The second reason for the fall of the Western Empire offered in this realm of thought actually faults classical intellectualism. Here, it is held that the classical Roman ideal of the limitless abilities of human reason judiciously applied simply did not account for real human beings' more mundane, irrational, or even animal motives. Basically, a system based on such unrealizable ideals could not be sustained given the pressures of the fourth and fifth century, or the incapacities of stupid emperors, while a Christian, Augustinian moral and intellectual system could offer the proper answers. In terms of the concrete ramifications in government of idealistic systems, this explanation has merit, but only insofar as researchers can see the reflections of such thinking in imperial management.

Two final explanations contain much merit. According to one, the cultural unification of the Mediterranean basin affected by Rome was superficial both in geographical terms and in terms of the degree of espousal by particular populations. First, the Roman culture never expanded beyond areas of Italy and other coastal areas, and arrived quite late in parts of Gaul. Second, cultural unification was inherently constrained in that not all concerned had the desire, frame of mind, or requisite learning to buy into it. When the tremendous military, human, and financial challenges emerged during the 250s, and as the government and other visible symbols of Rome became ever less present beginning in the 370s, older, primordial identities reasserted themselves, and any regional loyalty to Rome disappeared. This seems a reasonable explanation for one of the reasons for Roman decline, as long as we do not exaggerate the primordial, ethnically essential bases of identity.

Lastly, an uncomplicated, and thus perhaps inelegant explanation seems most reasonable. This argument holds that after the reign of Diocletian the Roman state had simply become such an unsupportable burden to its citizens that not only could the system not continue, it became unable to attract the allegiance of peasants tied to their lands, curiales unable to escape their status, conscripts impressed into government workshops, or urban craftsmen forced to take up their fathers' vocations. It was a peculiar Roman misfortune that a state and society that had coped with innumerable challenges since the fourth century BCE by ingenuity and constant changes in government mechanisms, had become too brittle by the fourth and fifth century to respond to new challenges realistically or dynamically.

Finally, what remained of Rome? While that is in many ways a central question of Medieval history at least until 1000, even in the sixth century, we can find traces. All successor states to Rome, particularly the more Romanized Ostrogothic, Visigothic, and Burgundian realms, preserved Roman forms, parlance, and administration as well as they could. The Franks, who had been much farther from Roman cultural influence, were less able to do this, though the survival of the title Holy Roman Emperor shows a desire to maintain the link. Of course, the 'holy' aspect of this title suggests another Roman continuance: the Church. Beginning in Roman times, developed by the state, possessing regional divisions based on those of the defunct empire, and preserving its language and ethos, the Church was the sole institution that could take up Rome's aspirations to universality and over-arching legitimacy. Thus, in the West, an institution nurtured by the Roman state was able to preserve some aspects of that disappeared state's character. The living Church existed and evolved into the Middle Ages, while the geographical and philosophical architecture Rome had built continued to exert some influence on the development of Medieval Europe, even if the Empire itself was dead.

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