Those wars sent a nomadic people, the Huns, migrating from central Asia toward eastern Europe, which they reached by A.D 370. These skilled riders fought fierce battles to dislodge the Germanic peoples in their path. The Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and other Germanic peoples sought safety by crossing into Roman territory.

As the empire declined, Rome was hard pressed to halt the invaders. Slowly, Roman legions pulled back from the borderlands. Under pressure from attacks, Rome had to withdraw its legions, first from Britain, then from France and Spain. In time, invaders pushed into Italy and threatened Rome itself.

Rome Is Attacked

In A.D 378, when a Roman army tried to turn back the Visigoths at Adrianople, it suffered a stunning defeat. Roman power was fading. New waves of invaders were soon hammering at Rome's borders, especially in the west. In A.D 410, the Visigoth general Alaric overran Italy and plundered Rome. Other invaders, the Vandals, took over Spain and North Africa before sacking Rome. Gradually, other Germanic peoples occupied large parts of the western Roman empire.

For Rome, the worst was yet to come. Starting in A.D 434, Hun leader Attila (uh TIHL luh) embarked on a savage campaign of conquest across much of Europe. Christians called Attila the “scourge of God” because they believed his attacks were a punishment for the sins of humankind. The Hun invasions sent still more Germanic peoples fleeing into the lands of the Roman empire.

Finally, in A.D 476, Odoacer (OH duh WAY suhr), a Germanic leader, ousted the emperor in Rome. Later, historians referred to that event as the “fall” of Rome. By then, however, the Roman empire had already lost many of its territories, and Roman power in the west had ended. By contrast, the Roman empire in the east would continue to flourish for centuries to come.

Why Did Rome Fall?

The “fall” of Rome is often seen as an important event in the history of Western civilization. Why did Rome “fall”? Modern historians identify a number of interrelated causes.

A map shows invasions of the Roman empire, from A D 378 to 533.
Image Long Description

Analyze Maps

The empire's weakened borders made it vulnerable to invasions by tribal groups from across Europe. What appears to be the common goal of all the tribes' invasions?

Military Causes

Perhaps the most obvious cause of Rome's fall was the invasions. Still, these attacks were successful partly because Roman legions of the late empire lacked the discipline and training from which earlier Roman armies had benefited.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments