The Following Centuries: Blossom and Decline of the Roman EmpireThe Romans led some campaigns of retaliation against the free Germanic tribes at the right bank of the Rhine. But over the following centuries, they confined themselves to defending their enormous and prosperous empire.
Roman war veterans were settled in the provinces. They married native women and lived in the newly-founded province towns. After their military service, Barbarians who had fought for the Romans received Roman citizenship for themselves as well as their descendants, and they also took on Roman names and dressed like Romans. More and more people learned and spoke the Latin language. Roman Gaul, left of the Rhine, saw the development of large cities, the flourishing of agriculture, handicraft and trade, and the construction of roads, water pipelines, temples and amphitheatres.
The province Romans - wearing the toga and being clean-shaven - were hardly able to remember that their Barbarian grandfathers had spoken Celtic or Germanic, or that they had worn beards and trousers.
Finally, in 212 A.D., emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to all free people within the Roman Empire: From Britain to North Africa, from Spain to Syria, in the entire Roman world, subdued Barbarians had finally and definitely become citizens and Romans.
But in the course of the centuries the Roman Empire steered into a heavy and lasting crisis. Constant wars for the defense of borders, rising military expenditure, excessive taxes, repressive laws, rampantly growing bureaucracy and all-present corruption - all this undermined the loyalty of the Romans and provincial residents to the Roman state.
The imperial authorities' reaction to economic crises was a planned economy: In order to stop the increasing inflation, they controlled prices by decree from the end of the 3rd century onwards. Thus they made each trade unprofitable. By the 4th century, almost all privately run enterprises had gone bankrupt; only state-run manufactures remained.
The taxes were so high that many citizens had to work for the state for most of the year, while only little was left for themselves. In addition, perpetuation of power by the ruling people was causing high costs: You remained emperor not by governing well, but by giving the soldiers generous gifts, which in turn were financed by more and more tax increases.
In order to force people to continue with their trades, another decree was issued: A son had to be in the same occupation as his father, and nobody was to leave their residence without permission by the authorities.
The Roman citizens had turned into slaves of the state. In the future they wouldn't care much at all whether their ruler and oppressor was a Roman or a victorious Barbarian conqueror.
Similarily destructive was the new religion, Christianity, starting from 313 A.D., which disapproved of the old ideals. In 390, Roman emperor Theodosius banned the old religion - to worship the gods of Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Venus or Mars was declared a crime. Led by their bishops, Christian mobs destroyed most of the pagan temples, the most beautiful buildings of ancient times, massacred philosophers and intellectuals, and destroyed the large library of Alexandria. (Prominent Christian philosophers called all sciences a futile effort.) Finally, Athen's philosophy schools were closed down and the Olympic Games were banned.
Heroes of this new era were no longer statesmen and warriors such as Scipio Africanus or Pompeius: The new heroes were ascetic hermit saints like Symeon, who sat on a pillar in Syria for several decades to be closer to God. They were philosophers such as Augustinus, who - in view of the forthcoming conquest of his hometown Carthage by the Vandals - declared that this was God's fair punishment for the sins of the town's inhabitants.
The powerful ones showed similar indifference towards the common good: In case emperors were killed or died, often civil wars erupted when at once five or six army leaders in different parts of the Empire declared themselves successors and heirs. The Roman army was already weakened because it had to continuously ward off the Barbarians at the imperial borders- the civil wars would now disable them completely to defend the Roman Empire.
Meanwhile, poverty and frequent food shortage still prevailed in the free parts of Germania, so the relative wealth of the Roman Empire had an uninterrupted appeal.
Some Germanic tribes continually led war-like raids against the Roman border provinces. Small Germanic armies regularly penetrated the provinces, looting and then withdrawing again before Roman troops were able to appear for defense.
Other Germanic people enlisted in the Roman army, lured by the pay. No longer were they only members of auxiliary troops, but regular legionaries. Starting in 382 they even had their own leaders. They were ordered to protect the Roman Empire from other tribes who where covetous of acquiring the Roman standard of living. These Germanic mercenaries had to be paid, but it wasn't always clear if the Romans paid them a wage or rather a tribute.
It turned out that in the long run the weakened state couldn't manage to withstand the attacks anymore - numerous Germanic tribes started to penetrate the Roman Empire and finally conquered entire provinces.
In 378, the Roman army under Emperor Valens suffered a crushing defeat by the Goths.
The Germanic tribe of the Visigoths looted Rome in 410. Afterwards they allied with the Romans. For them the Visigoths fought the Germanic Suebians, who had penetrated the Roman province of Spain. The Visigoths were victorious - and in 468 founded their own Gothic kingdom there.
In 429, the Germanic tribe of the Vandals under Geiseric conquered Roman North Africa with 80,000 men. There he founded a kingdom in 442. With his fleets he began to loot coastal areas of the Romans - and even Rome itself, in 455.
Starting in 449 the Germanic Anglians and Saxons conquered the Roman province of Britannia - Roman legions had left the island in 410 because their army leader had wanted to become emperor. The two tribes founded England, 'land of the Anglians'.
In 486, the Germanic tribe of the Franks under Chlodowech (i.e. Clovis / Louis) founded the Kingdom of the Franks (France) on the territory of Roman province Gaul.
In 489, the Germanic Ostrogothic mercenaries, who were supposed to be serving in the Roman army, made Italy the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths.
Thus, during the lifetime of only one single generation the western part of the Roman Empire had perished - an empire which for more than half a millennium had ruled virtually the entire world as it was known at that time.
The Roman cities deteriorated under the rule of their new Barbarian governors, who rather had their estates built outside the gates of the city.
Yet the administration usually remained in the hands of the native province Romans. Also, the Gemanic people's transition to Christianity assured a certain civilization since there was a need for literate (hence Roman-educated) priests. In addition, just the number of people being subdued was so great and superior that the Germanic conquerors only made up a ruling class of a small size; thus, they soon adapted linguistically and culturally. Italy, France-Gaul, and Spain-Hispania continued to speak a simplified Latin.
The Germanic Suebians, Alemanni, a certain percentage of the Saxons, the Bajuwares and many other tribes stayed in Germania. From 700 to 804 this area was conquered by the Franks, who made it a part of their empire. But starting in 843 it was separated from this empire, being allowed to exist as Deutsches Reich (German Empire).
The only part of the Roman Empire that survived the attacks of the Barbarians were the eastern provinces with their new capital of Constantinople (Byzance). They would continue to exist as the 'Byzantine Empire' for almost another 1000 years, dominated by the Greeks. Though Syria was lost in 636 and Egypt in 639, both times to the Arabs, Greece and Asia Minor could be maintained through the 14th century. Constantinople was even maintained until 1453 when it finally fell to the Turks. (The Turks renamed the conquered Constantinople to 'Istanbul' and made it the capital of their own empire.)
Thus Europe had found the basic structure of its current shape.
It can be only speculated how the world of today would look like had the Romans succeeded to integrate the Germanic tribes into the Roman world empire and had they won them over for the Roman way of civilization and life in a way that would have made the Germanic people defenders and not destroyers of the Roman world.
The invasion of Germanic tribes into the Roman Empire resulted in overthrowing a highly developed urban culture and replacing it with the simplicity of rural life and superstition. Without this regress the occident would have maybe seen sooner and more high-leveled developments in science, technology, art, and culture.
If the Germanic tribes had accepted the Roman culture and language like the Gauls did, the largest percentage of today's Europe would likely consist of Latin countries: Germanic-based German would be as extinct as the Celtic language of Gaul is. The Germans of today would probably speak a language similar to French.
If Britain had not been conquered by the Germanic Anglians and Saxons, today's world language English would never have come into existence. Instead we would still speak a variety of Latin, or again Celtic. Maybe North America would have been conquered and settled by the British nevertheless, but then still today's U.S. citizens would speak modern Latin or maybe even Celtic. The same would have occurred to many peoples in Africa and India, who were subdued by the English and who assumed their language.
If the Romans had succeeded to integrate the Germanic people, maybe the continuing Roman rule would have merged the European peoples into a permanent nation of Roman citizens. Possibly, Europe then might even have remained politically united in a single state.
Maybe even the history of North and South America would have run a different course: A large European empire, with domestic trade from the Atlantic to the Euphrates river in the Middle East, would likely have had less interest in colonizing remote areas than the two national states that were rivaling with their neighbors, Spain and England.
However, perhaps it was especially the fragmentation of Europe into many rivaling states that spurred European peoples to their greatest achievements, by fanning striving and competition between the nations. These often led to bloody wars, but more often to fast technological progress, business-friendly politics and wealth, military might, explorations and conquests, and glorious achievements of culture and art - whereby the leading nations of each period were not held back by the slower ones or by a torpid central government. By destroying the ailing Roman empire, the Barbarian Germanic tribes ultimately made possible for the peoples of the Western world a much brighter development and greatness.