Date for End of the Roman Empire?

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,818
Dispargum
^
Agreed, Roman armies were not always loyal to the current emperor, but Roman soldiers recognized that there was an emperor who was commander-in-chief of the army. At any given time, Roman soldiers were loyal either to the emperor or an imperial pretender. If Roman soldiers fought against the emperor it was to replace this emperor with a new emperor that these soldiers would be loyal to. A Roman army always functioned within a Roman system headed by an emperor.

If it ever happened that a Roman army defected from an emperor and threw their loyalty behind a barbarian king who had no pretentions of the imperial throne then that army would no longer be a Roman army. It would be a barbarian army.

And yes, it's true that most soldiers were more loyal to their general than to the emperor, but the general then had to decide if he was loyal to the emperor or not. The soldiers usually went whichever way their general went. I'm sure there were a few times when a general threw his loyalty one way only to see his soldiers mutiny because they wanted to be loyal the other way but these were relatively rare exceptions.
 
Sep 2017
695
United States
I was thinking on the topic some more, and I wonder, in 476, did the Romans themselves 'feel' as though their nation fell?

I mean, were they now oppressed by foreign forces, did their culture/daily lives/customs change dramatically?

Did they consider their government 'Roman' anymore? Or did they distinctly feel as now they were owned by someone else?
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,351
Sydney
.
That's an interesting point ,
I would think the critical elements were the church and what remained of the local bureaucracy

it became mostly the Catholic church ,engaged in a stiff contest with other Christian variations
it made the bishops very keen to seek the local lord protection and benevolence

the thing is by 476 there had been TWO generations born outside Rome control

taking into account the mortality of the times I would think there was a majority of people
who had the fact hammered into their heads that Rome was a far away irrelevance
considering the grasping taxes of late Rome , the local barbarians were probably cheaper
 
Nov 2010
7,545
Cornwall
I was thinking on the topic some more, and I wonder, in 476, did the Romans themselves 'feel' as though their nation fell?

I mean, were they now oppressed by foreign forces, did their culture/daily lives/customs change dramatically?

Did they consider their government 'Roman' anymore? Or did they distinctly feel as now they were owned by someone else?
Nothing changed materially in 476. Give or take the name of an Emperor (or then king) it's the same flawed world most of them grew up with.

Don't think of it as something everyone followed on the TV every day.
 

Theodoric

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,687
The Battle of the Voluntrus in October 554.

Not 476 because:
* Just a replacement of one figurehead in Ravenna with one in Constantinople.
* Offices in Rome remained.
* Imperial defences and armies in the West remained.
* The transistion of power to Germanic Generals occurred prior to 476; and can’t really be a qualifier without making an earlier date.
* The Germanic people of the Roman Empire were culturally Roman (more so than the Byzantine East). So it’s not so much a transformation to a foreign culture in 476 either.
* Germanic leaders still appealed to the Roman Senate the same as Caesar’s had done before.
* If simply not having an independent Western Emperor is the criteria for the end, then the Roman Empire ended for a period exist between 392 and 393 because there was no independent Western Emperor between Valentinian II and Honorius.



Reasons for 554:
* Battle ended any significant independent Western Roman power.
* Abolition of Western offices in the years after the conquest of Justinian (although this actually began in 541 after the invasion of Belisarius when the office of Roman Consul was abolished).
* Roman culture disintegrated.
* While the Ostrogothic Kings weren’t official Western Caesars, they played the same role until this battle.

But yeah, it was not a simple date, it was a process of unravelling that occurred over a period of more than 100 years. I would argue 410, the sack of Rome, as the first major permanent damage, although the crossing of 406 is another possible date. This is because while some of the disastrous events that occurred earlier were bad, they weren’t something that the Romans couldn’t recover from; while the events of the early 5th century hit the Empire with what turned out to be irreversible damage.
 
Sep 2013
608
Ontario, Canada
No worthwhile leadership in the West after Theodosius is what did them in when Germanic individuals stepped into the power vacuum and exploited it at the expense of the Romans.

Still the West lasted as long as it did because Romanized peoples (barbarians, especially ones who had converted to Christianity) believed in the Roman ideal and way of life and desired its benefits. They even propped up the state after the last Western Emperor stepped down, and would've probably kept it going had the Eastern Empire not invaded and wrecked the infrastructure permanently during the Gothic Wars.

Justinian was the definite end of the Roman Empire as it used to be; he was the last Emperor who spoke Latin, and who also abolished the office of Consul. However I'd still affix the end of the Roman Empire proper to 476 CE with the deposition of the last Western Emperor and the installation of a Germanic King in Italy.
 

Theodoric

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,687
No worthwhile leadership in the West after Theodosius is what did them in when Germanic individuals stepped into the power vacuum and exploited it at the expense of the Romans.

Still the West lasted as long as it did because Romanized peoples (barbarians, especially ones who had converted to Christianity) believed in the Roman ideal and way of life and desired its benefits. They even propped up the state after the last Western Emperor stepped down, and would've probably kept it going had the Eastern Empire not invaded and wrecked the infrastructure permanently during the Gothic Wars.

Justinian was the definite end of the Roman Empire as it used to be.
This sums it up nicely.
While the Empire was seriously damaged prior to this, it had begun to see some recovery under the Germanic Kings; structures were repaired, new cities were founded in the Roman style, and things were in general recovery. Then Justinian used a dynastic battle as his excuse to march Westward to plunder and destroy it all.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,216
^
Agreed, Roman armies were not always loyal to the current emperor, but Roman soldiers recognized that there was an emperor who was commander-in-chief of the army.
That's just it - they didn't, at least as easily as we do today. Sure, a Caesar was there somewhere, back in Rome, powerful, wealthy, almost god-like to remote provincials in many cases, but the authority to command legions was not perceived in the HQ manner. Soldiers were always loyal in the first instance to their commander, for he was responsible for their welfare - and profit. Booty was a vital reward for men risking their lives, and if you look for it the sources, the endless number of suggestion or descriptions that men were finding booty in warfare makes this clear.

At any given time, Roman soldiers were loyal either to the emperor or an imperial pretender.
When Augustus died, the commander of the legions in Pannonia gave his men three days off, to either mourn or rejoice the death of the Princeps. In fact, although Blaesus was the man running the legion, the men were well aware that increasingly retentive personnel policies and other gripes were the result of Augustus trying to maintain force levels in an era when military service was looking less attractive compared to more lucrative civilian roles in prosperous peacetime Rome.

If Roman soldiers fought against the emperor it was to replace this emperor with a new emperor that these soldiers would be loyal to. A Roman army always functioned within a Roman system headed by an emperor.
I can understand that, and for most cases you are right, but don't over emphasise the connections between a remote unseen Caesar and his soldiers who receive orders from someone - in all likelihood a patrician - whom they can see but yards away.

If it ever happened that a Roman army defected from an emperor and threw their loyalty behind a barbarian king who had no pretentions of the imperial throne then that army would no longer be a Roman army. It would be a barbarian army.
No, it would be a barbarian army with Roman legions in it.

I'm sure there were a few times when a general threw his loyalty one way only to see his soldiers mutiny because they wanted to be loyal the other way but these were relatively rare exceptions.
Not necessarily. Tacitus tells us the details of the Pannonian revolt. When it all kicks off on the death of Augustus, he says something interesting. "There were no new reasons for it" He writes, suggesting that at a low level at least, disturbances with unhappy troops was far from rare.
 
Feb 2011
1,038
Scotland
I see a lot of interesting, challenging and contentious ideas and even inventive concepts as to the closure date for the Western Roman Empire (WRE).

However many appear to be interesting opinions rather than a position supported by a form of academic rigour (not that I am a history academic so pot, kettle, black).

The first position is that our confectionery-loving OP requests views on the date of the Roman Empire- not the WRE. That is, the final, finish, no-coming back date for when the Roman Empire ceased to exist.

In my opinion (humble or not), a polity needs to demonstrate a continuous period of existence. It is not necessarily the area it occupies, or its capital, but the existence of a functioning 'government' of whatever hue, governing whatever territory it holds, dealing with finances, maintaining armies and relations with other polities. But if it is to be considered the same polity, it needs a continuous lifespan.

Again in my opinion (though I am by no means alone), a continuous Roman government existed from the Kings through to the fall of the Eastern Empire, albeit the seat of government changed and for a period west and east contained parallel independent courts and bureaucracy holding theoretical sovereignty over the whole empire, an arrangement called a dyarchy (or diarchy). Both WRE and ERE represented the Roman Empire theoretically, though in practice each acted as more or less autonomous after 395. When the WRE ceased, the remaining court still ruled the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire is usually held to have ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, though splinter states persisted till 1461 in Trebizond and Morea.
An alternative date is 1204, when the Fourth Crusade seized Constantinople and two splinter states persisted which reunited with the recovery of the city in 1261.

A polity cannot be held to have returned to life because later peoples wish it to be so, calling themselves something similar or claiming some form of spurious 'descent'. Hence the Holy Roman Empire and Russian Czardom are not continuations of the Roman Empire, except in their imaginations and propaganda.

Nor does the taking over of some remaining forms of organisation from the previous Authority 'count', be it courts, civil service, civil administration such as taxation systems or the cursus publicus.
 

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