Why did Rome split into two kingdoms?

"Late Roman Decadence": The real reasons for the fall of Rome

The collapse of the Roman Empire had many causes. The immediate trigger was the migration of the peoples: the Huns invaded East Central Europe from Asia. Other peoples then moved west and south and again oppressed the Roman Empire.

Since 395 the empire was divided into West and East Rome, which saw themselves as one empire, but were ruled by two emperors. East Rome withstood the advancing peoples, among other things because they could never conquer the strongly fortified and strategically decisive Constantinople at the gateway to Asia Minor; but it was under too much pressure to be able to assist the western half of the empire.

West Rome had little to do with the attacking tribes. It had lost rich provinces, above all "Africa", so it could no longer maintain enough troops and had to recruit more "foederati", auxiliary troops from the Romanized Germanic tribes. They were in any case more difficult to control than the Roman troops in the narrower sense, now tended to fraternize with their relatives from across the borders and eventually established their own empires on the territory of the empire. In the 5th century they took over the rule in Italy - as far as the end of Rome in rapid transit. And where is the decadence?

Hartz IV in Rome

Hartz IV in Rome

There was definitely an antique counterpart to Hartz IV - but not in the fall, but in the heyday of Rome. Because cheap slaves came to Italy thanks to military expansion, there was a lack of jobs for low-skilled Romans.

Tribune Gaius Sempronius Gracchus enacted the "Lex frumentaria", the grain law, in 123 BC: the needy received grain at a reduced price. Because the competing political camps used the allocation as a means of power, more and more recipients received this aid - the introduction of which the empire survived by several centuries.

Nicolas Boileau coined the term "décadence" in the 17th century; Montesquieu and Edward Gibbon applied it to the fall of the Roman Empire, with which it has been inextricably linked ever since. Behind this is a worldview, according to which every social structure is subject to a natural, inevitable process of creation and decay. This includes that the properties that originally contributed to the rise turn into degeneration after a phase of flowering.

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Rome grew and got rich - and then something went wrong. Even after the heyday of the empire, prosperity prevailed throughout the empire that was not achieved for centuries. But the distributive injustice became too blatant. Almost one percent of the 50 to 80 million people who lived in the Roman Empire around the birth of Christ shared the wealth among themselves. The elite of landowners, civil servants and the military lived in abundance thanks to the high tax revenues from the provinces, Latin "luxuria".

The makers of the traveling exhibition Luxury and decadence. Roman life on the Gulf of Naples name the prices: 4,000 sesterces for a pound of purple, 100,000 for a good pleasure slave, a million for a noble table made of citrus wood. A free citizen of the lower class earned four sesterces a day as a day laborer. Slaves earned nothing.

The elite, living in abundance, evidently tended to excesses that clouded their judgment and weakened Rome's willingness to defend themselves - although one must be careful: the debauchery and orgies so popular in Hollywood can be traced back to contemporary descriptions that are often colored by political interests.

A well-known example of the eccentricity of the ruling class is Incitatus, the favorite horse of the notorious Emperor Caligula. According to the historians Suetonius and Cassius Dio, he appointed Ross consul in order to provoke the Senate. According to tradition, Caligula, megalomaniac, is said to have given his horse (and not a donkey, as the former CDU General Secretary Heiner Geißler said in connection with Guido Westerwelle) his own palace, slaves, precious ivory furniture, jewelry and clothes. Because the cruel ruler also had senators and nobles executed, the upper class turned against him and put the Praetorian Guard into a coup.

Even below the threshold that Caligula had crossed with his arbitrary rule, the luxuria was by no means considered a virtue by contemporaries: the overly lavish display of wealth violates traditional Roman values ​​and the sense of the common good, criticized contemporary critics such as Pliny the Elder or Seneca. However, he was himself a large landowner - which led his colleague Valerius Maximus to comment: "Luxury is a sweet poison that is much easier to accuse than it is to avoid."