The Fall of Rome and Five Reasons Why It Happened

Ellie Webster

The question of both how and why Rome fell has been a subject long contested.

Where one historian may suggest the fall occurred in 476 AD after years of internal corruption and barbarian invasion, another may advocate that Rome never actually fell until 1453. However, what cannot be contested are the factors that led to the endmost decline of the most recognised empire in history. Here are five primary reasons that ultimately led to this downfall. Finance The vast lands of the Roman Empire often succumbed to invasion. With a vast army, the need to pay soldiers increased with every onslaught: attacks from various tribes such as the Goths of Germania from the 190s led to an increase in taxation that many Roman citizens found particularly difficult. However, funding the military was not the only financial strain on the Empire. The vast expansion that had been experienced under the initial stages of Pax Romana had slowed down substantially – these newly conquered lands had brought added resources such as silks, gems, and spices. With a decrease in expansion, a decrease of labour inevitably followed. Instability The period following that of the ‘Five Good Emperors’ ending in the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD resulted in 25 emperors in 75 years, consisting primarily of rebelling military commanders. Diocassius stated that it was Emperor Commodus’ lack of interest in governance that led to Rome’s downfall, turning Rome from a kingdom of ‘gold’ to one of ‘rust.’ With the idea of what made an emperor undermined, the state was made weaker and considerably more vulnerable to foreign attack.
The Fall of Rome and Five Reasons Why It Happened
The Last Senate of Julius Caesar by Raffaele Giannetti.

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The Fall of Rome and Five Reasons Why It Happened
Marcus Aurelius in the Louvre

Military Techniques

Rome’s inability to adapt to modernised cavalry techniques led to their decline as a military powerhouse. With a lack of sufficient horsemanship, the Roman military relied on auxiliary support from their allies. But the superior archers and saddles from the Goths caused Rome to lose their advantage. Additionally, the split of governance by Diocletian into the west to Milan and the east to Byzantium made the empire as a collective landmass more difficult to control. Population The Roman class faced a decline due to the unwilling nature of society: as decadence and luxury increased for many, more became unwilling to help in times of hardship. This was not the only issue the population faced: as the empire expanded, as did the range of disease. For instance, the Antonine Plague, resulting in the death of roughly 10% of the empire’s population, and the concerningly low birth-rates of Augusts’ reign led to new laws being implemented.
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With the introduction of Christianity in 313 AD by Constantine, more pacifistic-centric ideas accumulating in the rejection of worldly possessions became more accepted. This collectively made it more difficult to recruit legionaries who rejected the prospect of war as well as undermining the original methods of economic productivity. Mathematical and scientific studies were replaced with religious studies. Much of the original knowledge that the glory of Rome was built from was lost in this transition.
The Fall of Rome and Five Reasons Why It Happened

Ellie Webster

Ellie Webster is a current Year 13 student studying History situated in the North East. She has a deep passion for all things history, namely the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. Heading off to university in September, Ellie enjoys analysing primary sources and forming her own interpretations from the authors she reads whilst challenging the everyday questions that come with studying history. She has previously written in three of the Historians Magazine’s releases: Key Events That Shaped History, All Things Tudor and Rebellions, Revolutions and Revolts.
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