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Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Багерман А.Я.

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The fall of the Western Roman Empire (fall of the Roman Empire, fall of Rome) is a protracted process of decline of the Western Roman Empire, as a result of which the state was unable to manage its vast territory and ceased to exist. In 410, Rome was taken by the Visigoths, and on September 4, 476, the German leader Odoacer forced the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, to abdicate. Thus ended the centuries-old rule of Rome.

Division of the Empire between the sons of Theodosius

Background

In 395, shortly before his death, Emperor Theodosius I (reigned 347-395) divided the previously unified Roman Empire into two parts: the Eastern Roman Empire with its capital in Constantinople (also known as the Roman Empire, or as it will be called much later - the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until 1453) and the Western Roman Empire with its capital in Mediolana (modern Milan), and later in Ravenna (from 402), which lasted until 476. Both parts of the empire were ruled by Theodosius I's sons, Arcadius and Honorius.

In the East, the first emperor was Flavius Arcadius Augustus (reigned 395-408), and in the West, the first emperor was Flavius Augustus Honorius (395-423). The two parts of the former Roman Empire were competing and feuding with each other, in addition, barbarian tribes increased the pressure on them, especially in the Western part of the empire, which was caused by the Great Migration of peoples that began. The power of the emperors in the West was increasingly weakened after the crisis of the third century.

The Great Migration of peoples is a mass movement of barbarian European tribes from north to south, to the borders of the Roman Empire. It took place in the IV-VII centuries. In Europe, and as a result, the Western Roman Empire fell to the barbarians in particular. The beginning of the Great Migration of peoples is considered to be the invasion of nomadic tribes of the Huns from the east in the middle of the IV century.

Stilicho and his wife Serena. Detail of the diptych, Monza Cathedral. 5th century AD
Ivory diptych of the Consul Anicius Petronius Probus with the image of the Emperor Honorius. From the Cathedral of Aosta, Italy, A detail of the Emperor and an inscription with an inscription in the nomination of Christy Winkas Semper. Aosta, Museo del Tesoro (Art Museum). Beginning of the 5th century.
Portrait of Aetius and his wife. Relief on a Roman sarcophagus from the 5th century AD.

Major events leading up to the fall of the Western Roman Empire

Due to the weakening of the emperor's power and the increasing pressure of Western barbarians, the Empire began to gradually decline in trade, economy, crafts and cities.

The infant emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, was deposed in 476. The title of emperor, however, was still claimed by Julius Nepos.
Profile of Odoacer on a coin from Ravenna. 477 A.D.
Solidus of Valentinus III. 5th century AD

The last glimmer of hope for the Western Roman Empire was the short-lived reign of Emperor Flavius Julius Majorian (he ruled in April 457-August 461), who was able to win back part of Spain and part of Gaul for Rome, but was overthrown and killed in 461 by the barbarian general Ricimer. The decline of the Western Roman Empire continued again, and by the mid-460s, only Italy remained under Roman rule.

Thomas Kohle. Painting "The Fall of the Roman Empire". 1841
Odoacer's ambassadors hand over symbols of the Western Emperor's power to the Byzantine Emperor Zeno
Painting " The Sack of Rome by vandals”

Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Finally, the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, when the German commander Odoacer deprived the last Roman emperor Romulus Augustus of power, and sent the symbols of his power – the purple cloak and diadem – to the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire Zeno (reigned in 474-491). Odoacer founded his own barbarian kingdom in Italy.

Emperor Zeno of the Eastern Roman Empire, in response to the symbols of power received from Italy by the Western Roman Emperor, granted Odoacer to the patricians and recognized him as the Roman governor of Italy, although he actually remained an independent ruler.

In modern historical science, the events of 476 are considered the end of the era of Antiquity and the beginning of the next historical period-the era of the Middle Ages.

Reasons for the Fall of the Western Roman Empire:

1. Economic: desolation of the economy, inefficiency of slave labor;

2. Political: the weakening of the power of the Roman emperors;

3. Foreign policy: the increasing barbarian onslaught on the empire's borders;

4. Climate: climate change towards aridity and cold.

The reasons for the fall of the Western Roman Empire are still debated in scientific circles. On the ruins of the Western Roman Empire, barbarian kingdoms emerged, from which many modern European states were eventually formed. The decline continued after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, with the Senate ceasing to exist by 630.

Europe and the Mediterranean in 476

Related topics

The Roman Empire, The Emperors of Rome