This is part of the Medieval European History Metanode.

The term "fall" is misleading. Many modern historians refer to the "fall of the Roman Empire" as the "transformation of the Roman Empire." Transformation is probably a better term, since the process took many decades, and Roman Law and custom continued to influence Europe for centuries.

Theories abound as to the cause of the "fall". Some claim that homosexuality or women in positions of political leadership were the ultimate cause; one theory even claims that the lead in the aqueduct pipes made the Emperors insane. That said, it is generally agreed that the "fall" was the result of a myriad of socio-political circumstances, including:

Economic and Social Forces
In the rural areas of the Roman Empire, decentralization led to a lack of loyalty to the Emperor. The precaria contract, a legal agreement by which a small landowner would convey his land to a potentate, led the small landowners rely on the potentate instead of the Roman Army for protection. The colonate system had the same effect.

In the 3rd century, heavy taxation caused a mass exodus to the countryside, where they could avoid the taxes. By the year 400, the West was predominantly agrarian; the few towns left were small in comparison to the great towns of earlier centuries. As a result, trade and industry declined.

Political Forces
Gradually, the emperors lost power and control to the potentates in the West. By the year 400, the emperors were powerless in the West.

German Entrance into the Roman Empire
The first stage of German entrance into the Roman Empire was the Germanization of the Roman Army in the 4th century. The Roman Army's main problem was keeping the various Medieval German tribes from invading Roman territory. Many of the limitanei, the frontiersmen that kept the tribes out, were wiped out in a 3rd century civil war. The Romans decided to bring in German replacements becuase it was hard to recruit Romans. To make the transition easier, they created federate legions in which a Roman officer, usually a German warlord who had been awarded Roman citizenship, led a group of German tribesmen.

In 375, an entire tribe of Visigoths was awarded federate status. The Huns were sweeping West from Mongolia, and the Visigoths lived in their way. They asked permission from the Romans to become limitanei and fight with the Army against the Huns. Although they helped to drive the Huns out of Roman territory, they were mistreated by the Romans. In retaliation, the Visigoths turned on the Romans and rampaged toward Constantinople. The Roman Emperor, Valens, attempted to stop them, and he and his army were badly defeated in a battle at Adrianople. Thus, by the year 400, the Roman Army was Germanized, limited in its loyalty to the Emperor, and proven able to defeat the Romans.

The second stage of German entrance into the Roman Empire was the German invasions. More Visigoths were wandering around in the East, and eventually moved West due to geography and encouragement from the Roman Emperors. Stilicho, the Vandal-Roman commander of the Army, called in troops from the borders to fight the Visigoths. Thus, the forts at the borders were undermanned when the greatest climactic event of the fall of the Roman Empire occurred.

The Rhine River served as a natural border between the Roman Empire and the wild barbaric territory of the Germanic tribes beyond. For years, the Roman troops had been taunting the Germans from across the river. In the early 5th century, there were many food shortages, and the starving Germans could only watch enviously as the Romans across the river feasted on imported food. Then, on December 31, 406, the Rhine froze. 200,000 starving and angry Germans crossed the ice, massacred the Roman troops, and looted and pillaged their way West. Things went downhill from there.

Honorius, the Emperor of Rome, blamed Stilicho for the invasion and had him assassinated in 408. In 410, the Visigoths sacked Rome, and, according to some reports, the last Roman troops pulled out of the British Isles. In 423, the six-year-old Valentinian II became Emperor, and his mother, Gallia Placidia, ruled in his place. She relied on Aetius, a former hostage, as chief of staff. She moved the impotent monarchy to Ravenna. Aetius rallied the Gallic Romans, Franks, and Visigoths in 451 to defeat Attila the Hun, but Valentinian had him assassinated in 454. This turned out to be a major mistake, for the Vandals sacked Rome in 455.

The last quasi-Roman area of Gaul was taken in 486, so that the only Roman territory left was in Italy. Odovacar, a Germanic general, assassinated the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 486, and set himself up as "Emperor". Finally, the Ostragoths invaded Italy in 489 and deposed Odovacar. This was the end of Roman rule in Europe.

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