Why The Fall Of Rome Was A Turning Point In Western History

Further ReadingEastern And Western: 3 Reasons Why The Roman Empire Split

The Fall of Rome was a major turning point in western history. For nearly 800 years the city of Rome had successfully prevented any major invasion and grown an Empire which came to dominate the Mediterranean Sea. In 410 AD however the city of Rome fell for the first time in 800 years to an outside force. This fall of Rome marks a significant turning point in western history.

When people refer to the “fall of Rome” they are typically referring to the sack of Rome by King Alaric of the Visigoths in 410 AD. The fall of Rome resulted in a power vacuum in the western provinces and the rise of a provincial culture that led to the creation of the middle ages.

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Without further ado, here is why the fall of Rome is considered a turning point in Western history.

It Caused A Decline In Urban Population Across The West That Would Not Recover Until The Modern Era

One of the main reasons why the fall of Rome was a turning point in western history is because it would take nearly 1,300 years for the urban population of the west to recover.

In 410 AD the city of Rome was besieged. During this time the urban population of Rome was in the range of 800,000-900,000. This made the city of Rome the largest in the world during this time. Because of this the city of Rome also was susceptible to any type of resource shortage such as food.

The massive population in Rome relied upon grain imports and imperial subsidized bread to support itself. Daily shipments would make their way up the Tiber River to the Roman port to be offloaded and then distributed out across the Roman people. Anybody who controlled the Tiber river and its grain shipments could control the fate of Rome.

In 408 AD the first Visigoth king, Alaric, laid siege to the city of Rome. Alaric’s army only numbered in the range of 30,000-40,000 troops. The population of the city of Rome however was nearly 20 times that number. Alaric was an effective commander and understood that if he could control the Roman grain shipments on the Tiber river he could control the fate of the city.

Most of the people in the city of Rome were not trained to be soldiers and the city couldn’t field an army. As a result, the Romans stood behind their massive defenses and waited for a relief force that would not come. For about 2 years this worked until King Alaric finally cut off the grain shipments by capturing the Tiber River sometime around 410 AD.

Once King Alaric captured the Tiber it was over for Rome. Without food, the population of Rome quickly began to starve. Eventually, the Romans would agree to the demands of King Alaric and hand over the city for plunder in 410 AD. This is when historians generally consider the city of Rome to have fallen.

As a result of this siege and sacking of the city of Rome, the urban population of Rome fell from 800,000 to around 500,000 within 8 years. This was because of migration outside of the city along with casualties inflicted by the siege. It would take nearly 1,300 years for urban populations to reach this size again in the west.

The Fall of Rome Resulted In A Power Vacuum That Allowed Provincial ‘Nations’ To Form Creating The Middle Ages

Casmiki - Own work
Western Roman Empire in 410 after fall of Rome.CC BY-SA 3.0

Another reason the fall of Rome was a turning point in western history is that it created a massive power vacuum.

This power vacuum would be filled with warring ‘barbarian’ groups such as the Visigoths, Franks, Alemanni, Burgundians, Vandals, and Suebi. Once Rome fell in 410 AD it was nearly impossible to prevent these groups of people from seizing their own territory. This territory eventually would morph into groups that today we call nation-states.

This rise in ‘barbarian kingdoms’ was not an overnight occurrence. For nearly 100 years the Western Roman Empire had begun to crack under famine, economic collapse, and invading/settling Germanic tribes. Initially, Rome would fend off these tribes of invaders but eventually employ them to defend their own territory on the borders. It was at this point that groups of non-Romans began to form separate kingdoms in and around the provinces.

However, up until 410 AD the Western Roman Empire largely still held control over the entirety of their territory. They did this either directly or through alliances with the barbarian kingdoms which helped to solidify the Emperor’s hold. It was these alliances which allowed King Alaric’s power to grow unchecked and eventually cause Rome to fall.

After the fall of Rome in 410 AD much of the power that the Western Roman Empire had over its domain began to falter. From 410-476 AD a series of Roman emperors attempted to retake control over Hispania, Gaul, and Germania but were unsuccessful. By this point, the different barbarian kingdoms had grown too powerful for even Rome to challenge them. In 476 AD the Western Roman Empire would officially fall with the forced abdication of Emperor Romulus Augustulus.

During this time of 410-476 AD, several independent states would emerge across the former Roman Empire. These states would begin to solidify their borders and influence over each other through a series of wars and conquests. This is the period of time that historians refer to as the Dark Ages and it lasted up through the 8th century. In the late 8th century Charlamagne the Great would come to power and conquer much of Europe. After the decline and fall of Charlamagne’s empire in the 9th century the modern states of medieval Europe began to form.

As such the fall of Rome in 410 AD marks a shift in provincial power across the Western Roman Empire. Initially, the western Roman Empire held all power in Europe but after the fall of Rome, this power was dispersed across the barbarian kingdoms. After 400 years of fighting these kingdoms would unite and help to build the modern nation-states of today. As a result one of the main ways in which the fall of Rome was a turning point in history was because it dispersed power out across Europe which helped form modern nations.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article going over how the fall of Rome was a turning point in western history.

Rome never really ‘fell.’ Instead, it slowly decayed back into a city that was conquered in 410 AD. After this event, the Western Roman Empire began to fracture into several smaller independent kingdoms which eventually helped form the modern nation-states of today. It would take Over 1,000 years for the urban population of the west to finally recover to the levels seen in Rome.

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Sincerely,

Nick