I found this essay amid my filed papers from last semester that I don’t consider one of my best, but I still got an A on it. I can’t believe how many people visit my site for my college essays, so I’ll throw this one into the mix for any inspiration it may offer to someone else. Remember that I share my papers because I seem to be pretty good on analytical thought and written expression according to college level standards. That doesn’t mean anyone should copy what I wrote and claim it for their own – in all cases of any of the papers I post up, please be smart and don’t do anything unethical. Use MLA guidelines for quoting blogs if you absolutely cannot find a way of putting something I wrote into your own words.
What were the causes and repercussions of the decline and “fall” of the Roman Empire? Did it truly “fall”? If so, was this due to internal problems or external pressures? If continuity existed, how was it expressed?
The legacy of the Roman Empire can be summed up in the phrase: power corrupts. Unfortunately, that would make for an entirely too-brief essay. Whether the power was in the hands of a Roman Emperor or war hero exclusively or in conjunction with a Senate, the history of the Roman Empire is fraught with power struggles and greed on the part of those whose names have been handed down. Throughout the entire Empire period, the “haves” lorded it over the “have-nots,” and most rulers sought additional lands and the plundering of wealth from other countries. After building up a vast empire by sheer military force, readily maintained with violence, internal politics rotted away the structure like termites under the house. Invading tribes eventually used their own military forces to topple a bureaucratic model that had been patched and re-patched without ever having permanently corrected the issues of dysfunction. Resentment by the poor and struggling classes as well as by abused “step-children” of the provinces that were forcibly “adopted” into the empire was ignored and left festering like mold in the plaster walls. Rather than focusing on the negatives of the power struggles and corruption that eventually saw the Empire splinter and fall, the positive aspects of what the Romans left in their wake bear mentioning.
The great accomplishments in mathematics and engineering that led to the magnificent architecture that the Romans created attests to the benefits of having seemingly unlimited funds and the favor of the ruler. Where one victor sponsored monumental building projects, another came afterward intent on creating even greater displays carved in stone. The aqueducts designed and built during the Roman age are breathtaking in their scope. The large-scale and seemingly inexhaustible uses of concrete were perfected before the formula became lost for centuries. The Romans held tightly to the knowledge acquired from the Greeks not only in engineering and architecture, but in scholarship and art as well. By adopting and putting to profitable use the skills and knowledge gleaned from their world invasions, the Roman Empire set the stage for the first international community and supported inter-dialogue among the world’s scholars of the day.
By entertaining various levels of contribution to government by a Senate, the early concepts of the Greek polis, where all male villagers had a say in the policies of their hamlet, also survived the Empire and went on to resurface as a golden ideal through the Renaissance as Europe emerged from its feudal system. Bearing similarity in name only, however, the Holy Roman Empire of the German states and northern Italy during the Middle Ages bore little resemblance to the original Empire. The German region was an amassed collection of small city-states run by semi-autonomous local feudal rulers who may or may not obey their own over-lords.
Although the Senate disappeared following the Empire’s fall, demand for respect of the rights of the “little people” did not completely subdue after the Empire fractured. The Magna Carta of England and the Protestant Reformation showed that human nature demands that the voices of the oppressed or generally disgruntled be heard and heeded. Learning from the many mistakes made by the Romans in their erratic changes of governing style from tyranny to co-op and from violent to lenient, the American Colonists were the most successful in creating their charted course of democratic government.
In placing ancient Greek art, philosophy and knowledge on a pedestal, the Romans preserved and expounded upon what had gone before, adding their own contemporary emphases such as in the modification of art and décor to suit the Roman taste and in development of church architecture when Christianity became the official state religion. Throughout the centuries, the Christian church has maintained its “Roman-ness” by harnessing what they found locally and redirecting it through the lens of the new faith. Like the old Senate, Roman Catholic bishops overseeing a network of dioceses and the Curia of theologians maintain an advisory board status to the pope. Whether adopting the pagan calendar festivals and rededicating them (such as Easter, Christmas, All Hallow’s Eve, etc.) or by repurposing the civil forum and basilica architecture into centers of worship instead of merely meeting spaces, the Roman Catholic Church shows a distinct lineage to Ancient Rome’s penchant for adopting and adapting to suit.
The high honors accorded the ancient Greek philosophers also carried through the Roman Empire to revival attempts at same by Charlemagne, the Renaissance world, and on up to the 20th Century modern world in periods of great emphasis on liberal arts education and encouragement of new “thinkers” to flourish. Charlemagne’s era encouraged the start of the European universities; the Renaissance saw intelligencia delve deeper into not only philosophical and religious discourse, but also art and the maths and sciences. The worship of logic and reason took a leap by the turn of the 20th Century in advancing new theories such as evolution and the power of science over faith. Looking to the early Greek and Roman writers in support, “modern” thought led to experiments using the latest inventions and technology that created not only life-saving vaccines but weapons of mass destruction. Advancements in thought and science were therefore not always used for good, and the new liberal arts mindset no longer included room for faith and conscience since good and evil were deemed to be arbitrary and not scientific. The inventions of the industrial (and now technological) age were and continue to be in the hands of the wealthy few who, as in olden times, combine human greed and quest for power over others to achieve new heights of production while oppressing the poor who live and die in poverty.
The never-ending paradox of mankind’s desire to improve its lot and alleviate suffering while at the same time being willing to justify killing, the rise and fall of experimental governments and new ideologies like Communism and Democracy, and building bigger and better monuments that attest to the greatness of ourselves has been the seamless legacy of the Roman Empire. There are beautiful works of art, great written records and treatises, and magnificent edifices to look back upon in awe, yet merely idolizing the past without keeping in check those tendencies of human nature which caused the past to be left in ruins in the first place will cause history to repeat itself.