5 Pages

Part 11 Post-Script

The Roman Empire survived as long as it did, which was longer than most other empires known to history, because its chief strength lay in 'government by consent', backed, in the last resort, by overwhelming force. This meant that by far the highest proportion of the population was probably content to be so ruled, taking advantage of the peace and protection which the Pax Romana ensured. Conditions within the Empire would generally have been far superior to those existing beyond the frontiers. So long as these conditions lasted, all was well. But the combination of internal disorder, external threat and economic disarray in the third century threatened the Empire's survival. On that occasion it did not prove fatal, but the Empire which re-emerged from it had changed fundamentally, while the increasingly repressive methods which were introduced to bolster its crumbling structure can have appealed to few; the consent had become divorced from the government. Morale was sapped, and the Empire began to lose its self-respect; it relied more and more on lower-grade citizens, recruited from beyond the frontiers and settled within them, to do its fighting. Consequently, when the massive attacks from central Europe were mounted against the very heart of the traditional Empire - Rome itself-there was little power of resistance left and Rome fell in 410 to Alaric. Disintegration was not even then immediate, although effective overall political control was lost in the west. Fortunately the seat of real government had already left Rome, with the division of the Empire into two parts, and from the middle of the fourth century Constantine's great city of Byzantium-renamed Constantinopolis - became the power centre, with its marked eastward shift. Not surprisingly, the eastern Empire was more successful in repelling invaders and containing internal strife, and its separation from the west ensured its survival, much changed - even in name - for a further thousand years, until Constantinople finally fell to the Moslem invaders in 145 3· Although the Byzantine Empire was very different from the Roman Empire, it nevertheless inherited many of the customs and traditions of Rome and maintained that inheritance into the Middle Ages.