Officials believe geographic size to be a leading cause

Geographic size: Difficulty of defense and administration

The old saying goes that "All roads lead to Rome" but is equally true that these roads led away from Rome. In order for the Empire to be an Empire, Rome had to exert control over the entirety of the territory, from the provinces nearest to the Eternal City itself, all the way to the German Frontier and Hadrian's Wall in England. Two important means of projecting and retaining this control over such a vast territory were the Roman form of government and the Roman army. Regarding the government, unfortunately, "Rome tried to control this vast empire with a government designed for a small city-state. Faced with governing the entire Mediterranean World, the system failed" (World History 175).

The defense system of the Roman Empire suffered from a similar problem of geographic extremes. Due to Rome's practice of expanding through military force, there were always opposing forces just beyond the borders on all sides. Germanic tribes, such as the Visigoths or Huns, who ended up invading large portions of the Empire, including Rome, in the 5th century CE were just the most powerful example. Rome had to station forces at its borders surrounding the whole Empire, which posed a problem of manpower and defenses. Two main tactics were employed, but both were costly. One, Rome build massive defensive fortifications at the frontier. See the image of Hadrian's Wall below that was built across the expanse of Britain at its border with Scotland. The second tactic was to enlist locals into the army. When the Roman economy began to fail, these now powerful local armies were able to turn on their imperial masters (cf. World History 175).

The Roman Highway System

The video below relates the modern highway system to its ancient forebear, the roads of the Ancient Roman Empire that stretched over 53,000 miles throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

More war is better than no war at all

Sources from the limits of the Roman Empire say that they wish that Rome has spent more time picking fights with other peoples. The main reason for such bellicosity is that conquering other peoples generates wealth. Holt's World History notes that "defense of the frontiers and civil wars were costly, and the end of expansion meant wealth was no longer pouring into the empire" (172). The irony is that Rome was unable to maintain its enormous empire because the empire did not keep expanding.


"The Fall of the Western Empire." World History: The Human Journey. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2003. 172-77. Print.

“Roman Leaders and Emperors.” 2012. The History Channel website. Dec 11 2012, 9:46

Rome, ancient: Roman Empire, AD 117. Map. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.

Division of Work

The researcher and author of this beautiful and informative flyer is Molly Mitchell. Her dad helped with the typing.