With power comes responsibility, and with great power comes great responsibility. The acquisition of empire generated great responsibility for Rome, and as well as they entrenched the empire in history, the relatively rapid downfall of Rome signals the inability of the empire to anticipate what needed to be done to manage such a vast amount of territory with as culturally diverse a subject population. Although Rome attempted to monitor territorial acquisitions via a central governing authority, the increasing pragmatic need for decentralization of power led to several problems.
During the beginnings of the Roman empirical era, the annexation of new territorial acquisitions only meant vaster accumulations of wealth. Therefore, it seemed as if there would be no problems with Roman imperialism. Whether from natural or human resources, Rome stood to gain much and lose little from its exploits. A false sense of invincibility might have been the first real problem for Rome, which had a sense of political arrogance that rivaled that of Alexander. The early years of the Roman Empire were golden years in terms of access to unique and diverse lands, their resources, and their trade routes.
The primary problem that began to emerge in Roman territories was governance. With the inability to govern effectively, the central power in Rome lacked the legitimacy or authority to influence local leaders. The lessons learned from Rome remain extant today, in terms of having the ability to acquire new territories and having the money to maintain them but lacking entirely the cultural capital with which to actually govern those territories in a way that can be effective over multiple and successive generations. Multiculturalism and multilingualism proved to be bigger issues for Rome than its leaders might have imagined. Lacking the interest in or wherewithal to use cultural and social capital, Rome faltered.
Why did Rome have so much difficulty in adjusting itself politically and militarily to its empire?
Adjusting militarily and politically to empire is no small feat. The rapid way Rome conquered new lands and amassed new territories seemed easy on paper but in practice, managing and monitoring these new territories proved difficult for a number of reasons. For one, the new territories were polyglot and multicultural. They were as diverse as Spain and Israel. Rome had no interest in a type of leadership that would empire the local population. Instead, Rome was of the imperialistic mindset through and through and from the get-go, ruling with an iron fist and imposing Roman rule and authority on the local people no matter what. Any hints of political, social, or economic rebellion would be met summarily with military might or political intrigue. Collusion with local political and economic leaders meant that Rome would have been in a fairly good position but nevertheless had trouble over time managing such a diverse and geographically wide swath of territory.
Rome had difficulty adjusting itself politically and militarily because it bit off more than it could chew. There was a false sense of security after the Pax Romana, during which any small uprising or rebellion could be easily squelched because of the ability of Rome to either resort to military might or to the lure of financial gains for local leaders. Eventually, it was the rebellion of local groups who had access to human resources, the passions of those human resources, and the traditional hierarchal social and political organizations that led to the demise of Rome. Rome could not adjust itself to a world that did not properly worship its power or recognize its immutable authority.
“Roman Empire.” (n.d.). Retrieved online: http://www.crystalinks.com/romanempire.html