The Fall of the Roman Empire
"One caveat: Readers should avoid the conclusion, which argues—quite out of the blue—that the Romans, with their policy of constant aggression against the Germans, brought it all on themselves. “By virtue of its unbounded aggression, Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own destruction.” This conclusion, although it is cited inevitably by blurb writers and reviewers, has a modicum of truth in it. All empires, including our own, sow the seeds of their own destruction. However, the Roman Empire was not especially aggressive. It grew partly in response to threats and challenges and partly (especially during the late republic) as the result of wars initiated by commanders in search of glory, booty, and power.
Like all imperial powers, Rome engaged in wars of conquest, the worst of which was Caesar’s rampage through Gaul. However, most of the empire’s campaigns against the Germans were in response to aggression. In the reign of Augustus, Varus and Drusus (Tiberius’ brother) both tried to play a major role on the Rhine frontier, and Varus, deluded into thinking he could play a decisive diplomatic one, was lured to his doom. Tiberius, however, recognizing the worthlessness of Germany to the empire, pulled back and removed Drusus’ reckless son Germanicus.
It is not that the empire was the commonwealth of God or that Roman commanders did not go in for plundering expeditions. Imperial commanders were ruthless in dealing with the barbarian threat, frequently luring the poor devils into a friendly dinner only to assassinate them. But Roman conflicts with the Germans had far more to do with the barbarians’ desire for gold, plunder, and a life of ease than with Roman aggression. Marcus Aurelius was wise enough to realize that conquering Germania and turning it into a province was the most sensible, albeit a costly, solution to German hooliganism. He died, however, on the eve of accomplishing his project, which his worthless son Commodus abandoned, so eager was he to get back to Rome to begin enjoying the fruits of imperial power. This was too bad for the empire and too bad for the Germans, most of whom remained beyond the Roman limes, the pale of civilization." Thomas Fleming