If the Roman Empire was ever something you had to learn about in a high school or college history class, a major piece of those lectures probably had to do with its fall.
If you got the standard version of this story, you might have heard about the degeneracy of the later Roman Empire’s culture, the ineffectiveness of its armies, or the weakness of its emperors.
But that’s not a very good description of the later Roman Empire. In fact, it produced some of the strongest and most able emperors of all. Its economy was humming along nicely, throwing up enough pollution from mining and other industrial endeavors to register in ice cores from Greenland. The Roman army was larger than it had been when Marcus Aurelius starred in the first 15 minutes of Gladiator.
I’m Patrick Wyman, and I just finished my PhD on the end of the Roman Empire. It seems pretty silly to me that professional historians don’t actually talk to the general public—why would you spend decades working on something if you don’t want to tell people about it?—so that’s why I’m doing this podcast on the fall of Rome.
In the fifth episode of the show, we go over the labyrinthine, Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the fourth-century Empire, its competent emperors, and why it developed the way it did after a third century so comically awful that plague and barbarians were the least of its problems.
If that sounds like your thing, give the fifth episode of The Fall of Rome a shot.