Module 3 (secondary source): Based on the two Taking Sides articles, what is Adrian Goldsworthy’s argument? What is Peter Heather’s argument? Which argument did you find more persuasive? 
Specs for analyses:
Length: 500-600 words
Quotations: No more than 5 words quoted in entire analysis
Content: A good-faith effort to answer the analysis prompt
Outside research: No outside research is permitted
Plagiarism: Both paraphrasing plagiarism and outside source plagiarism will result in the assignment failing
Format: Analysis must be submitted as a Microsoft Word file
Understanding Western Society: Combined Volume
John P. McKay; Clare Haru Crowston; Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks; Joe Perry
EISBN13: 9781319116323
Analysis Requirements
History 102H: Interpreting the European Past

Specifications for all analyses
Each analysis is graded pass (40 points) or fail (0 points). Analyses that do not meet the following specs will fail.
Analyses that fail may not be revised and resubmitted. Analyses that meet the specs but do not pass the grading
categories (see pages 2–3) can be revised until they pass and earn full credit (40 points).
LENGTH: 500-600 words (no more, no less), not including name, title, etc. Parenthetical citations do count toward the
QUOTATIONS: A quotation is two or more words borrowed directly from another author. Quotations are not required, and
usually it is best to put everything in your own words. If a quotation is absolutely necessary to make your point, no more
than ten words can be quoted from the assigned text. This is ten words total for the entire paper, not ten words per
quotation. If you copy two or more words from the text but do not put them in quotation marks, it is plagiarism and
grounds for failing the analysis. Do not use scare quotes.
CONTENT: You must make a good-faith effort to answer the prompt for each analysis.
OUTSIDE RESEARCH: All ideas must be entirely your own, based on your interpretation of the assigned texts listed in the
red box. You may not introduce ideas from the internet or from lectures, videos, or other assigned readings for class.
PLAGIARISM: There are two forms of plagiarism that are grounds for failing an assignment. 1) Paraphrasing plagiarism: this
is where you make slight changes to the assigned primary or secondary source, such as substituting synonyms for some
words, but you still rely on its language and structure instead of putting an idea entirely in your own words. 2) Outside
source plagiarism: this is where you copy ideas from the internet or some other source without giving credit to an author.
FORMAT: Analysis must be saved and submitted as a Microsoft Word file (.doc or .docx)
Module 1 (primary source): How does Pseudo-Xenophon think an ideal government should function?
Module 2 (primary source): Is Eusebius a biased source for the life of Constantine? Why or why not?
Module 3 (secondary source): Based on the two Taking Sides articles, what is Adrian Goldsworthy’s argument? What is
Peter Heather’s argument? Which argument did you find more persuasive?
Module 4 (secondary source): Based on the two Taking Sides articles, what is Margaret King’s argument? What is Joan
Kelly-Gadol’s argument? Which argument did you find more persuasive?
Module 5 (primary source): What does Frédéric Bastiat think is the proper relationship between the individual and the
Module 6: (secondary source): Based on the two Taking Sides articles, what is Richard Stites’s argument? What is
François Navailh’s argument? Which argument did you find more persuasive?
Analysis Requirements page 2
Primary source analyses
One of the most important skills that we can learn by studying history is close reading.
This means reading between the lines to uncover details about the author’s perspective
on a subject, to flesh out unspoken assumptions, and to reveal common knowledge that
formed the background and original context for the text. Simply stated, the goal of
these primary source analyses is to read a text and then to make an argument about it.
For help understanding how to do a close reading of a primary source, see the close
reading sample in the assignments section of Blackboard or stop by my student hours.
Primary source analysis grading categories
Your assignment will be evaluated for each of the following categories. If three or more of the following categories are
not met, your assignment will be marked “needs work,” and it must be revised before it will receive credit. If no attempt
is made to follow the requirements in one or more of the following categories, the paper will be returned for revision
regardless of how well you did in the rest of the categories.
Thesis: Focused thesis offers insight into assigned primary source and directly responds to the assignment prompt. The
thesis must present a narrowly defined argument, not a list of ideas or a paraphrase of the assignment prompt. The thesis
cannot be a statement of fact or an obvious observation; it must be something that others can disagree with.
Argument: Analysis provides several specific explanations for why the thesis is true. This reasoning is thoughtful and
original. Insights demonstrate a thorough understanding of assigned primary source and assignment prompt. There are no
logical gaps or broad generalizations offered in support of the thesis. Everything in analysis is directly related to thesis.
Evidence: Analysis discusses relevant passages from the assigned primary source with a clear explanation of how each
passage supports the analysis’s argument. Each primary source passage must be analyzed through close reading (reading
between the lines) instead of merely summarizing, telling a story, or giving background information.
Citations: Analysis must contain at least 8 parenthetical citations. The only thing that goes in these parentheses is the
number printed on the page that you cited; do not include the author’s name or things like “page” or “p.” Each citation
must be to a different page. If you want to cite the same page more than once, you must include more than 8
citations so that at least 8 different pages are cited. Each citation may cite only one page.
Structure: The first sentence of the analysis must be your thesis. After the thesis, you must immediately begin your
argument and analysis of the primary source without starting a new paragraph. In other words, there is no introduction.
Paragraphs are neither short and choppy or so long that they cover multiple ideas at once. The analysis must include a
two-sentence conclusion (no more, no less) in a separate paragraph at the end of your paper. Transitions throughout the
analysis explain how parts of the argument relate to each other and to the thesis. Your name must appear on the top of
page 1. The first line of each paragraph must be indented, and the text must be left justified (Google this if you do not
know what it means).
Grammar: No more than 10 grammar or spelling mistakes as described on the grammar handout. Multiple examples of the
same mistake each count as a separate mistake.
Style: Analysis conveys the appropriate language and tone for a formal academic audience familiar with European history.
Analysis contains no examples of first-person (I, me, my, we, us, our) and second person (you, your), and does not address
questions or commands to the reader. Writer does not narrate the process of researching and writing the paper. Sentences
are well-constructed and sound natural, avoiding repeated errors in word choice and verb tense.
Historical conventions: Do not make a connection between the assigned text and the modern world or say that
something has always existed or has been true throughout time. Do not pass value judgements (e.g. saying something was
good, bad, unfair, or an improvement). Authors’ names, along with the names of people discussed in the text, must be
spelled correctly throughout. All of the material covered in the dates and definitions section of Lecture 1: The thing that is
history (assigned during the intro week) must be used correctly.
Analysis Requirements page 3
Secondary source analysis grading categories
When many people think of history, all that comes to mind is an endless list of names and
dates. In our modern world, all those names and dates are only a click away. Now, more than
ever, the job of the historian is not to be a treasure-trove of trivia about the past. Instead,
doing history is all about winning arguments!
For each secondary source analysis, you will read two articles from a series of books called
Taking Sides. These two articles have opposing arguments for how to interpret the available
evidence for a particular historical problem. The authors of all the articles that you will read are well-known and respected
professors who make strong, evidence-based arguments. It all boils down to which argument you find more persuasive.
Secondary source analysis grading categories
Your assignment will be evaluated for each of the following categories. If three or more of the following categories are
not met, your assignment will be marked “needs work,” and it must be revised before it will receive credit. If no attempt
is made to follow the requirements in one or more of the following categories, the paper will be returned for revision
regardless of how well you did in the rest of the categories.
Summary of first article: Analysis identifies the article’s thesis, the argument made in support of that thesis, and the
evidence used to prove that argument. The thesis must be explained in your own words, not quoted from the article.
Summary must focus on the author’s argument – what the author is trying to prove – rather than on topics mentioned in
the article.
Summary of second article: Same criteria as for summary of first article.
Evaluation: Analysis must provide at least one for reason why you found one article more persuasive, and at least one
reason for why you found the other article less persuasive. Your evaluation must focus on central elements of the author’s
argument and use of evidence rather than anything related to writing style or word choice. Your reason why Article X is
weaker than Article Y cannot be that Article X did not do the thing that you already said made Article Y stronger.
Citations: Analysis must contain at least 8 parenthetical citations. The only thing that goes in these parentheses is the
number printed on the page that you cited; do not include the author’s name or things like “page” or “p.” Each citation
must be to a different page. If you want to cite the same page more than once, you must include more than 8 citations
so that at least 8 different pages are cited. Each citation may cite only one page.
Structure: Your analysis must be exactly three paragraphs long; these three paragraphs are to be of roughly equal
length. The first paragraph summarizes the argument of the first article; its first sentence must identify the author’s thesis
in your own words. The second paragraph summarizes the argument of the second article; its first sentence must identify
the author’s thesis in your own words. The third paragraph gives your evaluation of the two articles; its first sentence must
explain which article you found most persuasive. Your name must appear on the top of page 1. The first line of each
paragraph must be indented, and the text must be left justified (Google this if you do not know what it means).
Style: Analysis conveys the appropriate language and tone for a formal academic audience familiar with European history.
Analysis contains no examples of first-person (I, me, my, we, us, our) and second person (you, your),
and does not address questions or commands to the reader. Writer does not narrate the process of
researching and writing the paper. Sentences are well-constructed and sound natural, avoiding
repeated errors in word choice and verb tense.
Historical conventions: Do not make a connection between the assigned text and the modern world or
say that something has always existed or has been true throughout time. Do not pass value judgements
(e.g. saying something was good, bad, unfair, or an improvement). The first time that you refer to a
modern scholar, use both the scholar’s first name and last name, without any title such as “professor” or
“doctor.” All subsequent references to the author must use only their last name. Never refer to a
scholar using only their first name. Authors’ names, along with the names of people discussed in the
article, must be spelled correctly throughout. All of the material covered in the dates and definition
section of Lecture 1: The thing that is history (assigned during the intro week) must be used correctly.
Grammar: No more than 10 grammar or spelling mistakes as described on the grammar handout.
Multiple examples of the same mistake each count as a separate mistake.
Clashing Views in
World History:
The Ancient World
to the Pre-Modern Era
Volume I
Selected, Edited, and with Introductions by
Joseph R. Mitchell
Howard Community College
Helen Buss Mitchell
Howard Community College


Adrian Goldsworthy
How Rome Fell: Death of a

It will be enough for me, however, if these words of mine are judged
useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which hap-
pened in the past and which will (human nature being what it is), at
some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the
future. –Thucydides, writing at the very end of the fifth century B.C.
The Western Roman Empire ceased to exist in the fifth century. Even those
scholars who talk of transformation admit this simple fact. The Eastern Roman
Empire lasted for another thousand years until it was overrun by the Turks.
Even at its height it could never hope to dominate the world. It was a power,
rather than a superpower. The sixth century demonstrated that it lacked the
capacity to recapture the lost western provinces. In the seventh century the
Arab conquests stripped it of even more territory. It continued to exist as just
one amongst many powers in the known world, and some of these were geo-
graphically larger and both militarily and financially stronger. Even so, none
could be said to have replaced the Roman Empire or matched its former size
and power.
None of this happened quickly, but viewed in the long term it cannot be
seen as anything other than decline and – in the case of the Western Empire –
fall. It was a long process and no single event, lost war or decision can be
said to have caused it. The basic question remains of why this occurred, and
whether the most important cause was internal problems or external threats.
Throughout their history the Romans had always fought a lot of wars against
very varied opponents. They had suffered some serious defeats, but had always
recovered. There was never any question that such defeats could cause the
collapse of the empire. Yet this did happen in the west in the fifth century and
therefore we must ask whether the threats faced by the Late Roman Empire
were greater than those of earlier periods. This in turn raises two basic pos-
sibilities. Either one or more individual enemy was more formidable, or there
were simply so many simultaneous threats that the empire could not cope.
It is usually asserted that the Sassanid Persians were far more formidable
than the Parthians, or indeed any enemy the Romans had faced for
Adrian Goldsworthy 93
They certainly won more victories over the Romans than the Parthians. On the
other hand, the levels of Persian aggression varied enormously and there were
long periods of peace. Some Persian kings needed the wealth and glory offered
by a successful war with Rome. Usually this was necessary to secure their own
hold on power. The largest Roman armies of the period were those sent east
to face the Persians and massive resources were expended on frontier fortifica-
tions. Having said that, only border territory was ever actually lost to Persia
and even this was on a fairly modest scale. The idea that from its first appear-
ance in the third century Persia was an especially deadly opponent – even a
rival superpower – remains firmly entrenched in the minds of scholars. It is a
belief that is very hard to reconcile with the evidence, but this does not mean
that it will not continue to be asserted.
Groups from the tribal peoples of Europe eventually took control of
the Western Empire. However, it is extremely difficult to see major change
in the military efficiency of the tribal peoples of Europe from Julius Caesar’s
day to that of Stilicho’s or Aetius’. To some degree larger tribal confederations
appeared, but we should never exaggerate the degree of unity. It is conven-
ient to talk of the Franks or the Goths, in spite of the fact that these remained
divided into many separate and sometimes mutually hostile tribes. At no stage
before the creation of the barbarian kingdoms inside the provinces was there
a single king of all the Franks or any other people. Attila united both his own
people and allied and subject races to a remarkable degree. Yet, once again,
he was unable to take much territory from the Romans and was essentially
a raider and extortionist on a grand scale. Other powerful barbarian leaders
had emerged in the past and, like Attila, they had proved unable to pass on
their power to a successor. The Huns were a frightening enemy, but it is worth
remembering that their power had been broken before the final collapse of the
Western Empire and that they had anyway devoted most of their attentions to
the Eastern Empire.
There is no good case for claiming that the enemies of the Late Roman
Empire were simply more formidable than those of earlier periods. This also
makes it harder to argue that the Roman Empire had to adapt in the third cen-
tury to face new and more dangerous threats, most of all the Sassanid ‘super-
power’. Does this mean that it was the sheer quantity rather than the scale
of individual threats that was the problem? There certainly do seem to have
been more major wars in the third and subsequent centuries than in the early
Principate. In particular, raiding by barbarian groups in Europe is much more
prominent in our sources. Such predatory attacks, often on a small scale, were
not new. In the past they had always increased in scale and frequency when-
ever the frontier defences were perceived to be weak. An impression of vulner-
ability encouraged attacks and this makes it hard to judge whether an increase
in raids and invasions was the consequence of a rise in barbarian numbers and
strength or a result of Roman weakness. It is clear that all of Rome’s enemies,
including the Persians, exploited the empire’s frequent internal disputes and
civil wars.
There may be other reasons for Roman weakness and we need to consider
these. Unfortunately, for so many of the theories about long-term problems
we lack the basic information either to confirm or deny them. There are no
good figures for the population of the empire at any period and, therefore, we
cannot say with any certainty that this was in long-term decline. Similarly, we
must study the economy without any adequate statistics. It seems more than
probable that levels of trade and prosperity fell from the end of the second
century onwards and never again achieved the levels of the early Principate.
However, sources at best hint at such trends, and some scholars will inter-
pret these glimpses of the past in radically different ways. The same is true
of the traditional picture of a Late Roman world where the burden of tax was
oppressive and fell disproportionately heavily on the poor, who were already
oppressed by their rich landlords. Land fell out of cultivation and the rural
population was reduced to the level of serfs. None of this is implausible, but
that is also true of other models and it is impossible to prove any of them. Far
more data – the bulk of which must come from archaeology if it can ever be
found – is needed before we can speak with some confidence on these topics.
The same is true of claims about climate change and other wider problems.
The type of evidence we have, as well as the interests of scholars, has
meant that a good deal of the work on Late Antiquity has focused on economy
and society, law and government, intellectual life, culture and religion. Studies
tend to concentrate on broad themes and inevitably this emphasizes continu-
ity rather than change. By comparison, narrative history has all too often been
neglected and certainly has made only a minor contribution to most scholars’
mental picture of the period. There are exceptions and study of the frontier
relations and foreign wars has often been more traditional in style, since a
narrative or chronological element is obviously essential. At the same time
civil wars and internal conflict have not received such detailed and coherent
treatment. This is odd, for these are the one aspect of the empire’s internal
problems for which we have considerable evidence.
It is worth once again emphasising that from 217 down to the collapse of
the Western Empire there were only a handful of periods as long as ten years
when a civil war did not break Out. Some of these conflicts were very brief and
some were confined to a small region – the usurpers who were proclaimed and
then suppressed, or rejected and murdered by their own men after a reign last-
ing just a few weeks. Challenges for imperial power were sometimes resolved
without serious fighting. On the other hand, some conflicts were fought on a
very large scale and lasted for years. It is easy to remember Constantine as the
great emperor who united the entire empire under his control, but we should
not forget that he was a usurper who fought or prepared for civil wars for the
first half of his reign.
Civil war and challenges to the imperial throne were common occur-
rences. Every adult emperor from Septimius Severus onwards experienced at
least one such conflict during their lifetime. Usurpers never wanted to destroy
or change the empire. These were not conflicts about ideology, but purely for
political power. A small minority of the losers in these wars were allowed to keep
their lives, although only a tiny handful were permitted to continue in a public
career. In the vast majority of cases such conflicts only ended with the death of
one of the rivals. Usurpers were the most direct and personal threat faced by any
Adrian Goldsworthy 95
emperor and tended to be treated accordingly. It was normal for an emperor to
abandon a war against a foreign enemy to deal with a Roman rival.
Usurpers did not act alone. They needed supporters and the most impor-
tant of these expected rewards including promotion and riches if the rebellion
was successful. If a usurper was suppressed, then many of his backers were
likely to suffer with him. Punishment was often extended to their families,
especially those holding any office or whose wealth made them appealing
targets for informers. In this way even a localised rebellion could mean life,
death, imprisonment or ruin to people in distant provinces who had not been
involved in it in any direct way. This was a world of patronage, where the
powerful exerted themselves to secure benefits for relatives and friends. Such
webs of favour and gratitude could become very dangerous for all concerned
at times of internal conflict.
All usurpers needed military backing to succeed. Emperors from Augustus
onwards tried to keep their soldiers loyal through solemn oaths and regu-
lar donatives. On the whole, the army tended to stay loyal to an established
dynasty unless the emperor seriously alienated them. Few usurpers could
count on similar loyalty. Losses were considerable in some civil wars, as the
army wasted its strength fighting against itself Soldiers fighting an internal
struggle could not simultaneously operate on one of the frontiers. Time and
again substantial parts of the army were drawn away and Roman military
dominance across its borders reduced or utterly shattered. Successive civil wars
dislocated the army’s administrative and logistical structures, its training pat-
terns, recruitment and also its discipline, which suffered whenever licence was
given in an effort to win loyalty. Ordinary soldiers could usually expect to
change sides to join the victors after a failed rebellion. This was not so easy for
more senior officers.
Each civil war cost the empire. Anything gained by the winning side
inevitably had to be taken from other Romans and a prolonged campaign was
likely to involve widespread destruction within the provinces where fighting
occurred. Almost as important as the physical price of civil war was its impact
on attitudes and behaviour from the emperor down. Personal survival became
the first objective of every emperor and shaped all of their decisions and the
very structure of the empire. In the quest to protect themselves successive
emperors gradually reshaped the empire itself and, ironically enough, often
made themselves more rather than less vulnerable.
The biggest change was the marginalisation of the senatorial class in
the third century and, along with them, the city of Rome as a real rather than
merely spiritual capital of the empire. Senators – and most of all a handful
of distinguished men and those trusted with senior provincial commands –
were for a long time the only possible rivals for imperial power. At first the
major military provinces were divided up so that no one man commanded
too large an army. By the end of the third century senators had virtually
ceased to hold military rank of any kind. They had also all but ceased to
become emperor.
Emperors could now come from a far wider section of the empire’s popu-
lation. Any connection with the imperial family – even spurious claims to be
the illegitimate son of an emperor – was sufficient to make a claim. In the past
Rome’s emperors had had to be wary of only a small number of senators, men
who were known to them personally and whose careers meant that they spent
many years in and around Rome. Now a rival could be almost anyone. They
did not need political connections or family reputation, simply the ability to
persuade some troops to back them. Many emperors were equestrians, and
almost all were army officers or imperial officials.
The trend towards smaller provinces continued. In addition, military and
civil power were made separate. This helped to protect an emperor against
challengers, but made it far harder to get things done. In particular, it was
very difficult to raise and supply a large enough army to deal with a serious
problem on the frontiers. From the emperor’s point of view this was comfort-
ing, since the same army could easily have been turned against him by a rival.
At times extraordinary commands were created so that one commander could
deal with a problem, but emperors had to be wary of offering such power to a
potential usurper. More often emperors chose to go themselves and take per-
sonal command of a campaign. From the middle of the third century onwards
Roman emperors spent much of their time performing tasks that would once
have been dealt with by an imperial legate. Again, it is worth emphasising that
it was not the scale of the problems that had increased, but the ability of the
empire to employ its resources to deal with them.
An emperor could not be everywhere at once. If he was unwilling to
trust anyone else with sufficient power to deal with a distant problem, then
it would simply not be dealt with at all. Time and again this sense of neglect
by central government prompted a region to rebel and proclaim its own
emperor. One solution was to have more than one emperor. The tetrarchic
system is often praised, but its success was always limited and no one was
able to repeat the dominance of Diocletian for any great length of time. In a
way, the acceptance that more than one emperor would exist offered usurp-
ers the prospect of advancing to supreme power in stages. It also tended to
encourage regionalism as separate military and civil hierarchies developed in
different parts of the empire. Each group was naturally inclined to give prior-
ity to its own aims and problems, and often proved reluctant to assist other
parts of the empire.
Emperors had always travelled in some state, surrounded by members
of their household, bureaucrats and guards. This increased massively in scale
during the third century. All wanted to have sizeable military forces under
their direct control. If the field armies were intended to perform a strategic
role, then this was first and foremost to guard against Roman rivals. Emperors
surrounded themselves with more and more attendants and personal body-
guards, and made court ceremonial increasingly elaborate. In part this was
to dignify and secure the rule of men who had often seized power in brutal
fashion comparatively recently. It was also intended to protect the emperor’s
person. Assassination was less common in the fourth century than the third.
At the same time all of this tended to isolate the emperor. It made it harder
for him to know personally even his more senior officials and commanders,
let alone the vastly inflated number of bureaucrats who now worked in the
Adrian Goldsworthy 97
imperial administration. Control over the activities of the men who repre-
sented imperial authority throughout the provinces was extremely limited.
All emperors lived with the fear of usurpation. It shaped their behaviour
and also that of all of the officials and officers who served under them. A career
in the imperial service offered the prospect of legal privileges and wealth, gath-
ered both through pay and, even more, from bribes and payments for services.
The most successful achieved very high rank with all the patronage and influ-
ence this brought. A small minority were even able to reach imperial rank.
However, alongside the advantages came serious risks. Any suspicion that an
individual was plotting against the emperor was likely to be punished severely.
The same was true of anybody associated with a failed usurper or their sup-
porters. In a system where careers were routinely advanced by personal recom-
mendation, such networks of patronage inevitably put many individuals in
danger. Personal survival and personal success and profit were the foremost
aims of most officials.
The imperial bureaucracy in the Late Roman Empire was certainly far
larger than in the first and second centuries. The army mayor may not have
been bigger, but certainly consisted of far more small, independent units. Size
on its own does not mean that either of these institutions was more efficient.
There were far more administrators than could readily be supervised, especially
since they formed part of a bureaucracy that was both divided and confused in
its structure. The imperial administration raised funds and resources to support
both itself and the army. Such short-term expedients as debasing the coinage
suggest that at times this supply proved inadequate. However, on the whole the
system seems to have functioned in the third and fourth centuries, at the very
least to a minimal necessary level. It still left plenty of room for inefficiency
and corruption, and such wastage may well have been on a massive scale. Most
individual members of the bureaucracy did their job well enough to keep the
system functioning and prevent their peculation becoming too blatant. Some
may genuinely have been both honest and competent.
Civil wars were most common in the third century, but remained fre-
quent afterwards. The state developed in ways intended to protect emperors
from internal rivals, but singularly failed to do so. Personal survival had always
been an important concern for all emperors since the creation of the Prin-
cipate. Augustus had fought his way to power through a series of civil wars.
Assassination plots and open rebellion were threats faced by each of Rome’s
rulers from the very beginning. Augustus was a monarch, but created a system
in which his power was carefully veiled. Since he was not formally a king, there
was no clear institution to arrange the succession. Some have seen this as a
fatal flaw in the system of the Principate – effectively, an accident waiting to
happen. Others would go further and see the Augustan system as a ‘millstone’,
revered by tradition that prevented proper reform of the empire in the third
and fourth centuries.
This cannot explain the quite staggering difference between the Prin-
cipate and the Late Roman Empire. There was civil war for a year after the
death of Nero in 68 and another longer conflict after Pertinax was murdered
in 193. Claudius, Domitian and Marcus Aurelius each faced a challenge from
a rebellious governor, although all of these revolts swiftly collapsed. Assassina-
tion plots and attempted coups at Rome were a little more common, although
some of these may have been imagined by nervous emperors or invented by
their ruthless subordinates. The early Principate was not wholly free from the
reality or threat of internal conflict, but for more than two hundred years it
still suffered only rarely from these. This is also in marked contrast to the last
half-century of the Republic. If the system created by Augustus was so seri-
ously flawed, then only remarkable luck could explain this. With Gibbon, we
might stop ‘inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed’, and instead ‘be
surprised that it lasted so long’.
It stretches credibility to see two centuries of largely unbroken internal
peace as a mere fluke, especially when they were followed by a longer period
when civil war was so very frequent. It is true that each fresh bout of inter-
nal conflict weakened imperial authority and the institutions of the state and
therefore made future usurpations and rebellions more likely. Yet, once again,
it cannot have been solely chance that such a cycle did not develop earlier.
In the third century the empire largely lost the Republican facade so carefully
constructed by Augustus. He and his successors ruled through the Senate. As a
body this had no real political independence, but sensible emperors took care
to respect its dignity. More importantly, they employed senators in virtually all
important posts, effectively ruling the empire through them.
It may seem odd in this day and age to praise a system based on an aristo-
cratic elite, consisting of men who were amateurs in the modern sense. Yet the
system had many advantages in the Roman context. It provided a manageable
group of senior soldiers and administrators – an emperor could know all of
these men and their families. Only a minority were potential rivals and these
could be closely observed. Public life remained focused on the fixed location
of Rome itself, making it easier to sense the mood of the aristocracy. Emperors
in the first and second centuries were able to trust selected senators to con-
trol substantial armies and large provinces. Only rarely – usually during times
of major conflict with Parthia – was it necessary to appoint a commander to
control more than one province and this did not automatically lead to an
attempt at usurpation. In the first and second centuries emperors were able
to delegate and did not feel obliged to direct campaigns in person. Rome was
the centre of the empire in more than just a spiritual sense. We do not need
to idealise the senatorial legates of the early period. Some were incompetent,
a few untrustworthy and probably quite a lot were more or less corrupt. In all
these respects they seem at the very least no worse than the senior officials of
the Late Roman Empire. Politically, the small senatorial class was simply easier
for an emperor to control. Reliance on the Senate was a Republican tradition,
but actually made sound sense.
The governments of ancient states had limited ambitions and did not con-
cern themselves with major programmes of health, education or the detailed day
to day regulation of markets, industry and agriculture. For all its size and sophis-
tication, the Roman Empire was not fundamentally different in this respect. It
raised revenue and other resources and made use of these in a range of ways. The
army was the biggest single cost, but there was also the maintenance of many
Adrian Goldsworthy 99
buildings, some ports and a vast road network, as well as the subsidised or free
doles of food to the population of Rome and later Constantinople. None of these
duties of the empire ground to a halt in the third or fourth century. However, this
does not mean that they were functioning well.
The Roman Empire did not fall quickly, but to use this as proof that its
institutions were essentially sound is deeply misguided. The empire was huge
and faced no serious competitors. Persia was the strongest neighbour, but there
was never a prospect of a Persian army reaching the Tiber. Rome was massive,
heavily populated and rich. This remained true even if the population and
economy were in decline. It had a transport system of all-weather roads and
busy commercial routes by river, canal and sea on a scale unmatched again in
Europe until recent centuries. Although we may note the difficulties emperors
had in making their will felt in distant provinces, their capacity to do this at all
was still far greater than the leaders of any other people. The Roman army
was a large, sophisticated, permanent and professional force backed by an exten-
sive logistical system. Like the empire itself, it was different from anything else
in existence in the known world. The Romans possessed many great advan-
tages over all of their competitors. None of these rivals had the power to push
the empire over in the third or fourth centuries. The empire was huge and did
not need to operate at the highest levels of efficiency to succeed. It possessed
massively greater resources, technological and other advantages. There was
also the probability that somewhere along the line some officers and officials
would do their job at least moderately well. This meant that the Romans were
likely to prevail in the long run. None of its enemies were capable of inflicting
more than a limited defeat on the Romans.
None of this meant that the cost of repeated civil war was not felt. It is not
difficult to make the case that the majority of emperors in the first and second
centuries had the wider good of the empire as their main ambition. All were
concerned with personal survival, but this had not become the overwhelming
priority it would be for their successors in later eras. That is not to say that the
later emperors were more selfish, but simply that they could never be as secure.
Many may have had the best of intentions to rule well, but the government of
the empire became first and foremost about keeping the emperor in power –and
at lower levels, about the individual advantage of bureaucrats and officers.
The Late Roman Empire was not designed to be an efficient government,
but to keep the emperor in power and to benefit the members of the adminis-
tration. Many of these could enjoy highly successful careers by the standards
of the day without ever being effective in the role that they were theoretic-
cally supposed to perform. Sheer size prevented rapid collapse or catastrophe.
Its weakness was not obvious, but this only meant that collapse could come
in sudden, dramatic stages, such as the loss of the African provinces to the
Vandals. Gradually, the empire’s institutions rotted and became less and less
capable of dealing with any crisis, but still did not face serious competition.
Lost wars were damaging, but the damage was not fatal to the empire itself.
As an example, from 376–382 the Romans could not lose the war against
the Goths, but they still struggled to win it. Even defeats at the hands of the
Persians did not deprive the empire of major or essential resources.
The Roman Empire continued for a very long time. Successive blows
knocked away sections of it, as attackers uncovered its weaknesses. Yet at times
the empire could still be formidable and did not simply collapse. Perhaps we
should imagine the Late Roman Empire as a retired athlete, whose body has
declined from neglect and an unhealthy lifestyle. At times the muscles will
still function well and with the memory of former skill and training. Yet, as
the neglect continues, the body becomes less and less capable of resisting dis-
ease or recovering from injury. Over the years the person would grow weaker
and weaker, and in the end could easily succumb to disease. Long decline was
the fate of the Roman Empire. In the end, it may well have been ‘murdered’
by barbarian invaders, but these struck at a body made vulnerable by pro-
longed decay.
Peter Heather
The Huns and the End of the
Roman Empire in Western Europe
Based on the Mediterranean, the Roman Empire forged Europe as far as the
rivers Rhine and Danube – and, for lengthy periods, extensive lands beyond
those boundaries – together with North Africa and much of the Near East into
a unitary state which lasted for the best part of 400 years. The protracted nego-
tiations required to bring just some of this area together in the European Com-
munity put the success of this Empire into perspective. Yet since the publication
of Gibbon’s masterpiece (and long before), its very success has served only to
stimulate interest in why it ended, ‘blame’ being firmly placed on everything
from an excess of Christian piety to the effect of lead water pipes. The aim of
this paper is to reconsider some of the processes and events which underlay the
disappearance of the western half of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD.
This was an area encompassing essentially modem Britain, France, Benelux, Italy,
Austria, Hungary, …
John of Salisbury Policraticus (written in 1159)
4.1. Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that the latter obeys the law and rules
the people by its dictates, accounting himself as but their servant. It is by virtue of the law that he makes good
his claim to the foremost and chief place in the management of the affairs of the commonwealth…; whereas
private men are held responsible only for their private affairs, on the prince fall the burdens of the whole
community. Wherefore deservedly there is conferred on him…the power of all his subjects, …that he may be
sufficient unto himself in seeking and bringing about the advantage of each individually, and of all; and to the
end that the state of the human commonwealth may be ordered in the best possible manner…. Wherein we
indeed but follow nature, the best guide of life; for nature has gathered together all the senses of her microcosm
or little world, which is man, into the head, and has subjected all the members in obedience to it in such wise
that they will all function properly so long as they follow the guidance of the head, and the head remains sane.
Therefore the prince stands on a pinnacle which is exalted and made splendid with all the great and high
privileges which he deems necessary for himself. And rightly so, because nothing is more advantageous to the
people than that the needs of the prince should be fully satisfied; since it is impossible that his will should be
found opposed to justice. Therefore, according to the usual definition, the prince is the public power, and a kind
of likeness on earth of the divine majesty….
And this I do not think could be, except as a result of the will of God. For all power is from the Lord God, and
has been with Him always, and is from everlasting. The power which the prince has is therefore from God, for
the power of God is never lost, nor severed from Him, but He merely exercises it through a subordinate hand,
making all things teach His mercy or justice. “Who, therefore, resists the ruling power, resists the ordinance of
God,” [Romans 13:2] in whose hand is the authority of conferring that power, and when He so desires, of
withdrawing it again, or diminishing it.
For it is not the ruler’s own act when his will is turned to cruelty against his subjects, but it is rather the
dispensation of God for His good pleasure to punish or chasten them. Thus during the Hunnish persecution,
Attila, on being asked by the reverend bishop of a certain city who he was, replied, “I am Attila, the scourge of
God.” Whereupon it is written that the bishop adored him as representing the divine majesty…. If good men
thus regard power as worthy of veneration even when it comes as a plague upon the elect, who should not
venerate that power which is instituted by God for the punishment of evil-doers and for the reward of good
…For the authority of the prince depends upon the authority of justice and law; and truly it is a greater thing
than imperial power for the prince to place his government under the laws, so as to deem himself entitled to do
nothing which is at variance with the equity of justice.
4.2. Princes should not deem that it detracts from their princely dignity to believe that the enactments of their
own justice are not to be preferred to the justice of God, whose justice is an everlasting justice, and His law is
equity. Now equity, as the learned jurists define it, is a certain fitness of things which compares all things
rationally, …being impartially disposed toward all persons, and allotting to each that which belongs to him. Of
this equity the interpreter is the law… [A]ll law is, as it were, a discovery, and a gift from God, a precept of
wise men, the corrector of excesses of the will, the bond which knits together the fabric of the state, and the
banisher of crime; and it is therefore fitting that all men should live according to it who lead their lives in a
corporate political body.…
4.3. This sword, then, the prince receives from the hand of the Church, although she herself has no sword of
blood at all. Nevertheless she has this sword, but she uses it by the hand of the prince, upon whom she confers
the power of bodily coercion, retaining to herself authority over spiritual things…. The prince is, then…a
minister of the priestly power, and one who exercises that side of the sacred offices which seems unworthy of
the hands of the priesthood….
But if one who has been appointed prince has performed duly and faithfully the ministry which he has
undertaken, great honor and reverence are to be shown to him as the head excels in honor all the members of the
body. Now he performs his ministry faithfully when he is mindful of his true status and remembers that…he
owes his life not to himself and his own private ends, but to others, and allots it to them accordingly, with duly
ordered charity and affection….
And so let him be both father and husband to his subjects…; let him desire to be loved rather than feared, and
show himself to them as such a man that they will out of devotion prefer his life to their own, and regard his
preservation and safety as a kind of public life; and then all things will prosper well for him, and a small
bodyguard will, in case of need, prevail by their loyalty against innumerable adversaries. For love is strong as
death; and the wedge [a military formation] which is held together by strands of love is not easily broken….
8.17 A tyrant, then, as the philosophers have described him, is one who oppresses the people by rulership based
upon force, while he who rules in accordance with the laws is a prince. Law is the gift of God, the model of
equity, a standard of justice, a likeness of the divine will…. [If] the law is assailed by force or by fraud, and, as
it were, either wrecked by the fury of the lion or undermined by the wiles of the serpent…, it is plain that it is
the grace of God which is being assailed, and that it is God himself who in a sense is challenged to battle. The
prince fights for the laws and the liberty of the people; the tyrant thinks nothing done unless he brings the laws
to nothing and reduces the people to slavery.
Hence the prince is a kind of likeness of divinity; and the tyrant, on the contrary, a likeness of the boldness of
the Adversary, even of the wickedness of Lucifer…. The prince, as the likeness of the Deity, is to be loved,
worshipped and cherished; the tyrant, the likeness of wickedness, is generally to be even killed. The origin of
tyranny is iniquity, and springing from a poisonous root, it is a tree which grows and sprouts into a baleful
pestilent growth, and to which the axe must by all means be laid. For if iniquity and injustice, banishing charity,
had not brought about tyranny, firm concord and perpetual peace would have possessed the peoples of the earth
forever, and no one would think of enlarging his boundaries. Then kingdoms would be as friendly and
peaceful…as the separate families in a well-ordered state, … or perhaps…there would be no kingdoms at all,
since it is clear from the ancient historians that in the beginning these were founded by iniquity as presumptuous
encroachments against the Lord…
Therefore respect for the right and the just is either not sufficiently present or else is wholly wanting from the
face of tyrants; and…they desire for themselves power to do all things….
For the commonwealth of the ungodly has also its head and members, and strives to correspond, as it were, to
the civil institutions of a legitimate commonwealth. The tyrant who is its head is the likeness of the devil; its
soul consists of heretical, schismatic, and sacrilegious priests, and…prefects of religion who wage war on the
law of the Lord; its heart of unrighteous counsellors is like a senate of iniquity; its eyes, ears, tongue, and
unarmed hand are unjust judges, laws and officials; its armed hand consists of soldiers of violence…; its feet are
those who in the humbler walks of life go against the precepts of the Lord and His lawful institutions.…
8.18 I do not, however, deny that tyrants are the ministers of God, who by His just judgment has willed them to
be in the place of highest authority in one sphere or the other…to the end that by their means the wicked may be
punished, and the good chastened and exercised. For the sins of a people cause a hypocrite to reign over them,
and, as the Book of Kings bears witness, tyrants were brought into power over the people of Israel by the
failings of the priests.
Thomas Aquinas On Kingship (written in 1267)
1.3 …[W]e must now inquire what is better for a province or a city: whether to be ruled by one man or by
many. This question may be considered first from the viewpoint of the purpose of government. The aim of any
ruler should be directed towards securing the welfare of that which he undertakes to rule. The duty of the pilot,
for instance, is to preserve his ship amidst the perils of the sea and to bring it unharmed to the port of safety.
Now the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society lies in the preservation of its unity, which is
called peace. If this is removed, the benefit of social life is lost and, moreover, the multitude in its disagreement
becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, is to procure the unity of
peace. It is not even legitimate for him to deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to
him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man entrusted to him, for no one
should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end…. Thus,
the more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be…. Now it is
manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several—just as the most
efficacious cause of heat is that which is by its nature hot. Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the
rule of many.
Furthermore, it is evident that several persons could by no means preserve the stability of the community if they
totally disagreed. For union is necessary among them if they are to rule at all: several men, for instance, could
not pull a ship in one direction unless joined together in some fashion. Now several are said to be united
according as they come closer to being one. So one man rules better than several who come near being one.
Again, whatever is in accord with nature is best, for in all things nature does what is best. Now, every natural
governance is governance by one. In the multitude of bodily members there is one which is the principal mover,
namely, the heart; and among the powers of the soul one power presides as chief, namely, the reason. Among
bees there is one king bee’ and in the whole universe there is One God, Maker and Ruler of all things. And there
is a reason for this. Every multitude is derived from unity. Wherefore, if artificial things are an imitation of
natural things and a work of art is better…as it attains a closer likeness to what is in nature, it follows that it is
best for a human multitude to be ruled by one person.
This is also evident from experience. For provinces or cities which are not ruled by one person are torn with
dissensions and tossed about without peace…. On the other hand, provinces and cities which are ruled under
one king enjoy peace, flourish in justice, and delight in prosperity. Hence, the Lord by His prophets promises to
His people as a great reward that He will give them one head and that “one Prince will be in the midst of them”
[Ezekiel 34:24, Jeremiah 30:21].
1.4 Just as the government of a king is the best, so the government of a tyrant is the worst. For democracy
stands in…opposition to polity [polity: a government where citizens at large govern for the public good], since
both are governments carried on by many persons…; while oligarchy is the opposite of aristocracy, since both
are governments carried on by a few persons; and kingship is the opposite of tyranny since both are carried on
by one person. Now, as has been shown above, monarchy is the best government. If therefore, “it is the contrary
of the best that is worst,” it follows that tyranny is the worst kind of government….
Moreover, a government becomes unjust by the fact that the ruler, paying no heed to the common good, seeks
his own private good. Wherefore the further he departs from the common good the more unjust will his
government be. But there is a greater departure from the common good in an oligarchy, in which the advantage
of a few is sought, than in a democracy, in which the advantage of many is sought; and there is a still greater
departure from the common good in a tyranny, where the advantage of only one man is sought. For a large
number is closer to the totality than a small number, and a small number than only one. Thus, the government of
a tyrant is the most unjust….
1.5 Because both the best and the worst government are latent in…in the rule of one man, the royal dignity is
rendered hateful to many people on account of the wickedness of tyrants. Some men, indeed, whilst they desire
to be ruled by a king, fall under the cruelty of tyrants, and not a few rulers exercise tyranny under the cloak of
royal dignity.
A clear example of this is found in the Roman Republic. When the kings had been driven out by the Roman
people, because they could not bear the…tyrannical arrogance, they instituted consuls and other magistrates by
whom they began to be ruled and guided. They changed the kingdom into an aristocracy, and, as Sallust relates:
“The Roman city, once liberty was won, waxed incredibly strong and great in a remarkably short time.” For it
frequently happens that men living under a king strive more sluggishly for the common good, inasmuch as they
consider that what they devote to the common good, they do not confer upon themselves but upon another,
under whose power they see the common goods to be. But when they see that the common good is not under the
power of one man, they do not attend to it as if it belonged to another, but each one attends to it as if it were his
own. Experience thus teaches that one city administered by rulers, changing annually, is sometimes able to do
more than some kings…and small services exacted by kings weigh more heavily than great burdens imposed by
the community of citizens. This held good in the history of the Roman Republic….
On the other hand, when the Romans were worn out by continual dissensions taking on the proportion of civil
wars, and when by these wars the freedom for which they had greatly striven was snatched from their hands,
they began to find themselves under the power of emperors who, from the beginning, were unwilling to be
called kings, for the royal name was hateful to the Romans. Some emperors, it is true, faithfully cared for the
common good in a kingly manner, and by their zeal the commonwealth was increased and preserved. But most
of them became tyrants towards their subjects while indolent and vacillating before their enemies and brought
the Roman commonwealth to naught….
1.7 Therefore, since the rule of one man…is to be preferred, and since it may…be changed into a tyranny…, a
scheme should be carefully worked out which would prevent the multitude ruled by a king from falling into the
hands of a tyrant. First, it is necessary that the man who is raised up to be king by those whom it concerns
should be of such condition that it is improbable that he should become a tyrant. Wherefore Daniel…says: “The
Lord sought a man according to his own heart, and the Lord appointed him to be prince over his people.” Then,
once the king is established, the government of the kingdom must be so arranged that opportunity to tyrannize is
removed. At the same time his power should be so tempered that he cannot easily fall into tyranny.…
…If to provide itself with a king belongs to the right of a…multitude, it is not unjust that the king be deposed or
have his power restricted by that same multitude if, becoming a tyrant, he abuses the royal power. It must not be
thought that such a multitude is acting unfaithfully in deposing the tyrant, even though it had previously
subjected itself to him in perpetuity, because he himself has deserved that the covenant with his subjects should
not be kept, since, in ruling the multitude, he did not act faithfully as the office of a king demands….
Should no human aid whatsoever against a tyrant be forthcoming, recourse must be had to God, the King of all,
Who is a helper in due time in tribulation. For it lies in his power to turn the cruel heart of the tyrant to
mildness…. Those tyrants, however, whom he deems unworthy of conversion, he is able to put out of the way
or to degrade….He it was who, seeing the affliction of his people in Egypt and hearing their cry, hurled
Pharaoh, a tyrant over God’s people, with all his army into the sea. He it was who not only banished from his
kingly throne…Nebuchadnezzar because of his former pride, but also cast him from the fellowship of men and
changed him into the likeness of a beast. Indeed, His hand is not shortened that He cannot free His people from
tyrants. For by Isaiah He promised to give his people rest from their labors and lashings and harsh slavery in
which they had formerly served…
But to deserve to secure this benefit from God, the people must desist from sin, for it is by divine permission
that wicked men receive power to rule as a punishment for sin, as the Lord says by the Prophet Hosea [13:11]:
“I will give you a king in my wrath” and it is said in Job [34:30] that he “makes a man that is a hypocrite to
reign for the sins of the people.” Sin must therefore be done away with in order that the scourge of tyrants may

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