Transformation of the Roman Empire

From the 4th century, the Roman Empire started to fall apart as Germanic invaders swept into western Europe. These Germanic conquerors established new kingdoms there, but preserved many Roman institutions and customs. In the east, the Roman Empire survived as the Greek Byzantine Empire.

Constantinople founded (324 CE)

Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine, founds Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey) as his new eastern capital. He promotes Christianity, building many churches, but it is not yet the state religion.

Theodosius the Great (379-395 CE)

Theodosius I reigns as the last emperor of a united Roman Empire. He outlaws pagan religions, banning sacrifice and closing temples. He even ends the Olympic Games because of their association with paganism.

Empire divided (395 CE)

When Theodosius I dies, his sons divide the empire between themselves. Arcadius rules the east and the 10-year-old Honorius is made emperor of the west. The Roman Empire is now permanently divided into eastern and western sides.

Germanic invasions (406-109 CE)

Vandals, Alans, Suebi, and other Germanic peoples cross the Rhine River in force. They ravage Gaul (modern-day France) and move into the Iberian Peninsula. They pillage Roman cities such as Mainz, Worms, and Strasbourg.

The Sack of Rome (410 CE)

The Visigoths, a Germanic tribe led by Alaric I, invade Italy and destroy Rome. This defeat marks the start of the Western Roman Empire’s decline.

Britannia abandoned (410 CE)

The last Roman legions withdraw from their British province (modern-day England and Wales), leaving the native Britons defenseless against invasion. By about 450, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes have begun to conquer the region.

Attila the Hun (434-453 CE)

The most powerful Hun ruler, Attila, conquers a vast empire stretching from modern-day Germany to Central Asia. Eastern emperors are forced to pay Attila increasingly vast amounts of gold in exchange for peace.

Last western emperor (476 CE)

Emperor Romulus Augustulus is overthrown by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain. Odoacer takes the title King of Italy, rather than emperor. This marks the end of the Western Roman Empire.

Theodoric the Great (493-526 CE)

After personally killing Odoacer, Theodoric the Great establishes the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy. He keeps Roman officials, preserves the Senate (a Roman political institution), and issues Roman-style laws.

Justinian the Great (527-565 CE)

The eastern emperor Justinian the Great reconquers Italy, northern Africa, and the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. Justinian has a great law code drawn up and builds the Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople.

Monasticism (529 CE)

St. Benedict establishes a monastery at Subiaco in Italy, drawing up a set of rules for monastic life. He goes on to found a dozen more monasteries. Monastic libraries preserve many works of ancient Roman literature.

War with Persia (602-628 CE)

The Eastern Roman Empire fights a long war with the Persian Sassanian Empire. This conflict exhausts both sides, leaving them vulnerable to the rising power of Islam.

Byzantine Empire (610-641 CE)

Heraclius reigns as emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, and he makes Greek the official language of the state. From now on, it is known as the Byzantine Empire. He loses Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia to Arab armies.