2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



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The Great Invasions, I.The Fall of the Western Empire, II.


   The Divided Empire.—The death of Theodosius in A.D. 395 marks an important epoch, not only in the history of the later Roman Empire but in the history of European civilization. From this time the two parts of the empire—the East and the West—became more and more separated from each other, until they became at last two distinct worlds, having different destinies. The eastern part, the history of which does not belong to our present study, maintained itself for about a thousand years with its capital at Constantinople, until it was finally conquered by the Turks (A.D. 1453). The western part was soon overrun and conquered by the German invaders, who brought with them new blood and new ideas, and furnished the elements of a new civilization. We have now to see how the Western Empire was obliged finally to succumb to these barbarians, who had been for so many years pressing upon the frontiers, and who had already obtained some foothold in the provinces.

   The General Stilicho.—When the youthful Honorius was made emperor in the West, he was placed under the guardianship of Stilicho, an able general who was a barbarian in the service of Rome. As long as Stilicho lived he was able to resist successfully the attacks upon Italy. The first of these attacks was due to jealousy and hatred on the part of the Eastern emperor. The Goths of Moesia were in a state of discontent, and demanded more extensive lands. Under their great leader, Alaric, they entered Macedonia, invaded Greece, and threatened to devastate the whole peninsula. The Eastern emperor, Arcadius, in order to relieve his own territory from their ravages, turned their faces toward Italy by giving them settlements in Illyricum, and making their chief, Alaric, master-general of that province. From this region they invaded Italy, and ravaged the plains of the Po. But they were defeated by Stilicho in the battle of Pollentia (A.D. 403), and forced to return again into Illyricum. The generalship of Stilicho was also shown in checking an invasion made by a host of Vandals, Burgundians, Suevi, and Alani under the lead of Radagaisus (A.D. 406). Italy seemed safe as long as Stilicho lived; but he was unfortunately put to death to satisfy the jealousy of his ungrateful master, Honorius (A.D. 408).

   Invasion of Italy by the Goths.—With Stilicho dead, Italy was practically defenseless. Alaric at the head of the Visigoths (West Goths) immediately invaded the peninsula, and marched to Rome. He was induced to spare the city only by the payment of an enormous ransom. But the barbarian chief was not entirely satisfied with the payment of money. He was in search of lands upon which to settle his people. Honorius refused to grant this demand, and after fruitless negotiations with the emperor, Alaric determined to enforce it by the sword. He took the city of Rome and sacked it (A.D. 410). For three days the city was given up to plunder. He then overran southern Italy and made himself master of the peninsula. He soon died, and his successor, Adolphus (Ataulf), was induced to find in Gaul and Spain the lands which Alaric had sought in Italy.

   The Rule of Placidia.—The great invasions which began during the reign of Honorius (A.D. 395-423) continued during the reign of Valentinian III. (A.D. 425-455). As Valentinian was only six years of age when he was proclaimed emperor, the government was carried on by his mother, Placidia, who was the sister of Honorius and daughter of Theodosius the Great. Placidia was in fact for many years during these eventful times the real ruler of Rome. Her armies were commanded by Aëtius and Boniface, who have been called the “last of the Romans.”

   Invasion of the Huns under Attila.—The next great invasion of the Western Empire was made by the Huns under Attila. This savage people from Asia had already gained a foothold in eastern Europe north of the Danube. Under their great chieftain, Attila, who has been called “the Scourge of God,” they invaded Gaul, and devastated the provinces; they laid siege to the city of Orleans, but were finally defeated by the Roman general Aëtius, with the aid of the Visigoths. The battle was fought near Châlons (A.D. 451), and has been called one of the great decisive battles of the world, because it relieved Europe from the danger of Tartar domination. Attila later invaded Italy, but retired without attacking Rome.

   Notwithstanding the brilliant service which Aëtius had rendered, he was made the victim of court intrigue, and was murdered by his jealous prince Valentinian III. The fate of Aëtius, like that of Stilicho before him, shows the wretched condition into which the imperial government had fallen.

   Invasion of the Vandals under Genseric.—The Vandals who had fought under Radagaisus had, upon the death of that leader, retreated into Spain, and had finally crossed over into Africa, where they had erected a kingdom under their chief Genseric. They captured the Roman city of Carthage and made it their capital; and they soon obtained control of the western Mediterranean. On the pretext of settling a quarrel at Rome, Genseric landed his army at the port of Ostia, took possession of the city of Rome, and for fourteen days made it the subject of pillage (A.D. 455). By this act of Genseric, the city lost its treasures and many of its works of art, and the word “vandalism” came to be a term of odious meaning.

   Occupation of Britain by the Saxons.—While the continental provinces were thus overrun by the Goths, the Huns, and the Vandals, the Roman army was withdrawn from the island of Britain. For many years it was left to govern itself. But the tribes of northern Germany, the Jutes and the Saxons, saw in it a desirable place of settlement, and began their migration to the island (A.D. 449).

   In the various ways which we have thus briefly described, the provinces of the Western Empire—Spain, Africa, Gaul, and Britain—became for the most part occupied by German barbarians, and practically independent of the imperial authority at Rome.


   Ricimer and the Last Days of the Empire.—The authority of the Western Roman emperors became limited to Italy, and even here it was reduced to a mere shadow. The barbarians were the real power behind the throne. The Roman armies were made up mostly of barbarians, under the control of barbarian generals; and even the direction of affairs at the capital was in the hands of barbarian chiefs. The place which Stilicho the Vandal had held under Honorius, was filled by Ricimer the Goth during the last years of the empire. This chieftain commanded the foreign troops in the pay of Rome. He received the Roman title of “patrician,” which at this time was equivalent to regent of the empire. For seventeen years (455-472) Ricimer exercised absolute authority, setting up and deposing emperors at his will. The Roman Empire in the West had in fact already passed away, and nothing was now left but to extinguish its name.

   Odoacer deposes Romulus Augustulus (A.D. 476).—The part which Ricimer had played as “king-maker” was now assumed by Orestes the Pannonian, who received the title of patrician. Orestes placed upon the throne his son, Romulus Augustulus, a boy six years of age. The brief reign of this prince has no other significance than the fact that it was the last. The barbarian mercenaries demanded one third of the lands of Italy, and on the refusal of Orestes, they placed their cause in the hands of Odoacer (a Herulian, or a Rugian chief). Romulus was obliged to resign his title as emperor, and word was sent to the Eastern ruler that there was no need of another separate emperor in the West. Odoacer was given the title of patrician, and ruled over Italy as the vicar of the Eastern emperor. The West was then deprived of the imperial title; and this event is called the “fall of the Western Roman Empire.”

   Relation of the West to the Eastern Empire.—If we were asked to define the relation between the East and the West after the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, we might be in doubt how to answer the question. Since Odoacer was made a Roman ruler under the title of patrician, and since he recognized the authority of the Eastern emperor, we might say that the Western Empire was not destroyed, but was simply reunited once more to the Eastern Empire. This would be true so far as it referred to a mere matter of legal form. But as a matter of historical fact this event does not mark a return to the old system of things which existed before the death of Theodosius, but marks a real separation between the history of the East and the history of the West.

   Transition to a New Civilization in the West.—The West had gradually become peopled with various German tribes. In Africa were the Vandals; in Spain and southern Gaul, the Visigoths; in northwestern Spain, the Suevi; in southeastern Gaul, the Burgundians; in Britain, the Saxons and the Jutes; in Italy, the Heruli. Only in the northern part of Gaul was the shadow of the Roman authority preserved by the governor, Syagrius, who still maintained himself for ten years longer against the invaders, but was at last conquered by the Franks under Clovis (A.D. 486). The chiefs of the new German kingdom had begun to exercise an independent authority and the Roman people had become subject to new rulers. The customs and manners of the Romans, their laws and their language, were still preserved, but upon them became engrafted new customs, new ideas, and new institutions. As the fall of the old republic was a transition to the empire, and as the decline of the early empire was a transition to a new phase of Imperialism; so now the fall of the Roman Empire in the West was in reality a transition to a new state of things out of which has grown our modern civilization.


Pelham, Bk. VII., Ch. 2, “Extinction of the Western Empire” (
Merivale, Gen. Hist., Ch. 77, “Loss of the Western Provinces” (1).
Freeman, Ch. 4, “Dismemberment of the Empire” (14).
Gibbon, Decline, Ch. 31, “Invasion of Italy” (7).
Gibbon, abridged, Ch. 15, “Western Empire under Honorius” (7).
Lord, Ch. 11, “Fall of Rome” (3).


   CAUSES OF THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE.—Seeley, Essay II. (7); Leighton, Ch. 37 (1); Lord, Ch. 12 (3); Hodgkin, Italy, Vol. II., Ch. 9 (7); Bury, Later Empire, Bk. I., Ch. 3 (7).

1 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


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