Reasons for the fall of Rome?

‘Destruction’ by Thomas Cole, painted 1833–1836, part of a series ‘The Course of Empire’

Discussion of the the reasons for the ‘fall’ of the Western Roman Empire will go on forever and everybody will have their pet one. The classic book is The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon.

Rome didn’t ‘fall’ it one cataclysmic day, week, month or year, nor was it all gone in one puff of smoke and was suddenly not there. It weakened, fragmented, disintegrated like the links of chain mail rusting and breaking, badly repaired and never again as strong. It transformed into pieces, changed into regions, city-states and mini fiefdoms run by warlords who battled each other for the next several centuries.

By 395 CE, things were changing/declining noticeably as I discussed here even though the deposition of the last Roman emperor in the west, Romulus Augustulus, who merely ruled over a small area round Ravenna, didn’t occur until 476 CE. The last really effective Roman emperor, Majorian, died in 461 CE.

Some areas such as northern France stuck out for a while after their ties to Rome had been cut. Before Majorian died, he appointed Aegidius in 457 CE to command all military forces in Gaul as magister militum (master of soldiers). Aegidius and his son Syagrius ruled over northern Gallia as Romans until Syagrius came up against Clovis, the dynamic kind of the Franks in 486 CE.

Yes, but why did the mighty civilisation that had lasted 1,229 years ‘fall’?

Books have been written on this – lots of them – but some of the main ones could include:

  • Invasion by barbarian tribes (Although there were many already settled with the Empire by the early 5th century, sometimes in semi-autonomous regions, thus weakening Roman identity)
  • Economic troubles and over reliance on (diminishing) slave labour – pirates, land consolidation, reduced access to markets, etc.)
  • Rise of the Eastern Empire and concentration on Constantinople with reduction of Rome’s importance
  • Internecine conflict, Greek vs Latin language and identity
  • Over expansion and military overspend
  • Government corruption and political instability
  • Arrival of the Huns and migrations of the barbarian tribes
  • Christianity and the loss of traditional values and structures
  • Weakening of the legions – ‘barbarisation’ and unwillingness of core Romans to enter the military
  • Loss of craft skills, industrial level production and diversification

Are there more?

Oh, yes! In 1984, a German academic, Alexander Demandt, published a book, Der Fall Roms, and he listed 210 reasons. Here’s the list, translated into English:

1.   Abolition of gods
2.   Abolition of rights
3.   Absence of character
4.   Absolutism
5.   Agrarian question
6.   Agrarian slavery
7.   Anarchy
8.   Anti-Germanism
9.   Apathy
10.  Aristocracy
11.  Asceticism
12.  Attack of the Germans
13.  Attack of the Huns
14.  Attack of riding nomads
15.  Backwardness in science
16.  Bankruptcy
17.  Barbarisation
18.  Bastardisation
19.  Blockage of land by large landholders
20.  Blood poisoning
21.  Bolshevisation
22.  Bread and circuses
23.  Bureaucracy
24.  Byzantinism
25.  Social mobility
26.  Capitals, change of
27.  Caste system
28.  Celibacy
29.  Centralisation
30.  Childlessness
31.  Christianity
32.  Citizenship, granting of
33.  Civil war
34.  Climatic deterioration
35.  Communism
36.  Complacency
37.  Concatenation of misfortunes
38.  Conservatism
39.  Capitalism
40.  Corruption
41.  Cosmopolitanism
42.  Crisis of legitimacy
43.  Culinary excess
44.  Cultural neurosis
45.  Decentralisation
46.  Decline of Nordic character
47.  Decline of the cities
48.  Decline of the Italian population
49.  Deforestation
50.  Degeneration
51.  Degeneration of the intellect
52.  Demoralisation
53.  Depletion of mineral resources
54.  Despotism
55.  Destruction of environment
56.  Destruction of peasantry
57.  Destruction of political process
58.  Destruction of Roman influence
59.  Devastation
60.  Differences in wealth
61.  Disarmament
62.  Disillusion with stated goals of empire
63.  Division of empire
64.  Division of labor
65.  Earthquakes
66.  Egoism
67.  Egoism of the state
68.  Emancipation of slaves
69.  Enervation
70.  Epidemics
71.  Equal rights, granting of
72.  Eradication of the best
73.  Escapism
74.  Ethnic dissolution
75.  Excessive ageing of population
76.  Excessive civilsation
77.  Excessive culture
78.  Excessive foreign infiltration
79.  Excessive freedom
80.  Excessive urbanisation
81.  Expansion
82.  Exploitation
83.  Fear of life
84.  Female emancipation
85.  Feudalisation
86.  Fiscalism
87.  Gladiatorial system
88.  Gluttony
89.  Gout
90.  Hedonism
91.  Hellenisation
92.  Heresy
93.  Homosexuality
94.  Hothouse culture
95.  Hubris
96.  Hypothermia
97.  Immoderate greatness
98.  Imperialism
99.  Impotence
100. Impoverishment
101. Imprudent policy toward buffer  states
102. Inadequate educational system
103. Indifference
104. Individualism
105. Indoctrination
106. Inertia
107. Inflation
108. Intellectualism
109. Integration, weakness of
110. Irrationality
111. Jewish influence
112. Lack of leadership
113. Lack of male dignity
114. Lack of military recruits
115. Lack of orderly imperial  succession
116. Lack of qualified workers
117. Lack of rainfall
118. Lack of religiousness
119. Lack of seriousness
120. Large landed properties
121. Lead poisoning
122. Lethargy
123. Levelling, cultural
124. Levelling, social
125. Loss of army discipline
126. Loss of authority
127. Loss of energy
128. Loss of instincts
129. Loss of population
130. Luxury
131. Malaria
132. Marriages of convenience
133. Mercenary system
134. Mercury damage
135. Militarism
136. Monetary economy
137. Monetary greed
138. Money, shortage of
139. Moral decline
140. Moral idealism
141. Moral materialism
142. Mystery religions
143. Nationalism of Rome’s subjects
144. Negative selection
145. Orientalisation
146. Outflow of gold
147. Over refinement
148. Pacifism
149. Paralysis of will
150. Paralysation
151. Parasitism
152. Particularism
153. Pauperism
154. Plagues
155. Pleasure seeking
156. Plutocracy
157. Polytheism
158. Population pressure
159. Precociousness
160. Professional army
161. Proletarianisation
162. Prosperity
163. Prostitution
164. Psychoses
165. Public baths
166. Racial degeneration
167. Racial discrimination
168. Racial suicide
169. Rationalism
170. Refusal of military service
171. Religious struggles and schisms
172. Rentier mentality
173. Resignation
174. Restriction to profession
175. Restriction to the land
176. Rhetoric
177. Rise of uneducated masses
178. Romantic attitudes to peace
179. Ruin of middle class
180. Rule of the world
181. Semi-education
182. Sensuality
183. Servility
184. Sexuality
185. Shamelessness
186. Shifting of trade routes
187. Slavery
188. Slavic attacks
189. Socialism (of the state)
190. Soil erosion
191. Soil exhaustion
192. Spiritual barbarism
193. Stagnation
194. Stoicism
195. Stress
196. Structural weakness
197. Superstition
198. Taxation, pressure of
199. Terrorism
200. Tiredness of life
201. Totalitarianism
202. Treason
204. Two-front war
205. Underdevelopment
206. Useless eaters
207. Usurpation of all powers by the state
208. Vaingloriousness
209. Villa economy
210. Vulgarisation

That gives you quite a choice! Some are self-contradictory, duplications or, in my opinion, plain daft. Others are simplistic or even offensive in 2022. Some will have been disproved since then, others dismissed as specious. But there are more than a few nuggets of truth in that list and I think it’s evident there were complex and interactive reasons, just as the Roman civilisation itself was. I’d recommend Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilisation for a reasoned view.

Perhaps you have your own alternative theory?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

The Via Flaminia

Main Via Flaminia in blue, later central alternative in pink and ‘branch line’ (Via Septempeda) in orange (CC licence source EH101)

All roads lead to Rome‘.

Actually, a fair number do, but it seems the saying wasn’t recorded as being coined by the Romans themselves. Of course, the Romans may well have said it and somebody may have written it down, but that written record, if it existed, has been lost.

The saying derives from medieval Latin. It was first recorded in writing in 1175 by Alain de Lille, a French theologian and poet, whose Liber Parabolarum renders it as ‘mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam‘ (a thousand roads lead men forever to Rome). The first documented English use of the proverb occurs more than two hundred years later, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Astrolabe of 1391, where it appears as ‘right as diverse pathes leden diverse folk the righte way to Rome.

Anyway, the Via Flaminia most certainly did lead to Rome right into the city as the Via Lata and became today’s Via del Corso. Today, the Corso, as it’s known colloquially, is a popular place for the passeggiata, the evening stroll for people to be seen and to see others well as being an important shopping street for tourists and locals alike.

The Via Flaminia was first built in 220 BC when Gaius Flaminius was censor, hence the name; it was to be a new road to link Rome with the Adriatic Sea in the north. The starting point was the Porta Fontinalis, a gate in the Servian city walls near present-day Piazza Venezia. The new Via Flaminia cut through the plain between the Tiber and the eastern hills in a straight line. (A typical Roman road, then. 😉 ) The Campus Martius (Field of Mars) was at that time used as a training ground and pasture but numerous tombs must have lined the road in a similar way they did the Appian Way.

Platner’s map of Rome for The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome ,1911. (Public domain)

That inveterate builder and improver, Augustus (and probably his henchman Agrippa), instituted a general restoration of the roads of Italy, assigning supervision of different regions to various senators. He reserved the Flaminia for himself and rebuilt all the bridges except the Pons Mulvius  (known to us as the Milvian Bridge) by which it crosses the Tiber, 3 kilometres (2 miles) north of Rome (built by Marcus Aemilius Scaurus in 109 BC).

The open area outside the Servian walls became increasingly urbanised during the late Republican and early imperial ages. The city gradually spread towards north and monumental public buildings were built along the road: the most important include Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun, the Ara Pacis, the Ustrinum Domus Augustae, the Ara Providentiae and the Column of Marcus Aurelius. The biggest and tallest of them was the Mausoleum of Augustus.

With the building of the Aurelian Walls (271-75 CE) the whole area was incorporated into the city of Rome, and a new city gate, the Porta Flaminia, was erected at present-day Piazza del Popolo.

The Aurelian walls in 2012. The cars give an idea of scale! (Author photo)

The Aurelian walls in 2012. The cars give an idea of scale! (Author photo)

The Via Lata (‘Broad Way’) which connects the Capitoline to the city gate, can be considered the urban stretch of the Via Flaminia. Its name tells us that the street was considered wide, especially in comparison to neighbouring lanes but in narrowed in three places along its length due to triumphal arches; the Arch of Claudius (51-52 CE) (the Aqua Virgo aqueduct crossed the road on top of it), the Arch said to be of Hadrian, later known as the Arco di Portogallo and the Arcus Novus erected by Diocletian in 303-304 CE.

Where did the Flaminia go after it left Rome?

The ancient Roman road led from Rome over the Apennine Mountains to Ariminum (Rimini) on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and due to the ruggedness of the mountains was the major option the Romans had for travel between Etruria, Latium, Campania, and the Po Valley.

Arch of Trajan and Via Flaminia at Carsulae (CC licence, source: Imcarthur)

For my new novel, I was particularly interested in the part of the Via Flaminia between Rome and Ancona on the Adriatic coast. The road runs due north out of Rome, passing slightly east of the site of the Etruscan Falerii (today’s Civita Castellana), crossing the Tiber into Umbria over a bridge where you can still see some traces – the ‘Pile d’Augusto’. From there the Flaminia made its way to Ocriculum (Otricoli) with its fabulous baths complex and Narnia (Narni). (Yes, Narnia! C.S Lewis is supposed to have taken the Roman name as inspiration the setting of his children’s stories…)

Anyway, at Narnia, the road crossed the Nera River by the Ponte d’Augusto, the largest Roman bridge ever built, a splendid four-arched structure to which Martial, no less, mentions. One arch  is still standing; another forms part of a modern railway tunnel.

Moving on, the Flaminia proceeded to Casuentum (San Gemini) which passed over two (finely preserved) ancient bridges, through Carsulae (a wonderful undisturbed site) to the Vicus Martis Tudertium (near modern Massa Martana), then Mevania (Bevagna) and Forum Flaminii (S. Giovanni Profiamma).

Later, a more circuitous route from Narnia to Forum Flaminii was adopted, increasing the distance by 12 Roman miles (18 km) and passing by Interamna Nahars (Terni), Spoletium (Spoleto) and Fulginium (Foligno) — from which a branch diverged to Perusia (Perugia). That was the slower option so my characters don’t take it – they go for the original hilly route.

From Forum Flaminii, where the two branches rejoined, the Flaminia went on to Nuceria Camellaria (Nocera Umbra) and my characters travelled along the branch road, the Via Septempeda which ended (or started in their case) at Ancona.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Today, the route, still called by the same name for much of its distance, is paralleled or overlaid by Strada Statale (SS) 3, also called Strada Regionale (SR) 3 in Lazio and Umbria, and Strada Provinciale (SP) 3 in Marche. Very useful for following on Google Maps and for using satellite view to get an idea of the countryside my characters  travel through!

I’m fascinated that the route is practically the same over 2,000 years since the first foundations were laid. During the period of Roman expansion in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, the Flaminia became a main axis for transporting wheat from the Po valley to supply Rome and central Italy. In most of the Roman period, including the end, the Flaminia was the main road leading into the heartland of Italy and like all Roman roads, the way of moving troops quickly and efficiently. Gaius Julius Caesar may have taken advantage of it at the beginning of the civil war, but various Germanic military forces and Byzantine generals found it a vital route hundreds of years later.

A number of major battles werefought on or near the Via Flaminia, for example at Sentinum (near the modern Sassoferrato) and near Tadinum (the modern Gualdo Tadino). Constantine the Great’s famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge occurred along the the Flaminia after his nearby dream of the Chi Rho which led to his conversion – and that of the Roman Empire – to Christianity.

Milvian Bridge (Photo CC Licence, source: Livioandronico2013)

This route, once convenient to Roman citizens and other travellers, is now congested by heavy traffic between northern Italy and the capital in Rome. It remains an important road, but traffic now also reaches Rome by rail and autostrade using dozens of tunnels – shorter, more direct routes under the ridges and passes that their ancestors had to toil over.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Helen Hollick and stepping into alternative lives

As you’ve seen with the Roma Nova adventures, the whole idea of history taking an alternative path fascinates many people. I was delighted to be invited to join with a group of other authors a little while ago to explore that unique year in English history – 1066. Although there had been mingling of cultures and commerce before, this was the year that Saxon England died and the Norman ascendancy changed the country forever.

Like anybody else interested in history, I knew the general drift of the dramatic stories of courage, shipwreck, blackmail, invasion, self-belief and the romantic allure of ‘the last stand’. Inserting an 11th century Roman into that was a research challenge, but enormous fun. The Mitela of that period, Galla, had a thrilling adventure as well as making a significant intervention in ‘history’.

My guest, Helen Hollick knows this period like the back of her hand.  So I was intrigued (no, bursting with curiosity to be truthful) about why she had thought up the idea of alternatives to the history we know.

So tell us, Helen, why?

Well why not? *laugh*.  Seriously, speculative ‘what if’ fiction apart from being highly popular is immensely interesting as a subject of debate between anyone interested in history. What if the Romans had not invaded Britain (as they didn’t invade Ireland or too far into Scotland), what if the White Ship had not sunk – Henry I’s son would not have drowned, would have become the next king, therefore, no civil war between Stephen and Mathilda, no Henry II and no Plantagenets… What If Richard III had won at Bosworth, Katherine of Aragon had borne a healthy son to Henry VIII – the subjects are endless, and one alternative can lead to another. 1066 is a prime example, and 1066onites (is that a viable word?) like nothing more than speculating whatcould have happened if King Harold II had won that day on a battlefield seven or so miles from the coast at Hastings. Harold followers (as I am) also like to place him in a good light – he is an English hero to many, he died nobly, defending his kingdom against foreign invasion by a ruthless tyrant.

Do you think alternative history can be considered as historical fiction?

Oh yes, definitely! (The clue is in the word ‘fiction’). Fiction isn’t real, it’s made-up imagination, so why shouldn’t alternative ideas, scenarios, beginnings and endings with ahistorical feel or connection be regarded as quality fiction – providing it is written well and comes across as believable and plausible. Your own Roma Nova series, Alison, is a very good example. The events and the people are not real, it never happened or existed, Roma Nova is not a real place – but – it could have been. The stories are written so skilfully with meticulous research and exquisite detail that many a Roma Nova reader cannot understand why we cannot find the place on a map! And in a way, is not all historical fiction speculative and even alternative? No one knows for certain the actual facts, after all!

In the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, only one of the contributing authors writes in the alternative history genre – me. One other writes science fiction and you and Joanna Courtney managed the whole project. So how did you go about persuading other very well-respected writers of standard historical fiction to join in?

Oh I’m very good at twisting arms… Those of us who write ‘straight’ historical fiction jumped at the chance to change the course of history. In one of Joanna’s stories Harald Hardrada of Norway wins at Stamford Bridge in September 1066 (which could then lead to more debate: Duke William of Normandy had already landed on the south coast – would Hardrada have also fought him? Would he have won or lost? If he lost, the Norman Conquest would still have happened…) In one of my two stories included in the anthology, William’s fleet was defeated at sea by the English Navy (although I confess, this isn’t really speculation, I very firmly believe that this happened.) In a way all of the stories in the collection are ‘alternative’ in that they are all ‘what if’ based, but I specifically wanted you, Alison, aboard as I felt, at the time (a good few years ago now!) that the history of Roma Nova should be expanded. I remember saying to you: “But if Roma Nova was real, and it has survived until the present day its people would have been most concerned about the events of 1066? Surely they would have at least taken note, if not directly intervened?” And I also really wanted to know what Duke William would have thought of women holding the reins of power.

Do you have any plans to explore other ‘what ifs’?

Yes, although organising such things is not as easy as it first looks! I would like to explore the possibility of a follow-up ‘History Turned Upside Down’ instead of concentrating on a single year, have an alternative ‘what if’ for each century: What If Boudicca had won? What if Alfred The Great had lost to the Danes? What If the Black Death had come much later? What If … what if… the possibilities could fill several huge tomes. I’d like to have something in common tucked into each story, maybe a ring or a facial feature for a character, or each story must have a horse, dog or cat in it, or… well, you get the drift! I might get around to organising this project in 2022. Watch this space – applications to join in, welcome!

You can buy 1066 Turned Upside Down from these retailers:  Amazon    Nook    Kobo    Apple

Helen Hollick  moved her family from north-east London in 2013 to an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. Talk about changing your life’s time-line!  She enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including hens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats, goats, Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.


Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) novels that explore events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has contributed to two short story anthologies, 1066 Turned Upside Down and Betrayal.

She’s now branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her new venture, the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder  incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant. Another divergence from her personal time-line…

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, sometimes assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular showjumping shows – and  occasionally gets time to write…

Connect with Helen
Twitter: @HelenHollick
Amazon Author Page (Universal Link)
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Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review Blog :


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.