The Fall of Rome: When, Why and How Did Rome Fall?

The Roman Empire was the most dominant force in the Mediterranean region for close to a millennium, and it even carried on in the East in the form of the Byzantine Empire, long after the fall of Rome in the west. According to myth, that famous city of Rome was founded in 753 BC and did not witness its last official ruler until 476 AD – a remarkable testament of longevity.

Starting off slowly as an increasingly aggressive city state, it expanded outwards through Italy, until it came to dominate much of Europe. As a civilization, it was absolutely instrumental in shaping the western world (and further afield), as much of its literature, art, law and politics were models for later states and cultures after it fell.

Moreover, for the millions of people who lived under its sway, the Roman Empire was simply a fundamental aspect of daily life, different from province to province and town to town, but marked by its outlook and relationship to the mother-city of Rome and the culture as well as the political framework it fostered.

Yet despite its power and prominence, from  its zenith, where the imperium of Rome reached around 5 million square kilometers, the Roman Empire was not eternal. It, like all of history’s great empires, was doomed to fall. 

But when did Rome fall? And how did Rome fall?

Seemingly straightforward questions, they are anything but. Even today, historians debate the fall of Rome, specifically when, why, and how Rome fell. Some even question if such a collapse ever actually happened.

When Did Rome Fall?

The generally agreed upon date for the fall of Rome is September 4, 476 AD. On this date, the Germanic king Odaecer stormed the city of Rome and deposed its emperor, leading to its collapse.

But the story of the fall of Rome is not this simple. By this point in the Roman Empire timeline, there were two empires, the Eastern and Western Roman empire. 

Whilst the western empire fell in 476 AD, the eastern half of the empire lived on, transformed into the Byzantine Empire, and  flourished until 1453. Nevertheless, it is the fall of the Western Empire which has most captured the hearts and minds of later thinkers and has been immortalized in debate as “the fall of Rome.”

The Effects of the Fall of Rome

Although debate continues around the exact nature of what followed, the demise of the Western Roman Empire has traditionally been depicted as the demise of civilization in Western Europe. Matters in the east carried on, much as they always had  (with “Roman” power now centered on Byzantium (modern Istanbul)), but the west experienced a collapse of centralized, imperial Roman infrastructure.

Again, according to traditional perspectives, this collapse led into the “Dark Ages” of instability and crises that beset much of Europe. No longer could cities and communities look to Rome, its emperors, or its formidable army; moving forward there would be a splintering of the Roman world into a number of different polities, many of which were controlled by Germanic “barbarians” (a term used by the Romans to describe anyone who wasn’t Roman), from the northeast of Europe.

Such a transition has fascinated thinkers, from the time it was actually happening, up until the modern day. For modern political and social analysts, it is a complex but captivating case study, that many experts still explore to find answers about how superpower states can collapse.

How Did Rome Fall?

Rome did not fall overnight. Instead, the fall of the western Roman Empire was the result of a process that took place over the course of several centuries. It came about due to political and financial instability and invasions from Germanic tribes moving into Roman territories.

The Story of the Fall of Rome

To give some background and context to the fall of the Roman Empire (in the west), it is necessary to go as far back as the second century AD. During much of this century, Rome was ruled by the famous “Five Good Emperors” that made up most of the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty. Whilst this period was heralded as a “kingdom of gold” by the historian Cassius Dio, largely due to its political stability and territorial expansion, the empire has been seen to undergo a steady decline after it.

There were periods of relative stability and peace that came after the Nerva-Antonine’s, fostered by the Severans (a dynasty started by Septimius Severus), the Tetrarchy, and Constantine the Great. Yet, none of these periods of peace really strengthened the frontiers or the political infrastructure of Rome; none set the empire on a long-term trajectory of improvement.

Moreover, even during the Nerva-Antonines, the precarious status quo between the emperors and the senate was beginning to unravel. Under the “Five Good Emperors” power was increasingly centered on the emperor – a recipe for success in those times under “Good” Emperors, but it was inevitable that less praiseworthy emperors would follow, leading to corruption and political instability.

Then  came Commodus, who designated his duties to greedy  confidants and made the city of Rome his plaything. After he was murdered by his wrestling partner, the “High Empire” of the Nerva-Antonines came to an abrupt close. What followed, after a vicious civil war, was the military absolutism of the Severans, where the ideal of a military monarch took prominence and the murder of these monarchs became the norm.  

The Crisis of the Third Century

Soon came the Crisis of the Third Century after the last Severan, Severus Alexander, was assassinated in 235 AD. During this infamous fifty year period the Roman empire was beset by repeated defeats in the east – to the Persians, and in the north, to Germanic invaders.

It also witnessed the chaotic secession of several provinces, which revolted as a result of poor management and a lack of regard from the center. Additionally, the empire was beset by a serious financial crisis that reduced the silver content of the coinage so far that it practically became useless. Moreover, there were recurrent civil wars that saw the empire ruled by a long succession of short-lived emperors.

Such a lack of stability was compounded by the humiliation and tragic end of the emperor Valerian, who spent the final years of his life as a captive under the Persian king Shapur I. In this miserable existence, he was forced to stoop and serve as a mounting block to help the Persian king mount and dismount his horse.

When he finally succumbed to death in 260 AD, his body was flayed and his skin kept as a permanent humiliation. Whilst this was no doubt an ignominious symptom of Rome’s decline, the Emperor Aurelian soon took power in 270 AD and won an unprecedented number of military victories against the innumerable enemies who had wreaked havoc on the empire.

In the process he reunited the sections of territory that had broken off to become the short-lived Gallic and Palmyrene Empires. Rome for the time being recovered. Yet figures like Aurelian were rare occurrences and the relative stability the empire had experienced under the first three or four dynasties did not return.

Diocletian and the Tetrarchy

In 293 AD the emperor Diocletian sought to find a solution to the empire’s recurrent problems by establishing the Tetrarchy, also known as thethe rule of four. As the name suggests, this involved splitting the empire into four divisions, each ruled by a different emperor – two senior ones titled “Augusti,” and two junior ones called “Caesares,” each ruling their portion of territory. 

Such an agreement lasted until 324 AD, when Constantine the Great retook control of the whole empire, having defeated his last opponent Licinius (who had ruled in the east, whereas Constantine had begun his power grab in the northwest of Europe). Constantine certainly stands out in the history of the Roman Empire, not only for reuniting it under one person’s rule, and reigning over the empire for 31 years, but also for being the emperor who brought Christianity to the center of the state infrastructure.

As we shall see, many scholars and analysts have pointed to the spread and cementing of Christianity as the state religion as an important, if not fundamental cause for Rome’s fall.  

Whilst Christians had been persecuted sporadically under different emperors, Constantine was the first to become baptized (on his deathbed). Additionally, he patronized the buildings of many churches and basilicas, elevated clergy to high-ranking positions, and gave a substantial amount of land to the church. 

On top of all this, Constantine is famous for renaming the city of Byzantium as Constantinople and for endowing it with considerable funding and patronage. This set the precedent for later rulers to embellish the city, which eventually became the seat of power for the Eastern Roman Empire. 

The Rule of Constantine

Constantine’s reign however, as well as his enfranchisement of Cristianity, did not provide a wholly reliable solution to the problems that still beset the empire. Chief amongst these included an increasingly expensive army, threatened by an increasingly dwindling population (especially in the west). Straight after Constantine, his sons degenerated into civil war, splitting the empire in two again in a story which really seems very representative of the empire since its heyday under the Nerva-Antonines.

There were intermittent periods of stability for the remainder of the 4th century AD, with rare rulers of authority and ability, such as Valentinian I and Theodosius. Yet by the beginning of the 5th century, most analysts argue, things began to fall apart.

The Fall of Rome Itself: Invasions from the North

Similar to the chaotic invasions seen in the Third Century, the beginning of the 5th century AD witnessed an immense number of “barbarians” crossing over into Roman territory, caused amongst other reasons by the spread of warmongering Huns from northeastern Europe.

This started with the Goths (constituted by the Visigoths and Ostrogoths), which first breached the frontiers of the Eastern Empire in the late 4th century AD.

Although they routed an Eastern army at Hadrianopolis in 378 AD and then turned to blunder much of the Balkans, they soon turned their attentions to the Western Roman Empire, along with other Germanic peoples.

These included the Vandals, Suebes and Alans, who crossed the Rhine in 406/7 AD and recurrently laid waste to Gaul, Spain and Italy. Moreover, the Western Empire they faced was not the same force that enabled the campaigns of the warlike emperors Trajan, Septimius Severus, or Aurelian.

Instead, it was greatly weakened and as many contemporaries noted, had lost effective control of many of its frontier provinces. Rather than looking to Rome, many cities and provinces had begun to rely on themselves for relief and refuge.

This, combined with the historic loss at Hadrianopolis, on top of recurrent bouts of civil discord and rebellion, meant that the door was practically open for marauding armies of Germans to take what they liked. This included not only large swathes of Gaul (much of modern-day France), Spain, Britain and Italy, but Rome itself.

Indeed, after they had plundered their way through Italy from 401 AD onwards, the Goths sacked Rome in 410 AD – something that had not happened since 390 BC! After this travesty and the devastation that was wrought upon the Italian countryside, the government granted tax exemption to large swathes of the population, even though it was sorely needed for defense.

A Weakened Rome Faces Increased Pressure from Invaders

Much the same story was mirrored in Gaul and Spain, wherein the former was a chaotic and contested war zone between a litany of different peoples, and in the latter, the Goths and Vandals had free reign to its riches and people. At the time, many Christian writers wrote as though the apocalypse had reached the western half of the empire, from Spain to Britain.

The barbarian hordes are depicted as ruthless and avaricious plunderers of everything they can set their eyes upon, in terms of both wealth and women. Confused by what had caused this now-Christian empire to succumb to such catastrophe, many Christian writers blamed the invasions on the sins of the Roman Empire, past and present.

Yet neither penance nor politics could help salvage the situation for Rome, as the successive emperors of the 5th century AD were largely unable or unwilling to meet the invaders in much decisive, open battle. Instead, they tried to pay them off, or failed to raise sufficiently large armies to defeat them.

The Roman Empire on the Verge of Bankruptcy

Moreover, whilst the emperors in the west still had the rich citizens of North Africa paying tax, they could just about afford to field new armies (many of the soldiers in fact taken from various barbarian tribes), but that source of income was soon to be devastated as well. In 429 AD, in a significant development, the Vandals crossed over the strait of Gibraltar and within 10 years, had effectively taken control of Roman North Africa.

This was perhaps the final blow from which Rome was unable to recover from. It was by this point the case that much of the empire in the west had fallen into barbarian hands and the Roman emperor and his government did not have the resources to take these territories back. In some instances, lands were granted to different tribes in return for peaceful coexistence or military allegiance, although such terms were not always kept.

By now the Huns had begun to arrive along the fringes of the old Roman frontiers in the west, united behind the terrifying figure of Attila. He had previously led campaigns with his brother Bleda against the Eastern Roman Empire in the 430s and 440s, only to turn his eyes west when a senator’s betrothed astonishingly appealed to him for help.

He claimed her as his bride in waiting and half of the Western Roman Empire as his dowry! Unsurprisingly this was not met with much acceptance by the emperor Valentinian III, and so Attila headed westwards from the Balkans laying waste to large swathes of Gaul and Northern Italy.

In a famous episode in 452 AD, he was stopped from actually besieging the city of Rome, by a delegation of negotiators, including Pope Leo I. The next year Attila died from a hemorrhage, after which the Hunnic peoples soon broke up and disintegrated, to the joy of both Roman and German alike.

Whilst there had been some successful battles against the Huns throughout the first half of the 450s, much of this was won by the help of the Goths and other Germanic tribes. Rome had effectively ceased to be the securer of peace and stability it had once been, and its existence as a separate political entity, no doubt appeared increasingly dubious.

This was compounded by the fact that this period was also punctuated by constant rebellions and revolts in the lands still nominally under Roman rule, as other tribes such as the             Lombards, Burgundians and Franks had established footholds in Gaul.

Rome’s Final Breath

One of these rebellions in 476 AD finally gave the fatal blow, led by a Germanic general named Odoacer, who deposed the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustulus. He styled himself as both “dux” (king) and client to the Eastern Roman Empire. But was soon deposed himself by the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great.

Henceforth, from 493 AD the Ostrogoths ruled Italy, the Vandals North Africa, the Visigoths Spain and parts of Gaul, the rest of which was controlled by Franks, Burgundians and the Suebes (who also ruled parts of Spain and Portugal). Across the channel, the Anglo-Saxons had for some time ruled much of Britain.

There was a time, under the reign of Justinian the Great, that the Eastern Roman Empire retook Italy, North Africa and parts of Southern Spain, yet these conquests were only temporary and constituted the expansion of the new Byzantine Empire, rather than the Roman Empire of Antiquity. Rome and its empire had fallen, never again to reach its former glory.

Why Did Rome Fall?

Since the fall of Rome in 476 and indeed before that fateful year itself, arguments for the empire’s decline and collapse have come and gone over time. Whilst the English historian Edward Gibbon articulated the most famous and well-established arguments in his seminal work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, his enquiry, and his explanation, is only one of many.

For example, in 1984 a German historian listed a total of 210 reasons that had been given for the fall of the Roman Empire, ranging from excessive bathing (which apparently caused impotency and demographic decline) to excessive deforestation.

Many of these arguments have often aligned with the sentiments and fashions of the time. For instance, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the fall of Roman civilization was explained through the reductionist theories of racial or class degeneration that were prominent in certain intellectual circles.

Around the time of the fall as well – as has already been alluded to – contemporary Christians blamed the disintegration of the empire on the last remaining vestiges of Paganism, or the unrecognized sins of professed Christians. The parallel view, at the time and subsequently popular with an array of different thinkers (including Edward Gibbon) was that Christianity had caused the fall.

The Barbarian Invasions and The Fall of Rome

We will return to this argument about Christianity shortly. But first we should look at the argument given most currency over time and one that looks most simplistically at the immediate cause of the empire’s fall – that being, the unprecedented number of barbarians, aka those living outside Roman territory, invading the lands of Rome.

Of course, the Romans had had their fair share of barbarians on their doorstep, considering they were constantly involved in different conflicts along their long frontiers. In that sense, their security had always been somewhat precarious, especially as they needed a professionally manned army to protect their empire.

These armies needed constant replenishment, due to the retirement or death of soldiers in their ranks. Mercenaries could be used from different regions inside or outside the empire, but these were almost always sent home after their term of service, whether it was for a single campaign or several months.

As such, the Roman army needed a constant and colossal supply of soldiers, which it began to increasingly struggle to procure as the population of the empire continued to decrease (from the 2nd century onwards). This meant more reliance on barbarian mercenaries, which could not always be as readily relied upon to fight for a civilization they felt little fealty towards.

Pressure on the Roman Borders

At the end of the 4th century AD, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Germanic peoples, migrated westwards towards the Roman frontiers. The traditional (and still most commonly asserted) reason given for this is that the nomadic Huns spread out from their homeland in central Asia, attacking Germanic tribes as they went.

This forced a mass migration of Germanic peoples to escape the wrath of the dreaded Huns by entering Roman territory. Therefore, unlike in previous campaigns along their north-eastern frontier, the Romans were facing a prodigious mass of peoples united in common purpose, whereas they had, up until now, been infamous for their internecine squabbles and resentments. As we have seen above, this unity was simply too much for Rome to handle.

Yet, this tells only half of the story and is an argument that has not satisfied most later thinkers who wanted to explain the fall in terms of the internal issues entrenched in the empire itself. It seems that these migrations were for the most part, out of Roman control, but why did they fail so miserably to either repel the barbarians, or accommodate them within the empire, as they had previously done with other problematic tribes across the frontier? 

Edward Gibbon and his Arguments for the Fall

As has been mentioned, Edward Gibbon was perhaps the most famous figure to address these questions and has for the most part, been heavily influential for all subsequent thinkers. Besides from the aforementioned barbarian invasions, Gibbon blamed the fall on the inevitable decline all empires face, the degeneration of civic virtues in the empire, the waste of precious resources, and the emergence and subsequent domination of Christianity.

Each cause is given significant stress by Gibbon, who essentially believed that the empire had experienced a gradual decline in its morals, virtues, and ethics, yet his critical reading of Christianity was the accusation which caused the most controversy at the time.

The Role of Christianity According to Gibbon

As with the other explanations given, Gibbon saw in Christianity an enervating characteristic which sapped the empire not only of its wealth (going to churches and monasteries), but its warlike persona that had molded its image for much of its early and middle history.

Whilst the writers of the republic and early empire encouraged manliness and service to one’s state, Christian writers impelled allegiance to God, and discouraged conflict between his people. The world had not yet experienced the religiously endorsed Crusades that would see Christian wage war against non-Christian. Moreover, many of the Germanic peoples who entered the empire were themselves Christian!

Outside of these religious contexts, Gibbon saw the Roman Empire rotting from within, more focused on the decadence of its aristocracy and the vainglory of its militaristic emperors, than the long-term health of its empire. As has been discussed above, since the heyday of the Nerva-Antonines, the Roman Empire had experienced crisis after crisis exacerbated in large part by poor decisions and megalomaniacal, disinterested, or avaricious rulers. Inevitably, Gibbon argued, this had to catch up with them. 

Economic Mismanagement of the Empire

Whilst Gibbon did point out how wasteful Rome was with its resources, he did not really delve too heavily into the economics of the empire. However, this is where many recent historians have pointed the finger, and is with the other arguments already mentioned, one of the main stances taken up by later thinkers.

It has been well noted that Rome did not really have a cohesive or coherent economy in the more modern developed sense. It raised taxes to pay for its defense but did not have a centrally planned economy in any meaningful sense, outside of the considerations it made for the army.

There was no department of education or health; things were run on more of a case by case, or emperor by emperor basis. Programmes were carried out on sporadic initiatives and the vast majority of the empire was agrarian, with some specialized hubs of industry dotted about.

To repeat, it did however have to raise taxes for its defense and this came at a colossal cost to the imperial coffers. For example, it is estimated that the pay needed for the whole army in 150 AD would constitute 60-80% of the imperial budget, leaving little room for periods of disaster or invasion.

Whilst soldier pay was initially contained, it was recurrently increased as time went by (partly because of increasing inflation). Emperors would also tend to pay donatives to the army when becoming emperor – a very costly affair if an emperor only lasted a short amount of time (as was the case from the Third Century Crisis onwards).

This was therefore a ticking time bomb, which ensured that any massive shock to the Roman system – like endless hordes of barbarian invaders – would be increasingly difficult to deal with, until, they couldn’t be dealt with at all. Indeed, the Roman state likely ran out of money on a number of occasions throughout the 5th century AD.

Continuity Beyond the Fall – Did Rome Really Collapse?

On top of arguing about the causes of the Roman Empire’s fall in the west, scholars are also racked in debate about whether there was an actual fall or collapse at all. Similarly, they question whether we should so readily call to mind the apparent “dark ages” that followed the dissolution of the Roman state as it had existed in the west.

Traditionally, the end of the Western Roman empire is supposed to have heralded the end of civilization itself. This image was molded by contemporaries who depicted the cataclysmic and apocalyptic series of events that surrounded the deposition of the last emperor. It was then compounded by later writers, especially during the renaissance and enlightenment, when the collapse of Rome was seen as a massive step backwards in art and culture.

Indeed, Gibbon was instrumental in cementing this presentation for subsequent historians. Yet from as early as Henri Pirenne (1862-1935) scholars have argued for a strong element of continuity during and after the apparent decline. According to this picture, many of the provinces of the western roman empire were already in some way detached from the Italian center and did not experience a seismic shift in their everyday life, as is usually depicted.

Revisionism in the Idea of “Late Antiquity”

This has developed in more recent scholarship into the idea of “Late Antiquity” to replace the cataclysmic idea of the “Dark Ages.:One of its most prominent and celebrated proponents is Peter Brown, who has written extensively on the subject, pointing to the continuity of much Roman culture, politics and administrative infrastructure, as well as the flourishing of Christian Art and literature.

According to Brown, as well as other proponents of this model, it is therefore misleading and reductionist to talk of a decline or fall of the Roman Empire, but instead to explore its “transformation.”  

In this vein, the idea of barbarian invasions causing the collapse of a civilization, has become deeply problematic. It has instead been argued that there was an (albeit complex) “accommodation” of the migrating Germanic populations that reached the empire’s borders around the turn of the 5th century AD.

Such arguments point to the fact that various settlements and treaties were signed with the Germanic peoples, who were for the most part escaping the marauding Huns (and are therefore posed often as refugees or asylum seekers). One such settlement was the 419 Settlement of Aquitaine, where the Visigoths were granted land in the valley of the Garonne by the Roman state.

As has already been alluded to above, the Romans also had various Germanic tribes fighting alongside them in this period, most notably against the Huns. It is also undoubtedly clear that the Romans throughout their time as a Republic and a Principate, were very prejudiced against “the other” and would collectively assume that anybody beyond their borders were in many ways uncivilized.

This aligns with the fact that the (originally Greek) derogatory term “barbarian” itself, derived from the perception that such people spoke a coarse and simple language, repeating “bar bar bar” repeatedly.

The Continuation of Roman Administration

Regardless of this prejudice, it is also clear, as the historians discussed above have studied, that many aspects of Roman administration and culture did continue in the Germanic kingdoms and territories that replaced the Roman Empire in the west.

This included much of the law that was carried out by Roman magistrates (with Germanic additions), much of the administrative apparatus and indeed everyday life, for most individuals, will have carried on quite similarly, differing in extent from place to place. Whilst we know that a lot of land was taken by the new German masters, and henceforth Goths would be privileged legally in Italy, or Franks in Gaul, many individual families would not have been affected too much.

This is because it was obviously easier for their new Visigoth, Ostrogoth or Frankish overlords to keep much of the infrastructure in place that had worked so well up until then. In many instances and passages from contemporary historians, or edicts from Germanic rulers, it was also clear that they respected much about Roman culture and in a number of ways, wanted to preserve it; in Italy for instance the Ostrogoths claimed “The glory of the Goths is to protect the civil life of the Romans.”  

Moreover, since many of them converted to Christianity, the continuity of the Church was taken for granted.  There was therefore a lot of assimilations, with both Latin and Gothic being spoken in Italy for example and Gothic mustaches being sported by aristocrats, whilst clad in Roman clothing.

Issues with Revisionism

However, this change of opinion has inevitably been reversed as well in more recent academic work – particularly in Ward-Perkin’s The Fall of Rome – wherein he strongly states that violence and aggressive seizure of land was the norm, rather than the peaceful accommodation that many revisionists have suggested.

He argues that these scant treaties are given far too much attention and stress, when practically all of them were clearly signed and agreed to by the Roman state under pressure – as an expedient solution to contemporary problems. Moreover, in quite typical fashion, the 419 Settlement of Aquitaine was mostly ignored by the Visigoths as they subsequently spread out and aggressively expanded far beyond their designated limits. 

Aside from these issues with the narrative of “accommodation,” the archaeological evidence also demonstrates a sharp decline in standards of living between the 5th and 7th centuries AD, across all of the western Roman Empire’s former territories (albeit under varying degrees), strongly suggested a significant and profound “decline” or “fall” of a civilization.

This is shown, in part, by the significant decrease of post-roman finds of pottery and other cookware across the west and the fact that what is found is considerably less durable and sophisticated.  This rings true for buildings as well, which began to be made more often in perishable materials like wood (rather than stone) and were notably smaller in size and grandeur.

Coinage also completely disappeared in large parts of the old empire or regressed in quality. Alongside this, literacy and education seem to have been greatly reduced across communities and even the size of livestock shrunk considerably – to bronze age levels! Nowhere was this regression more pronounced than in Britain, where the islands fell into pre-Iron Age levels of economic complexity.

Rome’s Role in the Western European Empire

There are many specific reasons given for these developments, but they can almost all be linked to the fact that the Roman Empire had kept together and maintained a large, Mediterranean economy and state infrastructure. Whilst there was an essential commercial element to the Roman economy, distinct from state initiative, things like the army or the political apparatus of messengers, and governor’s staff, meant that roads needed to be maintained and repaired, ships needed to be available, soldiers needed to be clothed, fed, and moved around.

When the empire disintegrated into opposing or partially opposed kingdoms, the long-distance trade and political systems fell apart too, leaving communities dependent on themselves. This had a catastrophic effect on the many communities that had relied upon long-distance trade, state security and political hierarchies to manage and maintain their trade and lives.

Regardless, then, of whether there was continuity in many areas of society, the communities that carried on and “transformed” were seemingly poorer, less connected, and less “Roman” than they had been. Whilst much spiritual and religious debate flourished still in the west, this was almost exclusively centered around the Christian church and its widely dispersed monasteries.

As such, the empire was no longer a unified entity and it undoubtedly experienced a collapse in a number of ways, fragmenting into smaller, atomized Germanic courts. Moreover, whilst there had been different assimilations developing across the old empire, between “Frank” or “Goth” and “Roman,” by the late 6th and early 7th centuries, a “Roman” ceased to be differentiated from a Frank, or even exist.

Later Models in Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire: An Eternal Rome?

However, it can also be pointed out, quite rightly, that the Roman empire may have fallen (to whatever extent) in the west, but the eastern Roman Empire flourished and grew at this time, experiencing somewhat of a “golden age.” The city of Byzantium was seen as the “New Rome” and the quality of life and culture in the east certainly did not meet the same fate as the west.

There was also the “Holy Roman Empire” which grew out of the Frankish Empire when its ruler, the famous Charlamagne, was appointed emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 AD. Although this possessed the name “Roman” and was adopted by the Franks who had continued to endorse various Roman customs and traditions, it was decidedly distinct from the old Roman Empire of antiquity. 

These examples also call to mind the fact that the Roman Empire has always held an important place as a subject of study for historians, just as much of its most famous poets, writers and speakers are still read or studied today. In this sense, although the empire itself collapsed in the west in 476 AD, much of its culture and spirit is still very alive today. 

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