Rome Didn’t Fall Quite The Way You Might Think

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What is the general conception

The popular version of Rome’s fall is that a barbarian invasion tore Rome down column by column and left chaos in its wake. But by A.D. 476, the traditional date of the empire’s “fall,” the “invaders” had long been essential parts of the Roman administration and army. As a result, the fall was less catastrophic and affected the Roman population less than is typically imagined. The new “barbarian” leader was even commended by the emperor in Constantinople.

The Whole Bushel

A big part of this myth depends on whether or not the Roman Empire actually fell in A.D. 476, which it is easily argued it didn’t. The Eastern, or Byzantine, half survived for another 1,000 years after the “fall.”

Yes, the city of Rome did fall to a tribe of marauding Germans called Vandals. But, as far big deals go, Rome being sacked (again) was a minor blip on the Mediterranean radar.

The empire’s capital, Constantinople, had surpassed Rome in wealth, population, and political importance long before. In fact, when the Vandals sacked Rome in 476, the city wasn’t even the capital of the western empire—that honor fell to Ravenna.

The last regent of the empire was actually one of Attila the Hun’s former officers. And Odoacer, the barbarian who assumed control of Rome after the last emperor was deposed, received commendation from Constantinople for instilling some law and order into western Europe.

 

The reality behind the myth

What essentially ended the Empire wasn’t foreign invasion, but a series of civil wars that wracked the frontier. The Roman army with its barbarian weaponry, dress, and generals squared off against itself over and over, reducing the western empire into countless fractious kingdoms with only brief unity under a handful of warlords-emperors, all of which gives new meaning to the saying, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

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