The fall of the Roman Republic and the Events Leading to the Crusades Essay

How and why did the Roman Republic fall?
There are several possible factors behind the fall of the Roman Republic. Foremost among these causes was the overexpansion of Roman power. In the context of the Roman Republic, expansion resulted in the severe exhaustion of both natural resources and manpower. Constant wars and invasions overwhelmed and outmatched the republic’s military. Although the Roman Republic succeeded in occupying a certain locality, it no longer had the capacity to maintain it, as well as protect it from external invaders (Cleve, 2004).

            The second likely explanation would be government corruption. The Roman Republic’s territories outside of Italy, such as Sicily, were directly administered by Roman administrators and generals who had nearly unrestricted authority. As a result, these officials frequently abused their positions in order to amass great private wealth. Money that was supposed to go to public facilities was instead siphoned into their personal coffers. Poverty ensued, creating an environment that was conducive to the occurrence of internal revolts (Cleve, 2004).

            Increasing socioeconomic stratification among Romans was the third factor behind the fall of the Roman Republic. The Romans brought their war captives back to Italy, where they were forced to work as slaves in large agricultural holdings. Slave labor eventually contributed to the prosperity of these agricultural estates. Meanwhile, the small independent agricultural proprietors who cannot afford slaves became economically uncompetitive and were forced to sell their lands to the owners of the large agricultural holdings in the process (Cleve, 2004).

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            This unfair competition between the owners of the large agricultural holdings and the small independent agricultural proprietors gradually resulted in the swelling of the number of landless citizens living in Rome. This phenomenon, in turn, brought about poverty – the small farms of the free peasantry traditionally provided the economic livelihood of much of the Roman population. Furthermore, majority of the soldiers of the Roman armies were derived from these small farms. Therefore, there was likewise a decline in the number of the republic’s citizen-soldiers (Cleve, 2004).

            This decrease in the number of citizen-soldiers proved to be detrimental for the Roman Republic, as it forced the latter to be dependent on standing armies and mercenaries. Aside from being very expensive, standing armies and mercenaries were unreliable. In the process, the republic became more susceptible to both internal revolts and external invasions. Opportunistic parties became more emboldened to sow chaos, as they knew full well that there would be no one to restore order effectively (Cleve, 2004).

            A fourth explanation would be changes in the relationship between the exercise of citizenship and military service. During the initial period of the Roman Republic, wars, albeit frequent, were fought close to home and were waged during periods of agricultural inactivity. Thus, it was possible for Roman citizens to be both farmers and soldiers. But expansion involved wars that were fought at greater distances outside of Italy. Consequently, military service became a full-time activity at the expense of small farms (Cleve, 2004).

            A fifth possible factor behind the fall of the Roman Republic would be the growing autonomy of the Roman generals. Many Roman generals used their authority to win the loyalty of their soldiers. These generals attained the said objective by distributing war booty among their most favored soldiers. As a result, many Roman soldiers became loyal to their commanders than to the Republic. This outcome, in turn, set the stage for ambitious generals such as Marius, Sulla, Caesar, Pompey, Anthony and Octavian to seize power from the hands of the Senate and civil authority in Rome (Cleve, 2004).

What were the causes and results of the Crusades movement?
One of the most common misconceptions about the Crusades is that it was an “atrocious and unprovoked aggression on the part of the Christian West against a peaceful and innocent Islamic East” (Cleve, 2004). Although the truth is not as simple or one-sided, the said misconstruction is more acceptable in today’s politically correct world. The Crusades actually took place for a number of reasons, foremost of which was to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. Simply put, the Crusades were the Christian West’s defense against Islamic aggression (Cleve, 2004).

            On the eve of the Crusades, the Byzantine Empire was Christendom’s most civilized and culturally advanced region. Its rulers came from a lineage that can be traced back to Romulus, one of the traditional founders of Rome. The Byzantine Empire’s prosperity, however, was not without a price. To be able to pay the empire’s civilian bureaucrats, Byzantine leaders disbanded the citizen army. Thus, when external danger emerged in the form of the invading Turks from the East, the empire had to hire mercenaries, which happened to be more expensive and less dependable than the citizen army (Cleve, 2004).

            The Seljuk Turks finally defeated the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. This defeat extremely crippled Byzantium that it could no longer effectively fight the Islamic Turks afterwards. The Turks went on to invade Christian Greece and the Balkans and even reached the outskirts of Vienna in Central Europe (Cleve, 2004).

            Byzantine emperor Alexius I desperately needed soldiers that would defend his empire against the Muslim Turks. Majority of the mercenaries he had in his army were Turks themselves and therefore cannot be expected to fight their own kinsmen. This left Alexius with no other choice but to recruit mercenaries from Western Europe. He wrote to Robert, Count of Flanders and to Pope Urban II, asking them for assistance in his predicament. In response, the Count promised to send 500 Flemish knights (Cleve, 2004).

            Help from other parts of Europe soon followed. During the eve of the Crusades, religious fanaticism was at its peak throughout the continent. The Christian ruling class in Western Europe unconsciously believed that fighting the Muslim Turks and reclaiming the Holy Land were akin to the jihad – the Muslim holy war that operated on the premise that the highest form of morality was to die fighting on behalf of God. But the person responsible for the launching of the First Crusade, Pope Urban II, had more subtle goals in mind – to end the bitter and divisive disputes between Gregory VII and Henry IV, to increase papal authority in general, to work towards ending the separation of the Western and the Eastern churches and to tap the military skills and energies of many unemployed knights (Cleve, 2004).

            Although the original intention of the Crusades – to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims – was noble, unscrupulous knights, monarchs and religious leaders turned it into a means of enriching themselves. The fighters of the First Crusade managed to enter Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. This event was followed by several days of violence and plunder. The Crusaders killed thousands of Muslims, Jews and even Christians of both sexes and of all ages. Those who were not killed were made captive and used as laborers to haul the bodies out of the city. The Crusaders likewise broke into places of worship and stole valuable objects such as vestments, statues and jeweled cups. The Second, Third and Fourth Crusades, meanwhile, ended in defeat in the hands of the Muslims (Cleve, 2004).

References

Cleve, R.L. (2004). History of the West to 1500. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing       Company.