The pagan historian Zosimus blamed Constantine for the subsequent downfall of the westem empire, which he ascribed to Constantine’s reorganisation of the army, dividing its military strength into two unsatisfactory parts. Constantine appears to have deliberately picked a quarrel with the Persians, resulting in vast expenditure and loss of life under his successors.

There's a specialist from your university waiting to help you with that essay.
Tell us what you need to have done now!

order now

Taxes had already been high in the time of Diocletian, but Constantine added not only the vast administrative machine, but extravagant building programmes which were needed for the new Christian faith, the construction of Constantinople, as well as his much commented on personal lavishness. In consequence, taxation had to be fixed at an extremely high level. Not only were his sons and successors obliged to maintain Constantine’s construction programme, but many of the magnificent churches and public buildings were shoddily built and required heavy maintenance or total rebuilding, simply because Constantine’s ambition had outrun the capacity of the empire to resource his programme.

The general extravagance of Constantine was stressed by a number of contemporary writers as a cause of the empire’s subsequent decline. Lactantius, a Christian who usually supported Constantine, said that as the fatal time approached for payment of Constantine’s taxes, all the towns were seen in tears and grief. The scourge and the rack were used against those whose extreme poverty meant they could not pay. Mothers sold their children, and fathers prostituted their daughters to pay their taxes.

Michael Grant (The Emperor Constantine) says that Constantine’s crushing tax system ultimately defeated its own purpose, because it destroyed the very people who had to pay the taxes. His policies conributed largely to the failure of trade and agriculture, and caused widespread hostility to the state, an alienation which in turn played a part in the downfall of the western empire.

After Constantine killed his eldest son, Crispus, he resolved to divide the responsibility for his succession among his sons, Constantine (II), Constantius (II) and Constans, who were every bit as ruthless and bloodthirsty as their father. Their internecine civil wars further weakened the empire.

Edward Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) suggested that Constantine’s conversion of himself and his subjects to Christianity was one of the principal causes of the fall of the western Roman empire, which ceased to exist 139 years after his death. Grant agrees that Christianisation may have accelerated the process, but is less certain about the importance of this one factor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *