Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
Sign in to follow this  

Ten moments that shook the Roman world

Recommended Posts

The Roman Empire at its peak was the first great hemispherical power in human history. Over the years, though, this mighty society was torn apart by internal strife and attacks by rival powers. Below, the renowned historian Peter Heather describes the ten most critical turning points which led to the fall of the Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages.

  • 242 AD: The accession of the Persian King of Kings  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/1-Shapur.jpg

    The Sassanian Shapur I unites Iran and Iraq to create a Near Eastern superpower that inflicts colossal defeats on three different Roman Emperors. After sixty years of struggle, Rome restores stability on its eastern front, but at huge cost in terms of higher taxes to fund the necessary doubling of its armed forces, and the Persian threat is only parried not defeated. There is now little spare capacity left in the Roman imperial system should another major threat arise.

  • August 9, 378 AD: Emperor Valens and two-thirds of his elite field army are killed on one day at Adrianople  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/2-Valens.jpg

    The root cause is the rise of Hunnic power on the fringes of Europe which caused tens of thousands of Gothic refugees to arrive on the Danube late in 376. At war with Persia, Valens had no choice but to admit them, and, faced with underlying Roman hostility, they effectively reorganised themselves into the new, militarily powerful coalition which destroyed Valens and his army.

  • December 31, 406 AD: A huge mixed force of Alans, Vandals, and Sueves crosses the river Rhine into Gaul  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/3-Vandals.jpg

    Following hot on the heels of Radagaisus’ invasion of Italy the previous summer, this unprecedented breakdown of order on the western Empire’s frontiers is a sign that the epicentre of Hunnic operations is shifting decisively westwards and, in the process, remaking the balance of strategic power in central Europe against Rome’s interests.

  • August 24, 410 AD: The sack of Rome by the Visigoths  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/4-Visigoths.jpg

    At the head of the Visigoths - a new coalition built out of the Gothic refugees of 376 and the followers of Radagaisus – Alaric sacks the city of Rome. The Emperor Honorius is powerless to protect the old imperial capital and soon has to write to the British provinces to advise them to look to their own defence. Faced with both Visigoths and the Rhine invaders of 406, the imperial authorities start to abandon outlying territories to concentrate force where it is absolutely needed.

  • Summer 418 AD: A treaty gives Gallia Aquitania to the Visigoths  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/5-Gallia-Aquitania.jpg

    Fl. Constantius, eminence grise behind the throne of the western Emperor Honorius, is forced to cut the Visigoths a deal. They are settled permanently, with full imperial recognition, in southwestern Gaul. The western Empire no longer has sufficient military strength to defeat all the invaders now established on its soil, and wants to use the Goths, perceived as the lessor of two evils, to help defeat the Rhine invaders of 406 who have occupied most of Spain.

  • October 19, 439 AD: The Vandals take a Kingdom  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/6-Vandal-Alan-Kingdom.jpg

    Geiseric, king of a new Vandal-Alan coalition formed from the survivors of the Rhine invasion, ravaged by combined Gotho-Roman assault, leads them off their current Libyan reservation to take possession of Carthage and the richest provinces of the entire western Empire. This is a direct threat to the continued flow of vital tax revenues which keeps the Empire’s remaining armies in being.

  • Summer 441 AD: The Huns attack  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/7-Huns.jpg

    Attila and Bleda, new leaders of the Huns, attack cities of the East Roman Balkans. This causes Constantinople to withdraw its forces from a joint expeditionary force gathering in Sicily to restore Carthage and its surrounding Tunisian provinces to Roman control. As a direct result, the western Empire has to recognise Geiseric’s control of the richest parts of North Africa and accept the decline in its own military capacity which necessarily follows from this loss of revenue.

  • July 9, 455 AD: Avitus is declared western Emperor at the Council of the Gallic provinces in Arles  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/8-Avitus.jpg

    He wins recognition from the Roman Senate, and is the first legitimate western emperor to rely directly on the military power of recent immigrants – in this case the Visigoths – as a crucial building block of his regime. Rome’s military capacity has declined to such an extent that, from now on, at least some of the new barbarian powers established on west Roman soil will have to be included in the process of imperial regime creation.

  • Summer 468 AD: Rome’s final grab for Africa fails  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/9-Cap-Bon.jpg

    An East Roman expeditionary force led by the general Basiliscus is destroyed by Vandal fireships off the coast of North Africa. The last attempt to win back the riches of North Africa from Geiseric fails and the other barbarian powers established on Roman soil realise that the western imperial centre is nothing but a hollow sham. They therefore quickly grab all the territory that they can, often coming more into conflict with one another than the few remaining Roman armies.

  • September 4, 476 AD: Romulus Augustulus is deposed, ending the empire  http://blog.oup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/10-Augustulus.jpg

    Odovacar, commander of the last Roman army of Italy, exploits discontent over pay arrears among his soldiers to depose the last western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus. He pays them off in land because so many provinces have now been lost that the surviving tax revenues are insufficient. He also persuades the Roman senate to send the western imperial vestments and diadem to Constantinople with a declaration that the west no longer needed – in fact could no longer support - an emperor of its own. (Pictured: "Romulus Augustulus resigns the Crown," from Mary Yonge's "Young Folks' History of Rome.)


Peter Heather is Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London. He is the bestselling author of
The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders
The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians
Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe
, and numerous other works on late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.




...via OUP Blog

  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Only one cause, Romans didn't take Rome serious anymore. They could of pulled themselves out of it, regardless of external pressures by good old fashion spite, defiance, and pragmatic know how. They just let themselves go, and the Germans and Arabs reaped the rewards.


If it was mandated every Roman household, in five years, save for circumstance of no heirs or disability, be required to equip and provide for the seasonal training of a low grade soldier responsive to the local governor, how long do you honestly think this decline would of lasted? I pity the fool barbarians pillaging such a armed countryside.


Under a republic, this wouldn't of been a issue. In a Empire prone to revolts, a issue. Something to consider for countries signing anti-gun suicide pacts. Very easy to occupy and hold such weak populations. Had the average Roman been treated as a true son of the state, and took up arms, the Romans would still be around. Nothing short of Ebola could of broken them.


Hence this list is no good. Doesn't focus of the imperial indifference and Cynicism (modern negative Cynicism, not the ancient philosophy) of a increasingly useless and backwards government. This list assumes a orthodox, centralized military state under direct imperial control got overwhelmed is the cause of the collapse.... because it couldnt assert enough force in all places. This is obviously wrong, they could of levied it for free. The mere fact they were unwilling given how the government, increasingly tyrannical, wouldn't for ideological reasons, point to the reasons why. Hence we end up looking to the Punic and Civil Wars for the reason why the empire, prior to its birth, was destined to alienate itself from the people and decline.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that's quite a good list.  I would question whether the invasion of "December 31, 406 AD" was "A huge mixed force of Alans, Vandals, and Sueves", but apart from that it's quite good.  It's actually difficult to think of additions off the top of my head.




  Doesn't focus on imperial indifference and Cynicism ... of an increasingly useless and backwards government. This list assumes that an orthodox, centralized military state under direct imperial control getting overwhelmed was the cause of the collapse ... because it couldn't assert enough force in all places.


'Indifference' is probably the wrong word:  'arrogance' would be more apt.  The Romans couldn't believe that their Empire would end, any more than the British before WW2.  Further, they couldn't 'levy it for free'.  The social conditions had changed drastically between the Republican and the Late Imperial times. 

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

A good list but mot entirely accurate...




The root cause is the rise of Hunnic power on the fringes of Europe which caused tens of thousands of Gothic refugees to arrive on the Danube late in 376. At war with Persia, Valens had no choice but to admit them, and, faced with underlying Roman hostility, they effectively reorganised themselves into the new, militarily powerful coalition which destroyed Valens and his army.


The Goths had been previously defeated by Valens and he was willing to let them settle in Roman territory, especially since they had agreed to become Arians. Although the Huns had set off the process and the threat of their migrations had caused tribal movement, the Goths were involved in an internal power struggle among themselves and Fritigern was only one of the contestants. In fact, a further group of refugees crossed the Danube without permission. Although the Goths intended to settle peacefully as agreed, the local Roman authorities allowed them to be ruthlessly exploited and enslaved., preferring to sell them away rather than pay to support their settlement. Eventually in desperation the Goths rebelled, spurred on by a blatant assassination attemnpt on their leaders (Fritigerm fought his way out of trouble by himself having realised his friends were being murdered). Once at large, the Goths initially won victories against local forces, which demanded that Valens take action. The ambuscades made by Sebatianus and his corps of trained raiders had in fact forced the Goths onto their back feet. Valens was willing to negotiate, but as it turned out the Battle of Adrianople started without official orders while hostages were being arranged.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

9 AD - Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Romans there lost three legions as we know. In my opinion probably here started some later issues in roman-germanic relations. This lost battle had a much greater impact than it might seem. Once for all divided western Europe to "roman" and "german" part. Augustus had some plans for romanization of Germans. If he would be successful he could gain lot of settlers and good warriors too. Rhine border would be secured. Some legions stayed on this border could be moved to eastern parts of empire and help to defeat Parthians and maybe later in future Persians. Sense of this lost battle in 9 AD we could see few centuries later. Stillicho's withdrawal of legions from Rhine border weakened defence and german tribes could swarm into Western part of empire.

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
Sign in to follow this  

  • Map of the Roman Empire