Thesis Update: (The Fall of) The Roman Empire

THESIS!!!! The due date is fast approaching! I got my last chapter back from my advisor today and he liked it! He also gave me some things to think about to expand it so that’s pretty exciting. I’ve done some reading for my next chapter but definitely not enough to start writing it, so that’s kind of annoying. Life keeps happening, but my thesis due date remains the same which tends to complicate things a little bit. But, in keeping with the spirit of my thesis, I’ll shift my focus to Rome and empire.

Everyone loves Rome. That’s a fact of existence. You don’t encounter many political theorists who dislike the ancient civilization. You certainly won’t meet many Classicists who don’t like the place. As a “Classicist” who also fancies herself a budding Renaissance woman/jack of all trades, I like Rome too. It seems like a pretty cool place. So as an admirer of the Roman Empire, I like to sometimes wonder about its eventual collapse and destruction.

A lot of people bring up the topic of the fall of the Roman Empire but no one ever seems to say why they want to talk about it. It’s like extinction*. People and historians talk about it for no discernible reason. Well, I think the underlying reason why people care about why Rome fell is because they think it was pretty great and worthy of duplication (minus some aspects). And for something so great to fall so far something really bad had to make it happen.

This leads to my thought on why Rome fell. Don’t worry (or rejoice?), this post won’t explain the events leading up to Rome’s demise or how the destructive force in question was so effective at dismantling an empire. Instead, I’ll talk about one of the possible reasons that historians tend to cite. I don’t know that I agree or disagree with this reason, I just think it’s interesting.

You’ll hear a lot of modern historians say that Rome fell because of Christianity. They give some reasons about the religion of the Roman state and how that was incompatible with Christianity, or how Constantine planned for the destruction of Rome all along by introducing Christianity, or some other crazy stuff. You may or may not agree with these assessments of Rome’s decline and fall. There may be some other people who will reference the Diocletian reforms, or the greater militarism of Rome, or the excessive decadence of the people, but far and wide this is the most cited reason for Rome’s fall. And Christians do not like that.

I speak from experience of course when I say Christians don’t like that. I used to hate when profs claimed that Rome fell because of the spread of Christianity. It felt rude or unnecessarily demeaning to the faith I proclaim. It was like hearing, Your faith has single-handedly demolished the greatest political accomplishment this world has ever seen”. And that felt wrong. It felt shameful.

The thing is, we as Christians should sort of be proud of that. We should be proud of the fact that even the great Roman Empire fell under the just authoritarian rule of the Living God. It’s cool to know that our faith and our God can overcome even the strongest of empires.

I don’t think Christianity was the only cause for Rome’s fall, though it may have been a contributing factor. I do think that if somehow, classicists are able to determine the definitive cause of Rome’s fall and it happens to be Christianity, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. In fact, it wouldn’t be bad at all.

*So, everyone makes it seem like extinction is bad, but it’s not clear why. “Natural” extinction is OK, but anthropogenic extinction isn’t. Aren’t humans part of nature too? I’m not all pro-extinction, I’m just wondering.


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