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Fall of the Roman Empire


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Final lecture on the Later Roman Empire module at the University of Liverpool, December 2012.

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Fall of the Roman Empire

  2. 2. Introduction The fall of the western Roman Empire Scholarly interpretations of the fall of the empire The fall of the empire in the popular imagination Exam
  3. 3. Early 450s: success then trouble 451: in alliance with the Theoderic, King of the Visigoths, the Roman general Aetius defeated Attila’s Hunnic army at Chalons in Gaul 453: Aetius betrothes his daughter to Valentinian III 454: Valentinian, under influence of other advisors, kills Aetius 455: one of advisors, Petronius Maximus arranges for Aetius’ former officers to assassinate Valentinian III  PM marries Val III’s widow  Eastern court refuses to accept PM as emperor  PM tries to get aid from the Visigoths but it does not arrive  PM cancels wedding of Val III’s daughter to the son of the Vandal king, who sails to Rome and sacks the city  PM is abandoned by his troops and killed by a mob in Rome
  4. 4. Anonymous, Life of SaintGenovefa, 10, 12 When it was noised abroad that Attila the King of the Huns, overcome with savage rage, was laying waste the province of Gaul, the terror- stricken citizens of Paris sought to save their goods and money from his power by moving them to other, safer cities. But Genovefa summoned the matrons of the city and persuaded them to undertake a series of fasts, prayers, and vigils in order to ward off the threatening disaster, as Esther and Judith had done in the past. Agreeing with Genovefa, the women gave themselves up to God and labored for days in the baptistery--fasting, praying and keeping watch as she directed. Meanwhile she persuaded the men that they should not remove their goods from Paris because the cities they deemed safer would be devastated by the raging Huns while Paris, guarded by Christ, would remain untouched by her enemies. [...] On that day the Apostles word was fulfilled: "All men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful who shall establish you and keep you from evil.” The Bishops Martin and Anianus have been greatly praised for their amazing virtues. One day, near the city of Worms, the former went into battle without weapons. Having thus allayed the fury of the opposing armies, he obtained a treaty. And when the Huns besieged the city of Orleans, the latter by his prayers assisted the Patrician Aetius and his Goths in keeping it from destruction. Arent the same honors due to Genovefa, who drove away the same army by her prayers so that it would not surround Paris?
  5. 5. Late 450s: attempts to recover 455-456: Eparchius Avitus, PM’s envoy to the Visigoths, is made emperor with their support and that of Gallo- Roman nobility; but  Lack of support from East  Visigoths act independently in Spain  Italians don’t like being ruled by a foreigner  Disloyalty of his generals  He is defeated and forced to become a bishop 457-461: Majorian  General: victory over Visigoths, Burgundians and Sueves in Gaul and Spain  But his fleet to attack the Vandals in Africa is destroyed:  “While Majorian was campaigning in the province of Carthaginiensis the Vandals destroyed, through traitors, several ships that he was preparing for himself for a crossing against the Vandals from the shore of Carthaginiensis. Majorian, frustrated in this manner from his intention, returned to Italy” (Hydatius, Chronicle, 200, s.a. 460)
  6. 6. Flavius Ricimer (d. 472) German general (magister militum) Effectively in control of the Western Empire from mid-450-472  Rebels against Avitus and Majorian  Replaces Majorian with series of (increasingly short-lived) emperors he can control; but  Not recognised by eastern emperors  Or barbarians in western provinces, who increasingly act independently of Rome and take more territory away Natural death
  7. 7. Julius Nepos (r. 474-475) General in (autonomous) control of Dalmatia Appointed Western Emperor by the Eastern Emperor Leo I in 474 He soon replaced Glycerius in Italy Soon deposed by Orestes, western magister militum in 475 Remains in control in Dalmatia until his death in 480
  8. 8. Romulus Augustulus (r. 475-476) Child, son of Orestes Figurehead for his father Rome controls little more than Italy and part of southern Gaul Revolt of barbarian troops in Italy under the general Odoacer demanding territory:  Orestes killed and Romulus Augustulus deposed Odoacer  Sends imperial regalia to Constantinople  Styles himself King of Italy  Rules in name of Eastern Emperor Zeno
  9. 9. Summary Contextual problems/ solutions  Loss of territory  Military defeats (but still some successes)  Diplomacy: marriage alliances and external aid  Rapid turnover of emperors Too many cooks?  Eastern Empire  Roman aristocrats in Italy and S. Gaul  Barbarian kings  Barbarian generals and troops in Roman army
  10. 10. The political-cultural context of Gibbon’s work Political  Empire  Absolutism vs. democracy and reform  Revolution  Formation of nations Intellectual  Enlightenment  Rationalism over religion  Science  History as science – historicism in 19th C
  11. 11. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794):An introduction Wealthy family Educated in London and Oxford Passion for theological controversy Conversion to Catholicism and back to Protestantism 5 years studying in Lausanne Literary celebrity Service in South Hampshire militia 1762: commences Grand Tour, including travel to Rome, where he says idea for the Decline and Fall took root 1773: appointed honorary professor in ancient history at the Royal Academy 1774: MP for Liskeard, Cornwall 1776-1788: publication of the Decline and Fall in 6 volumes
  12. 12. Looking back on Rome:Gibbon’s Autobiography “ the distance of twenty-five years I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod, with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Caesar fell, was at once present to my eye; and several days of intoxication were lost or enjoyed before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation.”
  13. 13. The impact of Gibbon’s work The volumes were a commercial and literary success Negative appraisals:  Strongly criticised for its view of Christianity (chapters 15-16 banned in several countries)  Accused on anti-Semitism  Negative view of middle ages: “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.” (3.71)  Rejection of contemporary democratic movements Positive appraisals:  Praised for its style (e.g. by Winston Churchill) and ideas (Isaac Asimov)  Emphasised importance of primary sources rather than secondary accounts (first modern historian?)
  14. 14. Edward Gibbon’s reasons for the fall Internal factors are pre- eminent Factors built in to the imperial system  the role of the army  the role of the emperor Christianity weakens the Roman spirit  monks rather than legionaries The (manly) barbarians defeat an already-decrepit system
  15. 15. 210 Reasons for the decline of the Roman  Citizenship, granting of  Epidemics Empire (source: A. Demandt, Der Fall  Civil war  Equal rights, granting of Roms (1984) 695; see also: Karl  Climatic deterioration  Eradication of the best Galinsky in Classical and Modern  Communism  Escapism Interactions (1992) 53-73)  Complacency  Ethnic dissolution Abolition of gods  Concatenation of misfortunes  Excessive aging of population Abolition of rights  Conservatism  Excessive civilization Absence of character  Corruption  Excessive culture Absolutism  Cosmopolitanism  Excessive foreign infiltration Agrarian question  Crisis of legitimacy  Excessive freedom Agrarian slavery  Culinary excess  Excessive urbanization Anarchy  Cultural neurosis  Expansion Anti-Germanism  Decentralization  Exploitation Apathy  Decline of Nordic character  Fear of life Aristocracy  Decline of the cities  Female emancipation Asceticism  Decline of the Italian population  Feudalization Attack of the Germans  Deforestation  Fiscalism Attack of the Huns  Degeneration  Gladiatorial system Attack of riding nomads  Degeneration of the intellect  Gluttony Backwardness in science  Demoralization  Gout Bankruptcy  Depletion of mineral resources  Hedonism Barbarization  Despotism  Hellenization Bastardization  Destruction of environment  Heresy Blockage of land by large landholders  Destruction of peasantry  Homosexuality Blood poisoning  Destruction of political process  Hothouse culture Bolshevization  Destruction of Roman influence  Hubris Bread and circuses  Devastation  Hypothermia Bureaucracy  Differences in wealth  Immoderate greatness Byzantinism  Disarmament  Imperialism Capillarite sociale  Disillusion with stated  Impotence Capitalism  Division of empire  Impoverishment Capitals, change of  Division of labor  Imprudent policy toward buffer states Caste system  Earthquakes  Inadequate educational system Celibacy  Egoism  Indifference Centralization  Egoism of the state  Individualism Childlessness  Emancipation of slaves  Indoctrination Christianity  Enervation  Inertia
  16. 16.  Inflation  Nationalism of Romes subjects  Ruin of middle class Intellectualism  Negative selection  Rule of the world Integration, weakness of  Orientalization  Semieducation Irrationality  Outflow of gold  Sensuality Jewish influence  Over refinement  Servility Lack of leadership  Pacifism  Sexuality Lack of male dignity  Paralysis of will  Shamelessness Lack of military recruits  Paralyzation  Shifting of trade routes Lack of orderly imperial succession  Parasitism  Slavery Lack of qualified workers  Particularism  Slavic attacks Lack of rainfall  Pauperism  Socialism (of the state) Lack of religiousness  Plagues  Soil erosion Lack of seriousness  Pleasure seeking  Soil exhaustion Large landed properties  Plutocracy  Spiritual barbarism Lead poisoning  Polytheism  Stagnation Lethargy  Population pressure  Stoicism Leveling, cultural  Precociousness  Stress Leveling, social  Professional army  Structural weakness Loss of army discipline  Proletarization  Superstition Loss of authority  Prosperity  Taxation, pressure of Loss of energy  Prostitution  Terrorism Loss of instincts  Psychoses  Tiredness of life Loss of population  Public baths  Totalitarianism Luxury  Racial degeneration  Treason Malaria  Racial discrimination  Tristesse Marriages if convenience  Racial suicide  Two-front war Mercenary system  Rationalism  Underdevelopment Mercury damage  Refusal of military service  Useless eaters Militarism  Religious struggles and schisms  Usurpation of all powers by the state Monetary economy  Rentier mentality  Vain gloriousness Monetary greed  Resignation  Villa economy Money, shortage of  Restriction to profession  Vulgarization Moral decline  Restriction to the land Moral idealism  Rhetoric Moral materialism  Rise of uneducated masses Mystery religions  Romantic attitudes to peace
  17. 17. Understanding the barbarianmigrations after Gibbon: sometheories Germanist (‘catastrophe’) model  nineteenth century –everything that was new in the 5th, 6th, 7th and later centuries was the result of ‘Germanic’ influence Romanist (‘continuity’) model  Germanic invaders are seen as creating little that was new – migrations are the movements of small warrior elites. Nowadays:  French and Italians refer to ‘the barbarian invasions’ (les invasions barbares)  English and Germans talk of ‘migrations’ (also: Völkerwanderungen – wanderings of peoples)
  18. 18. Ethnoarchaeology in the early 20th century Location of a people linguistically enables archaeologists could find physical evidence of the material culture of that people  Gustaf Kossinna traced migration routes of late antiquity on this basis  Enabled modern states to claim regions of neighbouring states on the basis that they were the original homeland of their people But this is wrong – Chris Wickham: “a man or woman with a Lombard-style brooch is no more necessarily a Lombard than a family in Bradford with a Toyota is Japanese; artefacts are no secure guide to ethnicity”
  19. 19. Gothic and other Germanic settlements, 1800–100 BC, according toMadison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, following Kossinnasmodel (1916)
  20. 20. The Hunnensturm The Huns as catalyst 1. Hunnic empire leads to coalescence of ‘supergroups’ – e.g. Ostrogoths 2. Huns push other peoples into empire 3. Huns encouraged to go west by Eastern Empire  Peter Heather = key recent scholar on this phenomenon (not universally accepted)
  21. 21. Ethnogenesis theory and its opponents Birth of ethnically defined communities not mass migration, but movement of small warrior elites  Wolfram’s History of the Goths, building on work of Reinhard Wenskus  Traditionskern:  Oral tradition preserves memories of the people’s past age for small barbarian warrior elites that (a) entered Roman territory and (b) managed to succeed in competition with other small elites  The Vienna School These communities (and their histories) are the product of contact with educated Roman elites (and their ethnographic traditions)  The barbarian past as a product of Christian and Roman writers writing on Roman soil for short-term purposes  The Toronto School
  22. 22. Medieval visions of Rome Successor kingdoms  Victory over Rome (e.g. Visigoths)  Common descent and peaceful succession to Rome (e.g. Franks) Institutional memories  Medieval Papacy: the Roman church as successor of empire Imperial successors  Holy Roman Empire (800): a re- founded empire  Continuity in Byzantium
  23. 23. Renaissance and Reformation Renaissance:  self-conception/ representation as period of rebirth of classical learning Reformation:  Papacy and Holy Roman Emperor take on key role in counter-reform movement Personal identity:  Writers such as Erasmus & Luther cultivate connections to church fathers writing under later empire (e.g. Fall of Constantinople (painted 1499) Jerome & Augustine)
  24. 24. Emil Brack, Planning theGrand Tour, late 19th century18th & 19th Century The Grand Tour Emerging nation states in western Europe trace their origins to the post- Roman kingdoms; so end of Roman rule is important International empires look to Roman Empire as example (and try to learn from it)  E.g. Training elites to govern the empire Roman Republic and foundations of American Republic
  25. 25. The fall of Rome... The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) Agora (2009) • What factors do these trailers suggest are responsible for the fall of Rome?
  26. 26. The birth of Britain... 20042007 • Who is made responsible for the fall of Rome in these trailers • What do the trailers suggest happened next?
  27. 27. A cultural phenomenon NOVELS. Gore Vidal, Julian (1964): historical novel based in primary sources; impact of Christianity on empire; Christianity and politics; blames Christians for murder of Julian VIDEO GAMES. Rome: Total War – Barbarian Invasions (2005): eastern and western empire; senate no longer powerful; barbarians; hordes; religious tension between Christians, pagans, Zoroastrians
  28. 28. Parallelism: Rome and America
  29. 29. The decline of America
  30. 30. Discussion What periods/ geographical-political areas are particularly interested in this topic? What can these depictions tell us about the fall of Rome? What else can they tell us?
  31. 31. Summary Reception  Evokes strong responses  Highly stereotyped visions of what actually happened  2 strands:  A model to learn from and emulate  A negative example: an evil empire  Particularly important for thinking about the fate of nations and empires Utility  Not very useful for telling us what happened in antiquity  But possibly useful for thinking about the topic in different ways or bringing us back to traditional interpretations  And definitely useful for what it tells us about periods in which such re-imaginings took (and still take) place
  32. 32. Exam 2 sections 2 questions 2 hours Equally weighted  A: 1 question from 8  B: explain the relevance of at least TWO gobbets (from 8) to our understanding of the political, religious and social functioning of the later Roman Empire  i.e. Write ONE answer that draws on at least TWO gobbets
  33. 33. Gobbet practiceThink about the following: What you know of the context/ contents of the text and its author The main point(s) the author is making The genre(s) of the texts The main similarities (and differences) between the extracts How these extracts relate to bigger themes on the course (and/or other courses)
  34. 34. Sozomen Ecclesiastical History 2.3We have been informed that Constantine was led to honour the Christian religion bythe concurrence of several different events, particularly by the appearance of a signfrom heaven. When he first formed the resolution of entering into a war againstMaxentius, he was beset with doubts as to the means of carrying on his militaryoperations, and as to the quarter whence he could look for assistance. In the midst ofhis perplexity, he saw, in a vision, the sight of the cross shining in heaven. He wasamazed at the spectacle, but some holy angels who were standing by, exclaimed, Oh,Constantine! By this symbol, conquer! And it is said that Christ himself appeared tohim, and showed him the symbol of the cross, and commanded him to construct onelike it, and to retain it as his help in battle, as it would insure the victory. Eusebius,surnamed Pamphilus, affirms that he heard the emperor declare with an oath, as thesun was on the point of inclining about the middle of the day, he and the soldiers whowere with him saw in heaven the trophy of the cross composed of light, and encircledby the following words: By this sign, conquer. This vision met him by the way, when hewas perplexed as to whither he should lead his army. While he was reflecting on whatthis could mean, night came; and when he fell asleep, Christ appeared with the signwhich he had seen in heaven, and commanded him to construct a representation ofthe symbol, and to use it as his help in hostile encounters. There was nothing further tobe elucidated; for the emperor clearly apprehended the necessity of serving God. Atdaybreak, he called together the priests of Christ, and questioned them concerningtheir doctrines. They opened the sacred Scriptures, and expounded the truths relativeto Christ, and showed him from the prophets, how the signs which had beenpredicted, had been fulfilled. The sign which had appeared to him was the symbol,they said, of the victory over hell [...]
  35. 35. Damascius, Life of Isidore, quoted in Suda, under HypatiaSuch was Hypatia, as articulate and eloquent in speaking as she was prudentand civil in her deeds. The whole city rightly loved her and worshipped her in aremarkable way, but the rulers of the city from the first envied her, somethingthat often happened at Athens too. For even if philosophy itself had perished,nevertheless, its name still seems magnificent and venerable to the men whoexercise leadership in the state. Thus it happened one day that Cyril, bishop ofthe opposition sect, was passing by Hypatias house, and he saw a greatcrowd of people and horses in front of her door. Some were arriving, somedeparting, and others standing around. When he asked why there was acrowd there and what all the fuss was about, he was told by her followers thatit was the house of Hypatia the philosopher and she was about to greet them.When Cyril learned this he was so struck with envy that he immediately beganplotting her murder and the most heinous form of murder at that. For whenHypatia emerged from her house, in her accustomed manner, a throng ofmerciless and ferocious men who feared neither divine punishment norhuman revenge attacked and cut her down, thus committing an outrageousand disgraceful deed against their fatherland. The Emperor was angry, and hewould have avenged her had not Aedesius been bribed. Thus the Emperorremitted the punishment onto his own head and family for his descendantpaid the price. The memory of these events is still vivid among theAlexandrians.
  36. 36. Practice question Did the reforms of Diocletian save the Roman Empire from collapse or condemn it to failure?
  37. 37. Some advice1. Collect and review everything; get an overview of the module, including themes, then pick topics2. Work together3. Timings - be sensible4. Read the question and write a plan: don’t just download everything you know5. Prioritise: have 3 or 4 main points6. Answer the question: a. Make sure every paragraph relates back to it b. If in doubt, leave the first 3 lines blank7. Use the gobbets