The reasons for the decline of Rome are as intriguing as the factors contributing to its rise. In order to understand the causes of the collapse of the Roman Empire, it is essential to understand the confluence of circumstances and variables that contributed to its rise, for these are the same factors that were brought to such an excess that the Empire collapsed under its own weight. Ultimately, Rome's successful development of military might, political dominance and infrastructural innovation led to such an expansion of the Empire that it could not sustain its own mass. This development was driven largely by the egos of Rome's leaders, who believed Roman civilization was so superior that it was a gift to the world to have it spread as much as possible.
Military might was arguably the first key factor that enabled the Romans to build their empire. This was achieved through "cultivation of virtues conducive to military strength: unswerving loyalty, obedience, frugality and disregard for peril to life and limb" (Bonta, par. 6). These virtues were evident from the very beginning of the evolution of Rome. Roman history, from its inception, is replete with monumental wars and battles, most of which resulted in Rome's victory and dominance, thereby paving the way for geographic expansion and assimilation of weaker neighbors.
Bonta maintains that "for the most part, Roman military history is a dreary catalog of one-sided battles with outmatched and poorly organized foes, of the destruction or absorption of entire nations into the expanding Roman state, and of almost superhuman resilience in rebounding from rare defeats that would have broken the back of any other people" (par. 8). Clearly the expansion of the Roman Empire would not have been possible had Rome not been militarily dominant. And yet, over-zealous military adventures eventually resulted in the destruction of Rome.
Rome's political structures were cutting edge and in many ways ahead of their time. They vested real power in the hands of the people in a way that had rarely if ever been seen before; and did so in a way that struck a nearly perfect balance between stability and liberty (Bonta, par. 10). Rome "discovered a formula for limiting the power of government by dividing it among several different magistrates and elected bodies" and also "developed a code of written laws that defined and protected the rights of Roman citizens" (par. 10). These developments regarding separation of powers and personal liberty planted the seeds of political thought that served as the foundation of modern Western-style democracies.
Roman citizens were genuinely empowered. They enjoyed an unprecedented degree of liberty that was protected by law, and had a hand in electing their government representatives. The satisfaction of common citizens with their representation in the government was a very important factor that led to the stability of the state. The masses, as a whole, felt politically content and this was a critical factor enabling the empire to evolve. Essentially, by giving people a stake in their political system, Rome ensured that it would not have to be distracted by the need to quell internal discontent, and could instead focus on external expansion.
The problem for Rome was that these same political privileges were not afforded to many of those