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Integrated Essay: Roman Empire

 Comments on student essay and sample responses

Today, we examine a TOEFL Integrated Essay written by a student. In alignment with contemporary academic writing conventions and to uphold political correctness, I will employ the pronoun "they" and its corresponding forms when referring to the third-person singular individual henceforth.



The post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, known as the Roman Empire, was characterized by a government headed by emperors and large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Roman Empire was the largest empire of the Classical Antiquity period, and one of the largest in world history covering 6.8 million square kilometers. It was also among the most powerful economic, cultural, political and military forces in the world holding sway over 21% of the world's entire population during that time period. The longevity and vast reach of the Empire provided a lasting influence of Latin and Greek language, culture, religion, inventions, architecture, philosophy, law, and government on future descendants. There are three reasons the Roman Empire became so powerful.

The first reason was their large armies that occupied the lands of other countries. These armies were made up of captives forced to serve in the army and by the professional soldiers of the Imperial Roman army. Professional soldiers volunteered for 20 years of active service followed by five years of reserve duty. This was a definite shift from the material of the former republic in which an army of conscripts exercised their responsibilities as citizens to protect their homeland in specific campaigns against specific threats, whereas Imperial Rome's army was a full-time career.

The second reason for the Roman Empire's rise to power was the power held by the monarchs. This state of the absolute monarchy began with Diocletian and endured until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE. The authority of the emperor was based on the consolidation of several of the republican offices. The emperor had powers of inviolability of the tribunes of the people, authority of the censors to manipulate the hierarchy of Roman society, central religious authority as Pontifex Maximus, the right to declare war, ratify treaties, and negotiate with foreign leaders. These functions were clearly defined during the Principate, but over time the emperor's powers became less constitutional and more monarchical creating the dominant.

Finally, the high taxes placed on their empire helped to make the empire richer. The taxes an individual paid ranged from 2 to 5 percent of the gross product. The bewildering tax code involved a complicated system of direct and indirect taxes as well as taxes paid in cash and some paid in kind. The taxes might be specific to a province, property, or in effect for a limited time. The Roman Empire justified their tax collection as a necessary cost to maintain the military; however, taxpayers sometimes received a refund if the army obtained a surplus of booty. Less monetized areas that were unable to pay their taxes in cash were allowed to pay in-kind, especially if they could supply grain of goods to the army camps.

Student response

The reading and the accompanying lecture present conflicting viewpoints regarding the rise of the Roman Empire. While the article outlines three contributing factors to Roman's armies ascents, the lecturer takes a contrary stance, by questioning the veracity of each claim.

According to the reading passage, roman armies dominate over all neighbouring armies upon having limited domestic population. In contrast, the lecturer rebuts by noting that Roman's army's contribution to the decrease in Roman's empire occurred since the mercenaries value money over loyalty. Furthermore, the speaker highlights the limited allegiance the mercenaries has to the emperor. For instance, if a military general or commander switches loyalty, his followers will also do the same.

Furthermore, the writer argues that another contributing factor that could have contributed to the decline is the unquestioned power since the armies possess enormous power over the courts and governments. However, the lecturer refutes this by noting that many emperors made terrible decisions that led to the collapse of Roman's empire. For example, one emperor built countless buildings to appease the Gods. Additionally, the speaker mentions that the government's laxity over the emperor's actions ultimately resulted in poor decisions and improper use of state funds.

Lastly, the writer argues that funds from taxes allow the emperor to continue military campaigns and feed armies. However, the speaker in the listening passage counters this by addressing the fact that farmers and peasants pay high taxes, which affect their survival. Moreover, he further highlights that the increment in taxes create hatred between the farmers and roman empires, ultimately leading to a revolt.

Dr. Byrnes' comments

I don’t think you are summarizing the main points correctly or maybe we have different lectures. Until I hear the lecture, I cannot make comments on the content.  

Language use

Make sure to use simple past tense when you are talking about past events. 

Your use of the possessive case is incorrect sometimes.

  • Roman armies dominated

  • despite having a limited domestic population

  • rebuts this claim (“rebut” needs an object)

  • the mercenaries had

  • if a military general or commander switched loyalty, his followers would also do the same.

  • the armies possessed 

  •  allowed the emperor

  • fed

  • paid

  • affected

  • the increase in taxes created

  • another contributing factor to the decline

  • the gods

  •  Roman army's contribution

  • Roman Empire

This question is harder because the professor does not directly argue against the arguments presented in the passage. Instead, they present a nuanced view as they evaluate each factor. (singular third person use of “they”)

Sample response  1

To explain how the Roman Empire was able to become so powerful, the reading passage offers three factors: a large military force, absolute monarchy, and rich revenue from high taxes. The professor provides a more nuanced explanation of how these three factors contributed to the prosperity of the Roman Empire.

First, the passage asserts that large armies composed of captives from conquered lands and professional career soldiers from Rome were able to protect and expand Roman territory. In response, the professor points out that soldiers made up of captives might not have had loyalty to the empire and might have tried to betray it. For this reason, the sheer number of captive soldiers could not have been the reason for the empire's success. Instead, the Roman military's success was due to the reforms and regulations implemented by the Roman government, such as consolidating or disbanding questionable units.

Second, the passage maintains that absolute monarchy, or the ruler's ability to make decisions without being disputed, must have led to the success of the Roman Empire. In response, the professor maintains that the real source of the emperor's power was the military, especially the Praetorian Guard. The monarchy would pay a monetary reward to the Praetorian Guard to ensure their loyalty. Even the Senate was often mindful of the acclamation by the army or Praetorians.

Finally, regarding the rich revenue through high taxes, the professor offers a different opinion. He argues that the high taxes, especially in the later period of the Roman Empire, actually worked against the empire's interests. The high taxation alienated the emperors from their own subjects. In particular, the high taxation on ordinary people made them support the enemies of the Roman Empire, leading to the collapse of the nation.

Sample response 2

The reading passage outlines three key factors contributing to the Roman Empire's rise to power: a large military force, absolute monarchy, and substantial revenue from high taxes. However, the professor offers a more nuanced perspective on how these factors played into the empire's prosperity.

Firstly, the passage asserts that the Roman Empire's large armies, consisting of both captives from conquered lands and professional career soldiers from Rome, were instrumental in protecting and expanding the empire's territory. In response, the professor highlights a potential issue with the loyalty of captive soldiers, suggesting they might have been inclined to betray the empire. Therefore, the sheer number of captive soldiers alone couldn't account for the empire's success. Instead, the professor emphasizes that the empire's military achievements were attributed to reforms and regulations, which involved consolidating or disbanding questionable units.

Secondly, the passage contends that the absolute monarchy, where the ruler's decisions were unchallenged, contributed to the Roman Empire's success. However, the professor argues that the true source of the emperor's power lay in the military, particularly the Praetorian Guard. The monarchy would ensure the loyalty of the Praetorian Guard through financial rewards, and even the Senate considered the approval of the army and Praetorians.

Regarding the substantial revenue generated through high taxes, the professor offers a different perspective. According to him, the high taxes, especially during the later period of the Roman Empire, actually worked against the empire's interests. The professor argues that excessive taxation alienated the subjects, leading them to support the empire's enemies and ultimately contributing to the empire's collapse.