The End of the Roman Empire

Reference Map of the European Provinces of the Roman Empire
Reference Map of the European Provinces of the Roman Empire. From The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1911.

From its early days as a monarchy, through the Republic and the Roman Empire, Rome lasted a millennium ... or two. Those who opt for two millennia date the Fall of Rome to 1453 when the Ottoman Turks took Byzantium (Constantinople). Those who opt for one millennium, agree with Roman historian Edward Gibbon. Edward Gibbon dated the Fall to September 4, A.D. 476 when a so-called barbarian named Odoacer (a Germanic leader in the Roman army), deposed the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, who was probably partly of Germanic ancestry. Odoacer considered Romulus so paltry a threat he didn't even bother to assassinate him, but sent him into retirement.*

The Roman Empire Lasted Beyond the Fall

  • The Byzantine Emperor vs. the Western Emperor: At the time of the coup and for the two preceding centuries, there had been two emperors of Rome. One lived in the east, usually in Constantinople (Byzantium). The other lived in the west, usually somewhere in Italy, although not necessarily the city of Rome. The emperor whom Odoacer deposed had lived in Ravenna, Italy. Afterwards, there was still one Roman emperor, Zeno, who lived in Constantinople. Odoacer became the first barbarian king of the western empire.
  • The Roman People Lived On: While this bloodless coup in 476 is a frequently accepted date for the Fall of Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages, it was not, at the time, a major turning point. Many events and tendencies led up to it and there were many people who continued to think of themselves and who continue to be thought of as Romans.
  • Europe's Kingdoms (From the Ashes of the Roman Empire): The following resources relate to the end of the Roman Empire and the Fall of Rome. This includes theories about the Fall of Rome (including lead) and several of the Roman emperors whose actions hastened the end of the Roman Empire in the West. There is a section with information on important men whose origins were far from the city of Rome.

Causes of the Fall of Rome

Non-Romans Who Impacted the Fall of Rome

  1. Goths
    Goths Origins?
    Michael Kulikowsky explains why Jordanes, our main source on the Goths, who is himself considered a Goth, should not be trusted.
  2. Attila
    Profile of Attila, who is known as the Scourge of God.
  3. The Huns
    In the revised edition of The Huns, E. A. Thompson raises questions about the military genius of Attila the Hun.
  4. Illyria
    Descendants of the early settlers of the Balkans came into conflict with the Roman Empire.
  5. Jordanes
    Jordanes, himself a Goth, abridged a lost history of the Goths by Cassiodorus.
  6. Odoacer
    The barbarian who deposed the emperor of Rome.
  7. Sons of Nubel
    Sons of Nubel and the Gildonic War
    If the sons of Nubel hadn't been so eager to do away with one another, Africa might have become independent of Rome.
  8. Stilicho
    Because of personal ambition, Praetorian Prefect Rufinus prevented Stilicho from destroying Alaric and the Goths when they had a chance.
  9. Alaric
    Alaric Timeline
    Alaric didn't want to sack Rome, but he did want a place for his Goths to stay and a suitable title within the Roman Empire. Although he didn't live to see it, the Goths received the first autonomous kingdom within the Roman Empire.

Rome and Romans

  1. Fall of Rome BooksRecommended reading for a modern perspective on the reasons for the fall of Rome.
  2. End of the RepublicContent related to the men and events from the Gracchi and Marius through the turbulent years between Julius Caesar's assassination and the start of the principate under Augustus.
  3. Why Rome Fell: 476 CE, the date Gibbon used for the fall of Rome based on the fact that it was then that Odoacer deposed the emperor of Rome, is controversial—as are the reasons for the fall.
  4. Roman Emperors Leading to the FallYou could say Rome was on the verge of falling from the time of its first emperor or you could say Rome fell in 476 CE or 1453, or even that it hasn't yet fallen. 

End of the Republic

*I think it's relevant to point out that the last king of Rome was also not assassinated, but merely expelled. Although ex-king Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) and his Etruscan allies tried to get the throne back by warlike means, Tarquin's actual deposition was bloodless, according to the legends the Romans told about themselves.

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "The End of the Roman Empire." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). The End of the Roman Empire. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The End of the Roman Empire." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).

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