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Fall of The Roman Empire

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8 Reasons why Rome fell.

In the late fourth century, the Western Roman Empire crumbled after a nearly 500-year run as the world’s greatest superpower. Historians have blamed the collapse on hundreds of different factors ranging from military failures and crippling taxation to natural disasters and even climate change. Still others argue that the Roman Empire didn’t really fall in 476 A.D., since its eastern half continued for another thousand years in the form of the Byzantine Empire. While just how—and when—the Empire fell remains a subject of ongoing debate, certain theories have emerged as the most popular explanations for Western Rome’s decline and disintegration. Read on to discover eight reasons why one of history’s most legendary empires finally came crashing down:

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Central Europe 5th century CE

Original image by Varoon Arya. Uploaded by Karen Barrett-Wilt, published on 09 September 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution.

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The Visigoths

The Visigoths were one of two main branches of the Gothic Germanic waves of Lost Israelites, who came in from the regions of Asia to the east between the 4th century BCE and the 4th century CE. As a people, the “Goths” are associated by many historical scholars with the Tribe of Gad, who lived to the east of the Jordan River. The primary branch of the Germanic Goths was their tribal brothers; the Ostrogoths. - See more at:

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Visigoth King Alaric

Alaric I (reigned 394-410 CE) was a Gothic military commander who is famous for sacking Rome in 410 CE, which was the first time the city had been sacked in over 800 years.

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The Vandals And Their Breach of the Roman Frontier in AD 406

Vandal was a Germanic people belonging to the family of East Germans. The term “Vandilii” is used by Tacitus in his Germania. They settled between the Elbe and Vistula. At the time of the Marcomannic War (166-81 AD) they lived in what is now Silesia. During the 3rd century when the Roman Empire was in crisis with many powerful enemies at their borders, the Vandals and their ally Sarmatians did invade the Roman territory along upper Rhine river in AD 270. About AD 271 AD the Roman Emperor Aurelian was obliged to protect the middle course of the Danube against them. In AD 330 they were granted lands in Pannonia on the right bank of the Danube by Constantine the Great. Vandals accepted Arian Christianity during the reign of Emperor Valens in the AD 360’s. Before this, there is mention of two branches of the Vandal Confederacy: the Siling Vandals in the northwest and the Asding Vandals in the south.

Image: The second sack of Rome 455 n. Chr. By the Vandals as a result of the Migration, Colored wood engraving by Heinrich Leutemann, created 1865.

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The Franks

The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes that was originally composed of a mix of groups settled between the Rhine and the Weser Rivers. The two most prominent of these tribes were the Ripuarians and the Salians who led the others. The origin of the name "Franks" is debated, as some historians have claimed a link with the English word "frank" meaning "truthful", while others reject this claim, citing the more probable origin as "franca or "frakka", the Germanic/Norse word for the javelin the Franks favored in battle. As the Romans routinely referred to them as ferocious and cited their use of the throwing axe (in Latin, a francisca), this is another, and most likely, source for their name. Their point of origin is claimed in semi-mythological works (such as the Chronicle of Fredegar from the 7th century CE) as Troy, but this is rejected by historians. They most likely formed their confederation in Germany around the region of modern-day Mainz.

Photo: Arms and Armours of a typical noble frankish warrior. 5th-6th century (1) Francisca, (2) Spatha, (3) Sax, (4) Segmented helmet (original in Eremitage St. Petersburg), (5) Iron lance head, (6) iron shield boss. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany.

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Odoacer (433-493 CE, reigned 476-493 CE) also known as Odovacar, Flavius Odoacer, and Flavius Odovacer, was the first king of Italy. His reign marked the end of the Roman Empire.

Image: Odoacer's Kingdom of Italy in 480 AD by Thomas Lessman

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Theodoric the Great

King of the Ostrogoths and conqueror of Italy, Theodoric the Great (c. 453-526) was the second barbarian to rule as king in Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476.

Photo: Mausoleum of Theodoric the Great, Ravenna, Italy, 520 CE. Built by Theodoric to be his tomb. Original image by F. Tronchin

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Economic Deterioration of Rome in the Third Century AD

Perhaps one of the most important causes of Rome’s decline was structural economic weakness inherent within the empire long before the third century AD. These weaknesses include things like the inherent problems of a slave-economy, decentralisation of industry/agriculture, and the long-term non-sustainability and ‘top-heaviness’ of the Empire.

Image: Sack of Rome (1527) by Johannes Lingelbach

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Byzantine Empire

The origins of the great civilization known as the Byzantine Empire can be traced to 330 A.D., when the Roman emperor Constantine I dedicated a “new Rome” on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium. Though the western half of the Roman Empire crumbled and fell in 476, the eastern half survived for 1,000 more years, spawning a rich tradition of art, literature and learning and serving as a military buffer between the states of Europe and the threat of invasion from Asia. The Byzantine Empire finally fell in 1453, after an Ottoman army stormed Constantinople during the reign of Constantine XI.

Image: Court of Emperor Justinian with (right) archbishop Maximian and (left) court officials and Praetorian Guards; Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.

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Overexpansion and the Fall of the Roman Empire

The Roman Republic expanded beyond its borders. Eventually, the expansionist republic transformed into an expansionist empire. As long as the empire conquered, it incorporated new subjects and taxpayers into the fold. Conquest also allowed the empire to enrich itself on the material wealth and natural resources of their victims. Once expansion ended, the Roman Empire controlled a vast swath of Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor. This immense territory cost a fortune to maintain and control. Eventually, the empire could no longer afford infrastructure, defense, and administrative costs severely weakening administration and defense.

Photo: Hadrian's Wall marked the end of Roman expansion

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Pretorian Guard

Subsequently, they generally participated in appointing emperors and were responsible for the accession of Claudius (41); the disorders of 68–69; the lynching of Domitian’s murderers (97); and the murders of Pertinax (193), Elagabalus (222), and Balbinus and Maximus (238). Septimius Severus reorganized the guard in 193, recruiting its members from the legions. Constantine I disbanded them in 312.

Painting: Proclaiming Claudius Emperor, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, oil on canvas, 1867. According to one version of the story of Claudius' ascension to the role of Emperor, members of the Praetorian Guard found him hiding behind a curtain in the aftermath of the murder of Caligula in 41, and proclaimed him emperor.

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Attila the Hun

Attila the Hun was the Emperor of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hun’s Empire which stretched from Germany to the Ural River and from the River Danube to the Baltic Sea. During his rule, he was one of the most fearsome of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires' enemies. In Western Europe, he is remembered as the epitome of cruelty and rapacity. However he is regarded as a hero and his name is revered and used in Hungary, Turkey and other Turkic countries in Asia.

Image: Attila the Hun, Painting by Eugene Delacroix, online courtesy

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In Hoc Signo Vinces - In this sign you will conquer

On 28 October 312 AD, Maxentius advanced north with forces twice the size of Constantine’s to meet in battle. Constantine’s army arrived at the field bearing unfamiliar symbols on its standards and soldiers’ shields.

Constantine supposedly had a dream the night before the battle, wherein he was advised “to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers…by means of a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent round, he marked Christ on their shields.”

Another version states while marching at midday, Constantine “saw with his own eyes in the heavens a trophy of the cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message, In Hoc Signo Vinces.

Chi-Ro-SymbolConstantine was said to have a dream the following night, in which Christ appeared with the same heavenly sign, and told him to make the labarum for his army in that form. The sign was Chi (Χ) traversed by Rho (Ρ) to give the Chi Rho: ☧, a symbol representing the first two letters of the Greek spelling of the word Christos or Christ.

Constantine deployed his own forces along the whole length of Maxentius’s line. Maxentius’s horse guards and Praetorians initially held their position, but broke under the force of a Constantinian cavalry charge. The infantry of Constantine pushed forward causing Maxentius’s soldiers to break ranks and flee.

Many of those that fled headed to the Tiber, where they were slaughtered. Maxentius rode with them, and attempted to cross the bridge of boats, but he was pushed by the mass of his fleeing soldiers into the Tiber, and drowned. This massive victory for Constantine is recalled as the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

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Painting: Detail from 'The Vision of the Cross' by Raphael

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