Western Roman Empire(Redirected from West Roman Empire)
In historiography, the Western Roman Empire consists of the western provinces of the Roman Empire at any one time during which they were administered by a separate independent Imperial court, coequal with (or only nominally subordinate to) that administering the eastern half. Both "Western Roman Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" (or "Byzantine Empire") are modern terms describing de facto independent entities; however, at no point did the Romans consider the Empire split into two, but rather considered it a single state governed by two separate Imperial courts out of administrative expediency, a system of government known as a diarchy.
|Senatus Populusque Romanus
|Western division of the Roman Empire|
The Western Roman Empire at its greatest extent ca. AD 395
Koine Greek, Aquitanian, Gaulish, Common Brittonic, Gothic, Neo-Punic, Berber
|Religion||Roman religion until 4th century
Christianity (state church) after 380
|•||395||Flavius Anicius Hermogenianus Olybrius, Flavius Anicius Probinus|
|•||476||Basiliscus, Flavius Armatus|
|Historical era||Late Antiquity|
|•||Division of Diocletian||285|
|•||Division after Constantine I||337|
|•||Division by Valentinian I||364|
|•||Division after Theodosius I||395|
|•||Deposition of Romulus Augustus||4 September 476|
|•||395||2,000,000 km2 (770,000 sq mi)|
|Today part of|
The view that the Empire was impossible to govern by one emperor was established by Diocletian following the disastrous civil wars and disintegration of the Crisis of the 3rd century, and was instituted in Roman law by his introduction of the Tetrarchy in AD 285, a form of government which was legally to endure in one form or another for centuries. There being more than one emperor at a time was not an unknown concept in the empire, as there had been multiple points in the past where more than one emperor ruled jointly. The Western Court was periodically abolished and recreated for the next two centuries until final abolition by Zeno in 480, by which time there was little effective central control left in the area legally administered by the Western Court.
The Western Roman Empire existed intermittently in several periods between the 3rd and 5th centuries, after Diocletian's Tetrarchy and the reunifications associated with Constantine the Great and Julian the Apostate (331/2–363). Theodosius I divided the Empire upon his death (in 395) between his two sons. Finally, eighty-five years later, Zeno of the Eastern Empire recognized the reality of the Western Empire's reduced domain—Roman power ceased to exist even in the Italian Peninsula—after the deposition of Romulus Augustus and the subsequent death of Julius Nepos, and therefore proclaimed himself the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.
The rise of Odoacer of the Foederati to rule over Italy in 476 was popularized by 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. Imperial rule was reimposed in large parts of the West, including North Africa, Italy and parts of Hispania, in the sixth century by the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire under Emperor Justinian I. Political upheaval in the East Roman heartlands 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 11th century, the influence that the Empire had over Western Europe had diminished significantly with the papal coronation of the frankish king Charlemagne as "Roman Emperor" in 800 AD. His imperial line would come to evolve into the Holy Roman Empire, a revival of the imperial title in the West but in no meaningful sense an extension of Roman traditions or institutions. The Great Schism of 1054 between the churches of Rome and Constantinople further diminshed the authority the Emperor in Constantinople could hope to bring forth in the west.
As the Roman Republic expanded, it reached a point where the central government in 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.
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 franca.
Octavian obtained the Roman provinces of the West: Italia (modern Italy), Gaul (modern France), Gallia Belgica (parts of modern Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), and Hispania (modern Spain and Portugal). These lands also included Greek and Carthaginian colonies in the coastal areas, though Celtic tribes such as Gauls and 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 predominantly Latin culture of the West functioned effectively as an integrated whole, political and military developments would ultimately realign the Empire along those cultural and linguistic lines.
Rebellions, uprisings, and political developmentsEdit
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 this end, 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. Following their example, the legions at the borders increased participation in the civil wars.
The Parthian Empire, in the East, on the other hand, was too remote and powerful to be conquered. Any Parthian invasion was confronted and usually defeated; similarly, Parthians repelled some attempts of Roman invasion, however, even after successful wars of conquest, such as those implemented by Trajan and Septimius Severus. Those distant territories were forsaken to prevent unrest and also to ensure a more healthy and lasting peace with the Persians. The Parthians were followed 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 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.
Economic stagnation in the WestEdit
Rome and the Italian peninsula began to experience an economic slowdown as industries and money began to move outward. By the beginning of the 2nd century AD, the economic stagnation of Italia was seen in the provincial-born Emperors, such as Trajan and Hadrian. Economic problems increased in strength and frequency.
Crisis of the Third CenturyEdit
With the assassination of the Emperor Alexander Severus on 18 March 235, the Roman Empire sank into a 50-year civil war, now known as the Crisis of the Third Century. The rise of the bellicose Sassanid dynasty 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 - the local governor of the German provinces — rebelled; his assault on Colonia Agrippina resulted in the deaths of Saloninus and the prefect. In the confusion that followed, an independent state known 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 all of 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 other Romans. 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 Zenobia.
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, taking the Gallic Empire a year later. Because of a secret deal between Aurelian and Gallic Emperor Tetricus I and his son Tetricus II, the Gallic army was swiftly defeated. In exchange, Aurelian spared their lives and gave the two former rebels important positions in Italy.
The external borders were mostly stable for the remainder of the Crisis of the Third Century, although, between the death of Aurelian in 275 and the accession of Diocletian ten years later, at least eight emperors or would-be emperors were killed, many assassinated by their own troops.
Under Diocletian, the political division of the Roman Empire began. In 285, he promoted Maximian to the rank of Augustus (Emperor) and gave him control of the Western regions of the Empire. In 293, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus were appointed as their subordinates (Caesars), creating the First Tetrarchy. This system effectively divided the Empire into four major regions and created separate capitals besides Rome as a way to avoid the civil unrest that had marked the 3rd century. In the West, the capitals were Maximian's Mediolanum (now Milan) and Constantius' Trier. In the East, the capitals were Sirmium and Nicomedia. On 1 May 305, the two senior Augusti stepped down, and their respective Caesars were promoted to Augusti and appointed two new Caesars, thus creating the Second Tetrarchy.
Constantine the GreatEdit
The system of the Tetrarchy quickly ran aground when the Western Roman Empire's Constantius died unexpectedly in 306, and his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Augustus of the West by the legions in Britain. A crisis followed as several claimants attempted to rule the Western half. In 308, the Augustus of the East, Galerius, arranged a conference at Carnuntum which revived the Tetrarchy by dividing the West between Constantine and a newcomer named Licinius. Constantine was far more interested in conquering the whole empire. Through a series of battles in the East and the West, Licinius and Constantine stabilized their respective parts of the Roman Empire by 314, and began to compete for sole control of a reunified state. Constantine emerged victorious in 324 after the surrender and murder of Licinius following the Battle of Chrysopolis.
The Tetrarchy ended, but the idea of dividing the Roman Empire between two emperors had been validated. Very strong emperors would reunite it under their single rule, but with their death the Roman Empire would be divided again and again between the East and the West.
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, civil war erupted among his three sons, dividing the Empire into three parts. The West was unified in 340 under Constans, who was assassinated in 350 under the order of the usurper Magnentius; after Magnentius lost the Battle of Mursa Major and committed suicide, a complete reunification of the whole Empire occurred in 353, with Constantius II.
Constantius II focused most of his power in the East and is regarded as the first emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Under his rule, the city of Byzantium - only recently re-founded as Constantinople - 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 the Battle of Samarra against the Persian Empire and was succeeded by Jovian, who ruled only until 364.
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 Valens also died. The campaigns to subdue them were only partly successful, and they officially became semi-independent foederati under their own leaders.
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 from the Roman Curia, a decision which caused dissatisfaction among the traditionally pagan aristocracy of Rome. Theodosius I later decreed a ban on all religions except Christianity.
The political situation was unstable. In 383, a powerful and popular general named Magnus Maximus seized power in the West and forced Gratian's half-brother 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 assassinated 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; his 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 were exploited by the Gothic leader Alaric I who again rebelled following the death of Theodosius I. 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 stripped the Rhine frontier of troops and the Vandals, Alans, and Suevi invaded 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 sacked Rome in 410.
Reign of HonoriusEdit
Honorius, the younger son of Theodosius I, was declared Augustus (and 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 fortifactions, was far easier to defend but made it more difficult for the Roman military to defend central parts of Italy from the regular barbarian incursions. 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 Exarchate of Ravenna.
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 entered 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 Illyria.
The weakened frontiers in Britain and Gaul had dire consequences for the empire. Numerous usurpers rose from Britain, including Marcus (406–407), Gratian (407), and Constantine III who invaded Gaul in 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 Olympius that Stilicho was conspiring to overthrow him, and thus arrested and executed Stilicho in 408. 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 lead many of the soldiers to instead join with Alaric, who returned to 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, this event made a great impression on contemporaries, as this was the first time since the Gallic invasions of the 4th century BC that the city had fallen to a foreign enemy.
Without 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 Picts and 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 Jovinus revolted after proclaiming himself Emperor. With the support of the Gallic nobility and the barbarian Burgundians and Alans, Honorius turned to the 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 Africa, Heraclianus. Heraclianus attempted to invade Italy but failed and retreated to Carthage, where he was killed.
With the 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 conflictsEdit
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.
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, Italy and Rome itself was dependent on the taxes and foodstuffs from these provinces, leading to an economical 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, the 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 West, 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 Châlons, the Roman-Germanic coalition met and defeat the Hunnic forces, though Attila escaped.
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 Huns.
Internal unrest and MajorianEdit
Valentinian III, feeling intimidated by Aetius, was enlisted by the Roman senator Petronius Maximus and the chamberlain Heraclius to 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's 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, Petronius Maximus 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. With the 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 promise, 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 with the 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 general 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 prominent general 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 Western Empire with its own military forces. To prepare, Majorian significantly strengthened the Western Roman army by recruiting large numbers of barbarian mercenaries, among them m 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, Majorian decisively defeated the Visigoths under Theoderic II and forced them to relinquish their great conquests in Hispania and return to foederati status. Majorian then entered the Rhone Valley, where he defeated the Burgundians and reconquered the rebel city of Lugdunum.
With Gaul back under Roman control, Majorian turned his eyes to the Vandals and 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.
The 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 fleet, 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 Arelate on his way. Here, Ricimer deposed and arrested him in 461, having gathered significant aristocratical opposition against Majorian. After five days of beatings and torture, Majorian was beheaded near the river Iria.
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 barbarian heritage, Ricimer appointed a series of "puppet emperors" that could do little to halt the collapse of Roman authority and the loss of the territories reconquered 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 Gaul and 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. Furthermore, 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. Gundobad elevated 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 in Italy, 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 secretary of Attila and the magister militum of Julius Nepos, took control of 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 Constantinople. 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 Empire. Odoacer accepted this condition and issued coins in the name of 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 prompted Odoacer to invade Dalmatia, annexing it to his Kingdom of Italy.
Julius Nepos still claimed to be Emperor of the West, and ruled a rump state in Dalmatia. He was recognized as such by Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno and by Syagrius, who had managed to preserve Roman sovereignty in an exclave in northern Gaul, known today as the Domain of Soissons.
Recognising that no direct roman control remained over the territories legally governed by the western emperor, Zeno did not appoint a new western emperor after the death of Julius Nepos in 480. Instead Zeno abolished the juridical division of the position of emperor into two separate courts, declaring himself the sole emperor of a reunited roman empire. 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 Constantinople in 1453, nearly a thousand years later.
The deposition of Romulus Augustus and the end of direct Roman rule in Italy in 476 was evidently not seen as a world-changing event at the time. The Western court had lacked true power and 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 Zeno, as his sovereign, nominal Roman control continued in Italy.
Some further territories of Roman control continued to exist in the West in some form even after 480. The Domain of Soissons, a rump state in Northern Gaul ruled by Syagrius, survived until 486 when it was conquered by the Franks under King Clovis I after the Battle of Soissons. Syagrius was known as the "King of the Romans" by the Germanic peoples of the region and 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 that 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.
In the context of the Western Roman Empire, the term "barbarian kingdoms" most often refers to the germanic kingdoms that sprung from the formerly 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 prefectures of Gaul and Italy, during the sixth and seventh centuries.
Among the more powerful and important kingdoms were the frankish kingdom (which would go on to develop into the Carolingian Empire and later France and the Holy Roman Empire), the visigothic kingdom, the ostrogothic kingdom of italy and the vandalic kingdom. The vandalic and ostrogothic kingdoms were reconquered by the Roman Empire under emperor Justinian in the sixth century and the visigothic kingdom was conquered during the spread of Islam in the eighth century.
These kingdoms were originally foederati, polities created to utilize germanic warriors in exchange for allowing them to settle within the borders of the empire, and were nominally vassals or client states to the western roman emperor. Even after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, they considered themselves vassals (at least nominally) to the roman emperor in Constantinople. Among other things, the barbarian kings continued to strike coins in the name of the roman emperor, rather than in their own names, as late as the sixth century. The relations between the romans in the east and the barbarian kingdoms were not necessarily bad. For instance, the frankish king Clovis was granted the title of consul by emperor Anastasius after defeating the visigoths in the Battle of Vouillé in 507.
The relations between the barbarian kingdoms and the Byzantine Empire grew weaker over time and appear to have been gone by the seventh and eighth centuries when the kingdoms adopted the feudalism characteristic of the european middle ages.
Theoderic the GreatEdit
Odoacer was replaced by Theoderic the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, in 493. Theoderic had been ordered by emperor Zeno, as his subservient, to deal with Odoacer and was granted the title of "dux" of Italy after defeating Odoacer. While in principle Theodoric was a subordinate, a viceroy of the Emperor of the East, in fact he was his equal as a de facto independent monarch. For a brief period of time in the early sixth century, the territory of Theoderic nearly constituted a restored Western Roman Empire. Being king of Italy since 493, Theoderic 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 had been returned to Ravenna by the emperor Anastasius in 497 and Theoderic was western emperor in all but name.
Following Theoderic's death in 526, his realm collapsed into separate visigothic and ostrogothic kingdoms once more. Though these kingdoms continued to recognize Roman law and made claims to continuity, their ties to the surviving empire, now established under the Justinian dynasty, grew weaker and weaker. While the East would make several attempts to recapture the West, the territory once ruled by the western court was never fully recaptured.
Throughout Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the Eastern Roman Empire, or the Byzantine Empire, laid claims on areas of the West which had been occupied by several tribes. In the 6th century, the Eastern Roman Empire managed to reconquer large areas of the former Western Roman Empire. The most successful were the campaigns of the generals Belisarius and Narses on behalf of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I from 533 to 554. The Vandal-occupied former Roman territory in North Africa was regained, particularly the territory centered around the city of Carthage. Less than a year later, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Dalmatia, and the Balearic Islands were easily captured by the invading Roman legions. The campaign eventually moved into Italy and the Byzantines reconquered it completely. Minor territories were taken as far west as the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Only three years after Justinian had died, the Lombards had invaded Italy, but the wealthiest parts of the province remained securely in Roman hands throughout the seventh century.
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 Arab power. For a while, the West remained important, with the Emperor Constans II ruling from Sicily a Roman Empire that still stretched from North Africa to the Caucasus in the 660s, but thereafter imperial attention declined rapidly, with 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. The Emperor Leo III restored order, but his doctrinal reforms, known as the Iconoclastic Controversy, proved extremely unpopular in the West, and led to the final breakdown in imperial rule over Rome itself.
Byzantine 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 Calabria ultimately 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 Byzantine civil war, and the slow conquest of the region by the Byzantines' former mercenaries, the Normans, who finally put an end to imperial rule in Western Europe in 1071.
The West, less urbanized with a spread-out populace, may have experienced an economic decline throughout the Late Empire in some provinces. Southern Italy, northern Gaul (except for large towns and cities) to some extent Spain and the Danubian areas may have suffered. The East was not so destitute, especially as Emperors like 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. In contrast, the Western 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. The economic power remained focused on Rome and its hyper-rich senatorial aristocracy which dominated much of Italy and Africa in particular. After 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 been northern 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 Eugenius, the new Western government installed by 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.
As the Western Roman Empire crumbled, the new Germanic rulers who conquered the provinces upheld many Roman laws and traditions. Many of the invading 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 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.
Latin as a language never really disappeared. It combined with neighboring Germanic and Celtic languages, giving rise to many modern 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.
Latin also influenced Germanic languages such as English, German, and Dutch; all surviving Celtic languages, Albanian, and such Slavic languages as Polish and Czech, and even the non-Indo-European Hungarian. It survives in its "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.
The Latin alphabet was expanded due to the splits of I into I and J and of U 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, but were mostly replaced by Arabic numerals.
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 like St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Germanus of Auxerre. As Rome was 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 pope has consistently held the title of "Pontifex Maximus" since before the fall of the Western Roman Empire and retains it to this day, this title was formerly used by the high priest of the old roman polytheism.
Though gone in modern times, the roman senate survived the intial collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Its authority even seems to have increased under the rule of Italy by Odoacer and later the Ostrogoths, evident by that the senate in 498 managed to install Symmachus as pope despite both Theoderic 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.
Though abolished, the idea of splitting the imperial court into two to more effectively govern the territory of the empire remained as an idea in the east. The earliest attempt at crowning a new western emperor occurred during the gothic wars under emperor Justinian I. Belisarius, an accomplished general that had already successfully campaigned to restore roman control over North Africa and large parts of Italy (including Rome itself), was offered the position of Western Roman Emperor by the ostrogoths during his siege of Ravenna (the ostrogothic, and previously western roman, capital) in 540. The ostrogoths made the offer to avoid losing their control of Italy by offering the title and fealty to Belisarius. Belisarius feigned to accept to enter the city, whereupon he immediately relinquished the title. Despite Belisarius relinquishing the title, the offer had made Justinian suspicious and Belisarius was ordered to return east.
At the end of emperor Tiberius II's reign in 582, the byzantine 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.
The ideal of the Roman Empire as a mighty Christian Empire with a single ruler further continued to appeal to many powerful rulers in western Europe. Under the principle of translatio imperii, the Holy Roman Empire explicitly proclaimed itself as the continuation of the Western Roman Empire. The title of the Western Roman Emperor was revived when Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Lombards, was crowned as Emperor of the Romans of the West by Pope Leo III in 800. The emperors of the Carolingian and Holy Roman empires were never recognised as "Roman Emperors" by the Eastern Roman Emperors, who were in direct succession to the ancient Roman Emperors. Charlemagne's position as "Emperor" was recognised by the byzantine emperor Michael I in the early 800s, but he reserved the title of "Roman Emperor" for himself. The Holy Roman Empire continued to regard itself as the successor state of the Western Roman Empire until its downfall in 1806. The French King Louis XIV, as well as French Emperor Napoleon I, and the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, among others, also tried to resurrect the Empire, albeit unsuccessfully.
List of Western Roman EmperorsEdit
Tetrarchy (293 to 313)Edit
Augusti are shown with their Caesares and regents further indented
- Maximian: 293 to 305
- Constantius Chlorus: 293 to 305
- Constantius Chlorus: 305 to 306
- Flavius Valerius Severus: 305 to 306
- Flavius Valerius Severus: 306 to 307
- Constantine I: 306 to 313
- Maxentius/Maximian: 307 to 308
- Licinius: 308 to 313
- Maxentius: 308 to 312 Usurper
- Domitius Alexander: 308 to 309 African usurper
Constantinian dynasty (313 to 363)Edit
- Constantine the Great: 306 to 337 Sole emperor of the empire from 324 to 337
- Constantine II: 337 to 340 Emperor of Gaul, Britannia, and Hispania
- Constantius II: 337 to 361 Emperor of the east from 337 to 353, Sole emperor of the empire from 353 to 360
- Constans I: 337 to 350 Emperor of Italy and Africa 337-340, emperor of the west from 340 to 350
- Magnentius: 350 to 353 Usurper
- Julian: 355 to 363 Emperor of the west from 355 to 361, Sole emperor of the empire from 361 to 363
Non-dynastic (363 to 364)Edit
- Jovian: 363 to 364
Valentinian dynasty (364 to 392)Edit
- Valentinian I: 364 to 375
- Gratian: 367 to 375
- Gratian: 375 to 383
- Valentinian II: 375 to 383
- Valentinian II: 383 to 392
- Magnus Maximus: 383 to 388 Usurper
Non-dynastic (392 to 394)Edit
- Eugenius: 392 to 394
Theodosian dynasty (394 to 455)Edit
- Theodosius I: 394 to 395 Sole emperor
- Honorius: 395 to 423
- Valentinian III: 423 to 455
Non-dynastic (455 to 480)Edit
- Petronius Maximus: 455 not recognized in Constantinople
- Avitus: 455 to 456 not recognized in Constantinople
- Ricimer: 456 to 472 Power behind the throne
- Majorian: 457 to 461
- Libius Severus: 461 to 465 not recognized in Constantinople
- Anthemius: 467 to 472
- Olybrius: 472 not recognized in Constantinople
- Glycerius: 473 to 474 not recognized in Constantinople
- Julius Nepos: 474 to 480 In exile 475 to 480
- Romulus Augustus: 475 to 476 not recognized in Constantinople
- Flavius Orestes: 475 to 476 Power behind the throne
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