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Fall of Rome - Why Did Rome Fall?

Reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.



Members of the public visit Hadrian's Wall at Wallton Crags, the wall was started in AD 122 on the orders of Emperor Hadrian to keep out the Picts from Scotland on April 17, 2014 in England. A referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country will take place on September 18, 2014

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Theodoric (454 - 526), king of the Ostragoths (center, under flag), returns to Rome after succesfully defeating the Germanic armies under Odoacer where his is greeted by Pope Symmachus (right, with bowed head), 500.

(Kean Collection/Getty Images)

English historian Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794). Original Publication: People Disc - HD0148

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A.D. 476

It's not entirely arbitrary that Medieval/Renaissance History at About.com begins and Ancient/Classical History ends in A.D. 476. Edward Gibbon's 476 date for the Fall of Rome is conventionally acceptable because that's when the Germanic Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor to rule the western part of the Roman Empire. However, the people who lived through the takeover would probably be surprised by the importance we place on this event. And there are other, reasonably momentous dates for the Fall of the Roman Empire.

When Did Rome Fall?

Some say the split into an eastern and western empire governed by separate emperors caused Rome to fall. The eastern half became the Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople (modern Istanbul). The western half remained centered in Italy. Many say the Fall of Rome was an ongoing process, lasting more than a century. Since Rome still exists, it is argued that it never fell. Some prefer to say that Rome adapted rather than fell. [For some more details, see Decline of Rome.] A related question, one subject to even more discussion is:

Why did Rome Fall?

There are adherents to single factors, but more people think a combination of such factors as Christianity, decadence, lead, monetary trouble, and military problems caused the Fall of Rome. Imperial incompetence and chance could be added to the list. Even the rise of Islam is proposed as the reason for Rome's fall, by some who think the Fall of Rome happened at Constantinople in A.D. 1453.

The first major historian to deal with the decline and Fall of Rome was the 5th century historian Zosimus, but the best-known name connected with the Fall of Rome is Edward Gibbon. Historians of ancient Rome have long been fascinated with the fall of this powerful empire. Recently there has been a spate of books explaining it:

The Decline and Fall of Rome

The Roman Empire not only expanded, but was modified by the conquered people. The structure of the Roman government changed to deal with new situations. Emperors moved the capital away from the city of Rome, not just setting up an eastern capital in Nicomedia and then Constantinople, but also moving the seat of western government from Rome to Milan. They also developed an impressive civil bureaucracy, but such changes were not enough.

The Extent of the Empire at the Time of the Fall of Rome

Take a look at the maps to see the changing expanse of the Roman Empire.

Rome started out as a small, hilly settlement, by the Tiber River, in the middle of the Italian boot. It was surrounded by more powerful neighbors.

By the time Rome had become an empire, the territory covered by the term "Rome" looked completely different. It reached its greatest extent in the second century A.D. Some of the theories on the Fall of Rome focus on the geographic diversity and the territorial expanse Roman emperors and their legions had to control.


Decay, Christianity, Vandals | Economy | Lead and the Split

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