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The Fall of Rome (150CE-475CE)

Important Terms, People, and Events

Context

Timeline

Terms

Barracks-room Emperor  -  Name given to Emperors rising to power on the strength of their armies after the fall of the Severi. These emperors often spent most of their time at war, fighting against Barbarians, Parthians, and Sassanids, though they themselves often were not pure Roman born.
Pax-Romana  -  The idea of the political, economic unity of the Mediterranean world in which security, peace—pax—was guaranteed by Roman law and military force. A reality from 90 to 200 CE.
Praetorian Guard  -  Elite force of palace guards established in the beginning of Empire period, to guard the person and family of the Emperor. From time to time, they would emerge as a political force, killing and proclaiming rulers. Eliminated at end of third century.
Parthians  -  Historic opponents of Roman rule in Mesopotamia, they became warlike again in 160s. Defeated by Marcus Aurelius, they caused intermittent problems into the 200s, then were replaced by the Sassanids, who were more aggressively expansionist and thus more of a threat.
Marcomanni  -  German Barbarian tribe on the north-central Rhine, they began invasions of Roman lands in the 160s, requiring Marcus Aurelius' sustained attention. Belong to the western German tribal groups.
Quadi  -  Barbarian tribe situated opposite the Roman borders in Pannonia (Balkans), they raided westward from the reign of Aurelius.
Sarmatians  -  Lower Balkan Germanic Tribes, they raided along with the Quadi during Marcus Aurelius' time. Were defeated by him.
Sassanid  -  Persian dynasty that overthrew the Parthians in 220s. More aggressively expansionist than their predecessors, they claimed lands ruled by ancient Persian states going as far West as Palestine. Posed a large military threat to Roman lands until the 630s. Made life difficult for military emperors of third century.
Alamanni  -  A Germanic super-tribe emerging around 200 on the upper Rhine just opposite Gaul. Began raiding from the late 200s, and especially after the Hunnic arrival in the 300s.
Franks  -  German super-tribe from the 250s, on the northern Rhine between Alamanni and Saxons. They worked as Roman foederati, and began to cross the Rhine only in the 400s. Eventually converted to Catholic Christianity, ensuring greater acceptance in West.
Visigoths  -  The western Goths, they settled north of Thrace and east of the Adriatic Balkans. Coming into Roman lands initially with imperial agreement in 375, they soon rebelled against the Roman's negligent treatment and defeated Valens in 378, then moved westward from 395. When no Roman authority would consent to their integration into Roman forces in exchange for food, their leader Alaric led an invasion of Italy resulting in the plundering of Rome. After failing to get to North Africa, the Visigoths, under Athaulf and Wallia, moved north from Italy into Gaul, where they fought for Rome against claimants. In late 418, they were made foederati, settled in western Gaul, and allowed hospitalitas. They moved from their assigned lands to Iberia after the 430s, yet assisted Aetius to defeat Huns in 451. Kingdom in Spain lasted to c.a. 700.
Ostrogoths  -  The eastern Goths, they were forced west from the Crimea and Black Sea area to north of Thrace and Visigoth realms in the 370s. Assisted in Visigothic defeat of Valens in 378. Became trouble for East Rome when they pressured emperors, notably Zeno in 470-80s. Zeno responded to the problem by encouraging Theodoric the Ostrogoth to lead his people west and unseat Odovacar in 488-93, thus freeing the east from the Ostrogoth menace. Theodoric overthrew Odovacar and established the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy, Southern Gaul. Christians of the Arian persuasion.
Burgundians  -  Eastern Germanic tribe, a late entrant into Roman territories, came with Rhadagaesius and his Vandals and plundered from 410s onward, eventually settling as foederati in the Worms region. After the Roman fall, they moved south to Gaul just beyond the Italian Alps to found a Burgundian Kingdom.
Huns  -  Non-Germanic, Slavic-Turkic tribe from far Central Asia, arrived in Roman theatre in 350-70s, driving all tribes west to pile up on Roman borders. Those that did not flee were subjugated and incorporated as slaves into Hun armies. Set off Germanic migrations into Roman lands. Raided East Roman areas from 430s, under unitary rulers—Rugilla and Attila. Went west under Attila, pillaged 451-3. Were defeated by Aetius, Roman and German troops in 451, Battle of Catalaunian Plains. Were scattered by Germanic Uprising in 455.
Vandals  -  East German tribe located beyond Burgundians before 400. Beginning in 406, entered Gaul across Rhine at Mainz. They traveled and pillaged all through Gaul and Iberia, crossing to North Africa in 429. After taking Carthage, they took up piracy in the Mediterranean and cut off food supplies to Rome from North Africa. In 455, Vandal ships sailed up the Tiber and sacked Rome.
Limes  -  Latin term for the fortified border areas along the Rhine and Danube rivers.
Nicomedia  -  Ancient city in Western Asia Minor. Diocletian ruled from there, beginning the tradition of imperial rule from East.
Tetrarchate  -  Method of rule innovated by Diocletian in order to assure smooth imperial succession. Under this design, two Augusti, one in the East and one in the West, would rule togetherBelow each ruled a junior colleague, or Caesar, who was a trusted general. When an Augustus position became vacant, the corresponding Caesar would occupy it, and this new Augustus would raise up a new, trusted Caesar. The system did not ultimately work, giving way to civil war in 306.
Decurions  -  Urban officials with municipal responsibility. Also called curiales, beginning with Diocletian their roles expanded to include tax collection. The class was made hereditary to prevent people from escaping the difficult task of tax-collection.
Foederati  -  An arrangement with Barbarian tribes across Roman borders under which the Barbarians would fight in support of Roman interests in return for goods or funds. From 370s, such agreements were applied also to Barbarians within Roman borders.
Arian  -  A version of Christianity based on the teachings of Arius, a priest who believed that Christ was less divine than God, being his son and corporeal. Though long accepted through much of the East and instrumental in converting many Goths to Christianity, Arianism was never accepted in the West and soon became known as the Arian Heresy. The resulting religious divide between Goths and Roman Christians forestalled attempts at assimilation.
Byzantium  -  Ancient fishing village in the Bosphorous Straits where Europe meets Asia. Constantine selected it as the site for his new imperial city, which he christened Constantinople. After the 470s, more than a century after the demise of the Western Empire, Byzantium would become the popular name of the Eastern continuation of the Roman Empire.
Byzantine Empire  -  Another name for the Eastern Roman Empire, originating from the fact that Constantinople was constructed on the ruins of the ancient city Byzantium.
Constantinople  -  The capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople was founded on the remains of the ancient city of Byzantium, with construction beginning in 325. One of the richest cities on earth from 400-1300, because it was founded by the Christian Constantine, it also was one of the first important cities to encompass a totally Christian milieu.
Volkerwanderung  -  German for 'Peoples'; Wanderings', it refers to the great Barbarian migrations lasting from 150 CE until the 550s.
Wergeld  -  Germanic justice system, focusing on avoidance of blood-feuds by assigning cash payments to different kinds of physical offenses; it was based upon severity of offense, and the victim's social status.
Hospitalitas  -  Roman legal device, originally entailing the quartering of Roman troops in rural agricultural areas during the winter to provide them with provisions. Modified after the 420s, it was used to legalize Germanic residence in Gaul, Iberia, and to provide them with access to a portion of agricultural production.
latifundia  -  Estates set up by rural elites (senators, officials, etc.) beginning in the 100s; beginning with the 300s, peasants who could not afford the recent tax bills, took up residence as employees of the estates. The peasants, tied to these lands, began the road to enserfment, especially once Germanic notables began to possess latifundia after the 440s.

People

Marcus Aurelius  -  Marcus Aurelius was Emperor from 161-180. A Stoic philosopher by temperament, he spent most of his time fighting Barbarian invasions in the West and Parthian incursions in the east. A great plague occurred during his rule.
Avidius Cassius  -  Roman general under Marcus Aurelius, he was sent to the East to counter the Parthian threat from 162-165. He defeated the Parthians, and was made by Aurelius the head of all military east of Egypt. He eventually led a revolt against Rome but was defeated.
Vespasian  -  Roman Emperor 69-70 CE. Great general, strong leader. With him began a progression of successful emperors and the resulting peaceful Roman world that lasted up to the 140s CE.
Commodius  -  Successor as Emperor to Marcus Aurelius, 180-192. A failure as leader, interested only in enjoyment. Eventually murdered by Palace guards.
Laetus  -  Head, or Prefect, of the Praetorian Guard, he was responsible for the murder of Commodius in 392. He then set up Pertinax as Emperor, whom he also killed when the latter began reforms threatening the Praetorians' prerogatives (193).
Helvius Pertinax  -  Close adviser to Marcus Aurelius, he was tapped as Emperor by the Praetorian Guard upon Commodius' murder. In his three months as Emperor before he also was murdered, Pertinax tried to reform state finances, administration, and terms of military service.
Septimius Severus  -  First of the Severi emperors, he came to power after the 193-194 civil war. Hailing himself as Pertinax's avenger, he took Rome, ousted the Praetorian Guard, undertook successful campaigns against the Parthians, and further eroded the power of the Senate.
Caracalla  -  Septimius Severus' son, he ruled 211-17, disregarding senatorial prerogatives and equalizing citizenship status of all free men in Roman lands. Continued Parthian campaigns. Curried favor with troops, beginning the process imbuing armies with king-making powers. He was murdered.
Severi  -  Dynasty of Roman Emperors descending from Septimius Severus, beginning in 193 and lasting to 235. Increasingly ineffective with the passing of years, they relied on the army for support, making it the decisive force in emperor- creation.
Gallienus  -  Military emperor facing terrible territorial challenges. During his reign, Alamanni invaded on the Rhine frontier and pushed as far as Italy, Franks moved into Gaul, and the new Sassanids pushed westwards through Armenia into Roman lands. At the same time, Gallienus had to deal with several breakaway provinces in the West under rival claimants to the Roman throne.
Claudius II Gothicus  -  Barracks-room emperor, he faced major Gothic incursions into the Balkans and even Asia Minor in 269-70. He defeated them decisively, however, removing any Gothic threat to Rome for the next one-hundred years.
Probus  -  A late military-camp emperor, Probus (r. 275-282) took on and defeated Alamanni and Franks in Gaul, restoring the Rhine and Upper Danube frontier. Also defeated Vandals, and came to a treaty with the Sassanids. Was assassinated when his army, whom he had been driving hard, heard of another claimant.
Diocletian  -  Last of the military-camp emperors, this Balkan general ruled from 285-306. Reformed the empire administratively, splitting it into East and West, militarily, fiscally, and in terms of court procedure. Under his hand, a far more absolutist state emerged. He undertook the last Roman persecution of Christians before Constantine took power and embraced Christianity.
Maximian  -  Diocletian's colleague, or co-emperor in the West. They both retired in 306.
Maxentius  -  One of Maximian's junior colleagues, or Caesars, he became an imperial claimant after their retirement. Constantine defeated him at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
Constantine the Great  -  Ruled 312-37. Continued Diocletian's reforms, founded Constantinople, and began the Christianizing of the Empire. Tried to solve doctrinal disputes in the Empire. Truly the first medieval ruler.
Licinius  -  Constantine's western co-emperor until Constantine defeated him in battle and temporarily reunited the Empire.
Arius  -  A priest in Alexandria in the 320s, he believed that Christ was less divine than God, being his son and corporeal. Not accepted as orthodox creed, his ideas became the Arian Heresy, a form of Christianity to which the Goths were converted.
Ulfillias  -  The son of Cappadocian slaves captured by Goths, he became an Arian priest, and converted Goths to Arian Christianity in the 350s, when Arianism was embraced as the official creed of the East. Makes Goths heretical to westerners.
Julian the Apostate  -  Roman Emperor, 361-65. Opposed to Christianity, he tried to cleanse Empire of it in favor of a pantheistic, pagan creed. Ideas did not outlast him.
Valentin  -  In the 370s, Alamanni raided Gaul, but were stopped by the western Emperor Valentin. In 375, Valentin died while pushing the Sarmatians back over the Danube. He was succeeded by Gratian in the West and Valens in the East
Gratian  -  Emperor in the West at time of the Battle of Adrianopole, where his Eastern colleague Valens was killed while fighting Visigoths. He tried to bring reinforcements, but Valens did not await his arrival.
Valens  -  Emperor in the East from 364-378. Allowed Visigoths to cross the Danube and settle in Roman territory. Roman authorities did not supply them well with food and let them starve; revolting, they met Valens in battle near Adrianopole in 378. Not waiting for reinforcements led by Gratian, the Emperor of the West, Valens attacked, and was routed when Ostrogothic cavalry intervened. Valens died at the scene.
Fritigern  -  Elected Visigothic king in 370s because he agreed not to stay and fight the Huns.
Theodosius  -  Eastern Emperor who ruled from Valens' death in 378 to 395. He patriated the Visigoths as foederati within Roman lands, attempting to guarantee them food supplies. He also made Christianity the state religion.
Alaric  -  Visigothic King from 395. Led Visigoths on multiple forays into Gaul, then into Italy, where, failing in negotiations with the Emperor and Senate, he sacked Rome slightly. Then, he took his people south to try to obtain passage to North Africa across the Mediterranean. After ships were destroyed, he died in 412.
Rhadagaesius  -  Vandal king, he led his tribe and others in plundering Gaul, 395-406.
Stilicho  -  Roman-Barbarian Master of Soldiers in West, 406-12. Fought holding actions against Vandals, Burgundians, and Visigoths. Would not consent to Visigothic incorporation into Roman forces as foederati. Was strangled by Honorius after Visigothic departure form Italy.
Honorius  -  Roman Emperor in West, 395-423. Would not negotiate with Visigoths, instead choosing to barricade himself in Ravenna. Held the throne during first sack of Rome in 410.
Athaulf  -  Visigothic king, 412-16, succeeding Alaric. Took Visigoths out of Gaul after failed attempt to cross to North Africa. Fought for Honorius against other claimants, but was unable to secure food for his people. Died while negotiating for food and normalized status within the Empire.
Theodosius II  -  Eastern Emperor, 408-450. Sent army west after death of Honorius in 423, was able to install the child Valentinian III as Western Emperor in Rome.
Valentinian III  -  Child-emperor established in West by Theodosius II in 425. Operated under the influence of his mother as well as his Master of Soldiers, Aetius.
Aetius  -  Roman-Barbarian Master of Soldiers, 430s-451. Had lived as a Hunnic hostage, knew them well, and was able to recruit them in armies to fight Germanics. Had to do reverse when Huns invaded 450s. After their defeat, he was murdered by the West Roman Emperor, Valentinian.
Theodoric the Visigoth  -  Visigothic King from 440 to 451. His forces were instrumental in Aetius' defeat of Attila the Hun. Theodoric died in the battle.
Gaiseric  -  Vandal ruler able to transport his tribe to North Africa in 429. His forces took Carthage in 435, began pirate raiding of Mediterranean cities, and were able to sack Rome in 455 by sailing up the Tiber.
Augustine  -  Bishop of Hyppo in North Africa, died witnessing Vandal siege of city. Emphasized a more Christian, otherworldly approach to life. Wrote the famous philosophical text, City of God. His main idea was that Christianity did not ensure Rome's fall, but rather, that there was something better out there.
Rouia (Rugilla)  -  King of recently unified Huns in 440s. He raided the Balkans extensively and was able to extort increasing tribute from the Byzantine Empire.
Attila  -  Hun leader, 450-454. After extorting increasing tribute from Constantinople, he went West, ravaging Roman lands, ambiguously invited by Honoria. He was defeated by a joint Roman-Germanic army at Battle of Catalaunian Plains, 451.
Marcian  -  Eastern Roman Emperor in 450, he refused to pay the higher tribute that Attila was demanding.
Honoria  -  Valentinian III's daughter, Honoria rejected her father's candidate for her husband, and in 450 wrote to Attila asking for his protection. He took this as a marriage proposal and came west, asking for half of the Empire as a dowry.
Pope Leo I  -  The Christian Pope in 451, when Attila's forces penetrated into Italy. According to reports, he and a party of Senators convinced the Huns to spare Rome a sacking.
Ricimer  -  Barbarian general acting for Rome, he defeated Vandals in a sea battle in 456. Set up Marjorian as a puppet Emperor, but could not carry offensive to North Africa. Tiring of Marjorian and wanting some arrangement with the Vandals, he disposed of the Roman and installed a distant relative of the Vandal king as Emperor. Both Ricimer and his Emperor were dead by 472.
Marjorian  -  Western emperor set up in 460 by Ricimer. He could not carry the anti- Vandal offensive further, as the Roman fleet was destroyed in storm. Ricimer soon replaced him with a different puppet.
Orestes  -  Barbarian Master of Soldiers in the West, he made his son Romulus Augustulus Emperor in 475. He was killed shortly thereafter.
Romulus Augustulus  -  Made emperor by his Barbarian father Orestes in 475, he lasted less than a year, being deposed by Odovacar, another Barbarian general. Romulus became a bishop.
Odovacar  -  Barbarian warlord who in 476 deposed Romulus Augustulus, the final western Emperor. Sending notification to Zeno that there was no need to appoint a further western Emperor, Odovacar claimed that he would rule in the west in Zeno's name. Zeno seemed to acquiesce, then sent Theodoric the Ostrogoth west in 488, both to eliminate Odovacar, and to get the Gothic menace out of Byzantine lands.
Zeno  -  Eastern Roman Emperor from 474-91. Wanting both to remove the Ostrogoth threat from the East and to unseat Odovacar, who had deposed Romulus Augustulus, Zeno sent Theodoric the Ostrogoth into Western Rome with the mission of defeating Odovacar. Theodoric succeeded, and Zeno thus had some responsibility in the founding of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy.
Theodoric the Ostrogoth  -  In 488, he was sent west by Eastern Emperor Zeno to subdue Odovacar. He succeeded by 493, and set up his own Ostrogothic Kingdom. Respectful of Roman custom, Gothic Arianism prevented him from bridging the cultural chasm.

Events

Battle of Milvian Bridge (312)  -  Battle between Maxentius and Constantine in Italy over control of the empire. After experiencing Christian visions, Constantine went on to defeat his rival and become emperor.
325 Council of Nicaea  -  Held in Western Asia Minor under Constantine's supervision, a Church council called to sort out the Arian dispute regarding the relationship between Christ and God in terms of degrees of divinity. Though the Orthodox creed was established proclaiming the co-equality of divinity, many were not convinced, Arianism continued, and even became the East's official creed for a time.
Battle of Adrianopole  -  Battle between Eastern Roman forces led by Valens and Visigothic/Ostrogothic forces in 378. At the battle, Valens refused to wait for reinforcement led by the Western Roman Emperor Gratian, and attacked. The Romans were routed, Valens was killed, and the Eastern army was decimated. The aftermath was large-scale settlement of Goths within Roman lands.
Battle of Catalaunian Plains  -  A 451 battle in central Gaul, in which Barbarian troops, with a small Roman contingent, defeated the forces of Attila the Hun. Overall command was held jointly by Aetius and Theodoric the Visigoth, who died here.

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