A Short Timeline of the Fall of the Roman Empire

Some of the Main Events Leading to the End of the Western Roman Empire

Europe in the time of Odoacer 476-493 A.D.
Europe in the time of Odoacer 476-493 A.D. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection The Public Schools Historical Atlas by Charles Colbeck. 1905.

The Fall of the Roman Empire was undoubtedly an earth-shattering occurrence in Western civilization, but there isn't one single event that scholars can agree on that decisively led to the end of the glory that was Rome, nor which point on a timeline could stand as the official end. Instead, the fall was slow and painful, lasting over a period of two and a half centuries.

The ancient city of Rome, according to tradition, was founded in 753 BCE. It wasn't until 509 BCE, however, that the Roman Republic was founded. The Republic functioned effectively until civil war during the first century BCE led to the fall of the Republic and the creation of the Roman Empire in 27 CE. While the Roman Republic was a time of great advances in science, art, and architecture, the "fall of Rome" refers to the end of the Roman Empire in 476 CE.

Fall of Rome Events Short Timeline

The date at which one starts or ends a Fall of Rome timeline is subject to debate and interpretation. One could, for example, start the decline as early as the second century CE reign of Marcus Aurelius' successor, his son Commodus who ruled 180–192 CE. This period of imperial crisis is a compelling choice and easy to understand as a starting point.   

This Fall of Rome timeline, however, uses standard events and marks the end with British historian Edward Gibbon's conventionally accepted date for the fall of Rome at 476 CE, as described in his famous history entitled The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. So this timeline begins just before the east-west splitting of the Roman Empire, a time described as chaotic, and ends when the last Roman emperor was deposed but allowed to live out his life in retirement.

CE 235– 284 Crisis of the Third Century (Age of Chaos) Also known as the period of Military Anarchy or the Imperial Crisis, this period began with the assassination of Severus Alexander (ruled 222–235) by his own troops. That was followed by nearly fifty years of chaos when military leaders wrestled one another for power, rulers died of unnatural causes, and there were revolts, plagues, fires, and Christian persecutions.
285– 305 Tetrarchy Diocletian and the Tetrarchy: Between 285 and 293, Diocletian split the Roman Empire into two pieces and added junior emperors to help run them, making a total of four Caesars, called a tetrarchy. When Diocletian and Maximian abdicated their co-rules, civil war broke out.
306– 337 Acceptance of Christianity (Milvian Bridge) In 312, the emperor Constantine (r. 280–337) defeated his co-emperor Maxentius (r. 306–312) at the Milvian Bridge and became sole ruler in the West. Later Constantine defeated the Eastern ruler and became the sole ruler for the entire Roman Empire. During his reign, Constantine established Christianity and created a capital for the Roman Empire in the East, at Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey.
360– 363 Fall of Official Paganism The Roman emperor Julian (r. 360–363 CE) and known as Julian the Apostate attempted to reverse the religious trend to Christianity with a return to paganism supported by the government. He failed and died in the East fighting the Parthians.
August 9, 378 Battle of Adrianople Eastern Roman Emperor Flavius Julius Valens Augustus, known as Valens (ruled 364–378) fought and was defeated and killed by the Visigoths at the Battle of Adrianople.
379– 395 East-West Split After Valens' death, Theodosius (ruled 379–395) briefly reunited the Empire, but it didn't last beyond his reign. At his death, the empire was divided by his sons, Arcadius, in the East, and Honorius, in the West.
401– 410 Sack of Rome Visigoths made several successful incursions into Italy beginning in 401, and in the end, under the rule of the Visigoth king Alaric (395–410), sacked Rome. This is often a date given for the official Fall of Rome.
429– 435 Vandals Sack North Africa Vandals, under Gaiseric (King of the Vandals and Alans between 428–477), attacked northern Africa, cutting off the grain supply to the Romans.
440– 454 Huns Attack The central Asian Huns led by their king Attila (r. 434-453) threatened Rome, were paid off, and then attacked again.
455 Vandals Sack Rome Vandals plunder Rome, amounting to the fourth sack of the city, but, by an agreement with Pope Leo I, they injure few people or buildings.
476 Fall of the Emperor of Rome The last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus (r. 475–476), is deposed by the barbarian general Odoacer who then rules Italy.
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Gill, N.S. "A Short Timeline of the Fall of the Roman Empire." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/fall-of-rome-short-timeline-121196. Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). A Short Timeline of the Fall of the Roman Empire. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fall-of-rome-short-timeline-121196 Gill, N.S. "A Short Timeline of the Fall of the Roman Empire." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/fall-of-rome-short-timeline-121196 (accessed June 5, 2023).