The decline of the Roman Empire has been the subject of intense scholarly research. Yet the causes of the decline are still the subject of vigorous debate. The classic work on the collapse is the massive text titled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written in 1776 by the English historian Edward Gibbon. Over two hundred theories have been advanced to explain the decline.
Despite many areas for conjecture regarding the decline of the Roman Empire, at least three points seem to be beyond dispute. First, its decline was slow, proceeding at a glacial pace over several centuries. Second, a critical turning that hastened its decline occurred in 337 when its rule was divided into three zones – the east, central and west. Third, even though many scholars disagree that it marks the end point of the overall Roman Empire, 476 is commonly cited as the year that marks the end of its western section.
A critical turning point in the history of the Roman Empire that significantly contributed to its demise occurred in 337 when its rule was divided between three brothers. Many scholars argue this division strategically weakened the empire and increased its exposure to attack from aggressive rivals. The division followed the death of the emperor Constantine the Great. During his life, Constantine had indicated that his successor would be either one of his three sons (Constantius, Constans and Constantine II) or his two nephews (Gallus and Julian). Gallus and Julian were respectively aged only twelve and six at the time (and were eventually executed in Athens during 354).
By agreement of the three brothers, the empire was divided amongst themselves. Constantine II (also known as Constantinus) took the west, Constans the centre and Constantius the east. The eldest of the three new emperors was only twenty one and each experienced difficulties from the outset of their rule.
Constantius was occupied quelling aggression from the Persian King Sapor II, particularly regarding Armenia and Mesopotamia where they battled for many years without either side winning a decisive victory. Constantius died in 361.
Constantine II and Constans began quarrelling immediately upon assuming their rule. They declared war against each other in dispute regarding the control of Illyria. The elder brother, Constantine II, was slain in an ambush following a major battle near Aquileia in 340. Constans took control of the western Empire and proceeded to rule like a tyrant. The army turned against him. Constans attempted to flee but was captured on his way from Gaul to the Spanish border and killed in January 350.
Following the deaths of Constantine II and Constans, the western...