Decline or Transformation?
Did the Roman Empire decline or was it transformed? Is the subject political and military power or cultural and religious values? Change occurred but there was no simple downward trend-line of imperial decline. The empire’s political and military power altered, but its basic institutions were sound and not in any death spiral in the east. No artistic or architectural decline took place, but in fact a new and different visuality emerged. In written culture a change from roll to codex was fundamental. Literature written in Coptic, Syriac, and Armenian for peoples of the Middle East became major vehicles of expression. No commercial decline, no decline in industries took place. The Roman Middle East was an engine of economic strength and vitality that attracted interchange with others both inside and outside of the empire. But the empire’s armies found it increasingly difficult to handle multiple threats coming from different directions.
1. “The Fall of Rome—an author dialogue.” Oxford University Press Blog. Link to resource (accessed March 4, 2010).
2. “Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West.” From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 38. Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. Fordham University: The Jesuit University of New York. Link to resource (accessed March 5, 2010).
3. Southern, Pat. “Ancient History in depth: Third Century Crisis of the Roman Empire.” BBC History. Link to resource (accessed March 5, 2010).
Walter E. Kaegi
Professor of History, University of Chicago
1. Describe the transformation of the Roman Empire in the Middle East.
2. Explain how the presence of various institutions resulted in a transformation rather than a decline in the Middle Eastern Empire.