6 – There Was Too Much Discord Within the Western Empire
I already touched on this point in section two as heavy taxation targeted the poor while the wealthy were able to keep the majority of their estates. It was an incredibly corrupt system, and the emperors were not only aware of it, they willfully turned a blind eye. In the midst of the chaos, the rich merely withdrew to their estates which were fortified and economically self-sufficient. As well as not paying tax, they employed tax system refugees to work for them. As the poor had nothing left to give, the Western government was bankrupt, and its citizens didn’t have the stomach for a fight.
As well as the problems with the military, which I will analyze later, the chief engine of Roman economic production, agriculture, had started to fall apart during the Third Century Crisis. The aforementioned overt-taxation ensured the serfs often didn’t have enough to eat. While the land-owning classes were far better off, even their living standards plummeted, so they no longer clamored for positions in the public service.
While bribery and corruption always existed in the Roman Empire, it was the norm by the fourth century. So much so in fact that it was no longer a case of abusing the system as much as it was creating an alternative one. There was practically nothing that wasn’t for sale. You could buy a judge’s verdict, army command, and of course, tax assessments. It was even getting easier to buy the emperor.
The entire power structure within the empire became fragmented into thousands of private channels in what became a very weak and useless system of rule. If an emperor hired someone to investigate corruption, they would simply become part of the system of corruption in exchange for enough land, servants, and cold hard cash. Military commanders avoided serious fighting whenever possible, and the people of the empire had no identity. When the West was threatened, few people gave a damn. Compare this to citizens of the East who were far more unified, mainly in the belief that they had something to fight for.