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Barbarian invasion

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Internal and external forces were involved in the social revolution that destroyed the slave formation in the Mediterranean. Within the Roman Empire, the bearers of the new, feudal tendency were the owners of a new type of estate, following the feudal path, and the civil and military servants who were in their service. Feudalization embraced the broad masses of the population - primarily the coloni and other categories of small dependent landholders, whom Roman legislation consistently and persistently brought closer to the slaves planted on the land.

The second, outer, camp of participants in the social revolution that crushed the Roman slave state was made up of barbarians. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the balance of power between the Roman Empire and the barbarian periphery changed in favor of the barbarians. The tribes surrounding the empire grew in numbers and became stronger economically and militarily. In the last century of the Roman Empire, there were numerous invasions of Roman territory by barbarian tribes from across the Rhine and Danube borders. Barbarians settled on the lands of the western half of the empire and formed their own kingdoms.

Considering the social revolution that took place at the turn of antiquity and the Middle Ages, one should not confuse the subjective goals and objective results of the activities of various social forces. Subjectively, according to their perceived immediate interests, the population of the Roman Empire and the invading barbarian conquerors usually turned out to be enemies. The conquerors brought death and ruin to the population of the empire. If the emperors or individual magnates allied themselves with barbarian tribes in order to use them in power struggles or to protect them from the invasion of other barbarian tribes, then the land for the settlement of barbarian allies was again allocated at the expense of the local population.

The relationship between the population of the Roman Empire and the barbarians who settled on its territory in the IV–V centuries depended on specific conditions. In some cases, the barbarians made violent conquests, and the rulers of the empire and, to the best of their ability, its population, especially the inhabitants of fortified cities, resisted them. In other cases, barbarians entered the empire as allies, who were assigned land for settlement. Then the division of land and other property, as well as slaves, was carried out between barbarians and local landowners-slave owners. Sometimes individuals or groups of the empire's population defected to the barbarians.

But the main thing was that the majority of the population of the empire, dissatisfied with the existing situation in it and in one form or another actually fought against the slave-owning system (through popular movements, the restructuring of production in a feudal way, the political isolation of large land holdings that acquired the features of feudal estates, etc.), and the barbarians who invaded it did a common historical they were objective allies in the social revolution, which destroyed the existing formation and cleared the way for the next, feudal formation. The transition from antiquity to the feudal Middle Ages was a long and painful process both for the masses of the late Roman Empire and for the barbarians who participated in the Great Migration of Peoples.

In the third and fifth centuries, numerous military–tribal alliances emerged in Central and Southeastern Europe. In the Northern Black Sea region, the Gothic Union was formed. The Goths were an East German tribe that lived on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the Vistula River at the beginning of our era, and in the second century moved from the Baltic States to the Black Sea region. The Gothic Union included two main tribal groups: the Visigoths (western Goths) in the lower reaches of the Dniester and the Ostrogoths (eastern Goths) in the lower reaches of the Dnieper. The Goths lived on the territory immediately adjacent to the Black and Azov Seas. At the head of the Goths were military tribal leaders-kings. Other tribal unions were also led by similar leaders.

The invasion of barbarian tribes in the 3rd-6th centuries AD.

Beyond the Rhine and Danube, other German military-tribal alliances were formed. They ranged from the Rhine in the west to the Vistula in the east, from the upper and Middle Danube in the south to the North and Baltic Seas in the north; northern Germanic tribes lived on the Scandinavian Peninsula, as well as on the Jutland Peninsula (in the territory of modern Denmark), where the Jutes and Angles were known in the III–V centuries.

The Germanic tribes that lived in Central Europe are usually divided into western (from the Rhine to the Elbe) and eastern (from the Elbe to the Vistula). Among the West Germans, there were powerful alliances of the Franks (on the middle and lower Rhine) and their eastern neighbors-the Saxons, the Alemanni (in the upper reaches of the Rhine and Danube), and the Lombards (who lived on the left bank of the middle and lower Elbe). Among the East Germans, the most famous were the tribal alliances of the Burgundians, Sueves, Vandals and Marcomanni. The Burgundians lived in the lower reaches of the Oder and along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea; the Suevians-between the middle Elbe and the middle Oder; the Vandals-between the middle Oder and the middle Vistula; in the upper Elbe lived the Marcomanni, occupying the territory up to the upper Oder in the east and to the middle Danube in the south.

Starting from the upper reaches of the Oder and Vistula, south and east towards the Black Sea and up to the upper reaches of the Oka and Volga, a vast territory was inhabited by Slavic tribes. The Baltic tribes were located to the north of the Slavs.

The tribes that lived in the Roman Empire's neighborhood across the Rhine and Danube increased their pressure on the empire as early as the third century. Under pressure from the Goths, Rome in the third century withdrew its troops and part of the Roman colonists from Dacia (the territory of modern Romania).

In the attacks of barbarian military-tribal alliances on the Roman Empire in the IV-V centuries, not only Germanic, but also other tribes that lived by this time in Central and South-Eastern Europe interspersed with Germanic tribes or advanced into Central Europe under the pressure of the Huns from the east took part. For example, the Germans-Vandals and Suevs together with the Iranian-speaking tribe of Alans(Alans are descendants of the Scythian tribal union of the Sarmatians, disrupted by the Great Migration of peoples from their place of residence in the Don basin.) in the second half of the fourth and early fifth centuries. They made a grand migration from Central Europe through the Danube and Southern Gaul, first to Spain, and then to North Africa.

The invasion of Southern Europe by the Huns from the East in the 70s of the fourth century. it aggravated relations between European peoples: many of them were displaced and began to move, pushing their neighbors. The main stream of the Great Migration of peoples flowed in a westerly direction — to the lands of the Roman Empire.

The Huns, a diverse ethnic horde that included Proto-Turkic, possibly Proto-Mongol, Ugric and other tribes, made a frightening impression on European peoples with their unusual appearance, way of life and military customs. The numerous Hunnic horse horde proved to be a terrible enemy for the settled agricultural peoples. They could not offer the Huns sufficient resistance. Moving from the east, the Huns crossed the Volga River in the early 70s of the fourth century and attacked the Alans, who lived south-east of the Don in the Azov region. They subdued some of the Alans and incorporated them into their horde; these Alans then moved further west with the Huns. Another part of the Alans left the Huns for the Caucasus, where they settled; together with local ethnic groups, they became the ancestors of the Ossetians.

Having dealt with the Alans, the Huns in 375 attacked the Ostrogoths in the Northern Black Sea region and defeated them. Part of the Ostrogoths were included in the Hunnic tribal association, while another part fled across the Danube to Roman territory, following the Visigoths.

The Visigoths, fleeing from the Huns, appealed to the Eastern Roman emperor Valens to allow them to settle in the empire as federates and received consent. Thus, formally, the migration of the Visigoths to Roman territory took place with the consent of the empire, but in fact it could hardly have opposed this migration. Ammianus Marcellinus compares the vast mass of Gothic settlers to the wind-blown sand of Libya. Having abandoned almost all their possessions, they crossed the Danube in ships, boats, rafts and by swimming, and many of them drowned.

By agreement with the government of the empire, the Visigoths were to receive from the Romans food for the first time and land in the border area. For their part, the Visigoths pledged to serve in the Roman armies. But Roman officials were slow or failed to implement the treaty. A famine broke out among the Visigoths, surrounded by Roman guards. Roman slave traders bought up their slaves for a song, first, and then their own children. All this provoked the indignation of the Goths, and they rebelled. The slaves of their own people, as well as the miners of the gold mines of Thrace, who were in a very difficult situation, went over to their side. These natives served as guides to the Goths. The Emperor Valens summoned Gratian, the ruler of the western half of the empire, to his aid. However, events unfolded in such a way that Valens was forced to join the battle with the Goths, without waiting for the approach of Gratian.

The battle of the Romans with the Goths took place in 378 near the city of Adrianople. Edirne) in Thrace, west of Constantinople. The Roman army was defeated, and the Emperor Valens was also killed in the battle. Then the Goths scattered to the surrounding areas, engaged in looting. Attempts by the Goths to capture Adrianople and other cities were unsuccessful due to the determined resistance of the citizens and the inability of the Germans to conduct a proper siege of cities. When the Goths reached Constantinople, they were met with resistance from the citizens and the hired Arab cavalry, which forced them to withdraw from the capital.

The new emperor was the famous general Theodosius (379-395), who for the last time managed to unite the entire Roman Empire under his rule. In 382, he suppressed a Gothic revolt, partly by force and partly by ceding land to them in the Balkan peninsula: the Goths were settled as federates in Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia.

In 395. Theodosius, dying, divided the empire between his sons: the eastern half was given to the eldest son Arcadius, and the western half to the youngest son Honorius. This division was the last and final for the Roman Empire: two states were formed — the Latin-speaking Western and Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empires. In fact, the western and eastern halves of the former unified Roman Empire, which had long been separated, became independent and hostile states. The Eastern Roman Empire later became known as Byzantium, but its population continued to call itself the Romans, i.e. the Romans. "the Romans."

The Eastern Roman Empire was richer and stronger than its western neighbor. It suffered less from the crisis of the third century, because in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire the classical form of slavery was still less widespread; colonized workers prevailed here, and in a number of provinces, such as the Danubian ones, the free peasantry also remained; in eastern cities, to a greater extent than in western cities, the work of free artisans was preserved. Due to the developed foreign and domestic trade of the Byzantine cities, the treasury of the Eastern Roman emperors was richer, and this allowed them to maintain a large army or buy off barbarians. Finally, the fact that the main stream of the Great Migration of Peoples took a western direction seems to have played a very important role. However, it must be admitted that Byzantium had a thorough hand in directing most of the barbarians to the West.

In 402, the Visigoths, encouraged by Byzantium, invaded Italy. The West Roman government of Honorius, actually headed by a talented military and political figure, a German from the Vandal tribe, Stilicho, organized a repulse to the Visigoths. In the following years, Roman troops from the western provinces were sent to the Apennine Peninsula to defend Italy. So, in 407. Stilicho summoned Roman legions from Britain, which marked the end of Roman rule in that country. Gaul, Spain, North Africa and Britain were flooded in the coming decades by the invasion of Vandals, Burgundians, Sueves, Franks, Angles, Saxons and other Germanic, as well as some other barbarian tribes.

In 408. Stilicho died as a result of court intrigues. Learning of this, the Visigothic leader Alaric, who actually ruled Illyria (in present-day Yugoslavia), invaded Italy again in 410. The Visigoths captured Rome and plundered it for several days. Then they went to Southern Italy. At this time, Alaric died. The Visigoths left Italy and, by agreement with the government of the Western Roman Empire, settled in Southwestern Gaul, where in 418 they formed the first barbarian kingdom in the Roman Empire. The capital of the Visigothic Kingdom was first Toulouse, and later, when the Visigoths conquered a large part of the Iberian Peninsula, Toledo in Spain.

In 429, the Vandals and Alans, who had settled in the Iberian Peninsula before the Visigoths, moved to North Africa, driven by the Visigoths, who by this time had conquered most of Spain. In 439, the Alano-Vandal Kingdom was formed in North Africa, with Carthage as its capital. The Vandal nobility built a large pirate fleet and plundered the islands and coasts of the Western Mediterranean. In 455, vandals sacked and destroyed Rome, which gave rise to the term "vandalism", meaning the cruel and senseless destruction of cultural property.

In 451, the Western Roman Empire and the barbarian kingdoms that had already emerged on its territory had to repel the invasion of the Huns. Under the leadership of their leader Attila, called by his contemporaries for his cruelty "the scourge of God", the Huns, moving from the middle Danube to the west, reached the city of Orleans on the Loire, but they could not take it and moved back. The battle between the Huns and the Romans took place on the Catalaunian fields in Northeastern Gaul. Many tribes and peoples conquered by them fought on the side of the Huns, including the Ostrogoths from the Germans, the Ants from the Slavs, and others. On the side of the Romans fought their allies - the Germans, Visigoths, Franks and Burgundians. The Huns retreated, but the following year they attacked Northern Italy. In 453, Attila died, and the Hunnic alliance, centered on the Middle Danube, collapsed. The tribes and peoples conquered by the Huns were liberated.

In Eastern Gaul, at the beginning of the fifth century, the kingdom of the Burgundians was formed, but in 437 it was destroyed by the Huns(The legends of alliances and wars between the Burgundians and the Huns are reflected in the German epic songs about the Nibelungenlied). After the collapse of the Hunnic empire, a new Burgundian Kingdom emerged in Southeastern Gaul with its capital at Lyons (in 457). Being located in a highly romanized area with excellent natural conditions, the Burgundian Kingdom began to develop successfully in socio-economic terms. The long-standing and deep romanization of this area contributed to the accelerated formation of class (feudal) relations in Burgundy. And in the Burgundian society itself, by that time, the decomposition of tribal relations was already underway.

In 476, the leader of German mercenaries in Italy, Odoacer, overthrew the last Western Roman emperor, the infant Romulus Augustulus. Odoacer sent the imperial insignia (crown and purple robe) to Constantinople and assumed the title of king (king), as was customary in other barbarian states. This event is considered the end of the Roman Empire.

True, it passed almost unnoticed by contemporaries, since only Italy and Northern Gaul remained of the entire Western Roman Empire; the imperial power was in complete decline; Rome had long ceased to be the capital of the empire; the emperors lived in Ravenna, surrounded by marshes, on the north-eastern coast of Italy.

In 486. Northern Gaul was conquered by the Franks (hence the current name of the country — France.). From the middle of the fifth century, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes of the Jutland Peninsula, and the Saxons of the maritime region between the lower reaches of the Rhine and Weser, began to conquer Britain, inhabited by Celtic Romanized tribes of Britons; the conquerors formed their own Germanic kingdoms, destroying or driving the Celts north to the west coast of Britain and across the sea to the Armorica Peninsula (now Brittany in France).

Map of Europe at the end of the 5th century AD

Thus, by the end of the fifth century, barbarian kingdoms had been formed throughout the former Western Roman Empire. They were a transitional form from the late Roman state and at the same time from the military democracy of the barbarians to the early feudal state. Barbarous countries on the territory of the former Roman Empire to refer to such States which retained the class division inherited from the Empire (this was added zegavlena at the end of the development of primitive societies embryos class antagonisms); but the main part of the ruling class developed in them from the top of the pedigree ("barbarian") of the nobility, i.e. origin not quite the class or even pre-class.

Outside the former slave empire, there could be no barbarian kingdoms: here class relations grew directly out of pre-class society, and nothing was inherited from a society that had survived the slave formation. This applies to Russia, Scandinavia, most of Germany, and parts of Britain, where the Celtic population has virtually disappeared. There was a free community here.

In the barbarian kingdoms that emerged on the territory of the former Western Roman Empire, and in Byzantium, free communities (Germanic in the West, Slavic in Byzantium) were only islands of the barbarian world in the midst of an array of class society that was moving from a slave-owning system to a feudal one. For example, in the Visigothic Kingdom, the Germanic community existed in the areas with the most compact Gothic population. In those areas where the Goths settled interspersed with the local population, mixed Gothic-Roman rural communities emerged. The main change in the social structure in Southwestern Gaul and Spain after their conquest by the Visigoths was an increase in the layer of small free landowners and the strengthening of the neighboring community. But in the future, the disintegration of community relations, the new growth of large-scale land ownership and social stratification began rapidly. When the Visigoths conquered Southwestern Gaul and Spain, 2/3 of the arable land and half of the forests and meadows were taken from the local landowners, as well as, it is believed, 1/3 of the slaves and colonists. However, this division of land and labor between the conquerors and local landowners did not occur everywhere. The Visigoths, who settled in the heavily romanized regions of Gaul and Spain, got rid of the remnants of tribal relations much faster than, for example, the Franks, who conquered Northern Gaul, and the Anglo-Saxons, who conquered Britain. The Visigothic laws formed under the influence of Roman law protected the private ownership of land and slaves not only of the Gothic, but also of the Gallo-Roman and Spanish-Roman nobility. However, large-scale land ownership gradually changed its character, approaching feudal land ownership. Colonists in the Visigothic Kingdom ceased to be considered subjects of the state and were exempt from state taxes and duties (carriage, construction); at the same time, they retained all the restrictions on their legal capacity in relation to the landowner on whose land they held allotments: they were attached to allotments and limited in the right to dispose of their property. Subsequently, the descendants of the Roman colonists and freedmen merged with the slaves (serfs) planted on the land and with dependent holders from former free community members of Gothic and local origin, forming a class of feudal-dependent peasantry. The feudal class was formed from the Gothic military-tribal nobility, from large Gallo-Roman and Spanish-Roman landowners, and from the highest clergy of the Arian church. Feudal land ownership was represented by the possessions of the Gothic king, the Arian Church, and large secular landowners.

In Byzantium, the social revolution took place without breaking the state machine of the Roman Empire. The internal nature of the social upheaval that took place in it during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages was fundamentally similar to the social revolution in the West: it was the collapse of the slave-owning formation and the formation of the feudal one.

Barbarian invasions also affected Byzantium: the Huns, Goths, Alans and many other tribes invaded the Balkan Peninsula in the IV–V centuries, and in the VI–VII centuries — the Slavs. But these invasions did not lead to the conquest and destruction of Byzantium. Only in the north of the Balkan Peninsula during the early Middle Ages were the Slavic kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria formed. Bulgaria first emerged as a Turco-Slavic state; the Bulgar Turks (from the Volga) did not dissolve into the Slavic mass until the end of the ninth century. In the rest of Byzantium, Slavic tribes settled without destroying the Byzantine state, and gradually merged with the local population.

Barbarian invasions of the Balkan Peninsula contributed to the decline of cities, especially small ones; at the same time, villages and hamlets are preserved; archaeologists trace the continuity of many villages before and after the appearance of the barbarians, although the composition of the population in them changes; there is a mutual influence of local and barbarian communities. In the IV–VI centuries, in the process of feudalization of Byzantium, a new type of village was formed with a mixed population-slaves, colonists, freemen; the villages had their own, although not very developed craft. The situation of rural settlements on public and private land is equalized, as is the situation of individual groups of workers. In large villages, markets are formed for the surrounding villages. The peculiarity of Byzantium, as well as a number of Middle Eastern regions, was the long-term preservation of large villages with a market and handicraft production, which did not differ much from small cities; their existence hindered the development of new cities.

At the same time, in the sixth century, even large Byzantine cities gradually lost their importance as centers for supplying handicrafts to rural districts. The main role in cities is played by large independent landowners and the church: in the eastern regions of the former Roman Empire, the city, although somewhat later than in the West, ceases to be a municipal organization; by the end of the VI century, urban self-government disappears. Monasteries, which were not only large landowners (the church subordinated entire communities to itself), but also trade and craft centers, are becoming very important in the reconstruction of the Byzantine economy.

The free peasant community brought by the barbarians (German in the West, Slavic in the Balkan Peninsula) played a progressive role in the development of feudalism in the lands of the former Roman Empire. The collapse of the Roman state organization in the West contributed to the revival of rural communities that remained in the provinces during the late Empire. The community contributed to the preservation of land ownership and personal freedom of the peasants and, thus, stimulated the development of productivity of their labor, since these were workers who were most interested in its results.

The historical upheaval — the fall of the slave — owning formation in the Mediterranean and the emergence of the feudal formation-was not without heavy losses. Taking place in the course of class struggle, internecine wars and conquests, it was accompanied by economic decline, the devastation of the population, numerous human casualties and the fall of ancient culture. Byzantium, to a greater extent than the West, preserved the ancient cultural heritage and passed much of it on to medieval Europe.

Related topics

The Roman Empire, Late Roman Empire, Fall of the Western Roman Empire


Neronova V. D. [The Invasion of the Barbarians and the Collapse of the Roman Empire]. The Decline of ancient Societies, Moscow: Znanie Publ., 1983, pp. 239-273.