Fall of the Western Roman Empire

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Western Roman Empire Facts

Fall of the Western Roman Empire

At first, Roman Empire was just a city-state consisting of Rome, capital of modern-day Italy, and there were a lot of competing city-states around her. However, Romans founded a senate consisting of prominent figures of the city and succeeded to follow common sense in state affairs.

Roman Republic

Roman Senate had a very efficient system. Senate members consisting of the noble and rich families of the city were the one who shaped the future of the country. Although there were disputes and conflict of interests between the senate members, when it came to the sake of Rome, senate would reach a consensus and appoint a ruler called as “Consul”. The consul was ruling the country like a prime minister but they had to answer to the senate.

Rome captured other city-states around her and extended in time. In a couple of centuries, she seized the whole Italian soil. After starting to expand Europe through Northern Italy, Rome met Barbarians, one of her long-time enemies.

Roman Republic could exist for centuries because of her commitment to the legal superiority of the senate. However, things started to change under the regime of Julius Caesar, one of the most famous political figures of history. It wasn’t uncommon that consuls attempt major conquests to make their mark and earn political clout but Julius Caesar became unrivalled after capturing Gaul and Britain.

Roman Empire

Julius Caesar was assassinated by groups who thought that he was going to declare himself as dictator and undermine the rights of the senate. Augustus Caesar, adopted child of Julius Caesar, repealed the senate using the death of his father as an excuse and declared himself “Emperor”. In other words, efforts of the senate were not enough to prevent the inevitable.

Under the rule of Augustus Caesar and his successors, Roman Empire expanded incredibly and captured the large part of the known-world resulting whole Mediterranean covered with Roman soil.

Greatest Extent of Roman Empire

Greatest Extent of Roman Empire

Division of The Roman Empire into West and East

The rise of the Roman Empire lasted until the end of the Five Good Emperors era. However, fights for the throne affected the empire negatively and led major instability between the years 235 and 285. Emperors were either assassinated or sent into exile. This era of instability which generals had a voice in government lasted until Diocletianus became the new emperor.

Emperor Diocletianus made significant reforms in economic, social and military fields and set things right. He revolutionized the system of government by introducing Tetrarchy, a system in which 4 different emperors operate at the same time.

Even though Rome was back on the rails again because of reforms, rivalry between the Tetrarchy Emperors came in sight after Diocletianus had retired at his own request. Remaining ahead of his opponents, Emperor Constantine took over the control of the government. He moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium and changed the name of the city as Constantinople.

Years passed in peace and tranquility under Constantine’s period but instability stroke back after him. Valentinian I, the ruler of the West, died because of a sudden heart attack while Valens, the ruler of the East, was killed at the battlefield in Battle of Adrianople. Emperor Theodosius I inherited the throne when the empire lacked qualified personnel and entered into collapse period.

Theodosius I restrained Barbarian tribes and ended disorder within the empire. While everything was going well, he unexpectedly got ill in his 40s and died afterwards. Roman Empire had been divided many times in terms of governing and East and West had been ruled by different emperors before just like Valentinian and Valens but with the death of Theodosius I, Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (also known as Byzantine Empire) were divided once and for all.

Western and Eastern Roman Empires on a map

Western Roman Empire Map

Division Of The Roman Empire As East And West

The part shown red in the map is Western Roman Empire and capital city Rome which Honorius, the son of Theodosius I, inherited at the age of 12. The East was inherited by Arcadius, the other son of Theodosius the Great, at the age of 18. Officially, the first emperor of Eastern Roman Empire is Arcadius. The capital of Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire was Constantinople.

Fall of Western Roman Empire

Honorius, son of Theodosius I, took control of Western Roman Empire at the age of 12. Stilicho, a general originated from Vandals, was his regent. As a successful military man, he played a huge role in keeping the empire on her feet until 476 AD after the division of the Empire into West and East in 395 AD.

Main reasons causing Western Roman Empire to collapse were the incessant wars with Germans, Goths and Huns. Waging wars against barbaric tribes had been a real issue since Republic era. However, Roman Empire were very successful in crisis management because of her skilled rulers. After the death of Theodosius I, his two successor sons deepened the problems the Empire faced because of their lack of judgement.

Stilicho was able to bring Alaric, the greatest leader of Goths by that time, under control. But his enemies organized a conspiracy against him and labeled him as a traitor. After he was executed, the inevitable fall of the Western Roman Empire accelerated.

Goths sacked Rome, the old capital while Attila, the legendary king of the Huns, marched on to the center of Italy. Western Roman Empire collapsed as a result of unending raids of German, Frank, Goth and Vandal tribes. The Empire was already in ruins before the official collapse, last emperors of Western Roman Empire were nothing but a puppet at the hands of barbarian kings.

Map of Europe After the Fall of Western Rome

Fall of Western Roman Empire Map

Map of Europe

How Long Did Western Roman Empire Last?

Western Roman Empire survived only 81 years after the division of the Roman Empire. After she collapsed in 476 AD, a huge lack of power emerged in Europe.  This lack was fulfilled by the Pope, supreme religious leader in Vatican, in time. Europeans saw the pope as a unifying father figure.

The Consequences of the Fall of Western Roman Empire

In the long run, the collapse of Western Roman Empire caused a disintegration and feudalism in Europe. Age of scholasticism, under the guidance and oppression the church, was experienced in throughout the Europe for a very long time. While the Pope was the representative figure of religious authority in western civilization, there was always a lack of emperor figure representing political authority.

In Eastern Roman Empire, religious authority was the Patriarch while political authority was Emperor. To be able to fill the lack of legitimacy, Holy Roman Empire was founded and Charlemagne became the new emperor in the west.

Written by Serhat Engul

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