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 Detailed Timeline of European History
Roman Dominance (290 BC-235 AD) << Decline of Rome (235-490) >> Dark Ages (490-600)

Decline of Rome (235 - 490)
Europe During the Fall & Collapse of the Roman Empire

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Europe as of 490 AD

Roman Empire's Crisis of the 3rd Century (235 - 284): Refers to a series of catastrophes that nearly sunk the Roman Empire in the 200s. It began with the assassination of Emperor Severus by his own legions, who were upset that he negotiated with Germanic tribes which were invading Roman territories. This triggered nearly 50 years of political strife & civil war, where as many as 25 individuals claimed the emperor's throne. The empire was partitioned into three sections at one point. This was compounded by continued raids by Germanic peoples from the north, & economic collapse throughout the empire. By 284, Rome had recovered, & was consolidated under the rule of a single emperor, but the damage had been done. It would no longer be safe to travel along the empire's vast network of roads, which inhibited commerce, weakening the empire dramatically. This would propel the Roman Empire into a deeper decline which would ultimately lead to the collapse of Rome in the 5th century.

GermaniaGermania Lost by Rome (260 - 455): Beginning around 260, increasing numbers of Germanic peoples begin expanding into Roman "Germania" territories. Due to Germanic invasions throughout the empire, Romans withdraw from the region entirely by 455, leaving the region completely under Germanic rule throughout the next several centuries.

(Timeline Continued Below)

Goths (270): An Eastern Germanic tribe. Subdivides into Ostrogoths who migrate west, and Visigoths who migrate south inside Roman borders. The Visigoths are pushed south inside Roman borders by Hun invasions, forcing Romans out of the area. The Ostrogoths are pushed west inside Roman borders by Hun invasions, forcing Romans out of that area as well.

Romania and North Black Sea provincesRomania + North Black Sea Provinces Lost by Rome (271): Earlier in the 3rd century, Romans began withdrawing from the North Black Sea territories, due to Hun invasions, shortly after the Huns began to enter Europe. By 271, Romans also pull out of Romania due to ongoing Germanic invasions. Germanic tribes would share the region with the Romanians (a mixture of original Thracian people & Romans that settled in the area). Germanic peoples would leave the region behind by the end of the 4th century, as they migrated westward to settle throughout the decayed Roman Empire.

Franks Migrate into Gaul (290 - 455): Franks migrate inside NE corner of Roman territory of Gaul (modern France). They gradually expand over the next several decades.

Roman Empire Sub-Divided (292): Roman Emperor Diocletian divides the empire into East (Greek speaking) & West (Latin speaking), since he determines it is too massive to be administered by one emperor.

East-West Division of Rome Re-Established (330): After briefly being re-consolidated, Constantine re-establishes the east-west division of Rome. He assumes reign of the Eastern Empire, naming the city of Byzantium after himself (Constantinople), the long-standing capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Huns Migrate Into Europe, Begin Conquering Territory (361): In the 3rd & 4th centuries, the Huns begin migrating into Europe, ravaging Roman provinces, Slavs and Germanic peoples settled in the easternmost parts of Europe. Huns take Pannonia from Rome in 361.


 Further Understanding:  Who Were the Huns?

The Huns were a confederation of tribes originating in Central Asia (modern Turkestan & surrounding nations). It is unknown exactly which tribes formed the Huns, but they are likely of Turkic origin, given their Turkic language, & the geography from whence they originated. As they expanded in all directions (especially westward into Europe), they accumulated the loyalty & cooperation of several "client" tribes, including the Bulgars & Magyars from north of the Black Sea. In which case, the Hunnic Empire was multi-ethnic. It was also highly decentralized & nomadic in nature, making it a loosely -formed political entity. The Huns & their clients were not farmers, so they were continually migrating, ravaging people tied to their lands in cities & villages, plundering their possessions, forcing them to pay tribute, or to join their alliance. The Hunnic Empire reached its zenith under Attila the Hun, but completely broke down upon his death in 453. Since there was not a bureaucracy in place to keep the empire intact, the various tribes either became independent once again, or were absorbed into other nations.


German Visigoths Defeat Romans in Battle of Adrianople (378): Romans soundly defeated by Visigoths who had sought refuge inside Roman borders in 375, upon being driven there by the Huns. Shows vulnerability of Roman military, leading to several more Germanic invasions throughout next century, resulting in downfall of Western Roman Empire.

Germanic Visigoths

Final & Permanent Partitioning of Roman Empire (395): Theodosius became last emperor to rule over the entire Roman Empire (east & west). Before his death in 395, he re-divides the empire between his two sons, with the west going to Honorius, and east inherited to Arcadius.

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Note: Religious Effect of East-West Split of Roman Empire. East/West split with ecclesiastic authority would begin with collapse of Western Roman Empire in 476, as the two churches would slowly grow apart from that time forth. Roman Catholicism would largely be boosted by Frankish conversion in 491, who would expand to rule most of Western and Central Europe, forcing Roman Catholicism upon its subjects. The Eastern Orthodox Church would also grow powerful in the east under the sheparding of the Eastern Empire, which would remain powerful until the 15th century.

Germanic VandalsVandals Pushed West (400): As Huns push westward, Vandals are driven west into Roman territory.

German Visigothic Invasion of Italy (401): Visigoths successfully invade Italy, but are then quickly driven out by Romans. Migrate westward toward Hispania.

Hispania Lost by Rome (405): Vandals, driven west by Hun invasions, migrate into Hispania in 405, ending Roman control. They are driven out by Visigoths (another Germanic tribe) by 429, who become the ruling class of Hispania. Visigoths leave little genetic impact though, and they take upon the existing Latin language, which later evolving into Spanish.

Britannia Lost by Rome (410): Romans withdraw troops from Britannia, which would turn out to be Germanic Angles and Saxonspermanent, ending Roman control in British Isles. Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons & Jutes) from Jutland (modern Denmark) & modern Netherlands begin to invade & conquer SE Briton, further advancing the region's evolution into England. Although their genetic imprint is minimal in Briton, the Germanic invaders become the ruling class, imposing their culture & language (English - the language of the Angles) upon their new subjects in the British Isles. Gaellic & Pict tribes in N Briton (future Scotland) & Ireland continue to resist foreign invasions, maintaining Celtic identity. They are more geographically protected from Germanic invasion than their relatives along the SE coasts, resulting in the development of separate nations (English, Irish, Scottish).

North Africa Lost by Rome (429): Vandals, driven out of Hispania by the Visigoths, conquer western half of Roman North African provinces. Quickly develop as naval power, gaining control of western half of Mediterranean Sea, even sacking Rome in 455. Compounds Roman economic problems, as North Africa is an important source of raw materials.

St. Patrick Christianizes Ireland (433): St. Patrick, missionary from Roman Britain, begins ministry in Ireland. Instrumental in brining Christianity to Ireland, which is still predominantly Roman Catholic to this day.

Huns Defeated in Pivotal Battle of Chalons (451): Huns against Romans and Germanic tribes in NE Gaul, halting westward advance of the Huns, driving them back east.

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Huns in Europe

Germanic FranksEnd of the Huns (454): Attila the Hun died in 453, essentially severing the head of the beast which was the Hunnic nation. The Huns were then defeated by Germanic tribes in Pannonia in 454. Convincingly defeated, the Huns retreat to the east, absorbed by peoples in Eastern Europe & West Asia.

Gaul Abandoned by Rome (455): Romans abandon Gaul (modern France) to reinforce Italy which is under seige by the Germanic invaders, forever losing control of this province. Franks take over rule of Gaul, laying foundation for modern France.

Pannonia/Dalmatia Lost by Rome (455): The Germanic tribe of the Ostrogoths were driven westward by the Huns, and forced into the Roman provinces of Pannonia & Dalmatia (modern Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro). They proceed to invade & conquer Pannonia and Dalmatia, forcing Romans Germanic Ostrogothsout of the region for good.

Fall of Italia/Western Roman Empire (476): The official end of the Western Roman Empire. Roman general Orestes persuades Germanic people in and around Italy to join his side to usurp the emperorís throne, for promise of larger tracts of land, causing Italy to come under Germanic rule. The Roman Empire lives on as the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantine), which was able to avoid the same fate by having greater financial resources to pay off Germanic tribal chieftains, while fortifying Constantinople with massive walls, making it impenetrable.

Germanic Ostrogoths Conquer Italy (488): Eastern Emperor Zenos invites Ostrogoths (Germanic tribe) to invade & conquer Italy, with hopes of establishing it as client state, re-establishing the former glory of the Roman Empire. Ostrogoths successfully conquer Italy, but operate independently from Constantinople.

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Explanation of the Fall of Rome:

1. Barbaric Invasions. By the 3rd Century, Germanics to the north raided Roman territories at will. Famine & increased populations drove the Germanic peoples south & west inside Roman borders. The expansion of the Huns into Europe also forced Germanic tribes into Roman territories. Germanic tribes learned from Roman tactics & military technologies to become a formidable foe. Beginning in the 3rd century, Germanic tribes encroached deeper and deeper into Roman territories. By the middle of the 5th century, Germanic tribes were marauding through the heart of the Roman Empire (Italy), bringing an end to the security which allowed Rome to be an empire, and completely undermining the empire's ability to govern.
2. Mercenary Military. Rome became reliant on hired, foreign soldiers to bolster their military, especially Germanics. Therefore, much of the military was not loyal to Rome, often switching sides in battle. Mercenaries were more loyal to their commander than the government, leading to several civil wars & military coups which ripened Rome for collapse.
3. Indefensible Borders. Rome's eastern & northern borders covered large stretches of easy-to-traverse land. As the Germanics became more numerous, it was not feasible to maintain large enough legions to prevent infiltration.
4. Economic Ruin. Roman citizens became accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, due to the wealth generated as a result of Rome's ability to consolidate an abundance of resources under the banner of one sprawling empire. As part of the corruption this ultimately bred, excessive currency was produced in relation to actual reserves of gold, silver and copper, resulting in runaway inflation. Instead of downscaling, the ruling elite increased taxes throughout the far reaches of the empire, ending loyalty and pacification Rome had successfully achieved over diverse nations of peoples.
5. Political & Social Strife. The worsening economic conditions motivated the aristocracy to increase the tax burden upon the general populace. As Germanic peoples encroached on Roman territory, they often reduced the tax burden, causing Roman citizens & subjects to withhold tax revenues & loyalty.
6. Epidemics. The Western Roman Empire suffered a number of plagues in the 2nd & 3rd centuries, cutting the population in half. This compounded economic & military problems, fueling reliance on foreign soldiers.

Note: Eastern Roman Empire Continues On. The Roman Empire lives on as the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as Byzantine (Greek for "Empire of the Romans"). The Eastern Empire was created in 292, when the Roman Empire was divided by Emperor Diocletian, who determined it was too vast to be administered by a single emperor. The East was able to avoid the same fate as the West by having greater financial resources to pay off Germanics, while fortifying Constantinople with massive walls, making it impenetrable. The Eastern Empire would last another 1000 years by perpetuating many of the elements that made the original Empire great, such as an extensive road system and naval dominance in the eastern Mediterranean.

(Timeline Continued Below)

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Note: Beginning of the Dark Ages. Migrating, barbaric peoples not only demolish the Western Roman Empire, but also the culture, civilization, security & education that went along with it. The new ruling class throughout much of Europe (typically less civilized Germanics) were decentralized &,tribal. This resulted in a proliferation of small, weak kingdoms, which often battled one another for supremecy. Without security, commercial trade was crippled. People were forced to leave insecure & economically non-viable cities for the countryside to live off the land. The new power base came in the form of feudal lords, who essentially bonded people to small plots of land in exchange for protection. Consequently, most would live with oppression & poverty. The new ruling class did not value education either, as knowledge in all areas dwindled, further dragging European society into regression that characterized the dark ages.

Note: Balts. Balt territory continues to shrink as they are pushed NW toward coast of Baltic Sea by Slav, Germanic & Hun expansions.

Note: Poles. Poles and other Slav tribes in modern Poland connected by Slav lineage, shared Slav culture and closely related (Slav-based) language. During Roman times, Slav tribes in Poland not unified (decentralized network of tribes), but probably interacted through trade due to their proximity to one another and similar/shared languages.

Note: Slavs. By the 3rd century AD, Slavs centered around Kiev (Ukraine) begin to develop a distinct Slav culture & language. They also start to expand modestly in all directions.

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Causes for the Rise of Christianity:

Appeal to Lower Classes: Christian doctrine attracted many, especially those among the lower rungs of society. The idea that all were equal, & that equality would be achieved in the next life was an appealing concept to the large numbers trapped in the lower classes & slavery, where they generally had little to no reasonable opportunity to transcend their class status under the Roman system.
Boosted by Emperor Constantine: In the early 4th century (300s), as Christianity was gaining in popularity, Constantine was mired in a bitter civil war to retain the emperorís throne. Before the decisive battle against his brother-in-law and chief rival, he claimed to have a vision where Christ appeared unto him, instructing him to place the sign of Christ on banners carried by his troops. He did so, and his army proceeded to demolish that of his rival, securing his position as emperor. He credited the Christian God for the victory, and proceeded to give favor to Christianity over the other religions in the Empire. This set the stage for the eventual naming of Christianity as the state religion in 395, outlawing all other religions. Constantine would give Christianity favor over all other religions during his reign.
Uniformity of Doctrine: After his proclaimed conversion, Constantine became troubled by the diverse doctrines of Christianity. To resolve this problem, he convened the First Council of Nicaea to establish a consensus in regards to various doctrinal inconsistencies. The council decided, among many other issues, that Jesus and God were of the same substance (as opposed to the idea that Jesus was a being created by God), and that the resurrection should be celebrated (Easter). With the backing of the emperor, the Bishop of Rome was able to crush competing denominations, creating a unified Christian church. Consequently, papal authority was widely recognized, providing strong, unquestioned leadership that would carry Christianity through the dark ages.
Status as Official Religion: Christianity began as a minority religion within the Roman Empire (originating in Israel among the Jews). It grew into the dominant force throughout nearly all of Europe by the Middle Ages. Constantine gave it preferred treatment during his reign, ending in 337. Christianity's dominant status was further cemented when it was officially named the state religion in 395. One consequence of this ordination was the increased persecution of Jews in the Empire.
Spread Throughout all Europe: In order to gain preference with their Roman subjects, Germanic conquerors would soon convert to Christianity after coming into rule. Christianity then spread quickly (often by force) throughout most of Europe during the Dark Ages, and then to the rest of the world during the years of European colonization. Christianity was blocked from spreading east due to the Rise of Islam, a religion with most of the same general concepts, but more appealing to Arabs, Mesopotamians, Persians, Egyptians, etc, due largely to the fact that their ancestors were painted as the antagonists in Judeo-Christian scripture, while newly-formed Muslim doctrine painted them far more favorably.

Article: How Christianity Rose to Dominate Europe

Next: Early Dark Ages (490 - 600)

Previous: Roman Dominance (290 BC - 235 AD)

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