The barbarian migrations, AD 358 - 568
Late Antiquity was marked by the decline and division of the Roman Empire and the barbarian migrations which hastened the Roman disintegration in the west and subsequently reshaped the political face of Europe in the gradual transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Although these events took place over several hundreds of years, the prevailing view remains that of ruthless invasions by barbarian hordes which rapidly overwhelmed and destroyed Rome’s imperial bastion. The contemporary writers consistently believed their time to be exceptionally grim and attempted to portray it as such to future generations. Here lies the root of the unsubtle metaphors popularly associated with the barbarian migrations and the fall of the Western Roman Empire: waves of savage Huns, Goths, Vandals and the likes relentlessly besieged the frontiers of an ailing empire which ultimately washed away in a sea of blood, fire and terror. Rome’s ‘superior’ civilisation being toppled by ‘inferior’ ones was an ancient idea which ultimately found its way into the romantic perception of history during the nineteenth century and has remained remarkably popular to this very day.
In truth however, the barbarian migrations of late Antiquity roughly consisted of three different types. The first and most famous was indeed the wave of invasions into the ailing Roman Empire by confederations of barbarian tribes. The second was the gradual, mostly Roman-sanctioned settlement of the empire’s border regions by barbarian peasant-colonists. In between these two extremes existed a chaotic combination of infiltration and assimilation, of which a lowest common denominator was the Roman formation of barbarian mercenary armies to combat internal enemies and defend the imperial frontiers against other barbarians.
These three types of migration all had significant precedents in the earlier history of the Roman Empire, especially in the turmoil of the third century. Large-scale migrations in these times were only prevented by Rome’s stubborn unwillingness to accept large numbers of barbarian immigrants into the empire, assign them land and allow them de facto local autonomy. More importantly, the resurgence of Roman power under the Dominate at the end of the third century allowed for said unwillingness to be turned into an active policy of keeping barbarian tribes at bay. Barbarian meddling in the Roman world nevertheless reached a disquieting level by the mid-fourth century, a fact which can be explained by means of the so-called ‘push-and-pull’ principle.
The push factor behind the steadily increasing influx of barbarians into the Roman Empire was the enormous difference in economic potential (and therefore material wealth) between the Mediterranean dominion of the Roman Empire and the barbarian world of northern and central Europe. On the other side of the imperial frontiers, people profited little from Rome’s prosperity and where profit was to be had, it was very unevenly distributed. This initiated a long process of social polarisation, the emergence of militant barbarian nobilities with private armies and the inevitable disputes between barbarian tribes and confederations. The Romans typically encouraged such behaviour by rapidly switching alliances and playing their enemies against each other. However, this situation in the long run caused great political unrest across the barbarian world, particularly in the Lower Rhine and Danube regions. In addition to the unquenched desire for the riches of the Roman Mediterranean, the gradual militarisation of barbarian tribes eventually helped to increase the pressure upon the Roman frontiers, rather than maintain Rome’s desired status quo in the barbarian world itself.
The pull-factor is found in the gradual barbarisation of the Roman armed forces: an initially deliberate Roman policy to maintain control over the empire’s border regions which backfired completely in the end. Although Roman commanders had been enlisting barbarian mercenaries (Latin: auxilia) since the days of Julius Caesar, the barbarian component of the late Roman armies took significant proportions for two reasons. First of all, the Romans changed their military policy in the north and east from the end of the third century onward. No longer would the empire be defended by deploying heavily-armed Roman legions across the entire length of the imperial frontier. Instead, a distinction was established between the lightly-armed frontier forces (Latin: limitanei) and the heavily-armed intervention forces (Latin: comitatenses), the latter being stationed in legionary camps far away from the former. The Roman military thus greatly increased its ability to react quickly to major internal and external threats. However, this came at the cost of rendering the imperial frontiers vulnerable to unapproved infiltrations, something smaller groups of barbarians could easily take advantage off. The Romans attempted to counter this by creating buffer zones of barbarian groups with imperial permission to expand their homeland into scarcely populated, demilitarised border regions within the empire. The barbarians in return promised to defend their assigned regions for the Romans. This policy was carried out on a minor scale until the second half of the fourth century, after which the Roman government was regularly forced to accept considerable numbers of barbarians into the empire, typically having no other choice now that its military capacity was crumbling. Rome no longer had the power to continuously defend its frontiers against large groups of immigrants, let alone control them once they were allowed into the empire as ‘allies’ (Latin: foederati). The first of these ‘alliances’ (Latin: foedera) was concluded with the Salian Franks around AD 350, which gave them permission to settle in Toxandria. Nevertheless, they gradually colonised and annexed all of future Flanders and Brabant, becoming a de facto independent state within the Western Roman Empire. Such were also the consequences of similar agreements the Romans made with other barbarian groups and sub-tribes. Here lies the origin of the barbarian kingdoms which came to dominate western Europe in the fifth century.
By the end of the fourth century, the foedera had become little more than vulgar mercenary contracts. Thus the Romans not only lost the nominal authority over their barbarian ‘subjects’ but also owed them financial compensation. More importantly, a foedus (sg.) could henceforth be applied to the entire empire, not just the lightly populated frontier areas. The leaders of these barbarian mercenary armies – for such they had become – typically attempted to use their status as foederati to gain a high rank in the Roman military, both to strengthen their prestige amongst their peers and to secure their payments now that the Roman economy was falling apart in the west. A notable example of this was Childeric, leader of the Salian Franks (r. AD 457 – 481), who held the Roman equivalent rank of a general (Latin: magister) and already considered himself a veritable king (Latin: rex). Rome’s growing reliance on the foedera-system was closely connected to the problems caused by the expansion of the Roman military under Diocletian (r. AD 284 – 305). For lack of actual Romans, the recruitment of barbarians into the regular Roman legions increased significantly and some barbarian officers inevitably rose through the ranks all the way to the Roman high command. The de facto ruler of the Western Roman Empire was often not the emperor but a barbarian general. Notable examples were the Vandal Stilicho, who commanded the western imperial forces from the death of Theodosius the Great in AD 395 to his own death in AD 408, and Odoacer, who deposed the last Western Roman emperor in AD 476 and named himself rex gentium of the Italian peninsula. Meanwhile in the Eastern Roman Empire, the Alan Aspar held the supreme command over the armies of Constantinople for forty years until AD 471.
Hostility towards barbarians was a common attitude among the Romans, especially in the east. The civilian branch of the imperial government in Constantinople, which had hardly been infiltrated by barbarians, frequently condemned the barbarisation of the armed forces. In his speech ‘On Kingship’ (Latin: De Regno), orator Synesius of Cyrene openly advised the Eastern Roman emperor Arcadius to stop using ‘wolves as watchdogs’ and purge the military of barbarians before it was too late. Such criticism was indeed justified, considering what was happening in the west: the foedera-policy caused ever more barbarians to cross the imperial frontiers and their boldness grew according to their numbers. As the fifth century progressed, the western empire could do little more than trying to play the barbarians against each other with two-faced diplomacy and divide-and-conquer strategies while holding on to the Roman heartland in Italy. These policies nevertheless came at the cost of leaving entire regions in chaos and only served to put off the inevitable. On top of this, the western empire almost literally stabbed itself to death with ruthless paranoia and infighting. Leaders of power and ability like Stilicho (d. AD 408), Bonifacius (d. AD 432), Aetius (d. AD 457) or Majorian (d. AD 461) all died at the hands of their jealous rivals in the imperial elite, making the empire’s disintegration and the barbarian take-over all the easier…
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how long does it take you to make just one? the description you include is always very informative and in depth!
the details on your maps are super.
is this your career..a cartographer??
Usually it takes several days to make a map, because there's always a lot of research to do (and although I know much, it is never enough ^^).
Yes I guess you can call cartography my career, or the expression of my enormous fascination for history ^^
First version always has some stuff that needs fixing ^^
Great map btw, I'm really interested in the barbarian migrations and whatnot, I just don't know much about them. There is a great alternate history timeline about them over on alternatehistory.com.
Once I read one of many reasons as you said in the info was, that too many germanic immigrants that were also in a big number in the armies, couldnt be integrated.
But Rome was not always innocent I read the stories of the Goths that fought for Rome if they get a homeland within the Empire then. When they did fight and came back the arrogant imperator didnt want to give them any land. So they attacked Rome themselves.
Yes, I mention this "two-faced diplomacy" in the text too. Rome did such things constantly; not keeping promises, playing barbarian groups against each other and then backstabbing them, etc. It gave a short-term respite, I guess, but the costs were significant in the end... :/
In some ways, I guess you can say that, when it all began to backfire centuries later, the Romans had it coming and they should've seen it coming. ^^
Who knows if Rome maybe never developed too.
I think the Roman Empire was definitely dynamic enough to last much longer than it did as a united empire. I mean, look at how they bounced back in the late third century. A huge crisis like that would've destroyed many empires, but not Rome; they regrouped, reformed and rebuilt the empire. Yes, the Dominate couldn't save the western empire, but I think this had much more to do with external factors which Rome couldn't influence. In the eastern empire, the Dominate-system was the basis for centuries of continued Roman imperial history. If the circumstances hadn't been so tough on the western empire, maybe the Dominate would've saved it too. What if the Huns hadn't appeared? What if the western emperors had been more capable? What if the western empire had taken steps to stop the barbarisation of the army (like the eastern empire did)? etc.
And the surviving eastern half proved as dynamic as Rome in its best days... Few empires would've survived the onslaught of the Arabs in the seventh and eight centuries, but the Roman Empire did. It lost over half of its territories (and the most important ones, at that) and never retook them and the internal crisis in the empire was huge at the time. But the empire bounced back yet again, reemerging as what we now call the Byzantine Empire. By the mid-11th century, Byzantium was again the strongest state in the Mediterranean and was definitely strong enough to launch a war of reconquest in the Middle East... But it's as if history repeated itself to destroy the Roman/Byzantine Empire... Everytime the empire got back on the rails under the leadership of a strong emperor, something horrible happened which the empire couldn't influence (the Arab invasions, the Slavic invasions, the 6th century plague, the Seljuk invasions, the Fourth Crusade, etc.).... I think the Roman Empire - in its differing forms - was among the most dynamic empires in history, and if the circumstances had been slightly different (say, the Huns hadn't come to Europe, the western empire had come under the control of a new Constantine or someone like Justinian; if the successive invasions and crises in the eastern empire didn't happen like they did, etc), I think both the western and the eastern half could've survived as strong states much longer than they did, and a reunification was a possible scenario.
About China, I agree... Europe in the long run benefited hugely from the fact that it developed into a fractured collection of constantly warring states with this mad competition among them. The big blob of the Chinese empire had no real foreign challenges... When they started exploring the world, they ultimately decided "we have everything already, so let's not waste time and money on this".... The European states were constantly at risk of being destroyed by others, so they constantly looked for opportunities that could give a decisive advantage...
But I would speculate that if the Roman Empire hadn't been divided and had continued to exist as a united empire in the Diocletian-Constantine system, which I think was likely if the circumstances had been slightly different, it would've survived for a very long time and developed itself, considering how dynamic the eastern Roman/Byzantine empire proved to be in the face of catastrophes which surely would've destroyed many empires.
My thoughts ^^
First sorry for my English
Agree, Rome survive what other empires probable wont
I wonder could the HRE in its golden age survive the arab invasion and keep them at bay for centuries (The eastern Roman Empire is probable the only reason why Europa is not muslim now)
It was Charlemagne a frank salin, a tribe with strong links with the roman empire, they until the late 557 mint their coins with byzantine emperor and some franks king received the title of patricio
Charlemagne saved western Europe from the slavs and probable also saved the Germans from cultural assimilation like it happened later in the Balkans
The eastern Roman Empire saved Europe from a fatal fate, but no empire can endure what they suffered for more than 4 centuries so after taking several fatal blows in its dead the Eastern Roman Empire gave Europa two gifts, the renaissance and gave Russia a new fate, Sophia Palaiologina become wife of Ivan the great, from now on Russia has tzars (caesars) and it was Sophia who told Ivan that Russia should abandon the tributary relationship with the mongols and they did in 1480
So not only in life the roman empire shaped europe
Under roman name the germans built their most successful nation so far
Rome eagle is almost in every European coat of arms and is also in Europa former colonies
The entire planet use the roman calendar, the biggest religion in the world Is Roman Catholic , orthodox was the eastern roman empire religion and is also one of the biggest religion
And Latin languages are everywhere in this planet,
Europa greatest title is not king or emperor is the title of Caesar, King of the romans, tzar even the muslims took over the title Qaysar-i Rūm mehmed II even tried to conquer rome , but Mehmed son has no intention to take the roman title we have to thanks that because I cant imagine a Muslim roman empire
And in my opinion without knowing romans saved germany future it was the roman army with its allies who stop the huns and later gave the germans the chance to defeat a now weak hun empire, it was Charlemagne future king of the west, roman emperor, a salin frank (we should note that salins franks didnt see themselves as germans, in fact they were pretty good killing Germans and when the rhin froze they protected the empire, the brittons in gouls also protect the empire by their own free will)as I said it was Charlemagne who stop the slavs and in the process conquer German land (until the elb)
It was Otto Charlemagne great great grandson, a frank salin who restore the roman empire creating the most successful german nation and the most powerful nation for the 400 years
For some reason if you bear the name roman you will have a 1000 years empire¸(eastern roman empire, holy roman empire) and the Russian got a 500 years empire when they marry a roman princess
I read a cool alternate history series from a german author. In his story, a german battleship from the first world war
disappears travels thru time and appears in the roman empire, some time before the huns would´ve come.
The Germans cause an industrialisation of the empire, warn the Romans from the Huns and Vandals and wanna turn it
into a modern society with no slaves. It works well, but they have many enemies, the christian leaders, a man who wants
to kill the Emperor and stupid people that believe the men from the iron ship are demons XD
I can agree in your thoughts, it was surely not written in stone ( as we say)^^ that Rome must fall.
Maybe we can call it bad luck? I just never understood, that the whole italian peninsula fell back
from civilization after Rome fell, why couldn´t at least the other cities and towns keep up the cultural level?
Let´s hope it was not too bad Rome fell. We must advance in technology as fast as possible,
just imagine an asteroid hits the earth and our technology is still too primitive to avoid it XD
That does make me wonder - purely hypothetically - if we could go back in time and bring for example a car and be like "Hail, Praetorians! Bring me to Augustus, I got a way better chariot for him!", how would they react when they see the BMW? Would be hilarious... Or maybe coffee ^^ Not a single Roman ever had a cup of coffee! Who knows what they could've done if they had been able to make coffee
Slavery like in the days of the Republic was largely gone in the late empire, though, but I guess the Dominate's policy of forcing generations of people into one and the same job and social position was some form of continued slavery. Your dad was a soldier, you'd be a soldier too...
The fact that Italy (and much of Western Europe) fell into complete backwardness after the dissolution of the Roman gov't says much about Rome's dynamic power and ability. Although the barbarian leaders saw themselves as "heirs" instead of destroyers of Rome and tried to keep the Roman governmental framework intact as much as possible (not in the least to fill their own treasures), they simply couldn't do it. Even someone like Theodoric the Great couldn't...
I think NASA is able to see an asteroid coming ^^ You know, if they say on the news tomorrow that there's a huge asteroid coming (like 65 millions year ago) which will destroy most of the planet and there's nothing we can do to stop it, I would like to see how people react ^^ Would be a good idea for a worldwide April Fools Day joke.
Ah yes, the Roman roads... Probably the most efficiently managed road network in history (relatively speaking of course), at least during the heydays of the empire. In the late empire and during the collapse of the western empire, people frequently dismantled the roads to build homes with ^^ Definitely a fascinating subject.
It was, after all, Claudius who built the first road through the Brenner Pass. And, in 1850, when the French General St Arnaud moved his troops through the Kanga Pass in the Atlas mountains, he thought he was the first person to go that way, only to find an inscription in the rock: "The Legio III Augusta built this road" (In AD145) Priceless!
The Roman Empire was so far ahead of its time, as proven by so many things, both big and small, as proven even in such amusing anecdotes ^^
If you consider that the city of Rome around AD 100 had a better infrastructure and living quality than most European capitals (including Rome) in 1800, I think that says enough about the legacy of the Roman Empire.
And to Mt. Vesuvius (which isn't nearly as spectacular as Mt. Etna, though) ^^
But Pompeii is really amazing. It was a total tragedy in its day, but the fact that it offers a frozen moment of history to us is priceless. You can actually imagine what it could've been like to be in Roman Italy in the 1st century. It's a real shame that the present-day Italian government either doesn't care or is incapable of preserving its historical treasures.
Plus the barbarians Romanized as the Empire barbarized, so you have a mixed, shared cultural and technological zone on either side of the Rhine and Danube.