All empires must fall due to political, economic, military and social reasons. As Chaucer, in 1374 once said, “all good things must come to an end”, so must all great empires. As is the truth for the Roman Empire, British Empire, Mongolian Empire, Han Dynasty, and Qin Dynasty. All of these great societies fell for various reasons, categorised into political, economic, social, and military. Although, it is hard to pinpoint the downfall of a society into only one of these categories because the categories are so intertwined and connected that many issues fall into more than one.
The Roman Empire fell for a few reasons, which generally circled round the economy. Economic decline is a common source for a downfall of society. In their Golden Age, Rome went through a period of peace lasting over 200 years. This time of peace came to a brutal end as a result of civil unrest within and throughout the Empire. When Emperor Diocletian split the Empire into East and West in 285 CE, he moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium, in the East. This act solidified the downfall of the Western half of the empire. While the East proceeded to prosper, the West fell into ruin. As the capital was no longer in the West, trade and the flow of money happened through the East. The West suffered from economic decline due to a lack of trade and commerce. The citizens, who now had little loyalty to the Empire, started to revolt. The lack of loyalty also caused a decrease in the amount of military forces the Romans had. No longer were citizens lining up in order to serve their country. As a result, Rome had to hire mercenaries from the Celtic tribes that were attacking them. At the time, the Empire was fighting off invaders with the small military they had, which was made up of disloyal soldiers. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 BCE, and everyone knew it wa downhill from there.
The downfall of the Qin dynasty can be attributed to many reasons. Firstly, Qin subjected China to merciless and harsh rule. To a certain extent, this provided order. However, in the long run, it led to revolt. Revolt of the peasants is the greatest fear of every ruler throughout history. Similarly, the fall of the roman Empire was due in part to plebeian revolts. In addition, the nobles were stripped of power and authority. This led to angered nobles and disloyalty. Once a ruler is questioned by both the lower and upper classes, their rule is pretty much over. Natural disasters also played a part in the downfall. With floods and droughts hitting China at random, civil war broke out and the empire was divided. The Roman Empire fell in a similar way once Diocletian divided the East and west. The downfall of an empire is inevitable due to the inability for a large empire to prevent revolt. Therefore, I would attribute the fall of the Qin Dynasty to socio-economic reasons. The Roman empire, on the other hand, fell for many more reasons. They did not have a strong military and subjects lost loyalty to the empire. In addition, the west suffered from economic decline after the divide. However, the fall of the Qin Dynasty marked the start of a new era.
The Han Dynasty marked an important time in human history. It was a time of prosperity and intellect throughout Ancient China. It’s fall was greatly attributed to the same reasons of the Roman Empire and Qin Dynasty. Noblemen often found themselves exempt from taxes, causing the peasants to tell each other of the mistreatment. The peasants would then scatter from the town and move to the countryside, where they would live on small farms. In addition, the population was growing quickly, making it harder and harder to survive.
The downfall of the British Empire, however, was much more complicated. In the year 1919, the British Empire was the largest it would ever be, spanning over 15 million miles (including Antarctic claims). By the year 1950, it sunk to five million. Now the question is, what caused this? During the First World War, the British acquired debts equivalent to 136% of its gross national product. As an effect, unemployment reached 11.3%. To accommodate for this, the government had to close down many public housing and assisted living homes, leaving people homeless. In 1919, miners started to revolt. This became known as “The Miner’s Strike.” This is quite similar to the revolt of the Plebeians in Ancient Rome. The miners were protesting unfit living and working conditions, similar to that of the Romans. In the 1930’s Britain was devastated by the Great Depression. People were out of work again and chaos wrecked the streets. Soon after, World War 2 struck Britain. World War 2 had a similar effect on Britain to World War 1. Rationing took place in order to pay for the costs of war. One of the rationed substances was petrol. In addition, the government started spending more money on the war than on housing in Britain. This led to unemployment and worker strikes. Once bombs hit Britain, the government was forced to start building more houses for the people who had lost their homes. After the wars, it took many years for Britain to get back to normal. However, the fall of the British Empire is often marked by the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
In 1227, the leader of the Mongolian Empire, Genghis Khan, died. This caused unrest. within the royal family, and the basis upon which the Empire was founded started to collapse. Although the Empire had not yet reached its height, many would say it was “the beginning of the end.” Many empires, such as the Qin Dynasty, started to show cracks well before their fall. From the start of the Qin Dynasty, people felt uncertainty about their ruler, and Qin became paranoid. Paranoia affects many rulers or people holding positions of power. Many Roman emperors suffered from paranoia as well. So was the case of the three Mongolian princes. Once their father Genghis Khan had died, the brothers fought for power. As a result, the empire divided into different sections. The three brother’s families warred with one another, causing civil war. Civil war was a reason for the downfall of the british Empire as well, brothers turned on each other (literally), and blood was shed. In addition, the Mongols started warring with China during the Ming Dynasty. China, having powerful military tactics, decimated the Mongols. Eventually, the Bubonic Plague broke out and devastated the Mongols in 1313 CE. The plague not only killed many people; it prevented trade with nearby civilisations. Once traders got word of the Bubonic Plague, they would take their business elsewhere in order to avoid it. Once the Mongolian Empire had lost their trade and been decimated by the plague, it could have been considered pretty much over. Overall, most of the reason for the downfall seems to lie within the division of the empire. This is quite similar to the downfall of the Roman Empire as well. When the Roman emperor Diocletian split the Empire into East and West, everybody knew it was over. The same idea stands for the Mongolian Empire. Once an EMpire is divided, it cannot stand strong. It seems as though it is nearly impossible to attribute the downfall of an empire to one reason alone. All things have a cause-and-effect sort of relationship. All of the causes previously stated led to the downfall of a society. Every action or disaster had an effect. However some affected different parts of the collapse. For example, the floods that happened during the Qin Dynasty affected the crop yield and therefore the commerce. There was no single reason for the downfall of these empires; it was many things happening at once that led to the fall. Modern-day leaders should look back at these empires and learn from their mistakes. After all, history does repeat itself.
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Author: Katherine (Kit) Mattikow