital transfer that worked via loans and bills of exchange that worked over long distances, was apparently no longer intact, because the whole thing is of course based on a great deal of trust in them Solvency of the debtors, and we know very well that in the 1st or 2nd century even the captains of the merchant ships did not have to take large sums of cash with them when repairs were required or unforeseen damage occurred Borrow money from ports along the way. "

The end of a civilization
What was left of Rome

"We see the foundation walls of the City Councilor's Palace from the 4th century, which are almost two meters thick foundation walls."

Dr. Marcus Trier, director of the Roman-Germanic Museum in Cologne, points to the imposing walls of the Roman praetorium in front of him.

"Originally the building was around a hundred meters long, around 20-25 meters high, it was a huge, large-scale building in which the representatives of Rome went about their official business here on the Rhine, ruled the region, ruled Lower Germany. What we see here is that Construction phase of the 4th century, i.e. the last Roman architectural phase of this large building, and this building of the 4th century, the Franconian rulers then also used it, because the praetorium became the Franconian royal palace, the aula regia, Gregor von Thur, the Franconian Historian, around 520 AD, calls this palace aula regia. "

At that time, the Roman Empire no longer existed as a political entity. It was replaced by smaller empires: the Franks in Gaul, the Burgundians in what is now Switzerland and southeastern France, the Goths in Spain and Italy, the Vandals in Africa. With this geographical unity, everything that stood for this unity breaks up: the important institutions, the empire in the west, the Roman Senate, which played a major role until the end, the imperial administration, the supra-regional tax system - none of that is there anymore .
The changes are becoming visible, especially in the cities. The aqueducts are falling into disrepair and there is a lack of expertise to preserve them.
This is shown, for example, by excavations in Trier, Dr. Georg Breitner, archaeologist at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier:

"In Trier we are also making desperate attempts to continue this. There are quite a few revivals of Roman houses, including through Franconia, and you can really see that the know-how is actually missing. Mosaics were then patched, that looks very catastrophic, and..." the heaters, they were completely sooty. So they obviously tried to keep equipping it, then filled them up, inserted a simple tunnel heater, which also didn't work. The rooms were made smaller. They moved into the stone houses The social infrastructure was missing, the administrative structure was missing, there was also a lack of know-how for the maintenance of the infrastructure, so that ultimately this entire urban structure, which could ultimately be kept alive from all these components, no longer exists and the city was becoming increasingly deserted. "

This is impressively demonstrated by the remains of the statues that were found. The archaeologists wondered why, after a certain epoch, suddenly only fragments of former masterpieces were found during excavations? Feet, arms, hands, maybe a piece of leg - where were the rest of the marble statues that were once so numerous in Trier?
The explanation is sobering, says archaeologist Dr. Sabine Faust:

"In Trier the Roman Empire ends sometime in the 5th century, and then of course there are still a lot of things made of marble, bronze, other beautiful stones that are no longer valued. So the Christians destroy everything that is naked is and what looks pagan.But even things that are relatively harmless are simply destroyed. All sorts of things made of marble have been smashed to make what it is made of, which is to burn lime from it. You can paint houses white with lime. "
"And so then gradually disappears, albeit at different times, then this great Roman city culture disappears",
says the archaeologist Dr. Marcus Reuter, director of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier.

The changes are evident. The sense of sophisticated aesthetics is lost. The barbarians no longer need statues; instead of ornamental gardens with fountains, they are now planting vegetable patches in the city. However, some aspects of Roman life seem so attractive that the intruders take them over, says Philipp von Rummel:

"For example, the early medieval rights have much stronger roots in Roman law than was previously thought. The Latin script has been preserved. The church continues the tradition of the Roman Empire in many ways. The Roman classics are still read and copied in the monasteries And even in the structures you can see the Roman Empire living on in many places, if you think of the city map of Cologne today. You can still see the structure of the old Roman city shining through. "

For example Hohe Straße, today the most frequented shopping street in Germany, in Roman times as cardo maximus part of Limesstraße or today's Schildergasse, the west-eastern counterpart, as decumanus maximus, part of a supraregional road network that runs in a westerly direction via Jülich and Aachen led to the Atlantic.

The failure of a world power
Discussions about reasons

Superstition, absolutism, anarchy, anti-Germanism, apathy, labor shortage, aristocracy, loss of authority, bathing, bankruptcy, barbarization, professional army, differences in ownership, population pressure, lead poisoning, soil depletion, civil war, bureaucracy, lack of character, Christianity, degeneration, despotism, lack of discipline, egoism Deification ....
Alexander Demandt counts 210 reasons for the fall of Rome in his book.
Leadership weakness, greed for money, indulgence, Germanic attacks, gladiators, large estates, half-education, change of capital, hedonism, homosexuality, Hun storm, imperialism, impotence, individualism, inflation, weak integration ...

Basically nothing needs to be added to the list, because the causes that ultimately led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire have been discussed by scientists and intellectuals for hundreds of years. Every term seems to have come up before. At least one problem has now been recognized: Historians construct causalities, to put it bluntly: They bridle the horse from behind and look for plausible events that prove their thesis. Then there is the lack of reliable sources.
Henning Börm:

"You can perhaps illustrate that as if you were to say: We are trying to reconstruct the history of the last decade with the help of an excerpt from a talk show and the classifieds section of the Bildzeitung or something like that."

The Viennese historian Roland Steinacher also distrusts ancient sources, which he attests to be of high literary quality, but which thereby also shape reality and do not depict it:

"This is exactly where the problem lies: Our ancestors in the last few centuries, like us, have felt the temptation to use these constructed literary images to create a reality that meets contemporary political and social needs."

A designed reality that is constantly being redesigned in the course of history.

"Tacitus criticizes the Roman elites of his time and holds virtuous barbarians against them."

The prejudice of some ancient historians that the Roman Empire must have perished due to its own decadence, a thesis that is now considered untenable, was fed from such and similar sources. Another thesis makes the emerging Christianity responsible for the downfall. Kai Ruffing:

"Whether one can blame the Christians for the fall of Rome, however, that is rather doubtful. Ultimately, there are positions in research that say that Christianity strengthened Rome, others say that Christianity led to its decline. I believe, that the religious sector is not very important in this downfall. "

The scientists agree on one point, according to Kai Ruffing:

"Indeed, one will have to start from a mixture of different factors, which are mutually dependent and accelerate each other. On the one hand, the Huns should certainly be mentioned, as Peter Heather above all pointed out, which in turn slid the Germanic tribes that push the borders. This creates military burdens for the Roman state that it is no longer able to cope with without the recruitment of Germanic soldiers. "

Since at the same time since the late 4th and 5th centuries, due to barbaric islands on the territory of the empire and the later vandal conquest of North Africa, taxes were broken away, the military can no longer be paid. This again leads to civil wars, which are often instigated to remind people of outstanding military pay.
What is being discussed again today - most recently in an opulent publication about empires - is the question of the extent to which a pattern can be recognized behind the course of Roman history that also applies to other great empires. Michael Gehler, historian at the University of Hildesheim, sees this phenomenon as ambivalent:

"The question of the cyclical nature of history, that is, ascent, bloom, decay, perhaps also formulated in the form of expansion, ascent, zenith, erosion - yes, a strong yes but also then a somewhat weaker no. Yes, there is one in history Abundance of clues, findings for these tendencies. A somewhat weaker no, as far as regularity is concerned in the sense of a precise, time-limited phase development that can be transferred one to one to various of these processes and operations, it will be difficult. "

The thesis is underpinned by the fact that there has not been a power structure in history that was of unlimited duration:
So does the Roman Empire stand pars pro toto for all other empires? At least as far as its charisma is concerned, there is little contradiction, says Philipp von Rummel:

"This is of course shown by the fact that Charlemagne had himself crowned emperor in Rome in 800. This naturally raises the question of why he was crowned Roman emperor, and that can be explained quite clearly by the fact that all of them The means that one had at this time to think about rule and political order is an old Roman language, and that does not stop in the whole period between 800 and the last Western Roman emperor. "

And another aspect shows the emanating power of the empire to this day:

"Above all, the Roman Empire developed such incredibly strong cultural resources in its later days, in many ways and not least through Christianity, because the idea of ​​the city of Rome as the center of Western Christianity is very closely linked to the memory of the first Christian emperors Constantine and his successors, and that worked naturally up to the time of Charlemagne and yes, when you think about the fact that the Pope resides and lives in Rome, is bishop of Rome, it basically works to this day as Reminiscence of the Roman Empire. "


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