Timeline of the Fall of Rome


The fall of the Western Roman Empire (also referred to as the fall of the Roman Empire or the fall of Rome) was the loss of central political control in the Western Roman Empire, a process in which the Empire was unable to enforce its rule and its vast territory was divided among several successor polities.

The Roman Empire lost the strengths that had allowed it to exert effective control over its western provinces; modern historians cite the effectiveness and numbers of the army, the health and numbers of the Roman population, the strength of the economy, the competence of the emperors, the internal struggles for power, the religious changes of the period, and the effectiveness of the civil administration.

Increasing pressure from invading barbarians from outside Roman culture also played a significant role in the collapse. Many of these immediate factors were driven by climatic changes and endemic and epidemic diseases. The causes of the collapse are major topics in ancient world historiography, and they inform much of the contemporary discourse on state failure.



235 - 284
Crisis of the Third Century - Age of Chaos
So-called “Grande Ludovisi” sarcophagus, with battle scene between Roman soldiers and Germans. The main character is probably Hostilian, Emperor Decius' son (d. 251 AD). Proconnesus marble, Roman artwork, ca. 251/252 AD.

This time period, also known as the Military Anarchy or the Imperial Crisis, started with Severus Alexander's (reigned 222-235) assassination by his own soldiers. Following it, there was nearly a half-century of chaos marked by power struggles between military leaders, unnatural deaths of monarchs, uprisings, plagues, fires, and persecution of Christians.

285 - 305

During the Imperial Crisis, the Roman Empire fragmented into various regions before being reunited by Aurelian in 270 CE. Shortly thereafter, in 285 CE, Diocletian radically altered the Empire's structure by dividing it into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire. Diocletian, breaking tradition, voluntarily retired in 305 CE, paving the way for his successors, Maxentius and Constantine. These heirs reignited civil strife within the Empire, leading up to and following Diocletian's death in 311 CE.

306 - 337
Constantine and Christianity
Modern bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed Augustus in 306

By defeating his fellow emperor Maxentius (r. 306-312) at the Milvian Bridge in 312, Emperor Constantine (r. 280-337) took control of all of Western Europe. Later, Constantine overthrew the Eastern tyrant and established himself as the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Constantine established Christianity during his rule and founded Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), Turkey, as the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire. (Istanbul), Turkey.

360 - 363
Fall of Official Paganism
Statue at the Musée de Cluny formerly identified as Julian.

The Roman Emperor Julian, often called Julian the Apostate, reigned from 360 to 363 CE and is best known for his attempts to reverse the rising tide of Christianity within the Empire. In his short rule, Julian actively promoted traditional pagan religions and restored pagan temples, attempting to reinstate them as central to Roman civic life with substantial state support. His policies included revoking privileges that Christians had gained, such as exemptions from traditional civic duties, and he attempted to re-establish pagan rituals and priesthoods. However, Julian's religious reforms were cut short by his military campaigns. In 363 CE, during his ambitious campaign against the Parthian Empire, Julian was mortally wounded in battle and died, leading to his efforts to restore paganism being largely abandoned by his successors, who continued to support the Christianization of the Empire.

Barbarian Crisis Overwhelms Eastern Rome

In 376 AD, the Eastern Roman Empire was overwhelmed by a massive influx of Goths crossing the Danube, fleeing the Huns. These Goths, along with additional groups of Alans and Huns, rebelled against the exploitation by corrupt Roman officials who failed to provide effective relief and resettlement. At this critical juncture, Emperor Valens was in Asia with the primary field army, gearing up for a campaign against the Sasanian Empire. The necessary redirection of his forces and logistics would have been time-consuming. Meanwhile, Gratian's forces were preoccupied with Germanic invasions across the Rhine, further complicating the empire's response.

August 9
Battle of Adrianople

At the Battle of Adrianople, which took place on August 9, 378 AD, the Visigoths, led by their king Fritigern, clashed decisively with the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire, commanded by Emperor Flavius Julius Valens Augustus, commonly known as Valens. This battle is notable for the catastrophic defeat of the Roman army, marking a significant turning point in Roman military history. The Visigoths, employing effective cavalry tactics against the Roman infantry, managed to overwhelm the Romans. The defeat was so severe that Emperor Valens himself was killed in the conflict. His death symbolized the diminishing power of the Roman Empire, foreshadowing further invasions and the eventual decline of the Western Roman Empire.

379 - 395
East-West Split
Anthonis Van Dyke's 1619 painting of St. Ambrose blocking the cathedral door, refusing Theodosius' admittance, a "pious fiction" invented by Theodoret

Theodosius I, who reigned from 379 to 395 AD, played a crucial role in temporarily stabilizing the Roman Empire after the tumultuous period following Emperor Valens' death at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD. Under his rule, Theodosius managed to restore unity and strengthen the empire's defenses, emphasizing the enforcement of orthodox Christianity. Despite these efforts, the stability he achieved did not endure beyond his reign. After his death in 395 AD, his sons, Arcadius and Honorius, inherited the Eastern and Western parts of the empire, respectively. This partition marked a significant point in Roman history, leading to distinct developmental paths for the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, with the Western Empire facing increasing pressures from barbarian invasions and internal decline, ultimately falling in 476 AD.

401 - 410
Sack of Rome
An 1894 photogravure of Alaric I taken from a painting by Ludwig Thiersch.

Beginning in 401, the Visigoths, a formidable group of Germanic tribes, initiated a series of invasions into Italy. Under the leadership of their king, Alaric I, who ruled from 395 to 410, the Visigoths launched multiple assaults on Roman territories. Their persistent campaigns culminated in the historic sack of Rome in 410 AD, an event that dramatically symbolized the decline of Roman power. This momentous event is often cited as the formal Fall of Rome, marking a significant turning point in European history. The sack by the Visigoths was not just a military triumph but also a psychological blow to the prestige of the Roman Empire, vividly demonstrating its vulnerability and accelerating its eventual downfall.

Vandals Sack North Africa
Reconstruction of an Iron Age warrior's garments representing a Vandalic man (160 AD), Archaeological Museum of Kraków, Poland

Gaiseric, the king of the Vandals and Alans from 428 to 477 CE, led his people into North Africa, a crucial Roman granary. Beginning their invasion in 429 CE, the Vandals swiftly took over key cities including Hippo Regius, and by 439 CE, they had captured Carthage, turning it into the capital of their burgeoning kingdom. This takeover effectively severed Rome's access to essential grain supplies and established the Vandals as a dominant maritime power in the Mediterranean, severely weakening the Western Roman Empire and altering the region's power dynamics.

440 - 454
Huns Attack
Arrival of the Huns in Pannonia (Chronicon Pictum, 1358)

The Roman Empire faced significant threats during the mid-5th century, particularly from the Huns, a fierce nomadic tribe from Central Asia. Under the leadership of their formidable king Attila, who reigned from 434 to 453, the Huns terrorized various territories across Europe. Known as the "Scourge of God," Attila led his warriors into the Balkans and even threatened Rome itself. In response to these incursions, the Romans employed a strategy of appeasement. In 452, after Attila's forces had devastated northern Italy and stood poised to attack Rome, the Empire resorted to paying a substantial tribute to the Huns. This payment temporarily staved off further aggression, though Attila's ambitions remained unchecked until his sudden death in 453, which effectively halted the Hunnic threat to Rome.

Vandals Sack Rome
The Sack of Rome, Karl Briullov, 1833–1836

In 455 CE, the Vandals, led by King Genseric, raided Rome for the fourth time. This event marked yet another chapter in the tumultuous decline of the Western Roman Empire. However, unlike previous sacks where significant destruction and chaos ensued, this raid resulted in relatively little damage to the city's infrastructure or its inhabitants. This was largely due to the intervention of Pope Leo I, who successfully negotiated with Genseric. The Pope's diplomatic efforts spared many of the city's sacred buildings and civilian lives. The Vandals were permitted to plunder the city's wealth, but the agreement with Leo I prevented widespread destruction and loss of life, illustrating the significant role of the Church in mediating political conflicts during this era.

Fall of the Emperor of Rome
Romulus_Augustulus_and_Odoacer 480x480

Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain and military leader, marked a pivotal moment in history by overthrowing Romulus Augustulus in 476 CE, effectively ending the Western Roman Empire. Romulus Augustulus, often regarded as the last Western Roman emperor, was a minor figure, a mere puppet ruler controlled by his father Orestes, who was a Roman general of barbarian descent. After seizing power, Odoacer did not claim the title of emperor for himself but instead assumed the role of King of Italy, establishing his authority over the region. His reign initiated a period in which various Germanic kingdoms would come to dominate the former territories of the Western Roman Empire. Odoacer's takeover is widely considered a significant event that contributed to the transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages in the Western world.


  • ThoughtCo. A Short Timeline of the Fall of The Roman Empire.. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fall-of-rome-short-timeline-121196

  • Capitoline Museums, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  • https://www.timetoast.com/users/2805657. (2016). Timetoast. Timetoast Timelines; Timetoast. https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/the-fall-of-the-roman-empire-4669dc2e-5e02-4902-b7fb-298e19b0dedd


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