Introduction to the Invasions of Rome (4th and 5th centuries ce)

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Introduction to the Invasions of Rome (4th and 5th centuries ce)

The reign of Trajan (98–117 ce ) marked the high point of Rome’s glory. Over the next three hundred years, Rome lost territory and strength, although its influence still pervaded every village and farm in the region. Even when the empire was still strong, power had already shifted from Rome to the eastern capital of Constantinople (Istanbul), the “New Rome.”

The influx of multiple “barbarian” groups had a profound effect on Rome between the first and fifth centuries ce . Asiatic tribes and chieftains pushed other groups westward into collisions with Rome. Huns in what is now Russia and Ukraine drove Gothic tribes to cross the Danube, either as invaders or immigrants. Such large numbers were not always peacefully absorbed, yet the Goths, who eventually settled in Spain and Gaul (France), did not wish to destroy Rome. Neither did most so-called barbarians, as the long existence of the empire allowed trade, spread culture and language, and offered protection. Instead, the newcomers wished to secure a favorable place within the empire. Even Attila, the warlike leader of the Huns, sought conquest and wealth rather than total destruction.

Many barbarian tribes became integrated into Roman society by becoming members of its military. By the fourth century, most of Rome’s frontier army was composed of Germans, Gauls, and other barbarians. Leadership positions switched slowly from Roman officers to men who had learned Latin as a second language. Up to the middle of the fourth century, Rome pursued preemptive campaigns along the Danube and Rhine to control the Germanic tribes there. At that point, the empire was recruiting troops from beyond the frontier, from tribes who had either been defeated or simply desired peace. After that point, armies were usually summoned to hot spots to repel attacks, leaving large stretches of the border undefended.

The inability to defend its own borders was just one sign of the Western Empire’s slide from glory. The gap between the two Roman empires became even more pronounced in the fifth century, when a succession of puppet emperors in the hands of manipulative military generals further weakened the West. In 476, the Scirian leader Odovacar (or Odoacer) overthrew the last Western emperor and took control. Traditionally, that date represents the end of the Western Roman Empire.

Rome did not simply collapse, however. Odovacar, in his turn, was overthrown by Theodoric; this Ostrogothic king ruled until 526, supported by an army of German—not Roman—forces. The infrastructure of the Western Empire fell apart after Theodoric’s death, as wars ravaged much of Italy. Plague and famine contributed to the misery, and the population of the city of Rome dropped to fifty thousand people.

In contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire stood for another thousand years. However, after the reign of its extravagant and powerful sixth century emperor, Justinian, its territory decreased until the Byzantine city of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

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Introduction to the Invasions of Rome (4th and 5th centuries ce)

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Introduction to the Invasions of Rome (4th and 5th centuries ce)