The Fall of Rome (150CE-475CE)

Key Terms and Events


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.


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.