Understanding the Collapse of the Roman Empire Essay

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Fall of the Roman Empire

Towards the 5th century, the Roman Empire scrambled to ruins as one of the greatest world super powers. Since then, the reasons for the fall of the empire remain a controversial topic prompting the rise of various popular explanations for its decline. Historians have blamed the collapse of this great empire on differing factors such as social complexity, natural disasters, climate change and military failures just to mention a few. Even as of now, other historians still contend that the Roman Empire did not actually fail because part of it later continued to exist but in the form of Byzantine Empire. In this essay, I present the strongest historical theory used to explain the collapse of this most legendary Empire.

Joseph Tainter (1990) pioneered the explanation and theorization of the Roman Empire collapse (Tainter 11). This American anthropologist holds that given technological levels yield implicit declining returns to complexity whereby the society depletes its resource base past any sustainable levels. In essence, the most crucial cause that brought down the Roman Empire is that the society had become highly complex as it tried to solve its problems. Tainter's social complexity theory entails differentiated economic and social roles and reliance on abstract, symbolic communications as well class producers who do not participate in the production of primary resources.

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This social complexity needs significant amounts of energy or other forms of wealth. When the Roman Empire confronted problems like the shortage of energy, it created new layers of social class, infrastructure, and bureaucracy to deal with the challenge (Tainter 128).

With Tainter's theory in mind, it is clear that the Roman Empire came down because these increasing complexities led to the negative marginal returns (Tainter 188). As such, the agricultural output of Rome slowly decreased while the population increased (Skoll 64). A combination of these two factors led to a drop in the availability of per-capita energy. The Romans adopted short-term measures to overcome this problem by conquering their neighbors to bag their energy surpluses such as grain, slaves, and metals. Sadly, in the long-term, this solution only exacerbated the problem because as the empire continued to expand, the costs of sustaining garrisons, communications and the government also increased (Knutsen 90). In the end, this cost became so huge that such that the empire's strategy of acquiring more territory could not….....

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Works Cited

Knutsen, Torbjorn L. A History of International Relations Theory. Manchester University Press. 2016

Skoll, Geoffrey R. Social Theory of Fear: Terror, Torture, and Death in a Post-Capitalist World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

Tainter, Joseph. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990

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