By "decline" I am referring specifically to the loss of political control over territory (shrinking empire).

I'm writing a story, and I wonder what are some examples of things that the Roman Empire could have done to have survived much longer, maybe even until now?

Slower expansion? Better diplomacy? Mass-produced blimps? Other things?

There are many resources which discuss the possible causes of Rome's fall, but in my extensive research I have found none that discuss the hypothetical conditions under which it's fall would have been entirely averted.

Answers may include "anachronistic" knowledge if absolutely necessary, such as how to create blimps, but not magical/supernatural solutions.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, cowlinator. It would be very useful to know what you define as the 'Roman Empire' before being able to provide an answer; depending on your definition, it could have ended when Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople, or it could still exist in modern times, in the form of the Catholic Church. I think this has the potential for an interesting question, but if you could clarify when you think the Roman Empire ended, and what conditions would have to exist for it to be considered to have survived, we'll have a much better idea of how to answer. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Jan 15 '19 at 3:29
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    $\begingroup$ To add to Tim's comment, what do you consider the "decline?" Military? moral? diplomatic? governmental? Would you measure it in terms of battle defeats? Lost territory? Economic loss? Please read our help page about asking questions and review "too broad," which this question most certainly is. Questions here must be specific and objective. Thanks, and we hope you will improve your quesiton. $\endgroup$ Jan 15 '19 at 5:50
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    $\begingroup$ It's not "a little" knowledge. It's the hard lessons of history: you need a mechanism for the transfer of power, because nobody lives forever; you must actually make a budget and stick to it; you must separate the public treasury from the private funds of the emperor; you must actually have taxes in proportion to your expenditures; you must invent a system of territorial governance which strikes a balance between autonomy and centralization; you must be aware of what the barbarians are doing; you must find a way to stop draining your silver to the east; etc. etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 17 '19 at 3:09
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    $\begingroup$ The reasons for the decline and fall of the western Roman empire have been debated by historians for some 1500 years. There are many books on the subject. $\endgroup$
    – CWallach
    Jan 17 '19 at 6:22
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    $\begingroup$ People have written whole books about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in 476. Before I vote too broad or not, can you explain how this can be kept out of that condition? That empire was as complex as the forces surrounding it - and my sense of history says any answer less than 50 pages would be false due to oversimplification. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 '19 at 4:57

The Roman Empire was very successful, but perhaps its failings started right at the beginning

Considering most civilisations throughout history, the Roman Empire is often considered among the long and powerful. However one should remember prior to being an Empire it was a Republic.

Many books and theories have been written on this subject as it is of supreme interest to all who want to know how civilisations collapse. In essence though, the Roman Empire 'decline' was not an instantaneous event, but rather a long period of many centuries of all sorts of different reasons. Considering that the 'decline' lasting centuries is in fact longer than some civilisations whole existence, and spanning many hundreds of generations, it is remarkable: it was so gradual at the time you would hardly notice it.

The dissociative aspect of these reasons, too, lead many to the conclusion that a civilisations 'decline' is inevitable: Soon all civilisations would encounter one too many challenges and collapse.

However consider this: the Roman Empire was 'established' in 27BC, considered by many to be the acquiescence of the Republic to appoint Octavian as Emperor. The greatest extent of the Empire territorially is 117AD, barely 145 years later, being only slightly larger than the previous Republic.

On your definition, the 'decline' using territory as a measure, therefore was gradual after that, for another 359 years till 476AD (By the way, you regard Roman Empire as the Western Empire, whereas the Eastern Byzantine Empire lasted till 1453AD). This means the 'decline' according to your definition began only shortly after its 'rise'.

In contrast, the Republic preceding the Empire, although tumultuous, lasted 362 years and for most of this period was expanding.

Looking at this alone one has to wonder not what would have happened if the Emperors continued to rule, but what the world would have been like had the Republic continued? After all, the Republic was expansive, adaptive, and oddly resilient: It even survived a sacking of Rome and many many invasions.

What the Empire ultimately lacked was the ability to adapt to altering conditions: Economic, Religious, Political and Monarchial pressures which all contributed to the inability for Emperors to govern wisely and comprehensively.

The best Emperors had trouble (prior to being assassinated), the worst Emperors didn't care (prior to being assassinated). It is worth noting over half of emperors were assassinated, the remainder forcibly deposed and then killed (or unknown cause). Constant infighting and splitting of the Empire occurred between rival Emperors. Perhaps all that was needed for the 'Empire' to continue was for an Emperor to discontinue being an Empire, and convert back to a potentially more demonstrably adaptive Republic instead.

Note that many view the 'decline' as not much more than a political change on a map: The Roman civilisation was so successful its structural, social, infrastructural, economic and philosophical foundations were still in use till up to the present day.

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    $\begingroup$ I really like that last sentence! It is sort of like the dinosaurs going extinct. They did not - I can see their descendants in my yard right now. There is no longer an emperor in Rome, but in many ways Westerners are still Romans, $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 19 '19 at 16:40

It would have to descentralize it's defense, creating a class of landed men-at-arms responsible for local defense, and that would mean land reform: break down the large estates and giving the land to these men-at-arms, both roman and germanic. These lands would be hereditary so that the men-at-arms would have skin on the game and not run away. Also you need to deal with the chaotic roman sucession system.

You see, the Roman Empire was never a monarchy but a degenerate republic where some guy controlled all government institutions. But he was no monarch, he was no king, so there was no hereditary rule for succession. That only appeared much later. The first succession in which the heir was born from a father that was alredy emperor during the birth of the heir was Marcus Aurelius->Commodus. So, you need a monarchy and to have a monarchy you must purge the last remnants of the republican institutions. But the roman republic was based in ancient italian shamanism: the patricians were connected to the founders of the city and could communicate with the dead.

You need to break this tradition and you need religion to do so. Christianity saved the eastern empire by, combined with the transfer of the capital to the East, breaking the last bonds of the ancient italian shamanism. Neoplatonism could do that too, by offering the egyptian model of a Pharaoh as a better alternative to the chaotic roman sucession.

In real life, the western empire adopted christianity but didn't do any kind of land reform so the reform was done the hard way by the barbarians. In your world, the western empire could adopt neoplatonism as religion, do the land reform, adopt a monarchical model similar to the egyptian and survive as a feudal, descentralized empire. Once economy starts improving again, once the collapse stops, the recentralization can begin.

Edit: Also, remove the capital from the city of Rome due to religious reasons. You want to cut the link between the patricians and the dead roman founders. Put the capital somewhere else. Maybe Carthage or Milan, Marseille or Barcelona.

  • $\begingroup$ That did not work well in the very decentralized Middle Ages $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Nov 19 '20 at 18:19

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