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Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Багерман А.Я.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire (the fall of the Roman Empire, the fall of Rome) was a protracted process of decline that rendered the state incapable of governing its vast territory and led to its cessation. In the year 410, Rome was captured by the Visigoths, and on September 4, 476, the leader of the Germanic tribes, Odoacer, forced the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, to abdicate. Thus ended Rome's centuries-long dominion.

Division of the Empire among the Sons of Theodosius


In 395 AD, shortly before his death, Emperor Theodosius I (reigned from 347 to 395) divided the previously unified Roman Empire into two parts: the Eastern Roman Empire with its capital in Constantinople (also known as the Byzantine Empire, or, as it would be called much later, the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until 1453), and the Western Roman Empire with its capital in Mediolanum (modern-day Milan), later moved to Ravenna (from 402 AD), which lasted until 476 AD. 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 from 395 to 408), and in the West, the first emperor was Flavius Honorius Augustus (395-423). The two parts of the former Roman Empire competed and fought against each other, and they also faced increasing pressure from barbarian tribes, especially in the Western part of the empire, due to the onset of the Great Migration period. The power of the emperors in the West continued to weaken after the crisis of the 3rd century.

The Great Migration period refers to the mass movement of barbarian European tribes from north to south, towards the borders of the Roman Empire. It took place from the 4th to the 7th century in Europe and resulted in the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, particularly due to the attacks of the barbarians. The beginning of the Great Migration period is considered to be the invasion of the Hunnic nomadic tribes from the east in the middle of the 4th 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.

Main events that led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire

Due to the weakening of imperial power and the increasing pressure from western barbarians within the Empire, a gradual decline in trade, economy, crafts, and cities began.

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

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”

The fall of the Western Roman Empire

The Western Roman Empire finally fell in 476 AD when the Germanic warlord Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, and sent the symbols of his power – the purple cloak and diadem – to the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno (who reigned from 474 to 491). Odoacer established his own barbarian kingdom on the territory of Italy.

In response to receiving the symbols of power from Italy, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno granted Odoacer the title of patrician and recognized him as the Roman governor of Italy, although he effectively remained an independent ruler.

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

Causes of the fall of the Western Roman Empire:

1. Economic factors: Decline in agriculture, inefficient use of slave labor.

2. Political factors: Weakening of imperial power and authority.

3. External factors: Increasing pressure from barbarian tribes at the empire's borders.

4. Climate factors: Shift towards drought and cold weather.

The causes of the fall of the Western Roman Empire are still debated in scholarly circles. Barbarian kingdoms emerged on the ruins of the Western Roman Empire, and over time, many modern European states were formed. The decline continued even after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, with the Senate ceasing to exist by 630 AD.

Europe and the Mediterranean in 476

Related topics

Roman Empire, Emperors of Rome, Dominat