Did Christianity keep the Western Roman Empire stable longer, or hasten the decline and fall ?

Did Christianity keep WRE together longer, or speed up its eventual collapse?

  • Christianity helped the Empire stay together longer than it would have otherwise.

    Votes: 37 25.7%
  • Christianity undermined the Empire and was a contributing factor in the decline.

    Votes: 24 16.7%
  • Christianity's presence was ultimately a neutral influence at best.

    Votes: 78 54.2%
  • Other (please reply to thread with position)

    Votes: 5 3.5%

  • Total voters
    144
It certainly helped keep the idea of Rome alive in the west post-fall, as the church was the only surviving roman institution.
 
I put hastened ita decline for 2 simple reasons. Because of the religious differences it may have been harder for the germanic tribes to be brought into the empire and assimilate, which would have saved the romans some wars, however that arguement is imo not rhe most sound.

The bigger issue was that the church at the time tried to prevent people from joining the army, and openly spoke against fighting some of the invading tribes, i read this somewhere cant remember the source.
*Citation needed*

There is no evidence that religious differences made it harder for the Germans to integrate. In point of fact it was their shared Christianity that led Alaric to be far less destructive in his sack of Rome than might otherwise occurred, with his orders to spare churches and those who sheltered inside them. Had his hopes for his royal prisoner panned out then it also could have laid a foundation for a full Gothic integration, but that sadly was nipped in the bud.

Furthermore, its not like the Christian barbarians were treated better by the Roman elite. Its pretty clear that by the 400s the Italians could not stand to be ruled by "German barbarians" regardless of their religion. Stilicho was treated with intense suspicion because of his religion, which incidentally was actually Nicene Christianity, but because as a "barbarian" it was thought he had to be in league with Alaric, who was also a barbarian and therefore "logically" had to be working with Stilicho.

As for the idea that the Church tried to prevent people from joining the army, bullcrap. This is Gibbonesque nonsense. The problem that the Romans had was that NO ONE wanted to join the army. The Emperors had had to make service hereditary and mandatory because frankly being a soldier in the Roman army was hard, dangerous, and an utterly crappy experience. The Empire had been dependent on a handful of border provinces to provide most of their troops for a long time, notably places like Illyria. The barbarians had taken up the biggest chunk of the Roman army because no one else wanted the job. The citizens of the Empire didn't want to serve in the army, and this was a problem from long before Christianity became dominant.
 
The bigger issue was that the church at the time tried to prevent people from joining the army, and openly spoke against fighting some of the invading tribes,

Then why did Diocletian have to begin the Great Persecution by purging Christians *from* the Army?

And why did the Eastern Empire (where most of the Christians lived in Constantine's day) survive the western by a *millennium*?
 
*Citation needed*

There is no evidence that religious differences made it harder for the Germans to integrate. In point of fact it was their shared Christianity that led Alaric to be far less destructive in his sack of Rome than might otherwise occurred, with his orders to spare churches and those who sheltered inside them. Had his hopes for his royal prisoner panned out then it also could have laid a foundation for a full Gothic integration, but that sadly was nipped in the bud.

Furthermore, its not like the Christian barbarians were treated better by the Roman elite. Its pretty clear that by the 400s the Italians could not stand to be ruled by "German barbarians" regardless of their religion. Stilicho was treated with intense suspicion because of his religion, which incidentally was actually Nicene Christianity, but because as a "barbarian" it was thought he had to be in league with Alaric, who was also a barbarian and therefore "logically" had to be working with Stilicho.

As for the idea that the Church tried to prevent people from joining the army, bullcrap. This is Gibbonesque nonsense. The problem that the Romans had was that NO ONE wanted to join the army. The Emperors had had to make service hereditary and mandatory because frankly being a soldier in the Roman army was hard, dangerous, and an utterly crappy experience. The Empire had been dependent on a handful of border provinces to provide most of their troops for a long time, notably places like Illyria. The barbarians had taken up the biggest chunk of the Roman army because no one else wanted the job. The citizens of the Empire didn't want to serve in the army, and this was a problem from long before Christianity became dominant.
True. Even in the height of the Roman Empire, the Empire was becoming near wholly dependent upon Germanic warriors and or other sorts of warriors from Northern parts of Europe. Tacitus bemoans this even during the reign of Trajan, whose pillars make clear references to the high roles the Germanic hosts were playing in the Roman army.

It is also a bit interesting, that these Roman citizens who have contracted their military to a large degree out, are then to make woe about being ruled by said peoples. It is as if the peoples living in Italy, Iberia and etc, wished to have their cake and eat it to, unwilling to make sacrifices to both maintain their state and also rejecting those who did maintain their state.
 
I personally wouldn't say Christianity did anything to the stability of Rome. Outside factors like the barbarians were the main reason.
 
I voted with the majority. It was overall neutral in that it didn't influence the events of the 5th century, the migrations and climate change did along with the increasing corruption of of the Roman system of government. Maybe Christianity did have a mild positive effect in that it avoided a period of religious strife that would torn the Empire apart sooner. Still it fell less than two centuries after its official conversion.
 
True. Even in the height of the Roman Empire, the Empire was becoming near wholly dependent upon Germanic warriors and or other sorts of warriors from Northern parts of Europe. Tacitus bemoans this even during the reign of Trajan, whose pillars make clear references to the high roles the Germanic hosts were playing in the Roman army.
But if Toynbee is correct, there was a change of some kind around 350 AD.

In his Study of History, he states that around then the Germanic soldiers stopped Latinising their names, as they had mostly done hitherto. Suggesting perhaps that they no longer admired the Empire as much as they used to. Perhaps as they played a more prominent role they became less deferential, and the mid-4C marked a "tipping point" of some kind .
 
Suggesting perhaps that they no longer admired the Empire as much as they used to. Perhaps as they played a more prominent role they became less deferential, and the mid-4C marked a "tipping point" of some kind .
Adrianople happened, and that's the big thing. After that the Empire's policy of disarming and settling barbarians inside the Empire was over. The Romans could not keep the Goths under control after that point. Previously such groups would have been met by overwhelming Roman force, disarmed, settled, and then recruited under ROMAN officers and under the power of the Emperor. When Adrianople was lost the Goths were not disarmed, they were not settled by the Romans, and they were not broken up into smaller and more easily controllable groups. That gave the Goths basically an independent power structure inside the Roman Empire. You want a reason why the West fell that's it. The barbarians were no longer fighting for the Romans under the Roman's terms.
 
But if Toynbee is correct, there was a change of some kind around 350 AD.

In his Study of History, he states that around then the Germanic soldiers stopped Latinising their names, as they had mostly done hitherto. Suggesting perhaps that they no longer admired the Empire as much as they used to. Perhaps as they played a more prominent role they became less deferential, and the mid-4C marked a "tipping point" of some kind .
Not sure, there are other possibilities for why that would be the case. Such as greater how we should say proximity, and hence the Latin writers knew their names more correctly. In earlier periods, the Empire utilized the Germanic warriors across the frontier of the north and the east for war and as elite shock armies, distributing them wherever they were most needed. These soldiers would have remained well away from the centers of urban power and would have moved across the dangerous zones of Rome, making the urban literary life possible. Once the Empire aged poorly, these soldiers were engaged in battles increasingly within Rome against other Roman claimants, all of whom used these soldiers against one another, making them kingmakers and therefore, more noted. By the year 350 CE, many of the Germanic peoples within the empire had already solidified dominant control over the military, yet still more Germanic warriors and tribes from beyond the borders were being used by the Empire. So, it became even *more* dominated in later periods simply by an increasing decay of the Western Empire and the extent to which its populace had thrown forth militaristic activism and moved toward a relatively dependent relationship to a warrior caste populace.

Regardless, it is important to note too, that greater proximity and length of time in relation is another reason alongside the above. Roman writers came to know Germanic names more clearly and or became more likely, more accepting of these names and their unique echo. As many scholars have pointed out, it is difficult to describe the Western Empire as anything other than a Germano-Latin state, rather than a Latin state submerged by a sea of barbarians as older more outdated modes of thought expounded.

As to Latinizing their names individually, it was common among many of the peoples of Northern Europe, such as the Scythians to take multiple names. Names were taken based upon achievements and regal names made used for different populaces. For instance, Arsacid kings, whose culture may be defined as Scythic and hence related to that of the Germanic folk, had a riding name, Persian/Parthian name and a regal name always Arsaska/Arsaces (latinized version), as such it is not improbable that these Germanic peoples within Rome did the same as many other in the empire, took multiple names based on their living space. This does not mean that their birth name was not, Sigibrand or whichever Germanic name you prefer.
 
The important thing in this is to discount Gibbon, even if you do want to make a case about Christianity having negative consequences for the Empire

I'd say it was a mixed bag, and more good than bad, but none of the bad was because of "spiritual vigor drawing men's hearts from the Eagles to the Cross" or any such nonsense. The limit of any hint of that may be in Rome's elite, but even there, its not as if Rome's elite was particularly beneficial for Rome in the preceding 400 years
 
I would be wary of relying on Tacitus for clear depictions of the level of germanic dominance in the Roman military, he was just one of an illustrious line of bemoaners who loved to use the barbarian "other" as a mirror to contrast and criticize the moral decadence he saw in his compatriots.

As I see it, the western Roman empire dissolved when it's continued existence ceased to serve the purposes of the people in charge of it. Migrating peoples coming up against the borders, for at least a century, needed to be dealt with in some way, and it made sense for many to be integrated. When you consider for example that many peoples already resident in the empire for generations weren't totally "integrated" (case in point, the isaurians) then the later foederati, those who settled together rather than being dispersed, provide a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind. I personally suspect that the abandonment of Britain was a watershed moment for various local notables, who were probably starting to wonder about how they'd keep their power in a post-Roman world. I seem to recall a post around here about the disintegration of imperial authority in northern Gaul, which tore down the idea of a loyalist syagrian holdout, with the local notables rather just looking to maintain their position as best as possible in whatever situation would stabilize around them, but I don't remember it well so take it with a grain of salt.

I'm led to wonder, if the papacy had been hereditary, would the various diverging splinters have felt they should seek marital alliances with the pope and organize into a new WRE? Perhaps too fanciful an idea...
 
Battle of Frigidus

Important battle in 394 because (or on the excuse ) that the Western Emperor was Pagan sympathetic or a closet pagan. Heavy losses on the western side was heavy, but lets say 15-25k highly trained legionares is a big deal. 20k more loyal and trustworthy soilders (partially veterans, partially trained successors) rather than barbarian foederati on the limes or behind them as a field army might make a big difference twelve years later in the winter of 406-407.

So the I'd say that's some good evidence the Christianity hurt.
 
Battle of Frigidus

Important battle in 394 because (or on the excuse ) that the Western Emperor was Pagan sympathetic or a closet pagan. Heavy losses on the western side was heavy, but lets say 15-25k highly trained legionares is a big deal. 20k more loyal and trustworthy soilders (partially veterans, partially trained successors) rather than barbarian foederati on the limes or behind them as a field army might make a big difference twelve years later in the winter of 406-407.

So the I'd say that's some good evidence the Christianity hurt.
But was (lack of) Christianity the source of that conflict?
 
But was (lack of) Christianity the source of that conflict?
It was the excuse and for many a motive. It is hard to tell exact motives 1625 year after the fact, but the expressed motive of the Eastern Legions was to prevent a pagan revival and they did serious damage to the Western Military.

To me pretending it isn't evidence that Christianity weakened the west is seriously like pretending that layer of iridium had nothing to do with the lack of dinosaurs.
 
It was the excuse and for many a motive. It is hard to tell exact motives 1625 year after the fact, but the expressed motive of the Eastern Legions was to prevent a pagan revival and they did serious damage to the Western Military.

To me pretending it isn't evidence that Christianity weakened the west is seriously like pretending that layer of iridium had nothing to do with the lack of dinosaurs.
Except of course what ACTUALLY happened was that Arbogast either murdered Valentenian, or caused the boy to commit suicide, and then went into rebellion against the senior Augustus, Theodosius. He selected an acceptable puppet and elevated that man to the purple. Theodosius was never, and I mean NEVER going to let Arbogast off for the death of his brother-in-law, nor would he tolerate the elevation of a Western Emperor without his approval. Civil War was going to happen religious problems or no religious problems. Because that's what happened in the Roman Empire in these situations.

You don’t believe civil war was inevitable? Okay, then why, when Gratian was murdered and a Christian usurper seized control of the West did Theodoraius march West and put down that usurper? Challenges to imperial authority, ESPECIALLY in the unstable West could not be ignored. And that was before Theodorakis married into the imperial family and set his sons up as heirs.

So if we're accepting your premise...that layer of iridium was a complete coincidence apparently.
 
Last edited:
It was the excuse and for many a motive. It is hard to tell exact motives 1625 year after the fact, but the expressed motive of the Eastern Legions was to prevent a pagan revival and they did serious damage to the Western Military.
The ostensible reason (also the real one iirc) was to scotch a usurper who had murdered the legitimate Emperor and set up a puppet in his place.

A decade earlier, Theodosius had likewise refused to accept the usurpation of Magnus Maximus, despite Maximus being impeccably Christian.

And at the Frigidus, didn't *both* sides rely on German mercenaries? I always understood that it was Gothic ones on one, side, and Frankish on the other.
 
Rome would have fallen with or without Christiannity. The Third Century crisis, the Great Migrations and Invasions, an army that was overstretched to defend the borders and started to rely more and more on barbarian feodorati as time went by... These were all major issues that were plaguing the Empire and from which it never really recovered. Overall, Christiannity probably factored very little in the outcome.

Part of me though would also like to point out that the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire technically didn't fall until 1453... Long after it had christianized. Now sure Christiannity probably factors little in that too as the Eastern half of the Empire didn't face as many issues as the Western half but still.
 
Though the Goths were Christian by that point.
As quite a few Franks may have been esp ones in Roman service.

But anyway how is it relevant? Is there the slightest evidence that the religious persuasions of Goths, Franks, Vandals et al in any way inhibited their willingness to fight battles?
 
But anyway how is it relevant?
Because the initial claim you wereresponding to was about the Frigidus being a battle of pagans vs Christians, so from that perspective the fact the mercenaries were different religions could be seen as support for his claim.

His claim is wrong, or at least heavily misunderstands the context as I explained earlier but still.
 
Top