Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums

Depopulation of Italy: Justinian or Lombards?

Recommended Posts

I get too much of my history from Wikipedia and the Hitler Channel. From those sources I would deduce that more death and destruction happened during Justinian's reconquest of Italy but I have been challenged on this. I wanted to know what the experts here have to say. Is there a better reference for the history that is readily available?

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Good day,


From what I understand the Roman Empire suffered from a number of plagues from the 2nd century on to the 6th century. This would have reduced the size of the population down considerably from the glory days of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius.


Civil wars would have hurt the size of the population as well. This reduced the taxbase as well as the recruitment pool of soldiers for the Roman army.


Another factor to consider was the transfer of the Roman capital from Rome to other cities, culminating in the rise of Constantinople. The Emperor(s) would have, over time, brought with them enough patronage from Rome that the population in Italy would gradually weaken.


Finally the barbarians themselves can be blamed for a reduced population in Italy as well as other parts of the Empire. In the barbarian invasions, or migrations, many Romans were killed or enslaved by the advancing tribes. The sack of Rome in 410 and 455 would have forced many Romans to flee the city into the countryside. Although Odoacer and Theodoric tried to maintain Roman customs, laws, infrastructure and institutions, it was impossible to keep everything running as smoothly as it did pre-5th century.


Clearly the Romans in Italy were under pressure well before Justinian's reconquest of the old heart of the Empire. His wars with the Ostrogoths were very damaging to Italy and his wars with the Lombards fractured Italian unity. Italy would not be united again until the 19th century.


This is a small answer to your question. I am sure there are many scholars and experts on the site who can expand on my quick reply to your question.


Sources you could look into include some TV documentaries (Hail Caesar, Byzantium: the Lost Empire) and some recently published books (Fall of the West, The Ruin of the Roman Empire, The Fall of the Roman Empire). The classic 18th century book "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" is an excellent read as well. There are some good old websites out there, some of which may even predate wikipedia. roman-empire.net is one such website. It is well done and easy to read. Please remember that this is just a small sampling of sources available.


I hope I have been helpful.


Have a good day,



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The population of Roman Italy fluctuated greatly in history. Some historians, like Keith Hopkins, calculate that Italy in 250 BCE had about 4 million inhabitants, this population increased gradually, and by the time of Augustus, Italy may have grown to 7-8 million. According to some estimates Italy, made by Los Cascio, the population of Italy in the first century CE reached 12-14 million people (link: http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2010/2010-04-28.html).


After the 2nd century the population of Roman Italy started to decline. Probably there wasn't a period of quick decline, with the exception of the plagues, but even in the case of plagues the population declined and them recovered (perhaps only partially after 2nd century). By the 6th century the population of Italy declined to, probably, ~3 million.


This decline was the product of the decline in commercial and industrial activity, that forced the population of the Empire to work exclusively on agriculture, while Italy, a densely populated part of the Empire, lost it's ability to sustain a large population without it's commercial and industrial role, therefore the population migrated to the large provinces, like Gaul. Also, the decline in agricultural productivity and the overall economic decline contributed to increase mortality rates, which decreased population until it reached a new and lower equilibrium value.

Edited by Guaporense

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Map of the Roman Empire