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The Collapse and Resurrection of the Roman Empire
So many myths float around us about the Roman Empire. It has become as popular as Robin Hood in our hearts. We have idolized the empire and all its inhabitants. Yet it was a system that eventually collapsed. What are the truths behind that? What brought it down and then stabilized before its ultimate end? A combination of things.
Started with Taxes
The collapse of the Roman Empire during the third century began with Maximinius Thrax who decided that raising taxes would not be too upsetting to the rest of the Empire. After all, who doesn't like paying more and more taxes each year especially to benefit more those who live far away? All those provinces could fork out more so that the center of Rome could live better.
As he levied the taxes to support his war with the Dacians and Sarmatans, rebellions began in Africa and swept across the Empire. Those areas revolted against the idea of paying for a war that did not involve them. This by itself was not the reason of the near collapse, but it opened the door for Rome to continue down the slippery slope they started.
The increase in taxes expanded the rebellious sentiment across the empire.
Successors Didn't Learn
Not everyone was as happy as Thrax about the increase in taxes. They let him know how they felt. In fact, they quickly go to the point of the matter. After Thrax’s assassination, Gordian III stepped up and met a similar fate. His decisions weren't met with open arms and quickly, he found himself finding the truth about the after-life.
During this roller-coaster ride of emperors coming on and off the throne, wars were increasing from every area of the Empire with Persia and other barbarians attacking from the outside. While more than competent to deal with an enemy head on, the Augustian army structure was not up to handling multiple attacks at once from different areas of the Empire. The army found itself literally running from one end of the Empire to the other trying to counter each attack. The plague sweeping across the land did not help in keeping the Empire strong as it weakened it from the inside.
War From Within
Mutinies became common as the wars began to deplete the economy and war was erupting from within Rome itself. The people were not happy. While the empire ignored their complaints, they communicated the only way the empire could understand - through physical force.
The Roman Empire was beginning to collapse because it had not adjusted its military to its new monstrous size which allowed barbarians to inflict damage on the Empire by raiding various regions. With no emperor staying long enough on the throne to do anything and all emperors fixated on protecting their own lives and killing off any potential usurpers, it was almost inevitable for Rome to collapse.
Gallienus to the Rescue
It was Gallienus that actually saved the Empire. He took over a land that was in chaos and began reorganizing the army so it could better meet the defensive needs. He didn't just do what they had always done. He changed with the times.
Gallienus revived the culture in the arts as well as calming the internal turmoil of the Empire. After his own assassination, his successors took up where he left off and began to stabilize the downward spiral of the Empire. Though his name is not as well known as later emperors that were successful due to his work like Constantine, he was the one to pull the Empire together and get it rebuilding its foundation.
The Big Picture
The collapse of Rome did not happen over night. It did not happen with one specific ruler. It was something that happened over time and due to multiple reasons. If the rulers had not spread themselves too thin, looked to the outside over the inside, and refused to listen to the people, the empire might not have collapsed forever.
But we are looking back and making guesses as to what might have happened.
Marcel Le Glay, Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. (Malden: Blackwell, 2009).