As a republic, Rome was very successful. In 27 B.C., the republic became an empire ruled by emperors. The empire lasted five centuries, but it eventually went through stagnation and decline. Finally, it collapsed in A.D. 476. The modern world has much to learn from how Rome fell.
The Fall of the Republic
The Roman republic was very successful, both on the battlefield and in economics. Thousands of slaves were captured and sent to Rome to work as cheap labor whenever it conquered new territories. The rich and powerful elites liked this because it made them wealthier. However, ordinary citizens suffered because of lack of work.
Conflict among the city’s elite leaders was made worse by the wealth gap because the poor and unemployed would flood their support behind any who promised them free things and money. Added to military failures and class instability, internal struggles finally led to the fall of the Roman Republic. In 27 B.C., the Senate granted power and the title emperor to Augustus.
Bread and Circuses
But over time, the peace and wealth led to a corrupt welfare state. To appease the people, the emperors handed out free bread to the Roman citizens and built the colosseum for entertainment. It is a circular stadium, which in Latin is called a “circus.”
When people became focused on entertainment and luxury, the Roman birth rates plummeted. Rome was unable to maintain its power, and the long peace was interrupted by centuries of civil war and unrest. Rome finally collapsed in A.D. 476.
Christianity injected new energy and people into the Mediterranean civilization, but it was too late to save Rome.
However, the eastern part of the Roman Empire survived the collapse. Historians today call it the Byzantine Empire. This Christian civilization had the city of Constantinople as its capital. The Empire prospered and sustained itself for another 1,000 years until its fall in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire.