When Did the Roman Empire Fall?

The Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum.

The Great Empire

The Roman Empire was a large political territory that helped shape modern-day western civilization. It was under control of the government of the city of Rome (and for a brief time, the city of Constantinople) for around 500 years. This Empire stretched throughout the Mediterranean areas of Europe, Asia, and Africa and encompassed a population of between 50 and 90 million individuals, nearly one-fifth of the global population at that time. It had one of the most powerful economies and militaries in the world and today, is recognized as one of the largest empires in history.

When Did The Roman Empire Fall?

Historians cannot agree on a single date or event that resulted in the final decline of the Roman Empire. This Empire faced external and internal forces over various centuries that gradually changed its original framework until the Roman Empire that once existed could no longer be considered the same. When pushed for a specific date, however, most historians cite 476 AD as the year the formal Roman Empire ceased to exist. This year is when the eastern half of the territory officially became the Byzantine Empire. Despite this generally accepted notion, other experts believe the Empire fell during the following years: around 406 AD, when the Empire faced war, disease, and economic failure; 410 AD, when Visigoths invaded; 480 AD, when the last Western Roman Emperor died; and even as late as 1453 AD, when the Ottoman Empire conquered the Byzantine Empire.

Causes Of The Fall Of The Roman Empire

While the exact date of the fall of the Roman Empire is often up for debate, one thing is certain; a large number of events came together and lead to its eventual decline. Some of the most common reasons given for its fall include: Barbarian invasions, economic problems, division into the East and West, the introduction of Christianity, and lead in the water supply. A few of these are discussed below.

During the 4th century, the Roman Empire experienced a period filled with civil war and political instability, which created a window of opportunity for foreign invaders to make their way into the region. In 376, Roman forces were confronted by Barbarian fighters in the Battle of Adrianople. This battle resulted in the loss of a large number of Roman forces, leaving the Balkan area open to further invasion. Other Barbarian invasions resulted in further loss of territory and revenue for the Empire.

The Empire also faced a number of economic problems; inflation in particular had a large negative effect on the economy. The primary reason for this inflation was that Roman leaders devalued the currency in order to meet the high demand for coins. For example, by 268 AD, the amount of silver in a coin was only .02%, meaning that coins became only a representation of their former tangible value.

Additionally, the Roman Empire was divided internally between the eastern and western cultures. Because of the large expanse of the Empire, each side also required its own leadership in order to properly oversee the issues unique to each region. A system of senior and junior emperors was established in each region with hereditary succession. This succession, however, was largely unsuccessful and resulted in civil wars to determine new emperors. Eventually the eastern half of the Roman Empire came to be known as the Byzantine Empire and took on a sort of independence from the western rulers.

Each of these factors came together and over a lengthy process of internal change, the once great Roman Empire ceased to exist.


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