10 Facts About the Fall of the Roman Empire

Colin Ricketts

Ancient and Classical Ancient Rome
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However enduring and far reaching Rome’s influence was and continues to be, all empires eventually come to an end. Rome may be the Eternal City, but like the Republic before it, the same cannot be said for the Empire.

What follows are 10 interesting facts about Rome’s fall.

1. The date of the Fall of the Roman Empire is hard to pinpoint

When Emperor Romulus was deposed in 476 AD and replaced by Odoacer, the first King of Italy, many historians believe the Empire was over.

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2. The ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ usually refers to just the Western Empire

Byzantine Emperor Justinian
Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

The Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and called the Byzantine Empire, survived in one form or another until 1453.

3. The Empire was put under pressure during the Migration Period

Map by "MapMaster" via Wikimedia Commons
Map by “MapMaster” via Wikimedia Commons.

From 376 AD large numbers of Germanic tribes were pushed into the Empire by the westward movement of the Huns.

4. In 378 AD Goths defeated and killed Emperor Valens in the Battle of Adrianople

Probable portrait bust of Emperor Valens

Large parts of the east of the Empire were left open to attack. After this defeat ‘barbarians’ were an accepted part of the Empire, sometimes military allies and sometimes foes.

5. Alaric, the Visigothic leader who led the 410 AD Sack of Rome, wanted above all to be a Roman

He felt that promises of integration into the Empire, with land, money and office, had been broken and sacked the city in revenge for this perceived treachery.

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6. The Sack of Rome, now the capital of the Christian religion, had enormous symbolic power

Augustine of Hippo

It inspired St Augustine, an African Roman, to write City of God, an important theological argument that Christians should focus on the heavenly rewards of their faith rather than earthly matters.

7. The Crossing of the Rhine in 405/6 AD brought around 100,000 barbarians into the Empire

Barbarian factions, tribes and war leaders were now a factor in the power struggles at the top of Roman politics and one of the once-strong boundaries of the Empire had proved to be permeable.

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8. In 439 AD the Vandals captured Carthage

Mosaic of a Vandal Horseman

The loss of tax revenues and food supplies from North Africa was a terrible blow to the Western Empire.

9. After the death of Libius Severus in 465 AD, the Western Empire had no emperor for two years

Coin of Libius Severus
Coin of Libius Severus.

The much more secure Eastern court installed Anthemius and sent him west with huge military backing.

10. Julius Nepos still claimed to be Western Roman Emperor until 480 AD

Charlemagne treasure
Charlemagne ‘Holy Roman Emperor.’

He controlled Dalmatia and was named Emperor by Leo I of the Eastern Empire. He was murdered in a factional dispute.

No serious claim to the throne of the Western Empire was to be made again until the Frankish king Charlemagne was crowned ‘Imperator Romanorum’ by Pope Leo III in Rome in 800 AD, the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, a supposedly unified Catholic territory.

Colin Ricketts