In historiography, the Western
Roman Empire refers to the western
provinces of the
Roman Empire at any one time during which they were
administered by a separate independent Imperial court, coequal with
that administering the eastern half, then referred to as the Eastern
Roman Empire. The terms "Western Roman Empire" and "Eastern Roman
Empire" are modern inventions that describe political entities that
were de facto independent; however, at no point did the Romans
themselves consider the
Empire to have been split into two separate
Empires, but rather continued to consider it a single state but
governed by two separate Imperial courts of administrative expediency.
A system of government of this kind is known as a diarchy.
Empire had seen periods with more than one Emperor ruling
jointly before, the view that it was impossible for a single emperor
to govern the entire
Empire was established by Emperor Diocletian
following the disastrous civil wars and disintegrations of the Crisis
of the 3rd century. His ideas were instituted in
Roman law by the
introduction of the
Tetrarchy in AD 285, which divided the position of
Augustus (Emperor) into two; one in the East and one in the West, each
with an appointed Caesar (junior Emperor and designated successor).
Though the tetrarchic system would collapse in a matter of years, the
East-West geographical administrative division would endure in one
form or another for centuries to come. As such, the Western Roman
Empire would exist intermittently in several periods between the 3rd
and 5th centuries. Though some emperors, such as
Constantine I and
Theodosius I, would manage to rise to the position of
Augustus in both
halves and as such reunify the Empire, it would often divide again
upon their deaths. After the death of
Theodosius I in AD 395, the
Empire was divided between his sons after which it would never again
be unified. Eighty-five years later, in 480, following various
invasions and the collapse of central control in the West, Zeno of the
Empire recognized the reality of the Western Empire's reduced
domain—effective central control had ceased to exist even in the
Italian Peninsula after the depositions of
Julius Nepos and Romulus
Augustulus—and therefore abolished the Western court and proclaimed
himself the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.
The rise of
Odoacer and his germanic foederati to rule over
476 was popularized by the eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon
as a demarcating event for the end of the Western
Empire and is
sometimes used to mark the transition from Antiquity to the Middle
Ages. Odoacer's Italy, and other Barbarian kingdoms, would maintain a
pretence of Roman continuity through the continued use of the old
Roman administrative systems and nominal subservience to the Eastern
Roman court. Direct Imperial rule would be reimposed in large parts of
the West, including the prosperous regions of
North Africa and the
ancient Roman heartland of
Italy as well as parts of Hispania, in the
sixth century by the armies of the Eastern
Empire under Emperor
Justinian I. Political upheaval in the Eastern heartlands, combined
with foreign invasions and religious issues, made efforts to retain
control of these territories difficult and they were gradually lost,
this time for good.
Though the Eastern
Empire retained territories in the south of Italy
until the eleventh century, the influence that the
Empire had over
Europe had diminished significantly with the papal coronation
of the Frankish king
Charlemagne as "Roman Emperor" in AD 800. His
imperial line would come to evolve into the Holy Roman Empire, which
presented a revival of the Imperial title in Western
Europe but was in
no meaningful sense an extension of Roman traditions or institutions.
Great Schism of 1054
Great Schism of 1054 between the churches of
Constantinople further diminished the authority the Emperor in
Constantinople could hope to bring forth in the west.
1.1 Rebellions and political developments
1.2 Crisis of the Third Century
2.2 Further divisions
2.3 Reign of Honorius
2.4 Escalating barbarian conflicts
2.5 Internal unrest and Majorian
2.7 Fall of the Empire
3 Political aftermath
3.1 Germanic Italy
3.2 Barbarian Kingdoms
3.3 Imperial reconquest
4 Economical decline
5.2 Attempted restorations of a Western court
5.3 Later claims to the Imperial title in the West
6 List of Western Roman Emperors
Constantinian dynasty (313–363)
6.3 Non-dynastic (363–364)
Valentinian dynasty (364–392)
Theodosian dynasty (392–455)
6.6 Non-dynastic (455–480)
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
History of the Roman Empire
Roman Republic expanded, it reached a point where the central
Rome could not effectively rule the distant provinces.
Communications and transportation were especially problematic given
the vast extent of the Empire. News of invasion, revolt, natural
disasters, or epidemic outbreak was carried by ship or mounted postal
service, often requiring much time to reach
Rome and for Rome's orders
to be realized in the province of origin. For this reason, provincial
governors had de facto rule in the name of the Roman Republic.
Governors had several duties, including the command of armies,
handling the taxes of the province and serving as a local chief
Prior to the establishment of the Empire, the territories of the Roman
Republic had been divided in 43 BC among the members of the Second
Triumvirate: Mark Antony, Octavian and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Antony
received the provinces in the East: Achaea, Macedonia and Epirus
(roughly modern Greece,
Albania and the coast of Croatia), Bithynia,
Pontus and Asia (roughly modern Turkey), Syria, Cyprus, and
Cyrenaica. These lands had previously been conquered by Alexander
the Great; thus, much of the aristocracy was of Greek origin. The
whole region, especially the major cities, had been largely
assimilated into Greek culture, Greek often serving as the lingua
Roman Republic before the conquests of Octavian
Octavian obtained the Roman provinces of the West: Italia (modern
Gaul (modern France),
Gallia Belgica (parts of modern Belgium,
Netherlands and Luxembourg), and
Portugal). These lands also included Greek and Carthaginian
colonies in the coastal areas, though Celtic tribes such as
Celtiberians were culturally dominant. Lepidus received the minor
province of Africa (roughly modern Tunisia). Octavian soon took Africa
from Lepidus, while adding Sicilia (modern Sicily) to his holdings.
Upon the defeat of Mark Antony, a victorious Octavian controlled a
united Roman Empire. While the
Roman Empire featured many distinct
cultures, all were often said to experience gradual Romanization.
While the predominantly Greek culture of the East and the
Latin culture of the West functioned effectively as an
integrated whole, political and military developments would ultimately
Empire along those cultural and linguistic lines. More
often than not, Greek and
Latin practices (and to some extent the
languages themselves) would be combined in fields such as histories
(such as those by Cato the Elder), philosophy and rhetoric.
Rebellions and political developments
Minor rebellions and uprisings were fairly common events throughout
the Empire. Conquered tribes or cities would revolt, and the legions
would be detached to crush the rebellion. While this process was
simple in peacetime, it could be considerably more complicated in
wartime, as for example in the Great Jewish Revolt. In a full-blown
military campaign, the legions, under generals such as Vespasian, were
far more numerous. To ensure a commander's loyalty, a pragmatic
emperor might hold some members of the general's family hostage. To
Nero effectively held
Domitian and Quintus Petillius
Cerialis, governor of Ostia, who were respectively the younger son and
brother-in-law of Vespasian. The rule of
Nero ended only with the
revolt of the Praetorian Guard, who had been bribed in the name of
Galba. The Praetorian Guard, a figurative "sword of Damocles", were
often perceived as being of dubious loyalty, primarily due their roles
in court intrigues and their participation in overthrowing several
emperors, such as
Pertinax and Aurelian. Following their
example, the legions at the borders increased participation in the
civil wars. For instance, legions stationed in Egypt and the eastern
provinces would see significant participation in the civil war of 218
Macrinus and Elagabalus.
Empire expanded, two key frontiers revealed themselves. In the
West, particularly behind the rivers
Rhine and Danube, Germanic tribes
formed an important enemy. Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman
Empire, had tried to conquer them but had pulled back after the
disastrous Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Whilst the Germanic
tribes presented formidable foes, the
Parthian Empire in the East
presented the most long-standing imperial enemy by far. The Parthians
were too remote and powerful to be conquered and any Parthian invasion
Rome was confronted and defeated. Parthians repelled some attempts
of Roman invasion and even after successful wars of conquest, such as
those implemented by
Trajan and Septimius Severus, conquered distant
territories were forsaken to prevent unrest and also to ensure a more
healthy and lasting peace with the Parthians. The Parthian Empire
would be succeeded by the Sasanian Empire, which continued hostilities
with the Roman Empire.
Controlling the western border of
Rome was reasonably easy because it
was relatively close to
Rome itself and also because of the disunity
between the Germanic foes, however, controlling both frontiers
altogether during wartime was difficult. If the emperor was near the
border in the East, chances were high that an ambitious general would
rebel in the West and vice versa. This wartime opportunism plagued
many ruling emperors and indeed paved the road to power for several
future emperors. By the time of the Crisis of the Third Century,
usurpation became a common method of succession, Philip the Arab,
Trebonianus Gallus and
Aemilianus were all usurping
generals-turned-emperors whose rule would end with the usurpation by
another powerful general.
Crisis of the Third Century
Main article: Crisis of the Third Century
The Roman, Gallic and Palmyrene Empires in 271 AD.
With the assassination of the Emperor
Alexander Severus on 18 March
Roman Empire sank into a 50-year period of civil war, now
known as the Crisis of the Third Century. The rise of the bellicose
Sasanian Empire in
Parthia posed a major threat to
Rome in the east.
Demonstrating the increased danger, Emperor Valerian was captured by
Shapur I in 259. His eldest son and heir-apparent, Gallienus,
succeeded and took up the fight on the eastern frontier. Gallienus'
son, Saloninus, and the
Praetorian Prefect Silvanus were residing in
Colonia Agrippina (modern Cologne) to solidify the loyalty of the
local legions. Nevertheless,
Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus
Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus - the
local governor of the German provinces — rebelled; his assault
Colonia Agrippina resulted in the deaths of
Saloninus and the
prefect. In the confusion that followed, an independent state known in
modern historiography as the
Gallic Empire emerged.
Its capital was Augusta Treverorum (modern Trier), and it quickly
expanded its control over the German and Gaulish provinces and over
Hispania and Britannia. It had its own senate, and a partial
list of its consuls still survives. It maintained Roman religion,
language, and culture, and was far more concerned with fighting the
Germanic tribes than the Roman central government, fending off
germanic incursions and restoring the security the Gallic provinces
had enjoyed in the past. However, in the reign of Claudius
Gothicus (268 to 270), large expanses of the
Gallic Empire were
restored to Roman rule. At roughly the same time, several eastern
provinces seceded under the Palmyrene Empire, under the rule of Queen
In 272, Emperor
Aurelian finally managed to reclaim Palmyra and its
territory for the empire. With the East secure, his attention was
turned to the West, invading the
Gallic Empire a year later. Aurelian
Tetricus I in the Battle of Châlons, and soon
captured Tetricus and his son Tetricus II. Both
Zenobia and the
Tetricus' were pardoned, although they were first paraded in a
Main article: Tetrarchy
The organization of the
Empire under the
Tetrarchy and its collapse
due to Constantine I
Diocletian was the first Emperor to divide the
Roman Empire into a
Tetrarchy. In 285 he elevated
Maximian to the rank of augustus
(emperor) and gave him control of the Western Empire. In
Constantius Chlorus were appointed as their
subordinates (caesars), creating the First Tetrarchy. This system
effectively divided the
Empire into four major regions, as a way to
avoid the civil unrest that had marked the 3rd century. In the West,
Mediolanum (now Milan) his capital, and Constantius made
Trier his. In the East,
Galerius made his capital
Nicomedia his. On 1 May 305,
Diocletian and Maximian
abdicated, replaced by
Galerius and Constantius, who appointed
Maximinus II and Valerius Severus, respectively, as their caesars,
creating the Second Tetrarchy.
Tetrarchy fell into collapse after the unexpected death of
Constantius in 306. His son, Constantine the Great, was declared
Western Emperor by the British legions, however
multiple other claimants arose and attempted to seize the Western
Empire. In 308,
Galerius held a meeting at Carnuntum, where he revived
Tetrarchy by dividing the Western
Empire between Constantine and
Licinius. However, Constantine was more interested in conquering
the whole empire than he was in the stability of the Tetrarchy, and by
314 began to compete against Licinius. Constantine defeated Licinius
in 324, at the Battle of Chrysopolis, where he was taken prisoner, and
later murdered. After Constantine unified the empire, he founded
the city of
Byzantium in modern-day
Greece as Nova Roma ("New Rome"),
later called Constantinople, and made it the capital of the Roman
Empire. Because of this, the
Tetrarchy officially ended, although
the concept of physically splitting the
Roman Empire between two
emperors remained. Although several powerful emperors unified both
parts of the empire, this generally reverted into shared control of
East and West upon their deaths, such as happened after the deaths of
both Constantine and Theodosius I.
Division of the
Roman Empire among the Caesars appointed by
Constantine I: from west to east, the territories of Constantine II,
Dalmatius and Constantius II. After the death of
Constantine I (May 337), this was the formal division of the Empire,
Dalmatius was killed and his territory divided between Constans
Constantius was born in 317 at Sirmium, Pannonia. He was the third son
of Constantine the Great, and second by his second wife Fausta, the
daughter of Maximian. Constantius was made Caesar by his father on 13
November 324. The
Roman Empire was under the rule of a single
Emperor, but, with the death of Constantine in 337, the empire was
partitioned between his surviving male heirs. Constantius received
the eastern provinces, including Constantinople, Thrace, Asia Minor,
Syria, Egypt, and Cyrenaica; Constantine II received Britannia, Gaul,
Hispania, and Mauretania; and Constans, initially under the
supervision of Constantine II, received Italy, Africa, Illyricum,
Pannonia, Macedonia, and Achaea. The provinces of Thrace, Achaea
and Macedonia were shortly controlled by Dalmatius, nephew of
Constantine I and a caesar and not an Augustus, until his murder by
his own soldiers in 337. The West was unified in 340 under
Constans, who was assassinated in 350 under the order of the usurper
Magnentius lost the
Battle of Mursa Major and
committed suicide, a complete reunification of the whole Empire
occurred under Constantius in 353.
Constantius II focused most of his power in the East. Under his rule,
the city of
Byzantium - only recently re-founded as
was fully developed as a capital. In 361,
Constantius II became ill
and died, and Constantius Chlorus' grandson Julian, who had served as
Constantius II's Caesar, assumed power. Julian was killed in 363 in
Battle of Samarra
Battle of Samarra against the
Persian Empire and was succeeded by
Jovian, who ruled only until 364.
The division of the
Empire after the death of Theodosius I, ca. 395 AD
superimposed on modern borders
Western Court under Honorius
Eastern Court under Arcadius
Following the death of Jovian,
Valentinian I emerged as Emperor in
364. He immediately divided the
Empire once again, giving the eastern
half to his brother Valens. Stability was not achieved for long in
either half, as the conflicts with outside forces (tribes)
intensified. In 376, the Visigoths, fleeing before the Ostrogoths, who
in turn were fleeing before the Huns, were allowed to cross the river
Danube and settle into the Balkans by the Eastern government.
Mistreatment caused a full-scale rebellion, and in 378 they inflicted
a crippling defeat on the Eastern Roman field army in the Battle of
Adrianople, in which Emperor
Valens also died. The defeat at
Adrianople was shocking to the Romans, and forced them to negotiate
with and settle the
Visigoths within the borders of the Empire, where
they would become semi-independent foederati under their own
More than in the East, there was also opposition to the Christianizing
policy of the Emperors in the western half of the Empire. In 379,
Valentinian I's son and successor
Gratian declined to wear the mantle
of Pontifex Maximus, and in 382 he rescinded the rights of pagan
priests and removed the
Altar of Victory
Altar of Victory from the Roman Curia, a
decision which caused dissatisfaction among the traditionally pagan
aristocracy of Rome.
Theodosius I later decreed the Edict of
Thessalonica, which banned all religions except Christianity.
The political situation was unstable. In 383, a powerful and popular
Magnus Maximus seized power in the West and forced
Valentinian II to flee to the East for aid; in
a destructive civil war, the Eastern Emperor
Theodosius I restored him
to power. In 392, the Frankish and pagan magister militum Arbogast
Valentinian II and proclaimed an obscure senator named
Eugenius as Emperor. In 394 the forces of the two halves of the Empire
again clashed with great loss of life. Again
Theodosius I won, and he
briefly ruled a united
Empire until his death in 395. He was the last
Emperor to rule both parts of the Roman Empire.
Theodosius I's older son
Arcadius inherited the eastern half while the
younger Honorius got the western half. Both were still minors and
neither was capable of ruling effectively. Honorius was placed under
the tutelage of the half-Roman/half-barbarian magister militum Flavius
Stilicho, while Rufinus became the power behind the throne in the
east. Rufinus and
Stilicho were rivals, and their disagreements would
be exploited by the Gothic leader
Alaric I who again rebelled in 408
following the massacre of thousands of barbarian families who were
trying to assimilate into the Roman empire by Roman legions.
Neither half of the
Empire could raise forces sufficient even to
subdue Alaric's men, and both tried to use Alaric against the other
half. Alaric himself tried to establish a long-term territorial and
official base, but was never able to do so.
Stilicho tried to defend
Italy and bring the invading Goths under control, but to do so he
Rhine frontier of troops and the Vandals, Alans, and
Gaul in large numbers.
Stilicho became a victim of court
intrigues and was killed in 408. While the East began a slow recovery
and consolidation, the West began to collapse entirely. Alaric's men
Rome in 410.
Reign of Honorius
Main article: Honorius (emperor)
Solidus of Emperor Honorius
Honorius, the younger son of Theodosius I, was declared
as such co-emperor with his father) on January 23rd in 393. Upon the
death of Theodosius, Honorius inherited the throne of the West at the
age of ten whilst his older brother
Arcadius inherited the East. The
western capital was initially Mediolanum, as it had been during
previous divisions, but it was moved to
Ravenna in 402 upon the
entrance of the visigothic king
Alaric I into Italy. Ravenna,
protected by abundant marshes and strong fortifications, was far
easier to defend but made it more difficult for the Roman military to
defend central parts of
Italy from the regular barbarian
Ravenna would remain the western capital until the
deposition of Romulus
Augustus 74 years later and would later be used
as the capital for both the
Ostrogothic Kingdom and the
The reign of Honorius was, even by Western Roman standards, chaotic
and plagued by both internal and external struggles. The Visigothic
foederati under Alaric, magister militum in Illyricum, rebelled as
early as 395. Gildo, the
Comes Africae and Magister utriusque militiae
per Africam, rebelled in 397 and initiated the Gildonic War. Stilicho
managed to subdue
Gildo but was away in
Raetia when the Visigoths
Italy in 402. Stilicho, hurrying back to aid in defending
Italy, summoned legions in
Gaul and Britain with which he managed to
defeat Alaric twice before agreeing to allow him to retreat back to
Barbarian invasions and the invasion of usurper Constantine III in the
Roman Empire during the reign of Honorius 407-409
The weakened frontiers in Britain and
Gaul had dire consequences for
the empire. Numerous usurpers rose from Britain, including Marcus
Gratian (407), and Constantine III who invaded
407. Britain was effectively abandoned by the empire by 410 due to the
crumbling resources and the need to look after more important
frontiers. The weakened rhine frontier allowed multiple barbarian
tribes, including the Vandals,
Alans and Suebi, to cross the river and
enter Roman territory in 406.
Honorius was convinced by the minister
conspiring to overthrow him, and thus arrested and executed Stilicho
Olympius headed a conspiracy that successfully
orchestrated the deaths of key individuals related to the regime of
Stilicho, including his son and the families of many of his federated
troops. This led many of the soldiers to instead join with Alaric, who
Italy in 409 and met little opposition. Despite attempts
by Honorius to a settlement and six legions of Eastern Roman soldiers
sent to support him, the negotiations between Alaric and Honorius
broke down in 410 and Alaric sacked the city of Rome. Though the sack
was relatively mild and
Rome was no longer the capital of even the
Western Empire, the event shocked people across both halves of the
Empire as this was the first time
Rome (viewed at least as the
symbolic heart of the Empire) had fallen to a foreign enemy since the
Gallic invasions of the 4th century BC. The Eastern Roman Emperor
Theodosius II, the successor of Arcadius, declared three days of
mourning in Constantinople.
Stilicho and following the sack of Rome, Honorius reign grew
more and more chaotic. The usurper Constantine III had stripped Roman
Britain of its defenses when he crossed over to
Gaul in 407, leaving
the Romanized population subject to invasions, first by the
then by the Saxons, Angli, and the
Jutes who began to settle
permanently from about 440 onwards. After Honorius accepted
Constantine as co-emperor, Constantine's general in Hispania,
Gerontius, proclaimed Maximus as Emperor. With the aid of general
Constantius, Honorius successfully defeated Gerontius and Maximus in
411 and shortly thereafter captured and executed Constantine III. With
Constantius back in Italy, the Gallo-Roman senator
after proclaiming himself Emperor. With the support of the Gallic
nobility and the barbarian
Burgundians and Alans, Honorius turned to
Visigoths under King
Ataulf for support against Jovinus.
Ataulf defeated and executed
Jovinus and his proclaimed co-emperor
Sebastianus in 413, around the same time as another usurper rose in
Heraclianus attempted to invade
Italy but failed
and retreated to Carthage, where he was killed.
Roman legions withdrawn, northern
Gaul became subject to more
and more Frankish influence, the
Franks naturally adopting a somewhat
leading role in the region. In 418, Honorius granted southwestern Gaul
(Gallia Aquitania) to the
Visigoths as a vassal federation. Removing
the local imperial governors, the
Visigoths and the provincial Roman
inhabitants were left to conduct their own affairs. As such, the first
of the "barbarian kingdoms", the Visigothic Kingdom, was formed.
Escalating barbarian conflicts
Germanic and Hunnic invasions of the Roman Empire, 100–500 AD
Honorius' death in 423 was followed by turmoil until the Eastern Roman
government with the force of arms installed
Valentinian III as Western
Emperor in Ravenna, with
Galla Placidia acting as regent during her
son's minority. Theodosius II, Eastern Emperor, had hesitated to
announce the death of Honorius and in the ensuing interregnum, Joannes
was nominated as Western Emperor.
Joannes "rule" was short and the
forces of the East successfully defeated and executed him in 425.
After a violent struggle with several rivals, and against Placidia's
wish, Aetius rose to the rank of magister militum. Aetius was able to
stabilize the Western Empire's military situation somewhat, relying
heavily on his Hunnic allies. With their help Aetius undertook
extensive campaigns in Gaul, defeating the
Visigoths in 437 and 438
but suffering a defeat himself in 439, ending the conflicts in a
status quo with a treaty.
Meanwhile, pressure from the
Visigoths and a rebellion by Bonifacius,
the governor of Africa, induced the
Vandals under their king Gaiseric
to cross over from
Spain in 429. They temporarily halted in Numidia
(435) before moving eastward. With Aetius occupied in Gaul, the
Western Roman government could do nothing to prevent the Vandals
conquering the wealthy African provinces, eventually culminating in
the fall of
Carthage on 19 October 439 and the establishment of the
Vandalic Kingdom. By the 400s,
Rome itself was dependent on
the taxes and foodstuffs from these provinces, leading to an economic
crisis. With Vandal fleets becoming an increasingly constant danger to
Roman sea trade and the coasts and islands of the western and central
Mediterranean, Aetius coordinated a counterattack against the Vandals
in 440, organizing a large army in Sicily.
However, the plans of retaking Africa had to be abandoned due to the
immediate need to combat the invading Huns, who in 444 were united
under their ambitious king Attila. Turning against their former ally,
Huns became a formidable threat to the Empire. Aetius transferred
his forces to the Danube, though
Attila had begun to concentrate
on raiding the Eastern Roman provinces in the Balkans, providing
momentary relief to the Western court. In 449,
Attila received a
message from Honoria, Valentinian III’s sister, offering him half
the western empire if he would rescue her from an unwanted marriage
that her brother was forcing her into. With a pretext to invade the
Attila secured peace with the Eastern court and crossed the
Rhine in early 451. With
Attila wreaking havoc in Gaul, Aetius
gathered together a coalition of Roman and Germanic forces, including
Visigoths and Burgundians, and prevented the
Huns from taking the city
Aurelianum, forcing them into retreat. At the Battle of the
Catalaunian Plains, the Roman-Germanic coalition met and defeated the
Hunnic forces, though
Attila regrouped and invaded
Italy in 452. With Aetius not having
enough forces to attack, the road to
Rome was open. Valentinian sent
Pope Leo I and two leading senators to negotiate with Attila. This
embassy, combined with a plague among Attila's troops, the threat of
famine, and news that the Eastern Emperor
Marcian had launched an
attack on Hun homelands along the Danube, forced
Attila to turn around
and leave Italy. With
Attila dying unexpectedly in 453, the power
struggle that erupted between his sons ended the threat posed by the
Internal unrest and Majorian
Roman Empire during the reign of
Majorian in 460 AD.
During his four-year-long reign from 457 to 461,
restored Western Roman authority in
Hispania and most of Gaul. Despite
his accomplishments, Roman rule in the west would last less than two
Valentinian III, feeling intimidated by Aetius, was enlisted by the
Petronius Maximus and the chamberlain
assassinate him. When Aetius was at court in
Ravenna delivering a
financial account, Valentinian suddenly leaped from his seat and
declared that he would no longer be the victim of Aetius' drunken
depravities. He held Aetius responsible for the empire's troubles and
accused him of trying to steal the empire from him. Aetius attempted
to defend himself from the charges, but Valentinian drew his sword and
struck the weaponless Aetius on the head, killing him on the spot.
On March 16 the following year, Valentinian himself was killed by
supporters of the dead general, possibly put up to it by Petronius
Maximus. With the end of the Theodosian dynasty,
proclaimed himself emperor during the ensuing period of unrest.
Petronius was not prepared to take control over the significantly
weaken and unstable Empire.
Petronius broke the betrothal between
Huneric, son of the Vandal king Gaiseric, and Eudocia, daughter of
Valentinian III. This was seen as just cause of war by King Gaiseric,
who set sail to attack Rome.
Petronius and his supporters attempted to
flee the city at the sight of the approaching Vandals, only to be
stoned to death by a Roman mob after a reign of only 11 weeks.
Vandals at the gates,
Pope Leo I requested that the king not
destroy the ancient city or murder its inhabitants, to which Gaiseric
agreed and the city gates were opened to him. Though keeping his
Gaiseric looted great amounts of treasure and damaged objects
of cultural significance such as the Temple of Jupiter Optimus
Maximus. The severity of the Vandal sack of 455 is disputed, though
Vandals plundering the city for a full fourteen days as
opposed to the Visigothic sack of 410, where the
Visigoths only spent
three days in the city, it was likely more thorough.
Avitus, a prominent general under Petronius, was proclaimed emperor by
the Visigothic king Theoderic II and accepted as such by the Roman
senate. Though supported by the Gallic provinces and the Visigoths,
Avitus was resented in
Italy due to ongoing food shortages caused by
Vandal control of trade routes and for using a Visigothic imperial
guard. Disbanding his guard due to popular pressure, the Suebian
Ricimer used this opportunity to depose Avitus, counting on
popular discontent. After the deposition of Avitus, the Eastern
Emperor Leo I did not select a new western Augustus. After the
Majorian defeated an invading force of Alemanni, he
was proclaimed Western Emperor by the army and eventually accepted as
such by Eastern Emperor Leo I.
Majorian was the last Western Emperor to attempt to recover the
Empire with his own military forces. To prepare, Majorian
significantly strengthened the Western
Roman army by recruiting large
numbers of barbarian mercenaries, among them the Gepids, Ostrogoths,
Rugii, Burgundians, Huns, Bastarnae, Suebi,
Scythians and Alans, and
built two fleets, one at Ravenna, to combat the strong vandalic fleet.
Majorian personally lead the army to wage war in Gaul, leaving Ricimer
in Italy. The Gallic provinces and the
Visigothic Kingdom had rebelled
following the deposition of Avitus, refusing to acknowledge Majorian
as lawful emperor. At the Battle of Arelate,
Visigoths under Theoderic II and forced them to
relinquish their great conquests in
Hispania and return to foederati
Majorian then entered the Rhone Valley, where he defeated the
Burgundians and reconquered the rebel city of Lugdunum. With
under Roman control,
Majorian turned his eyes to the
Africa. Not only did the
Vandals pose a constant danger to coastal
Italy and trade in the Mediterranean, but the province they ruled was
economically vital to the survival of the West.
Majorian began a
campaign to fully reconquer
Hispania to use it as a base of his
conquest of Africa. Throughout 459,
Majorian campaigned against the
Suebi in northwestern Hispania.
Vandals began to increasingly fear a Roman invasion. King Gaiseric
tried to negotiate a peace with Majorian, who rejected the proposal.
In the wake of this,
Gaiseric devastated Mauretania, part of his own
kingdom, fearing that the
Roman army would land there. Having restored
control of Hispania,
Majorian intended to use his fleet at
Carthaginiensis to attack the Vandals. Before he could, the fleet was
destroyed, allegedly by traitors paid by the Vandals. Deprived of his
Majorian had to cancel his attack on the
Vandals and conclude a
peace with Gaiseric. Disbanding his barbarian forces, Majorian
intended to return to
Rome and issue reforms, stopping at
his way. Here,
Ricimer deposed and arrested him in 461, having
gathered significant aristocratic opposition against Majorian. After
five days of beatings and torture,
Majorian was beheaded near the
See also: Fall of the Western Roman Empire
The Western and Eastern
Roman Empire by 476
The final collapse of the
Empire in the West was marked by
increasingly ineffectual puppet Emperors dominated by their Germanic
masters of the soldiers. The most pointed example of this is Ricimer,
who effectively became a "Shadow Emperor" following the depositions of
Avitus and Majorian. Unable to take the throne for himself due to his
Ricimer appointed a series of "puppet emperors"
that could do little to halt the collapse of Roman authority and the
loss of the territories re-conquered by Majorian. The first of these
puppet emperors, Libius Severus, had no recognition outside of Italy,
with the Eastern Emperor Leo I and provincial governors in
Illyria all refusing to recognize him. Severus died in 465 and Leo I,
with the consent of Ricimer, appointed the capable Eastern general
Anthemius as Western Emperor following an eighteen-month Western
interregnum. The relationship between
Anthemius and the East was good,
Anthemius is the last Western Emperor recorded in an Eastern law, and
the two courts conducted a joint operation to retake Africa from the
Vandals, culminating in the disastrous Battle of Cap Bon in 468.
Anthemius conducted failed campaigns against the
Visigoths, hoping to halt their increasing expansion.
The trial and subsequent execution of Romanus, an Italian senator and
friend of Ricimer, on the grounds of treachery in 470 made Ricimer
hostile to Anthemius. Following two years of hostilities, Ricimer
successfully deposed and killed
Anthemius in 472, elevating Olybrius
to the Western throne. During the brief reign of Olybrius, Ricimer
died and his nephew
Gundobad succeeded him as magister militum. After
only seven months of rule,
Olybrius died of dropsy.
Glycerius to Western Emperor. The Eastern
Empire had rejected Olybrius
and also rejected Glycerius, instead supporting a candidate of their
own, Julius Nepos, magister militum in Dalmatia. With the support of
Eastern Emperors Leo II and Zeno,
Julius Nepos crossed the Adriatic
Sea in the spring of 474 to depose Glycerius. At the arrival of Nepos
Glycerius abdicated without a fight and was allowed to live
out his life as the
Bishop of Salona.
The brief rule of Nepos in
Italy ended in 475 when Orestes, a former
Attila and the magister militum of Julius Nepos, took
Ravenna and forced Nepos to flee by ship to Dalmatia. Later
in the same year, Orestes crowned his own young son as Western Emperor
under the name Romulus Augustus. Romulus
Augustus was not recognised
as Western Emperor by the Eastern Court, who maintained that Nepos was
the only legal Western Emperor, reigning in exile from Dalmatia.
On September 4, 476, Odoacer, leader of the Germanic foederati in
Italy, captured Ravenna, killed Orestes and deposed Romulus. Though
Romulus was deposed, Nepos did not return to
Italy and continued to
reign as Western Emperor from Dalmatia, with support from
Odoacer proclaimed himself ruler of
Italy and began to
negotiate with the Eastern Emperor Zeno. Zeno eventually granted
Odoacer patrician status as recognition of his authority and accepted
him as his own viceroy of Italy. Zeno, however, insisted that Odoacer
had to pay homage to
Julius Nepos as the Emperor of the Western
Odoacer accepted this condition and issued coins in the name
Julius Nepos throughout Italy. This, however, was mainly an empty
political gesture, as
Odoacer never returned any real power or
territories to Julius Nepos. The murder of
Julius Nepos in 480
Odoacer to invade Dalmatia, annexing it to his Kingdom of
Fall of the Empire
Historiography of the fall of the Western Roman Empire
The city of Ravenna, Western Roman capital, on the Tabula
Peutingeriana, a 13th-century medieval map possibly copied from a 4th
or 5th century Roman original.
By convention, the Western
Roman Empire is deemed to have ended on 4
September 476, when
Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, but the
historical record calls this determination into question. Indeed, the
deposition of Romulus
Augustus received very little attention in
contemporary times. Romulus was a usurper in the eyes of the more or
less entirely intact Eastern
Roman Empire and the remaining
territories of Western Roman control outside of Italy, with the
Julius Nepos still being alive and claiming to rule
Empire in Dalmatia. Furthermore, the Western court had
lacked true power and had been subject to Germanic aristocrats for
decades, with most of its legal territory being under control of
various barbarian kingdoms. With
Odoacer recognising Julius Nepos, and
later the Eastern Emperor Zeno, as his sovereign, nominal Roman
control continued in Italy. Syagrius, who had managed to preserve
Roman sovereignty in an exclave in northern
Gaul (a realm today known
as the Domain of Soissons) also recognized Nepos as his sovereign and
the legitimate Western Emperor.
The authority of
Julius Nepos as Emperor was accepted not only by
Odoacer in Italy, but by the Eastern
had not recognized Romulus Augustulus). Nepos was murdered by his own
soldiers in 480, a plot some attribute to
Odoacer himself or
potentially the previous deposed emperor Glycerius, and the
Eastern Emperor Zeno chose not to appoint a new western emperor. Zeno,
recognizing that no true direct Roman control remained over the
territories legally governed by the Western court, instead chose to
abolish the juridical division of the position of Emperor, declaring
himself the sole emperor of the Roman Empire. Zeno became the first
Roman Emperor since the division after Theodosius I, 95 years
prior, and the position would never again be divided. As such, the
(eastern) Roman emperors after 480 are the successors of the western
ones, albeit only in a juridical sense. These emperors would
continue to rule the
Roman Empire until the Fall of
1453, nearly a thousand years later. As 480 marks the end of the
juridical division of the empire into two separate imperial courts,
some historians refer to the death of Nepos and abolition of the
Empire by Zeno as the end of the Western Roman Empire.
Despite the fall, or abolition, of the Western Empire, many of the new
Barbarian kings of Western
Europe continued to operate firmly within a
Roman administrative framework. This is especially true in the case of
the Ostrogoths, who came to rule
Italy after Odoacer. They continued
to use the administrative systems of Odoacer's kingdom, essentially
those of the Western Roman Empire, and administrative positions
continued to be staffed exclusively by Romans. The senate continued to
function as it always had and the laws of the
Empire were recognized
as ruling the Roman population, though the Goths were ruled by their
own traditional laws. Western Roman administrative institutions,
in particular those of Italy, thus continued to be used during
"barbarian" rule and after the forces of the Eastern Roman empire
re-conquered some of the formerly imperial territories. Some
historians thus refer to the reorganizations of
Italy and abolishment
of the old and separate Western Roman administrative units, such as
Praetorian prefecture of Italy, during the sixth century as the
"true" fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Roman cultural traditions continued throughout the territory of the
Empire for long after its disappearance, and a recent school
of interpretation argues that the great political changes can more
accurately be described as a complex cultural transformation, rather
than a fall.
Europe in 477 AD. Highlighted areas are Roman lands that survived the
deposition of Romulus Augustulus.
Some territories of Roman control continued to exist in the West in
some form even after 480. The Domain of Soissons, a rump state in
Gaul ruled by Syagrius, survived until 486 when it was
conquered by the
Franks under King
Clovis I after the Battle of
Syagrius was known as the "King of the Romans" by the
Germanic peoples of the region but continually claimed that he was
merely governing a Roman province, not an independent realm.
Furthermore, a Roman-Moor realm survived in the province of Mauretania
Caesariensis until the early 8th century. An inscription on a
fortification at the ruined city of Altava from the year 508
identifies a man named
Masuna as the king of "Regnum Maurorum et
Romanarum", the Kingdom of the Moors and Romans. It is possible
Masuna is the same man as the "Massonas" who allied himself with
the forces of the Eastern
Roman Empire against the
Vandals in 535.
As the Mauro-Roman realm shrank it eventually became known as the
"Kingdom of Altava" after its capital city and it fell during the
Islamic conquests of the 700s. Alternatively, the kingdom may have
been defeated by the Eastern Roman magister militum Gennadius in 578
and incorporated into the
Empire once more.
Italy in 480 AD, following the annexation of Dalmatia
The deposition of Romulus
Augustus and rise of
Odoacer as ruler of
Italy in 476 received very little attention at the time. Overall,
very little changed for the people; there was still a
Roman Emperor in
Odoacer had subordinated himself to. Throne
vacancies had been experienced at many points in the West before and
the deposition of Romulus
Augustus was nothing out of the ordinary.
Odoacer saw his rule as entirely in the tradition of the Roman Empire,
his role was not unlike that of Ricimer, and he effectively ruled as
an imperial "governor" of
Italy and was even awarded the title of
Odoacer ruled using the Roman administrative systems
already in place and continued to mint coins with the name and
Julius Nepos until 480 and later with the name and
portrait of the Eastern Augustus, rather than in his own name.
Julius Nepos was murdered in
Dalmatia in 480,
Odoacer assumed the
duty of pursuing and executing the assassins and established his own
Dalmatia at the same time.
Odoacer established his power
with the loyal support of the Roman Senate, a legislative body that
had continued even without an emperor residing in Italy. Indeed, the
Senate seems to have increased in power under Odoacer. For the first
time since the mid-3rd century, copper coins were issued with the
legend S C (Senatus Consulto). These coins were copied by
Africa and also formed the basis of the currency reform done by
Emperor Anastasius in the East.
Solidus minted under
Odoacer with the name and portrait of the Eastern
Under Odoacer, Western consuls continued to be appointed as they had
been under Western
Roman Empire and were accepted by the Eastern
Court, the first of these were Caecina Decius Maximus Basilus in 480.
Basilus was later also made the
Praetorian Prefect of
Italy in 483, a
position that continued to exist under Odoacer. 11 further consuls
were appointed by the
Odoacer during his reign from 480
to 493 and one further
Praetorian Prefect of
Italy was appointed,
Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius (486-493).
Odoacer ruled as a
Roman governor would have and maintained
himself as a subordinate to the remaining Empire, the Eastern Emperor
Zeno began to increasingly see him as a rival. Thus, Zeno promised
Theoderic the Great
Theoderic the Great of the Ostrogoths, foederati of the Eastern Court,
control over the Italian peninsula if they were able to defeat
Odoacer. Theoderic led the
Ostrogoths across the
Julian Alps and
Italy in 489 and defeated
Odoacer in battle twice the same year.
Following four years of hostilities between them, John, the
Ravenna, was able to negotiate a treaty in 493 between
Theodoric wherein they agreed to rule
Ravenna on 5 March and
Odoacer was dead ten days
later, killed by Theodoric after sharing a meal with him.
Map of the realm of
Theoderic the Great
Theoderic the Great at its height in 523,
following the annexation of the southern parts of the Burgundian
kingdom. Theoderic ruled both the Visigothic and Ostrogothic kingdoms
and exerted hegemony over the
Burgundians and Vandals.
Theoderic inherited the role of Odoacer, the acting viceroy for Italy
and ostensibly a patricius and subject of the emperor in
Constantinople. This position was recognized by Emperor Anastasius in
497, four years after Theoderic had defeated Odoacer. Though Theodoric
acted as an independent ruler, he meticulously preserved the outward
appearance of his subordinate position. Theoderic continued to use the
administrative systems of Odoacer's kingdom, essentially those of the
Western Roman Empire, and administrative positions continued to be
staffed exclusively by Romans. The senate continued to function as it
always had and the laws of the
Empire were recognized as ruling the
Roman population, though the Goths were ruled by their own traditional
laws. As a subordinate, Theodoric did not have the right to issue his
own laws, only edicts or clarifications. The army and military
offices were exclusively staffed by the Goths, however, largely
settled in northern Italy.
Though acting as a subordinate in domestic affairs, Theodoric acted
increasingly independent in his foreign policies. Seeking to
counterbalance the influence of the
Empire in the East, Theodoric
married his daughters to the Visigothic king
Alaric II and the
Burgundian prince Sigismund, his sister Amalfrida was married to the
Thrasamund and he married Audofleda, sister of the
Frankish king Clovis I, himself. Through these alliances and
occasional conflicts, the territory controlled by Theoderic in the
early sixth century nearly constituted a restored Western Roman
Empire. Ruler of
Italy since 493, Theodoric became king of the
Visigoths in 511 and exerted hegemony over the
Vandals in North Africa
between 521 and 523. As such, his rule extended throughout the western
Mediterranean. The Western imperial regalia, housed in Constantinople
since the deposition of
Romulus Augustulus in 476, were returned to
Ravenna by Emperor Anastasius in 497. Theoderic, by now Western
Emperor in all but name, could however not assume an imperial title
not only because the notion of a separate Western court had been
abolished but also due to his "barbarian" heritage, which like that of
Ricimer before him would have barred him from assuming the throne.
With the death of Theodoric in 526, his network of alliances began to
Visigoths regained autonomy under king
their relations with the
Vandals turned increasingly hostile under the
reign of the new Ostrogothic king Athalaric, a child under the regency
of his mother Amalasuntha.
Amalasuntha intended to continue the
policies of conciliation between the Goths and Romans, supporting the
new Eastern Emperor
Justinian I and allowing him to use
Sicily as a
staging point during the reconquest of Africa in the
With the death of
Athalaric in 534,
Amalasuntha crowned her cousin and
Theodahad as king, hoping for his support. Instead,
Amalasuntha was imprisoned and even though
Theodahad assured Emperor
Justinian of her safety, she was executed shortly thereafter. This
served as an ideal cause of war for Justinian, who prepared to invade
and reclaim the Italian peninsula for the Roman Empire.
Main article: Barbarian kingdoms
Map of the Barbarian Kingdoms of the western Mediterranean in 526,
seven years before the campaigns of reconquest under
In the context of the Western Roman Empire, the term "barbarian
kingdoms" most often refers to the Germanic kingdoms that sprung from
the former Western Roman territory. Their beginnings, together with
the end of the Western Roman Empire, marks the transition from Late
Antiquity to the Middle Ages. The barbarian kingdoms gradually
replaced the old Roman system, specifically in the praetorian
Gaul and Italy, during the sixth and seventh
6th-century Visigothic coin, struck in the name of Emperor
There were several different kingdoms of differing size, power, and
Visigothic Kingdom was the earliest one established,
founded as a vassal state to the Western
Roman Empire through the
Visigoths being granted land in southern
Gaul by Emperor Honorius in
418. After its establishment, relations between the
the Western court were mixed. Though federated vassals, the Visigoths
remained de facto independent and began a rapid period of expansion at
the expense of the Western empire. The
Visigoths were thus
periodically enemies with the Western court, though they had allied
with the Western
Roman army against the
Huns and assisted in defeating
Attila at the
Battle of the Catalaunian Plains
Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451. At the time of
the collapse of the Western
Empire in 476/480, the Visigoths
controlled large swaths of Southern
Gaul as well as a majority of
Hispania, their increased domain having been partly conquered and
partly awarded to them by the Western Emperor
Avitus in the
450s-60s. Like the Germanic kingdoms of Italy, the Visigoths
continued to recognise the Emperor in
Constantinople as somewhat of a
nominal sovereign, continuing to mint coins in their names until the
Justinian I in the sixth century. The Visigothic Kingdom
continued to control most of the Iberian peninsula until it fell to
Umayyad Caliphate in the 720s. The Kingdom of Asturias
was founded by a Visigoth nobleman around the same time and was the
first Christian realm to be established in Iberia following the defeat
of the Visigoths. Asturias would be transformed into the Kingdom
of León in 924, which would come to develop into the
predecessors of modern-day Spain.
Vandal Kingdom was founded through
Vandalic conquests in the
provinces of Roman Africa, culminating in a siege and subsequent
Carthage in 439. The
Vandals continually used an
impressive fleet to loot the coasts of both the Western and Eastern
halves of the Empire, becoming an increasingly strong naval power.
After the death of Attila, the Romans made repeated efforts at
recapturing Africa and destroying the Vandals, since they were in
control of some of the richest imperial lands. With several planned
campaigns never being carried out or being destroyed in naval battles,
Vandals remained a power and even sacked
Rome in 455. Unlike
the Visigoths, the
Vandals minted their own coinage and were both de
facto and de jure independent. Like the
Ostrogoths of Italy, the
Vandalic Kingdom would come to be reconquered under the western
campaigns of Emperor
After the collapse of Theoderic the Great's control of the western
Mediterranean through alliances, the Frankish Kingdom would rise to
become the most powerful of the Barbarian Kingdoms, having taken
control of most of
Gaul in the absence of Roman governance. Under
Clovis I from the 480s to 511, the
Franks would come to develop into a
great regional power, conquering the
Domain of Soissons
Domain of Soissons in 481,
Alemanni in 504 and conquering all Visigothic territory
north of the
Pyrenees other than
Septimania in 507. Unlike with the
hostile Vandals, relations between the
Franks and the Eastern Empire
appear to have been rather positive, with Emperor Anastasius granting
Clovis the title of consul following his victory against the
Visigoths. At the time of its dissolution in the 800s, the Frankish
Kingdom had lasted far longer than the other migration period
barbarian kingdoms, and its divided successors would come to develop
into the medieval states of
France (initially known as West Francia)
Germany (initially known as East Francia).
Vandalic War and Gothic War (535–554)
The Eastern Roman Empire, by reoccupying some of the former Western
Roman Empire's lands, enlarged its territory considerably during
Justinian's reign from 527 (red) to 565 (orange).
With Emperor Zeno having juridically reunified the
Empire into one
imperial court, the remaining Eastern
Roman Empire continued to lay
claim to the areas previously controlled by the Western court
Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Though military
campaigns had been conducted by the Western court prior to 476 with
the aim of recapturing lost territory, most notably under Majorian,
the reconquests, if successful at all, were only momentary. It was
first under the campaigns of the generals
behalf of the Eastern
Justinian I from 533 to 554 that
long-lasting reconquests of Roman lands were witnessed.
During the 6th century, the Eastern
Roman Empire under Justinian
managed to reconquer large areas of the former Western Roman Empire.
With the pro-Roman Vandal king
Hilderic having been deposed by Gelimer
Justinian prepared an expedition lead by prominent
Belisarius that swiftly retook
North Africa from June 533 to
March 534, returning the wealthy province to Roman rule. Following the
Justinian swiftly re-established the Roman administrations
of the province, establishing a new Praetorian Prefecture of Africa
and taking measures to decrease vandal influence, eventually leading
to the complete disappearance of the vandalic people.
Justinian I (left) was the first Eastern Emperor to attempt to
reconquer the territories of the Western Roman Empire, undertaking
successful campaigns in Africa and
Italy in the 500s. Manuel I
Komnenos (right) was the last, campaigning in southern
Italy in the
Following the execution of the pro-Roman Ostrogoth queen Amalasuntha
and the refusal of Ostrogoth king
Theodahad to renounce his control of
Justinian ordered the expedition to move on to reconquer Italy,
ancient heartland of the Empire. From 534 to 540, the Roman forces
Italy and captured Ravenna, the Ostrogothic and formerly
Western Roman capital, in 540. The Gothic resistance revived under
king Totila in 541, and they were only defeated following campaigns by
the Roman general Narses, who also repelled invasions into
Franks and Alemanni.
Justinian promulgated the Pragmatic Sanction
to reorganize the governance of
Italy and the province was returned to
Roman rule, though some cities in northern
Italy continued to hold out
until the 560s. The end of the conflict saw
Italy devastated and
considerably depopulated, which combined with the disastrous effects
of the Plague of
Justinian made it difficult to retain over the
Justinian also undertook limited campaigns against the Visigoths,
recovering portions of the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula.
Here, the province of
Spania would last until the 620s, when the
Visigoths under king
Suintila reconquered the southern coast.
These regions remained under Roman control throughout the reign of
Justinian. Only three years after his death, the
Italy. Through conquests of the devastated peninsula, the Lombards
conquered large parts of
Italy in the late 500s, establishing the
Lombard Kingdom. The
Lombards were in constant conflict with the
Exarchate of Ravenna, a polity established to replace the old
Praetorian Prefecture of
Italy and enforcing Roman rule in Italy. The
wealthiest parts of the province, including the cities of
Ravenna, remained securely in Roman hands under the Exarchate
throughout the seventh century.
Map of the Eastern
Roman Empire in 717 AD, over the course of the
seventh and eighth centuries, Islamic expansion had ended Roman rule
in Africa and though some bastions of Roman rule remained, most of
Italy was controlled by the Lombards.
Although some eastern emperors occasionally attempted to campaign in
the West, none were as successful as Justinian. After 600, events
conspired to drive the Western provinces out of Constantinople's
control, with imperial attention focused on the pressing issues of war
with Sasanian Persia and then the rise of Islam. For a while, the West
remained important, with the Emperor
Constans II ruling from Syracuse
Roman Empire that still stretched from
North Africa to the
Caucasus in the 660s, but thereafter imperial attention declined
Constantinople itself being besieged in the 670s,
renewed war with the Arabs in the 680s, and then a period of chaos
between 695 and 717, during which time Africa was finally lost to the
Romans once and for all, being conquered by the Umayyad Caliphate.
Through reforms and military campaigns, Emperor Leo III attempted to
restore order in the Empire, but his doctrinal reforms, known as the
Iconoclastic Controversy, were extremely unpopular in the West and
were condemned by
Pope Gregory III.
This led to the final breakdown in imperial rule over
Rome itself, and
the gradual transition of the
Ravenna into the
independent Papal States, lead by the Pope. In an attempt at gaining
support against the Lombards, the
Pope called for aid from the
Frankish Kingdom instead of the Eastern Empire, eventually crowning
the Frankish king
Charlemagne as "Roman Emperor" in 800 AD. Though
this coronation was strongly opposed by the Eastern Empire, there was
little they could do as their influence in Western
After a series of several smaller wars in the 810s, Emperor Michael I
Charlemagne as an "Emperor" with authority in Western
Europe, but refused to recognize him as a "Roman Emperor" (a title
which Michael reserved for himself and his successors), instead
recognizing him as the slightly less prestigious "Emperor of the
Imperial rule continued in
Sicily throughout the eighth century, with
the island slowly being overrun by the Arabs over the course of the
ninth century. In Italy, a few strongholds in
provided a base for modest imperial expansion, which reached its peak
in the early eleventh century, with most of southern
Italy under Roman
rule of a sort. This, however, was undone by further civil wars in the
empire, and the slow conquest of the region by the Empires' former
mercenaries, the Normans, who finally put an end to imperial rule in
Europe in 1071 with the conquest of Bari. The last
Emperor to attempt reconquests in the West was Manuel I Komnenos, who
Italy during a war with the Norman Kingdom of Sicily
in the 1150s. The city of
Bari willingly opened its gates to the
Emperor and facing successes in the taking of other cities in the
region, Manuel dreamed of a restored
Roman Empire and a union
between the churches of
Rome and Constantinople, separated since the
schism of 1054. Despite initial successes and Papal support, the
campaign was unsuccessful and Manuel was forced to return East.
Stone-carved relief depicting the liberation of a besieged city by a
relief force, with those defending the walls making a sortie. Western
Roman Empire, early 5th century AD
The Western Roman Empire, less urbanized than the Eastern and with a
more spread-out populace, may have experienced an economic decline
throughout the Late
Empire in some provinces. Southern Italy,
Gaul (except for large towns and cities), and to some extent
Spain and the Danubian areas may have suffered. The East was not so
destitute, especially as Emperors like
Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great and
Constantius II had invested heavily in the eastern economy. As a
result, the Eastern
Empire could afford large numbers of professional
soldiers and augment them with mercenaries, while the Western Roman
Empire could not afford this to the same extent. Even in major
defeats, the East could, certainly not without difficulties, buy off
its enemies with a ransom.
The political, economic and military control of the Eastern Empire's
resources remained safe in Constantinople, which was well fortified
and located at the crossroads of several major trade and military
routes. The site of Constantinople, previously known as Byzantium, had
been acknowledged for its strategic importance already decades prior
Septimius Severus and Caracalla. In contrast, the
Empire was more fragmented. Its capital was transferred to
Ravenna in 402 largely for defensive reasons, and it had easy access
to the imperial fleet of the Eastern
Empire but was isolated in other
aspects as it was surrounded by swamps and marshes. This isolation was
Ravenna had been chosen as capital due to being more
defensible against the increasing barbarian incursions. The
economic power remained focused on
Rome and its hyper-rich senatorial
aristocracy which dominated much of
Italy and Africa in particular.
Gallienus banned senators from army commands in the mid-3rd
century, the senatorial elite lost all experience of—and interest
in—military life. In the early 5th century the wealthy landowning
elite of the Roman
Senate largely barred its tenants from military
service, but it also refused to approve sufficient funding for
maintaining a sufficiently powerful mercenary army to defend the
entire Western Empire. The West's most important military area had
Gaul and the
Rhine frontier in the 4th century, when
Trier frequently served as the capital of the
Empire and many leading
Western generals were Barbarians. After the civil war in 394 between
Theodosius I and the usurper Eugenius, the new Western government
Theodosius I increasingly had to divert military
resources from Britain and the
Rhine to protect Italy. This, in turn,
led to further rebellions and civil wars because the Western imperial
government was not providing the military protection the northern
provinces expected and needed against the barbarians.
The Western Empire's resources were much limited, and the lack of
available manpower forced the government to rely ever more on
confederate barbarian troops operating under their own commanders,
where the Western
Empire would often have difficulties paying. In
certain cases, deals were struck with the leaders of barbaric
mercenaries rewarding them with land, which led to the Empire's
decline as less land meant there would be less tax revenue to support
the military. As the central power weakened, the State gradually lost
control of its borders and provinces, as well as control over the
Mediterranean Sea. Roman Emperors tried to maintain control of the
sea, but, once the
Vandals conquered North Africa, imperial
authorities had to cover too much ground with too few resources. The
loss of the African provinces might have been the worse reversal on
the West's fortunes, since they were among its wealthiest territories
and supplied the essential grain imports to Italy. In many places, the
Roman institutions collapsed along with the economic stability. In
some regions, such as
Gaul and Italy, the settlement of barbarians on
former Roman lands seems to have caused relatively little disruption,
with barbarian rulers using and modifying the Roman systems already in
Further information: Legacy of the Roman Empire, Romance languages,
Corpus Juris Civilis, Civil law (legal system),
Literature, Bust (sculpture), Concrete, and Cities
On the left: Emperor Honorius on the consular diptych of Anicius
Petronius Probus (406)
On the right:
Consular diptych of
Constantius III (a co-emperor with
Honorius in 421), produced for his consulate in 413 or 417.
As the Western
Roman Empire crumbled, the new Germanic rulers who
conquered the provinces upheld many Roman laws and traditions. Many of
Germanic tribes were already Christianized, although most
were followers of Arianism. They quickly converted to official
imperial Christianity, gaining more loyalty from the local Roman
populations, as well as the recognition and support of the powerful
Bishop of Rome. Although they initially continued to recognize
indigenous tribal laws, they were more influenced by
Roman Law and
gradually incorporated it as well. Roman Law, particularly the
Corpus Juris Civilis
Corpus Juris Civilis collected by order of
Justinian I, is the ancient
basis on which the modern Civil law stands. In contrast,
Common law is
based on the Germanic Anglo-Saxon law. Civil law is by far the most
widespread system of law in the world, in force in some form in about
Romance languages, languages that developed from
Latin following the
collapse of the Western Roman Empire, are spoken in Western
this day and their spread almost reflect the continental borders of
the old Empire.
Latin as a language never really disappeared. Vulgar
with neighboring Germanic and Celtic languages, giving rise to many
Romance languages such as Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese,
Romanian and a large number of minor languages and dialects. Today,
more than 900 million people are native speakers worldwide. In
Romance languages are used throughout the world as
lingua francas by non-native speakers.
Latin also influenced Germanic languages such as English and
German. All surviving Celtic languages, Albanian, and such
Slavic languages as Polish and Czech and even the non-Indo-European
Hungarian. It survives in a "purer" form as the language of the
Catholic Church (the Mass was spoken exclusively in
Latin until 1969),
and was used as a lingua franca between many nations. It remained the
language of medicine, law, diplomacy (most treaties were written in
Latin), of intellectuals and scholarship, though it would see somewhat
lesser usage with the growth of other lingua francas, such as English
and French. The
Latin alphabet was expanded due to the splits of
I into I and J and of V into U, V, and in places (especially Germanic
languages and Polish) W; it is the most widely used alphabetic writing
system in the world today.
Roman numerals continue to be used in some
fields and situations, though they have been mostly replaced by Arabic
A very visible legacy of the Western
Roman Empire is the Roman
Catholic Church. The Church slowly began to replace Roman institutions
in the West, even helping to negotiate the safety of
Rome during the
late 5th century. In many cases, the only source of law and civil
administration was the local bishop, often himself a former governor
St. Ambrose of
St. Germanus of Auxerre. As
invaded by Germanic tribes, many assimilated, and by the middle of the
medieval period (c. 9th and 10th centuries) the central, western, and
northern parts of
Europe had been largely converted to Roman
Catholicism and acknowledged the
Pope as the Vicar of Christ. The
first of the Barbarian kings to convert to the church of
Clovis I of the
Franks and other kingdoms, such as the Visigoths,
later followed suit to garner favor with the papacy. Following
the reconquest of
Italy under Emperor
Justinian I, the popes were
largely subservient to the Exarchs of
Ravenna (the imperial
representative in Italy). This humiliation, alongside the increasing
amounts of territory lost by the
Empire to the Islamic conquests and
the inability to protect
Italy against the Lombards, prompted Pope
Stephen II to turn from the Eastern Emperor Constantine V. Instead, he
appealed to the Frankish king Pepin, who subdued the
donated lands to the papacy. When
Pope Leo III crowned
"Roman Emperor" in 800, he both severed ties with the outraged Eastern
Empire and established the precedent that no man in Western Europe
would be emperor without a papal coronation. Though the power the
Pope wielded changed significantly throughout the subsequent Middle
Ages and the Modern period, the office remains as the head of the
Catholic Church and the head of state of the Vatican City, the
smallest sovereign state in the world. The
Pope has consistently held
the title of "Pontifex Maximus" since before the fall of the Western
Roman Empire and retains it to this day, a title formerly used by the
high priest of the old Roman polytheism.
Though gone in modern times, the Roman
Senate survived the initial
collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Its authority even seems to have
increased under the rule of
Odoacer and later the Ostrogoths,
evident by that the senate in 498 managed to install Symmachus as pope
despite both Theodoric of
Italy and emperor Anastasius supporting the
other candidate, Laurentius. When exactly the senate disappeared
is unclear, it is known that the institution remained into the sixth
century as gifts from the senate were received by emperor Tiberius II
in 578 and 580 in hope of aid against the invading Lombards. The
traditional senate building,
Curia Julia, was rebuilt into a church
under pope Honorius I in 630, probably with permission from the
eastern emperor Heraclius.
Marcellinus Comes, a sixth century Eastern Roman historian and a
Justinian I, mentions the Western
Roman Empire at some
points in his Chronicle, which primarily covers the Eastern Roman
Empire from 379 to 534. In the Chronicle, it is made clear that
Marcellinus made a clear divide between East and West, with both
mentions of a geographical east ("Oriens") and west ("Occidens") and
an imperial east ("Orientale imperium" and "Orientale respublica") and
an imperial west ("Occidentalie imperium", "Occidentale regnum",
"Occidentalis respublica", "Hesperium regnum", "Hesperium imperium"
and "principatum Occidentis"). Furthermore, Marcellinus specifically
designates some emperors and consuls as being "Eastern", "Orientalibus
principibus" and "Orientalium consulum" respectively. The term
Hesperium Imperium, simply translating to "Western Empire", has
sometimes been applied to the Western
Roman Empire by modern
historians as well.
Though Marcellinus does not refer to the
Empire as a whole after 395,
only referring specifically to its separate halves, he clearly
identifies the term "Roman" as applying to the
Empire as a whole. When
using terms such as "us", "our generals" and "our emperor",
Marcellinus distinguished both divisions of the
Empire from outside
foes such as the Sasanian Persians and the Huns. This view is
consistent with the knowledge that contemporary Romans of the fourth
and fifth century continued to consider the
Empire as a single unit,
though more often than not with two rulers instead of one. Though
it was the first time the position was divided geographically, the
concept of there being more than one emperor at a time was not
unprecedented even before
Diocletian and the
Tetrarchy with there
having been several periods where there were more than one co-emperor,
such as with
Caracalla and Geta 210-211 AD.
Attempted restorations of a Western court
Ravenna within the
Roman Empire in 600 AD. The
Ravenna and Africa were established by the Eastern
Empire to better administrate the reconquered Western territories.
The positions of Eastern and Western Augustus, established under
Diocletian in 286 as the Tetrarchy, had been abolished by
Emperor Zeno in 480 following the loss of direct control over the
western territories. Declaring himself the sole Augustus, Zeno only
exercised true control over the largely intact Eastern
Empire and over
Italy as the nominal overlord of Odoacer. The reconquests under
Justinian I would bring back large formerly Western Roman territories
into Imperial control, and with them the
Empire would begin to face
the same problems it had faced under previous periods prior to the
Tetrarchy when there had been only one ruler. Shortly after the
North Africa a usurper, Stotzas, had already risen from
the province (though he was quickly defeated). As such, the idea
of dividing the
Empire into two courts out of administrative necessity
would see a limited revival during the periods of time that the
Empire still controlled large parts of the former West, both
by courtiers in the East and enemies in the West.
The earliest attempt at crowning a new Western Emperor after the
abolition of the title occurred already during the Gothic Wars under
Justinian. Belisarius, an accomplished general that had already
successfully campaigned to restore Roman control over
North Africa and
large parts of
Rome itself), was offered the position
Roman Emperor by the
Ostrogoths during his siege of Ravenna
(the Ostrogothic, and previously Western Roman, capital) in 540. The
Ostrogoths, desperate to avoid losing their control of Italy, offered
the title and fealty to
Belisarius as Western Augustus. Loyal to
Justinian (who hoped to rule over a restored
Roman Empire alone, with
Codex Justinianus explicitly designating the new Praetorian
Prefect of Africa as the subject of
Justinian in Constantinople),
Belisarius feigned to accept the title to enter the city, whereupon he
immediately relinquished it. Despite
Belisarius relinquishing the
title, the offer had made
Justinian suspicious and
ordered to return east.
At the end of emperor Tiberius II's reign in 582, the Eastern Roman
Empire retained control over relatively large parts of the regions
reconquered under Justinian. Tiberius chose two Caesares, the general
Maurice and the governor Germanus, and married his two daughters to
them. Germanus had clear connections to the western provinces, and
Maurice to the eastern provinces. It is possible that Tiberius had
planned to divide the empire into western and eastern administrative
units once more, but if those plans existed they were never
realized. At the death of Tiberius, Maurice inherited the entire
empire as Germanus had refused the throne. Maurice would come to
establish a new type of administrative unit, the Exarchates, and
organized the remaining western territories under his control into two
such exarchates; the Exarchates of
Ravenna and Africa.
Later claims to the Imperial title in the West
Denarius of Frankish king Charlemagne, who was crowned as Roman
Augustus in the year 800 by
Pope Leo III in
opposition to the
Roman Empire in the east at the time being ruled by
Irene, a woman. His coronation was strongly opposed by the Eastern
In addition to remaining as a concept for an administrative unit in
the remaining Empire, the ideal of the
Roman Empire as a mighty
Empire with a single ruler further continued to appeal to
many powerful rulers in western Europe. With the papal coronation of
Charlemagne as "Emperor of the Romans" in 800 AD, his realm was
explicitly proclaimed as a restoration of the
Roman Empire in Western
Europe under the concept of translatio imperii. Though the Carolingian
Empire collapsed in 888 and Berengar, the last "Emperor" claiming
succession from Charlemagne, died in 924, the concept of a papacy- and
Roman Empire in the West would resurface in the form of
Roman Empire in 962. The Holy Roman Emperors would uphold the
notion that they had inherited the supreme power and prestige of the
Roman Emperors of old until the downfall of the Holy
Roman Empire in
Charlemagne, and the subsequent Holy Roman Emperors were not, and did
not claim to be, rulers of a restored Western Roman Empire.
III and contemporary historians were fully aware of that the notion of
a separate Western court had been abolished over three centuries prior
and considered the
Roman Empire to be "one and indivisible". The ruler
Roman Empire at the time of Charlemagne's coronation was Irene,
the mother of emperor
Constantine VI who she had deposed. Leo III
considered Irene to be a usurper and illegitimate to rule due to her
gender and as such considered the imperial throne to be vacant. Thus,
Charlemagne was not crowned as the ruler of the Western Roman Empire
and successor to Romulus Augustulus, but rather as the successor of
Constantine VI and as sole Roman Emperor. Irene was deposed and
replaced by Emperor Nikephoros soon after, and the Eastern Empire
refused to recognize the Imperial title of Charlemagne. Emperor
Michael I Rangabe
Michael I Rangabe eventually recognized
Charlemagne as an "Emperor"
following several wars in the 810s, but as the slightly humiliating
"Emperor of the Franks" rather than "Roman Emperor", a title he
reserved for himself. For centuries to come, the "revived"
Western court and the Eastern court, in direct succession to the Roman
Emperors of old, would make competing claims to be rulers of the whole
and as being the sole legitimate Roman Empire. With the Eastern Empire
terming the Holy
Roman Empire as an "
Empire of the Franks", the term
Empire of the Greeks" was popularized in the frankish court as a way
to refer to the
Empire centered in Constantinople.
Following the final fall of the Eastern
Roman Empire after the Fall of
Constantinople in 1453 and the dissolution of the Holy
Roman Empire in
1806, the title of "Emperor" became widespread among European
Austrian Empire laid claim to be the heir of the Holy
Roman Empire as Austria's Habsburgs attempted to unite
their rule. The German Empire, established in 1871, also claimed
to be a successor of
Rome through the lineage of the Holy Roman
Empire. Both of these empires used the imperial title Kaiser
Latin Caesar), the German word for emperor. The German
Empire and Austria-Hungary, successor of the Austrian Empire, would
both fall in the aftermath of the First World War along with the
Russian and Ottoman Empires who had claimed succession from the
Eastern Roman Empire.
List of Western Roman Emperors
Main article: Tetrarchy
Bust of Emperor Maximian, the first Western Roman Emperor.
Constantius Chlorus: 293–305.
Maximian was elevated to caesar by
Diocletian in 285, after Diocletian
defeated Carinus. He became Western Emperor in 286, with the
establishment of the Tetrarchy. On 1 May 305, both
Diocletian abdicated, leaving Constantius and
Constantius I Chlorus: 305–306.
Valerius Severus: 305–306.
Constantius Chlorus was elevated to caesar in 293, under Maximiam.
Constantius became the Western Emperor in 305, after the abdication of
Maximian. Constantius died on 25 July 306, leaving a highly
contested succession in his wake.
Valerius Severus: 306–307.
Valerius Severus was elevated to caesar by Constantius in 305, after
the abdication of
Maximian and Diocletian. After the death of
Constantius in 306, Severus became Western Emperor. Severus was forced
to deal with the revolt of Maxentius, the son of Maximian. Maxentius
invaded in early 307, and successfully captured the Western
Empire. He had Severus put to death soon after his capture.
Maxentius was proclaimed emperor in 306, in opposition to Valerius
Severus. He succeeded in capturing the Western
Empire in 307, and had
Severus killed soon after. The Western
Empire was invaded in 312
by Constantine, who decisively defeated
Maxentius on 28 October 312,
who drowned when his forces were pushed back into the Tiber
Licinius was made Emperor of the Eastern Empire, and parts of the
Western Empire, all of which was actually held by Maxentius, at the
Council of Carnuntum, which was held in 308 in order to try and end
the civil war in the Western Empire. Constantine invaded Licinius'
section of the Western
Empire in 313, and forced him to sign a treaty
in which he forfeited his claim to the Western Empire, and only
controlled the Eastern Empire.
Constantinian dynasty (313–363)
Main article: Constantinian dynasty
Bust of Emperor Constantine I, the founder of the Constantinian
Constantine I: 306–337 (Sole Emperor: 324–337).
Constantine I was proclaimed caesar of the Western
Empire on 25 July
306. After 309 he proclaimed himself as the Western Emperor, in
Maxentius and Licinius. He was the sole Western Emperor
from 312–324, when he became both Western Emperor and Eastern
Constantine II 337–340 (Emperor of Gaul, Britannia and Hispania:
Constantine II was proclaimed caesar of the Eastern
Empire in late
317. In 335,
Constantine I allotted the inheritance his sons would
receive after his death, which would take place two years later in
337, giving Constantine II control of Gaul, Britannia and Hispania.
Constantine II's relationship with
Constans I was tense, and in 340,
Constantine took advantage of
Constans absence from
Italy and invaded
it. However, in the same year, he was ambushed by Constans' forces in
Aquilea, and was killed.
Constans I 337–350 (Emperor of
Italy and Africa: 337-340, Western
Constans was proclaimed emperor of
Italy and Africa in 337, after the
death of Constantine I. After Constantine II was killed in 340, while
attempting to invade Constans' territory in Italy,
control of the entire Western Empire.
Constans was contemptuous of his
army, who as a result proclaimed
Magnentius as emperor in 350.
Constans fled toward Hispania, but was captured and executed by an
Magnentius on the border.
Constantius II 351–361 (Eastern Emperor: 337–351, Sole Emperor:
Constantius II was proclaimed caesar in 334, and became Eastern
Emperor in 337, after the death of Constantine I. After
killed by the usurper Magnentius, Constantius laid claim to the
Western Empire, and after defeating
Magnentius in 351, took possession
of it, becoming sole emperor.
Constantius II died in 361, of a violent
Julian: 361–363 (Sole Emperor).
Julian was proclaimed caesar in 355, before becoming emperor in 361,
Constantius II died of a violent fever in 361. Julian died in
March 363, of wounds sustained during the Battle of Samarra.
Jovian: 363–364 (Sole Emperor).
When Julian died in 363, he left no heir, causing a succession crisis.
The Roman Army elected Jovian as sole emperor. Jovian reigned only
seven months, in which he signed a humiliating peace treaty with the
Sasanian Empire, under Shapur II. In this agreement,
five provinces and 18 fortresses to the Sasanians, in exchange for a
30 year truce. Jovian died on 16 February 364, due to either
indigestion or charcoal vapour inhalation.
Valentinian dynasty (364–392)
Main article: Valentinian dynasty
Bust of Emperor Valentinian II, the last reigning member of the
Valentinian I: 364–375.
After the death of Jovian,
Valentinian I was elected. He divided the
emperor between himself and his younger brother, Valens, giving
himself the West and
Valens the East. Valentinian spent much of his
Gaul against repeated attacks by barbarian tribes,
only leaving the region in 373. In 375, while meeting with the Quadi,
he suffered a stroke due to rage.
Valentinian II: 375–383.
Valentinian elevated his son, Gratian, to caesar in 367, however on
his deathbed he elevated his much younger son, Valentinian II, to
caesar along with Gratian, and
Valens who was emperor in the
Gratian showed a strong preference for the barbarian
mercenaries in his army, especially his Alanic guard, which inflamed
the Roman population, to the point that in 383, Roman troops in
Magnus Maximus emperor, in opposition to Gratian.
Maximus landed troops in Gaul, and attacked Gratian's troops near
Gratian was defeated, and fled to Lyons, where he was murdered
on 25 August 383.
Valentinian II: 383–392.
After the death of Gratian,
Valentinian II succeeded him, although he
Italy itself, with all other Western Roman provinces
recognizing Maximus. In 387 Maximus invaded Italy, to depose
Valentinian. Valentinian fled to the court of Theodosius, where he
succeeded in convincing Theodosius to attack Maximus, and to reinstate
himself as Western Emperor, which was done after Maximus was defeated
in battle near Aquileia. Valentinian continued to rule the
Empire until 392, when he was murdered by Arbogast.
Magnus Maximus: 384–388.
Flavius Victor: 383/387–388.
Magnus Maximus was elected emperor by his men in 384, in opposition to
Gratian, who defeated him in battle in 383. Maximus was briefly
recognized as the Western Emperor by Eastern Emperor Theodosius I,
however this recognition was revoked by both when Maximus invaded
Italy and deposed
Valentinian II in 387.
Valentinian II fled to the
Eastern Roman Empire, and convinced Theodosius to invade the Western
Roman Empire and restore him to the Western Roman throne, which he did
in 388. Maximus was defeated in battle near Aquileia, and
Theodosian dynasty (392–455)
Main article: Theodosian dynasty
Emperor Honorius, as depicted by
Jean-Paul Laurens in 1880.
Theodosius I: 394–395 (Eastern Roman Emperor: 379–394, Sole
Theodosius was proclaimed Eastern Emperor by
Gratian on 19 January
379, after securing victory against invading barbarians along the
Danube. He became sole emperor in August 394, after defeating the
usurper Eugenius. Theodosius died of edema in January 395.
Constantine III: 409–411.
Constans II: 409–411.
Constantius III: 421.
Honorius became Western Emperor in 395, after the death of his father
Theodosius. His reign was beset by barbarian invasions, and for much
of his early reign, until 408, he was controlled by Stilicho, whose
influence over Honorius would create a standard for puppet Western
Emperors. Honorius died of edema in 423.
Valentinian III: 425–455.
Valentinian III was designated Honorius' heir in 421, although he was
not proclaimed caesar, only given the title of nobilissimus puer. In
423, after the death of Honorius, a usurper named
Joannes rose up,
Valentinian III to flee with his family to the court of the
Eastern Emperor Theodosius II. He was installed as Western Emperor in
Joannes was defeated by Theodosius in Ravenna. Valentinian
was killed on 16 March 455, by Optila, a friend of Flavius Aetius,
whom Valentinian had killed.
Petronius Maximus: 455 (Not recognized by Eastern Emperor).
Petronius Maximus became the Western
Roman Emperor on 17 March 455,
after assassinating Valentinian III. During his short reign, he
provoked Genseric, the Vandal king, into invading the Western Empire
and sacking Rome, by way of violating a marriage agreement made
Genseric and Valentinian III. Maximus and his son Palladius
attempted to flee on 31 May 455, however they were apprehended by a
group of peasants, and either killed by them, or by palace servants
wishing to curry favor with them.
Avitus was proclaimed Western Emperor on 9 July 455, with the support
of the Visigoth King Theodoric II. While he held support from the
Visigoths, his rule alienated both the Roman
Senate and people. In 456
Ricimer, a senior officer had
Avitus deposed, and ruled the Western
Empire through a series of puppet emperors until his death in
Majorian was proclaimed Western Emperor 1 April 456, officially by
Eastern Emperor Leo I, however in reality Leo's decision was swayed by
the influence of Ricimer. On 7 August 461,
Majorian was compelled to
abdicate, and reportedly died five days later of dysentery, although
modern historians have asserted he was likely murdered.
Libius Severus: 461–465 (Not recognized by Eastern Emperor).
Libius Severus was proclaimed Western Emperor on 19 November 461. His
rule, even as a puppet emperor, extended little beyond Italy, with
Aegidius splitting off from the Western Empire, and establishing the
Kingdom of Soissons.
Libius Severus incited the hostility of the
Vandals, who invaded
Italy and Sicily. During these events, Libius
Severus died on 14 November 465, possibly due to being poisoned by
Anthemius was proclaimed Western Emperor on 12 April 467 by Leo I.
Under Anthemius, the Western Empire, which had become increasingly
isolated from the Eastern Empire, became closer to the Eastern Empire
under Leo I, although this collaboration came too late to save the
Western Empire. Anthemius' friendly attitude towards the Eastern
Empire angered Ricimer, who deposed him in March or April of 472.
Olybrius: 472 (Not recognized by Eastern Emperor).
Olybrius was proclaimed emperor in April 472. His brief reign, lasting
only five or six months, was dominated by Gundobad, who had replaced
Ricimer as the true power behind the throne, after the
Olybrius died in October or November 472, of
Glycerius: 473–474 (Not recognized by Eastern Emperor).
After the death of both
Olybrius and Ricimer,
Glycerius was proclaimed
Western Emperor by the Western Roman Army, on 3/5 May 473. He was
Julius Nepos in July 474, and sent to live in a monastery,
where he remained until his death.
Julius Nepos: 474–475 (In exile 475–480).
Roman Empire had rejected the coronation of both Olybrius
and Glycerius, instead supporting Julius Nepos, magister militum in
Dalmatia as Western Roman Emperor. Nepos, with support from the East,
Glycerius in the spring of 474. Orestes, magister militum
of Nepos, deposed him a year later in 475, forcing Nepos to flee
Ravenna to his estates in Dalmatia. Orestes crowned his son Romulus as
Western Emperor, though the Eastern
Empire and Western possessions
Italy maintained recognition of Nepos as the legitimate
Emperor. Nepos continued to rule as "Western Emperor" in exile in
Dalmatia until his murder in 480 and would be the last holder of the
Romulus Augustus: 475–476 (Not recognized by Eastern Emperor).
Augustus was crowned as Western Emperor after his father
Orestes deposed Julius Nepos. The rule of Romulus would be brief,
in the autumn of 476 the foederati under control by
when their demands for a third of the land of
Italy were ignored.
Orestes was captured and executed on August 28 the same year and
Romulus was deposed by
Odoacer a week later. Romulus was spared and
allowed to live out his life in the
Castellum Lucullanum in Campania,
where he might have been alive as late as 507 AD.
With the deposition of Romulus
Augustus by Odoacer, direct roman
control ceased to exist in Italy.
Odoacer assumed control of the
peninsula as a de jure representative of Western
Roman Emperor Julius
Nepos. With the death of
Julius Nepos in 480, the Eastern Roman
Emperor Zeno abolished the title and position of Western Roman Emperor
and assumed the role of Odoacer's sovereign. The position of Roman
Emperor would never again be divided, though some new candidates for
the position of Western emperor were proposed during and after the
Eastern Roman re-conquests of the sixth century, such as
540 and Germanus in 582.
Fall of the Western Roman Empire
Historiography of the fall of the Western Roman Empire
Legacy of the Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
^ Taagepera, p. 24.
^ Roman Governors.
^ a b Eck 2002, p. 15f.
^ Samarin 1968, pp. 662–663.
^ Weigel 1992, p. 88f.
^ Curchin 2004, p. 130.
^ Grant 1954, pp. 91–94.
^ Grant 1954, pp. 30–45.
^ Tenney 1930, p. 35.
^ Bowman 2005, p. 1.
^ Downey 1961, pp. 249–250.
^ Tucker 2010, p. 75.
^ Sasanian Dynasty.
^ Bowman 2005, p. 38.
^ Bray 1997, p. 38.
^ Potter 2004, p. 322.
^ Bourne 2000, p. 14.
^ Smith 2013, p. 179.
^ Canduci 2010, p. 100.
^ Southern 2015, p. 176.
^ Vagi 2000, p. 386.
^ Barnes 2006, pp. 6–7.
^ Potter 2014, p. 282.
^ Southern 2007, pp. 141–142.
^ Cameron, Ward-Perkins & Whitby 2000, p. 42.
^ Barnes 2006, pp. 27–28.
^ Odahl, pp. 78–79.
^ Jones 1992, p. 59.
^ Lenski 2007, pp. 61–62.
^ Gibbons & Bury 1974, p. 14.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 47–48.
^ Limberis 2012, p. 9.
^ a b Odahl, p. 275.
^ a b Carr 2015, pp. 40–43.
^ a b Constantius.
^ Canduci 2010, p. 130.
^ Potter 2008, p. 195.
^ Canduci 2010, p. 131.
^ Lascaratos & Voros, pp. 615–619.
^ Katz 1955, pp. 88–89.
^ a b Pontifex Maximus.
^ Kaylor & Phillips 2012, p. 14.
^ Bauer 2010, p. 68.
^ Vogt 1993, p. 179.
^ Frassetto 2003, pp. 214–217.
^ Burns 1994, p. 244.
^ a b Bury 2005, p. 110.
^ Deliyannis 2010, pp. 153–156.
^ Hallenbeck 1982, p. 7.
^ Bury 2005, p. 108.
^ Bury 2005, p. 109.
^ Heather 2005, p. 195.
^ Bury 2005, p. 113.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 136.
^ Cline & Graham 2011, p. 303.
^ Bury 2005, p. 145.
^ Bury 2005, p. 146.
^ a b Bury 2005, p. 154.
^ Goldsworthy 2010, p. 305.
^ Hughes 2012, pp. 102–103.
^ a b Heather 2000, p. 11.
^ Heather 2000, p. 15.
^ Bury 2005, p. 292.
^ Heather 2007, p. 339.
^ a b Heather 2000, pp. 17–18.
^ Given 2014, p. 126.
^ Given 2014, p. 128.
^ Bury 2005, pp. 324–325.
^ Heather 2000, p. 379.
^ a b c Majorian.
^ a b Anthemius.
^ Gordon 2013, p. 122f.
^ a b Glycerius.
^ a b c Bury 2005, p. 408.
^ MacGeorge 2002, p. 62.
^ a b c d Börm 2008, p. 47ff.
^ a b c Elton 1992, pp. 288–297.
^ a b Martindale 1980, p. 514.
^ a b Williams & Friell 1998, p. 187.
^ Nicol 2002, p. 9.
^ a b Bury 2015, p. 278.
^ Bury 1923, pp. 422–424.
^ Hunt et al. 2001, p. 256.
^ Merills 2016, pp. 199–224.
^ Martindale 1980, p. 734.
^ Martindale 1980, pp. 509–510.
^ Bury 2005, p. 410.
^ Jones 1992, p. 254f.
^ Moorhead 1994, pp. 107–115.
^ Barnish 1992, pp. 35–37.
^ Bury 1923, p. 422.
^ Wolfram 1990, p. 283.
^ Bury 2005, pp. 422–424.
^ Bury 2005, p. 459.
^ Bury 2005, pp. 461–462.
^ Amory 1997, p. 8.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 215.
^ a b Kidner et al. 2008, pp. 198–203.
^ Fourace 2015, p. 165.
^ Frassetto 2013, p. 203.
^ Fourace 2015, pp. 256–258.
^ Fourace 2015, pp. 275–276.
^ Collins 1989, p. 49.
^ Collins 1983, p. 238.
^ Thomas 2010, p. 21.
^ Merills & Miles 2007, p. 60.
^ Cameron, Ward-Perkins & Whitby 2000, p. 553.
^ Merills 2016, pp. 11–12.
^ a b Bury 2005, pp. 139–140.
^ Goldberg 2006, p. 6.
^ Haldon 1997, pp. 17–19.
^ Bury 2005, pp. 125–132.
^ Treadgold 1997, p. 216.
^ Thompson 1969, p. 325.
^ Noble 1984, p. 31.
^ Knowles & Obolensky 1978, pp. 108–109.
^ a b Klewitz, p. 33.
^ Ravegnani 2004, p. 203.
^ Norwich 1989, pp. 112–113.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 116.
^ Gunderson, pp. 43–68.
^ Luttwak 2009, p. 512.
^ Dagron 1984, pp. 15 & 19.
^ Bury 2005, p. 138.
^ Heather 2005, p. 191.
^ Legal system.
^ Samarin 1968, p. 666.
^ Gottlieb 2006, p. 196.
^ Beveridge 2016, p. 1.
^ Satow 2011, p. 59.
^ Bulliet et al. 2010, p. 192.
^ Le Goff 1994, p. 14 & 21.
^ Durant 1950, pp. 517–551.
^ Annuario Pontificio, p. 23.
^ Levillain 2002, p. 907.
^ Kaegi 2004, p. 196.
^ a b Croke 2001, p. 78.
^ Wienand 2014, p. 260.
^ Goldsworthy 2009, pp. 68–69.
^ Martindale 1980, pp. 1199–1200.
^ a b c Moorhead 1994, pp. 84–86.
^ a b c Whitby 1988, p. 7.
^ The Code of Justinian.
^ Herrin 1987, p. 156.
^ Whaley 2012, pp. 17–20.
^ Fourace & Gerberding 1996, p. 345.
^ White 2007, p. 139.
^ Ball 2001, p. 449.
^ Watson 2014, pp. 536–540.
^ Tames 1972, p. 55.
^ Glazer 1996, pp. 54–56.
^ Potter 2008, pp. 260–261.
^ Potter 2008, p. 344.
^ Grant 1997, p. 209.
^ a b Grant 1997, p. 210.
^ Potter 2008, p. 342.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad
Norwich 1989, p. 384.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 217–218.
^ Grant 1997, p. 223.
^ Grant 1997, p. 224.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 224–225.
^ Grant 1997, p. 226.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 235–236.
^ Odahl, pp. 79–80.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 240–242.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 247–248.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 242–246.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 251–254.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 29.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 30.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 31.
^ a b c Norwich 1989, p. 32.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 34.
^ a b c Adkins & Adkins 1998, p. 35.
^ Hebblewhite 2016, p. 20.
^ a b Errington 2006, pp. 36–37.
^ a b Birley 2005, p. 450.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 270–274.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 282–285.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 298–302.
^ a b Drinkwater & Elton 2002, p. 116.
^ Burns & Jensen 2014, p. 64.
^ Collins 2010, p. 88.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 310–312.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 315–317.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 317–319.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 319–321.
^ Grant 1997, pp. 322–323.
^ Norwich 1989, p. 171.
^ Bury 1923, p. 274.
^ a b Norwich 1989, p. 385.
^ Gibbons & Womersley 1994, p. 402.
^ Burns 1991, p. 74.
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Papal States (1814–1870)
Italian Empire (1869–1946)
Free State of Fiume
Free State of Fiume (1920–1924)
Italian Social Republic
Italian Social Republic (1943–1945)
Free Territory of Trieste
Free Territory of Trieste (1947-1954)
Eastern Ganga dynasty
ancient great powers
medieval great powers