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Great Migration Period

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Hun invasion
The Huns, led by Attila, invade Italy

During the 4th century CE, the Roman Empire underwent numerous transformations. The end of offensive wars resulted in a shortage of slave supplies in the Empire. The number of vernae (slaves not bought but brought up on the farm) grew.

This entailed the humanitarianization of the relationship between masters and slaves – more and more often they were allowed to start families and use small plots, of which only part of the crops were left for the master, leaving the rest for themselves. This layer of slaves was called servi casati.

At the same time, the development of latifundia reached its zenith. Their privileges (e.g. in terms of taxes) ruined free peasants, whose entire masses, instead of cultivating their own lands, began to lease plots of land within latifundia, paying the rent. Problems with its payment caused the peasant to become increasingly dependent on the latifundist. The process progressed so quickly that during the Migration Period, servi casati and the land leaseholders already formed one group, colonies. Additionally, many of them gave their plots of land in exchange for the care of a wealthy neighbour. This phenomenon was called patrocinia vicorum. Such subjection excluded the peasant from the circulation of goods outside the master’s estate and from the general tax system. It led to the ruin of the economy of both cities and the entire empire. In addition, the defeat of cities was compounded by the edict on inheriting occupations. The economic crisis led to frequent social outbursts (their participants were called baggage in Gaul).

In the 4th century CE, the Roman army was divided into two types of army: limitanei and comitatenses. The first, stationed on the borders of the empire, were recruited from the population of the provinces they defended, and usually their combat value was very low. Comitatenses were selected units, included in the imperial retinue (comitatus). Latifundists were mostly burdened with delivering a recruit. More and more often, instead of depleting the number of their colonies, they paid a special tribute (aurum tironicum). It allowed gaining experienced mercenaries and not peasants who were unfamiliar with the warrior. On a larger scale, this practice threatened the army – it began to lack Romans, but even Roman citizens, because the lion’s share of the army were barbarians. Roman discipline and tactics were disappearing in the army, because thanks to their skills, the Germans quickly advanced on the military career levels. This process began around 160, but the size that threatened the Roman state did not take until the last years of the 4th century.

Great migration of peoples on the territory of the Roman Empire.
Author: M-Kosowski | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The bureaucratization of the state also increased in the period under review. Offices (officia, scrinia) grew and were headed by appropriate chiefs (e.g. comes sacrarum largitionum – treasury administrator). The highest officials stood around the emperor who, following the example of oriental monarchs (e.g. the Persian Sassanids) from the time of Diocletian (284-305), became the absolute ruler (dominus) – the source of all laws. The position of the ruler understood in this way had a bad influence on the Roman Senate. Most of the senators coming from the property made their way to Rome less and less from their estates, leaving only senators by appointment of senior officials and military personnel, which led to the transformation of the senate into an advisory body.

In 395 CE, the emperor Theodosius the Great decided on his deathbed to divide the Empire between two minor sons, assigning them guardians. Arkadius, under the tutelage of the praetorian prefect Rufin, was given to the East. The younger Honorius, under the care of magistra militum Stilicho, was to rule the West. The boundaries were set so that they coincided with the influences of Latin and Greek. This factor made them firmly established. According to the father’s views, the young co-emperors were to support each other and lead a common external policy. Unfortunately, the rivalry between the guardians of the young rulers led to a state where the unity of East and West was only a fiction.

Decadent culture is often accused of decadence. It must be admitted that numerous transformations took place in it, however, one cannot look for only a collapse in them. Usually, this “cultural ruin” was attributed to the “aging” of ancient civilization, or to the pernicious influence of the East. Late antiquity art was characterized by the schematic drawing and solids. The artists of the time were accused of losing the technical perfection of the classical period for a long time. Nowadays, in the era of breaking with naturalism, one can notice an obvious truth: these changes were a symptom of a changing concept of beauty, tastes, or the use of new means of expression. The mosaic became popular, perfect for the symbolic drawing of artistic symbols. This transformation had its source in new philosophical and religious trends. Classical rationalism had lost to mysticism long before the rise of Christianity. Mithraism, Manichaeism, the cult of Isis, Judaism, Christianity – all these trends gave rise to Neoplatonism – a school of philosophy that revolutionized the thought of the turn of antiquity and the Middle Ages.

In the literature of the period under discussion, a passion for a peculiar antiquarianism was characteristic. The most popular were all kinds of commentaries, works on grammar, rhetoric, and versification. Literary language has become archaized, maintaining artificially unchangeable in relation to natural changes in a living language. The empire was undergoing changes in all areas. There was a crisis in the economy. The army, still being reformed, became more and more barbarized. The reconstruction of the bureaucracy led to unrest in power circles and the frequent overthrow of emperors. The anxiety was expressed in the escape of people from rationalism into mysticism, in the search for a better world, in purification, or in a blind desire to preserve the old civilization. It was during this period of fear and depression that the barbarians struck the lands of the empire.


The Germanic tribes played a major role in the period of the great migration of peoples. Their birthplace was most likely Skåne and Jutland, from where in the first millennium BCE they began their expedition to the south, driving the Celts out of today’s Germany, creating a group of West Germans. They often harassed the empire’s borders on the Rhine (for which they were displaced by Caesar in 58 BCE). The role of the hegemon among these tribes was initially played by the Swews, then the Marcomanni, and from the third century by the Franks. At the beginning of our era, another group of Scandinavian people left their homeland and landed at the mouths of the Vistula and Odra, giving rise to the East Germans. Around the 3rd century, the most powerful tribe among them, the Goths, settled on the shores of the Black Sea, forming a strong tribal union that also included the Slavic, Alans and Sarmatian, tribes.

Given the enormous differentiation in the socio-economic development of the Germans, it can be generalized that in the period in question, they were peoples with a semi-permanent lifestyle, cultivating extensive agriculture in a fallow system, governed by the principles of war democracy. Often, the shortages in the collection were supplemented by attacks on the neighbours. The interactions between Germans and Rome were very strong and constant. Waged wars, diplomatic and trade relations favoured the flow of goods and the propagation of Mediterranean culture among the tribes across the Rhine and Danube. The leaders tried to imitate Roman customs, lifestyle, fashion and supported the trade. Their most common dream was to obtain the status of an ally of Rome (foederati) and allow them to settle with the tribe within the borders of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, the Romans valued the Germans for their bravery and bravery. They often used their help in fighting wars. In the event of problems with recruiting soldiers within the borders of the state, Germany was used as an endless reservoir of brave warriors, from where entire units with their own leaders were repeatedly brought under Roman command. The situation became dire when, instead of small, autonomous groups of soldiers, whole tribes with kings began to settle within the borders of the empire, ruling according to their own laws.

In the second half of the fourth century, the Christianization of the Germanic tribes began. The first bishop – Goth, Wulfila, to facilitate this process, translated the Bible into his own language, writing it in his own alphabet. It was a period when the emperor and the bishops of Constantinople were associated with Arianism, hence this doctrine was instilled into the Germans, which was to be the source of numerous conflicts in the future.

At the end of the 4th century, the Germanic tribes consolidated under a strongly crystallized ruling class after the collapse of the ancestral structure. After the first successful expeditions, they noticed a serious weakening of the empire. Drawn by the magnetic force of civilization from the Mediterranean, they set out to conquer it. The role of the boulder moving the avalanche was performed by the Hun tribe.

The appearance of the Huns

The Huns, a Turkic-Mongolian people, came from the steppes of Central Asia. Already in Chinese chronicles from the 2nd century BCE numerous attacks by the nomadic people of Xiongnu were noted. It was against them that the Middle Kingdom was to be protected by the Great Wall. In the second half of the 4th century, there were significant changes in the climate – the steppe began to desert in many places. Additionally, the Rouran people (identified with the Avars) shattered the Hun tribal union, causing their exodus to the west. Some of them, the White Huns – Heftalites, formed a strong organization in today’s Afghanistan, threatening Persia and India. The rest moved on, entering the Black Sea steppes around 370. This was one of the main reasons for the march of the Slavs and Scythians to the west, which also forced similar movements of the Germans.

No Roman historian – neither Priskos, nor Ammianus Marcellinus, nor Jordanes – mentions what was the cause of the Huns’ aggression against the Goths and their lands. What is certain, however, is that the riders from the eastern steppes aroused fear and terror among other tribes. The Romans themselves describe them as short, stocky, slant-eyed, with bent legs – from the constant mounting of horses – howling wildly and using a mock run (a trick). Apparently, they did not know any of the then civilizations, preferred a nomadic lifestyle and were famous for their masterful use of the recurve bow, which had a much greater range and firepower than traditional bows. Ammianus Marcellinus claims that their clothing was rarely washed and wore it until it decayed and ate raw or semi-raw meat. Moreover, to prevent the growth of facial hair, they cut the faces with blades, creating unsightly scars. The Romans themselves saw them as false, untrustworthy and without confession. Regardless of how many of these stories are true, it must be made clear that they indicate the fear the Hun hordes were causing.

First Visigoth invasion

By breaking the tribal union of the Eastern Goths, the Ostrogoths, the Huns in 375 caused a great panic among the Black Sea Germans. The Ostrogoths, heading west, forced the Visigoths to act in a similar way, living north of the Danube. Some of the Visigoths, led by Fritigern, asked the Emperor of the East Valens for asylum within the borders of the empire (in the provinces of Thrace or Moesia). The emperor agreed, in return demanding a contingent of Gothic warriors for the imperial army. Visigoths settled in Moesia where the food was to be shipped. The Romans, however, did not fulfil their promise, officials often blocked shipments and acted to the detriment of numerous barbarians – this over time caused starvation among the incoming masses. There was a Visigothic revolt, supported by the local population, oppressed by imperial fiscalism. Emperor Valens, misjudging the insurgent forces, attacked them, without the support of the troops of his nephew Gratian – the emperor of the West. On the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378, the Roman armies suffered a miserable defeat, and the emperor himself fell. Moreover, the ruler’s body has not been found.

The defeat of the Romans shattered the security of the border on the Danube. Still, new Germanic waves fleeing the Huns flooded the Balkan Peninsula, ravaging it mercilessly. Gratian, in a hurry and fearing the deepening of the crisis, appointed the Eastern Emperor – Theodosius I. The latter, initially presenting himself to the arriving Visigoths, had to finally conclude a pact with the Visigoths (CE 382), according to which they were once again recognized as allies of Rome (foederati) – this time with guaranteed autonomy, land and constant food supplies – on condition that armed forces are delivered to the empire. It should be noted, however, that the military support consisted in the fact that the Visigoths were to stand shoulder to shoulder in battle with the Romans, but under their command.

The Visigothic invasion apparently ended in the triumph of the Empire (the treaty survived until Theodosius’s death in 395 CE), but in fact, Rome’s prestige was clearly undermined. It is not without reason that the dates 378 and 382 CE in some circles of Western European historiography are assigned the role of the caesura between antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Journey of the Visigoths

In the period after the death of Emperor Theodosius the Great, who enjoyed great authority among the barbarians, there was a period of great anxiety that led to battles that destroyed the Empire from within. The army’s saturation with the Germanic element was at its peak. Virtually the West was ruled by the Vandal Stilicho, the guardian of the minor Honorius. On his order, the prefectus Flavius ​​Rufin was murdered by Gainas, returning from the military expedition against the Visigoths, in front of the Emperor of the East, Arcadius. Germanic troops, undisciplined and wild, plundered the territories of the Empire, which, with the intensification of antagonisms between the Arian Goths and the Catholic population, aggravated the aversion to the Germans.

In 395-400 CE, Alaric was elected leader of the Visigoths, who led successful raids throughout the Balkans and the Peloponnese. In 400 CE, there were riots in Constantinople, as a result of which 7,000 were murdered. Gothic soldiers, and then the Byzantine officers were cleared of barbarians. The terrified Visigoth chief, Alaric, did not avenge his fellow tribesmen, and, in accordance with a settlement with the victorious anti-German party, headed for the West. In 401 CE, Alaric and his army besieged Milan – the imperial seat. Stilicho managed to repel him from the city walls, as well as defeat him in several other battles (including at Pollentia). As a result of these fights, the Goths were temporarily forced to leave Italy and return to the Balkans.

Break of the Rhine line and Visigothic intrusion into Italy

The catastrophe came unexpectedly. Stilichon used the troops customarily stationed on the border of the Rhine to fight Alaric. On December 31, 406, the frozen river was forced by loose troops of survivors from various tribes under the leadership of Radagajs. Stilichion started a fight with them, but in January of the following year, in the vicinity of Mainz and Worms, the river was forced not only by individual units, but by whole tribes – Vandals, Suebi, Alans and Burgundians.

The dramaturgy of these events resulted in Stilichion being accused of a pro-German policy. British and Gallic armies revolted and proclaimed one of their chiefs – Constantine, emperor. In Italy itself, shocked by the appearance of barbarians south of the Alps, there were attacks on soldiers of Germanic origin. Eventually, Honorius himself turned against Stilicho, lured him to the new imperial seat – Ravenna, where Vandal was murdered on August 22, 408 CE

Further upheavals ensued from these killings. Stilicho’s soldiers, afraid of repeating the situation from Constantinople, deserted en masse and went to the side of Alaric, who was camped in Noricum, where he conducted negotiations regarding the entry of his troops under the power of the West in exchange for an exorbitant pay. The riots, however, changed the plans of Alaric, who went to Rome, absorbing the encountered deserters along the way. The “Eternal City” saw the enemy at the gates for the first time since Hannibal. Alaric undertook subsequent sieges of Rome in 408 and 409. However, each time an agreement was reached. However, in the year 410 there was another siege of the city. Negotiations with the senate failed and on August 24, 410 the fasted city was in the hands of the Germans, who for the next three days plundered, burned and deported its inhabitants as slaves.

The capture of Rome did not solve Alaric’s problems. He moved south, wanting to cross to North Africa to create a state independent of the empire. A storm shattered these plans, destroying his fleet, which was ready to sail. Alaric turned north, but on the way, he died near Cosenza, which was a salvation for him from a hopeless situation. The Visigoths, led by the new leader, Ataulf, set off for chaos in southern Gaul, where they wanted to fight for permanent residence. There was a great opportunity for this, because this province was the arena of rebel legions, troops loyal to the emperor and barbarians wandering westwards. The Burgundians, some of the Alans and the Franks, who, fighting as foederati, took the northern part of the country for themselves in Gaul. At the end of 409 CE, the rest – the Vandals, the Swews and most of the Alans – crossed the Pyrenees and invaded the so-far peaceful Iberian Peninsula. Rome managed to maintain nominal power over Gaul. With the help of the capable commander Constantius, Honorius reduced the barbarian areas to the settlement areas imposed by Rome and formally entered into alliance agreements with them. The deaths of Constantius and Honorius ended the temporary relaxation in the West.

Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by barbarians

The invasion of 409 was successful – the Suebi took the territories of today’s Galicia and northern Portugal, the Alans settled in Lusitania, and the Vandals took control of Bethica, which is called Andalusia after them. However, the role of the hegemon on the peninsula was to be played by the Visigoths. This tribe, after numerous journeys, received the Gallic Aquitaine from Emperor Honorius as allies (foederati). Soon their kingdom began to extend beyond the slopes of the Pyrenees. In 429 CE, the Vandals crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to North Africa.

At that time, the Visigoths ruled almost the entire Peninsula with the exception of the state of Suebi and the Basque Country. After 507, as a result of the battle with the Franks at Vouille, after which they lost Aquitaine, they began to sail in a great wave to Spain. Complementing the romanization of their kingdom was the transfer of the capital from Narbonne to Spanish Barcelona, ​​and then to Toledo. After Justinian’s campaign (550), a slow decline of the Visigothic state began, at the same time associated with the strong assimilation of the Germans with the local, heavily Romanized Ibero-Celtic population.

African Vandal State

The assumption of power by the minor Valentinian III caused a new struggle for influence between the Roman leaders. Bonifatius, governor of Africa, did not hesitate to call for help in 428 of the Vandals. He provided them with a fleet on which they crossed Gibraltar under the leadership of King Genseric. This – one of the greatest Germanic leaders of his time – was aware that his people would not survive in Spain under the Visigothic pressure and set off for Africa to create a new Germanic state there. Despite the reconciliation of Bonifacio with the Ravenna court, Genseric, aided by the Berbers and persecuted Donatists, attacked the African province and, having defeated the Romans at Hippo, took most of the country. The capture of Carthage allowed the Vandals to create an extremely dangerous privateer fleet, which they attacked the coastal ports of the Western and even Eastern Empire.

In 435 Aetius, the then most important persona at the imperial court, forced Genseric to recognize himself as an “ally” and deplete his possessions with his African campaign. Four years later, the Vandals resumed the war and the powerless emperor had to approve vandal acquisitions in Africa by the treaty of 442. Their state gained sovereignty in return for delivering grain to Rome. This situation was dangerous for the Empire, because the food of all Italy depended on grain supplies from Africa. Aetius, therefore, tried to maintain good relations with Genseric. Additionally, the Vandals expanded their fleet, quickly becoming masters of the sea from Gibraltar to Greece, preventing trade relations between the East and West of the Roman Empire.

Migration of Vandals to the areas Africa.
Author: Krzystof Marcinek | The map can be found in the book Aecjus and Barbarians of Atryda Publishing House

In 455 CE, Generic first became involved in internal disputes in the Western Empire. The changes to the throne encouraged the Vandals to invade Rome and sack it. Moreover, in CE 468, a Vandal fleet defeated the Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I, guaranteeing in practice the sovereign state of the Vandals and Alans in Africa. This fact was confirmed by Emperor Zeno in 474 CE. It is worth adding that the Vandals and their structure existed until CE 534, when Justinian I – the Byzantine emperor – restored the old rule.

Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Britain

The issue of separating Britain from the rest of the Empire and its domination by the Germanic tribes remains to this day unexplained. Already in the third century, we observe both the retreat of the Roman borders and the Roman economy of Britain and its slow barbarization. Already then, next to the constant invasions of Picts from the side of Scotland, it was then that the Saxons, the inhabitants of northwestern Germany, began attacking the island from the sea. The Roman population took refuge behind the fortifications. One of the last blows dealt with Roman Britain was the invasion of the Pictish tribes of 367, which devastated the entire Roman part of the island.
Typically, in historiography, the year 407, when the legions left the island, was considered the final turning point of Roman power over Britain. Currently, however, the border is moved to the period after 440, i.e. until the invasion of the island of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, peoples living on the Weser and on the Jutland Peninsula, who had already tried to settle on the British shores.

The course of the conquest itself is unknown. He is mentioned only in later legends, which mention the legendary Germanic chieftains – Hengist and Horsie, and mention the brave Celtic defender of the island of Artus (better known as King Arthur). By about 450 the invaders had established themselves firmly in Britain. In the course of further fights, the eight most powerful states emerged over time. While the Jutes created only one kingdom (Kent), the Saxons divided into Western (Wessex), Eastern (Essex) and Southern (Sussex), the Angles founded, counting from the south: Mercia (in the centre of the island), East-England, Deiry and Bernicia; the last two kingdoms later merged into Northumbria, hence the declining migration period in Britain is often referred to as the time of the heptarchy – i.e. the seven kingdoms.

Celtic and Roman people could not come to terms with the rule of the Germans. That is why part of it landed on the Gallic Peninsula of Armorica, where during the second half of the 5th century it founded numerous settlements, which over time united to defend itself against the Frankish invasions. Thanks to this, this area, later called Brittany, managed to protect its independence from the descendants of Meroweus, and then the Carolingians. However, most of the indigenous population of Britain remained on the island, and during the 5th-6th centuries, it was successively pushed to the west – to Wales, Cornwall and the so-called Strathclyde, wherein the fight against the invaders it used the help of the inhabitants of Ireland, then called the Scots. The most civilized withdrew to Ireland, where, thanks to their activities, contributed to the flourishing of this territory. There, in numerous monasteries, numerous ancient works and knowledge of classical, non-vulgar Latin, which was supposed to return to the continent during the time of Charlemagne, have been preserved.

Attila’s campaigns

As the Western Empire plunged into the chaos of barbarian migration and civil wars, the East became the focus of the mighty Hun tribal union. These people, establishing the centre of their organization on the Tisa steppes, imposed sovereignty over the neighbouring Germanic, Turkish and Slavic tribes. Attila with his brother Bleda stood at the head of this union in 443, until his murder in 445. Attila became the sole ruler of an enormous union of nomads and conquered peoples, his position arousing the respect of his neighbours. As early as around 430, the Court of Constantinople, entangled by the intrigues of hostile cliques and mired in theological disputes, decided to pay a heavy annual tribute to the Huns in gold. Nevertheless, Attila invaded the East in 441 and renewed its attack in 447, reaching Thermopylae and Constantinople. The Huns withdrew from the siege only after the court of Constantinople gave up the belt of border fortresses and tripled the tribute.

At that time, the western part of the empire defended itself against the catastrophe. The greatest part in this was played by the patrician Aetius, known as the Last Roman, who became the practical ruler of Italy and the remnants of estates in Gaul and Spain. He maintained his position thanks to the help of the Huns, who, being a hostage in his youth, had earned him great authority. Hunnic’s bodyguards prevented many attempts on his life. By constantly shifting forces from one end of Gaul to the other, he kept the Visigoths, Burgundians, Franks, and Alemans in check to subjugate the remnants of the Empire’s possessions. These wars, waged both against the barbarians and with their help, devastated the country tremendously. A policy based on aid from the Huns was possible only as long as Attila did not show aggressive tendencies towards the West.

From 448, the king of the Huns was looking for an excuse to attack the Western Empire. He soon demanded the emperor’s sister, Honoria, and half of the western empire as dowry. When his demands were rejected, he crossed the Rhine and began ravaging Gaul. He was met by a combined Roman-Germanic force, led by Flavius ​​Aethius, which dealt defeat the Huns in the Catalaunian Plains (451). After Attila’s retreat, he plundered northern Italy the following year, demolished Aquileia, and reached Rome. During this time, the East attacked the Huns’ headquarters, which forced Attila to withdraw. Other accounts indicate the role of the persuasion of Pope Leo I. Further campaigns were interrupted by the sudden death of the leader (453). The weakening of the Huns was used by the conquered Germans, who started a rebellion led by the king of Gepids, Ardaric. After the Battle of the Nedao River, the Huns retreated to the Black Sea steppes, and only some of them were settled by Emperor Marjan in the Balkan Peninsula.

Fall of the Western Empire

The defeat of the Huns did not save the West from catastrophe. Aetius became powerless without the help of the Huns. It was used by Emperor Valentinian III, so far relegated to the background. With the support of Genseric, King of the Vandals, he murdered “The Last Roman ” in a personal audience (454). Six months later, the emperor himself fell victim to an assassination attempt while visiting a military camp (455). The army proclaimed Petronius Maximus emperor, who was soon murdered on the news of the approach of Genseric. Proclaiming himself the avenger of Valentinian, he invaded Italy, plundered Rome, destroying its surviving monuments (hence the phrase “vandalism”), taking away everything that was possible, along with several thousand prisoners. In 455 CE, the Western Empire practically ended. There were no contenders for purple. Only the prefectus of Gaul, Avitus, proclaimed himself emperor under the aegis of the Visigothic king, Theodoric the Great, but was quickly murdered (456) by Swewa Rycimer, who became the Empire’s gravedigger. The Majorian chief, supported by the Eastern Emperor Leo I, tried to control the situation, but he was also killed on the orders of Ricimera (461).

The successors of Majoriana were just puppets. Some were appointed by the eastern emperors (Antemius, Julius Nepos), others by Rycimer (Libius Severus), or the quite vandal Genseric (Glicerius). After the death of Ricimer (472), Orestes became the new crown distributor, who in 475 appointed his underage son Romulus to the throne; ago in history he got the nickname Augustulus (“Caesarine”). Rebellious against the insolvent power of Rome, the soldiers chose the Germanic custom for their king Odoacer (476). He murdered Orestes, removed Romulus from power, which he took over personally, nominally on behalf of the Emperor of the East, Zeno Isaurian, to whom he returned the imperial insignia. Western possessions outside Italy were quickly seized by barbarians. Only in Dalmatia until 480 was ruled Julius Nepos deposed by Orestes, but recognized as the rightful emperor by Constantinople and the Roman governor of Gaul, Sjagrius. The latter persisted north of the Loire until 486, when the Franks expanded under the leadership of Clovis.
Odoacer’s reign did not last long. While they did significantly improve the nutrition of Italy, the barbarian power in the former heart of the Empire was unacceptable to either Constantinople or the surviving senatorial families. A person to remove Odoacer was quickly found – he was Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths in the East Roman service, a great lover of Roman culture. The war between Theodoric and Odoacer in 488-493 ended in surrender and soon the death of the destroyer of the western empire in Ravenna.
Theodoric ruled Italy formally as magister militum, however, bearing the royal title of Ostrog, he often wore purple and usurped the titles augustus and dominus noster in the inscriptions. Despite his fascination with Romanity, Theodoric ruled independently of Constantinople. He concentrated the goths in northern Italy, reserving military matters for them, leaving the administration to the Romans. Integration between the two peoples was also hindered by religious antagonisms between the Arian Goths and the Romans, among whom the Roman bishop was gaining more and more authority.

The times of Theodoric the Great were a period of little revival for Italy. Buildings were rebuilt, the economy was starting to wake up from stagnation. The Goths based the borders of Italy on the Danube, they managed to stop the march of the Franks towards the Mediterranean Sea, regaining Provence. Theodoric also gained regency supremacy over the Visigothic kingdom in Spain. However, his death in 526 showed the weakness of his intricately constructed Gothic-Roman state. His daughter Amalasunta could no longer resist internal friction and the growing threat from outside, from Constantinople, which was finally powerful enough to claim the ancient Roman lands.


It is hard to talk about the “great migration of peoples” and the invasion of Roman borders by the barbarians as planned actions. Moreover, the presence of tribes and peoples in Roman territories was certainly not intended to destroy the Roman state organism. The barbarian leaders very quickly noticed that skilful navigation through the Roman administration could bring tangible benefits to one’s own people, as well as security and food. Very often it was the Romans themselves, with their disrespectful and negative attitude to the incoming masses, who caused hostile attacks and further demands.

The leader of the Visigoths, Alaric was an example of a leader who was able to perfectly “suck” from the mighty Roman organism another layer of wealth, food and goodness. His successor Ataulf – in accordance with his words – taking as his wife the imperial sister Galla Placidia (the siblings of Honorius) abandoned his former goal – the fight of the Goths with the Romans, in favour of building a new geopolitical entity connecting the Goths and the Romans. The Goths here were supposed to perform a military function. However, as it turned out, it was a fiction and the allied relations between the barbarians and the Romans were extremely weak.

Depending on the political situation in the region, agreements were broken and new ones were concluded, which resulted in further crises in the Roman state. The lack of clear leadership, internal struggles, the economic crisis, very low tax revenues, and therefore the decline in money for the army, which had ever fewer recruits available, caused the West Roman organism to be dramatically weakened.

The fall of Rome, however, was not complete. In the territories of the former West Roman Empire, among others, municipal administrative divisions that were adopted in the state structures of the barbarian kingdoms. Latin language and culture – at least half – were adopted. Moreover, as part of the annexation of Roman lands, Christianity was developing, which was to lead the way and shape the fate of Europe in the coming centuries.

  • Peter Heather, Upadek Cesarstwa Rzymskiego, Poznań 2007
  • Maria Jaczynowska, Marcin Pawlak, Starożytny Rzym. Wyd. 2, Warszawa2011
  • Marek Wilczyński, Wielka wędrówka ludów - migracja w V wieku n.e., "Mówią Wieki", grudzień 2015

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