If you were in charge of the Roman empire, how would you prevent it from collapsing?
WOW...talking about difficult questions!
First we have the boring part....
The collapse of the Roman Empire was a long process probably triggered when the empire itself was formed in the first place. It is like to plant a tree on a unstable ground...it grows strong and nice but...if the ground collapses it is gone! You need to remember that was not a Star Wars kind of empire collapse with the destruction of the Death Star and death of the evil emperor...!
It took many years, centuries to happen.
Ok now the fun:
You are the emperor...with you toga and laurel crown; probably you are from one of the provinces and a former general in the army.
You must work to save the empire from:
1) invasions of barbarians being pushed towards your boundaries by even more dangerous barbarians. You can strengthen your army but you need money...you do not have money so...you increase the taxes!
2) usurpers to the title; these are probably your own parents or relatives that try to depose you. Ok, you could be extreme and send your praetorians but...it is easier to pay them, giving money, villas, and titles (although this last one could be dangerous) but here also you need money!
3) people, asking reforms and better living conditions....ok, it is even easier...you need money!
From this oversimplified approach you see that I would need a lot of money that probably I do not have.
Without money I could:
1) incorporate foreign/barbarian into my army promising them places to settle down with their families within the empire and letting them protect my boundaries;
2) physically eliminate the usurpers or would be usurpers creating, in the process, a lot of enemies and potential new killers;
3) give the people distractions such as games (truculent ones, even using few Christians to top up the quota) and distribute cheap free food to "look good".
The real problem is the money! I need to find it and in huge quantities without simply printing it depreciating its value! Also I need to avoid to waste it through corruption and wrong spending.
My idea would be:
1) in the short term use the above to buy time;
2) In the long term create a military like severe and ordered bureaucratic structure to manage the empire (efficiently and without corruption) and use commerce and technology, both based in the east, to strengthen the economy (selling and buying) and get good money (not simply printed by me) and improve the technical potential in every field of the empire to have an edge on other neighbouring countries.
Ok....probably it would have not worked anyway but...
Strengthen the middle class and consolidate the empire. Follow the example of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The Eastern Roman Empire lasted 1000 years longer than the Western Roman Empire. There are a few principles to learn from the Eastern Roman Empire.
- The official religion in the East was the Christian Greek Orthodox Church. This common faith helped hold the Eastern Empire together. In the early Roman Empire belief in the Roman gods helped hold the Empire together. The Vestal Virgins guarded the flame that protected the Empire. By 400 AD in the West belief in the Gods had been replaced by worship of the Cesar as a god.
Either stamp out Christianity (and all other rivals) as a rival to the previously common religion or embrace it like Constantine.
- The official religion of Christianity said that all people were equal in the sight of God. The middle class flourished, as the nobility was limited in number. Slavery was frowned about. A strong middle class provided a healthy economy and citizens that were willing to fight for the empire.
Break up the large estates in Rome that have replaced the small farmers and destroyed the middle class. Discourage the growth of slavery. Provide a method for the slaves to become citizens, such as allowing the slaves to serve in the military to ensure their loyalty to the empire. A slave economy makes wealth for the upper class but is not a healthy economy or society.
- The Eastern Roman Empire located at the straits between the black sea and the Med controlled the trade between Asia and Europe. The Eastern Roman Empire got wealthy from the exchange of goods. Much of the wealth of the Western Roman Empire came from conquest. Conquered nations were plundered. This was not a sustainable source of wealth.
Develop trade, Trade within the empire was important to the wealth and health of the empire. The concentration of wealth in Rome and the central government weakened the provinces and hurt trade. Allow the provinces more control and increase trade for a source of wealth besides crippling taxes.
- The Eastern Roman Empire was much smaller in area and more localized. This allowed for rapid movement of troops and trade within the borders of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire had spread out to far to be able to defend itself. Rome was not near the center making communication and defense difficult
Western Rome needed to give up provinces like Britian and Egypt that were too far away from Rome to govern easily. That Alps made movement to the rest of Europe difficult. Movement by sea was hard and seasonal. Moving the capital to a more central location as in the Eastern Roman Empire would have helped. ( Paris maybe)