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Germanic Tribes: Invasion in Rome

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Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Several Germanic tribes invaded Rome, reducing the Roman Empire's centralized control and helping bring about the fall of Rome. Learn about these tribes, including the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Vandals, the Franks, and the Anglo-Saxons. Understand their role in ending the Roman Empire. Updated: 09/18/2021

The Roman Empire

Long ago, Rome was ruled by a democratic system in which no one person could hold too much power. This system began to change around the first century BCE as Rome expanded to control new areas. The areas controlling Roman troops began to demand more power, causing conflict over who was the ruler of Rome. One of the most successful rulers was Caesar Augustus.

As Rome expanded even further, it faced threats from other growing empires, like Persia. Late in the fourth century CE, a violent group called the Huns attacked tribes that lived on the borders of the Roman Empire, driving them inward. In this lesson, we will learn about some of these Germanic tribes who invaded Rome.

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  • 0:05 The Roman Empire
  • 0:50 The Visigoths
  • 1:54 The Ostrogoths
  • 2:43 The Vandals
  • 3:27 The Franks
  • 4:15 The Anglo-Saxons
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The Visigoths

The Visigoths were a tribe of people from the southern part of Scandinavia. They were the first Germanic tribe to settle in the Roman Empire. They assimilated into Rome by adopting native cultural activities. When the Visigoths were allowed to enter the Empire to escape the Huns, however, they were unhappy with bad treatment received from imperial officials. They began battling against Rome.

After the Emperor was killed, the new Emperor Theodosius offered the Visigoths land and money to make peace. When Theodosius died and the Empire was left to be split between his two sons, things between the Romans and the Visigoths got worse.

When the Visigoths had received land and payment from Theodosius, they had agreed to provide recruits for the Roman army. The leader of the Visigoths was named Alaric. He was angry that his people were required to provide military service to Rome and wanted to fight against them. Alaric captured the city of Rome in 410. Alaric died soon after the capture of Rome and the Visigoths moved to Southern France and Spain to settle.

The Ostrogoths

Closely related to the Visigoths was another tribe called the Ostrogoths. Ostrogoths were a group of people who settled in eastern parts of Europe. The leader of the Ostrogoths was named Theodoric. Theodoric had been a prisoner in Constantinople, the current capital of Rome, for a decade. While in captivity, he learned a lot about the culture. Theodoric invaded the Empire and took control of Northern Italy. He ruled the area by allowing his people to follow Gothic laws while Romans could follow Roman law.

Out of respect for the Roman culture he had developed in captivity, he even helped rebuild ruined monuments. After Theodoric's death in 526, the Ostrogoths lost control in Rome and were driven out. They moved north, settling above the Alps and did not seek control in Rome afterwards.

The Vandals

While the Goths were invading and settling in Rome, another Germanic tribe was also attempting to take control of the Empire. The Vandals were a Germanic tribe that had a habit of looting the cities they invaded. The Vandals first settled in areas of Spain until they were pushed out by the Visigoths. They then expanded to gain control over areas in North Africa. In 455, they became powerful enough to take over Rome.

The Vandals held power over Rome until they were defeated by the Romans in 533. This tribe was not very artistic and left little in the area of art and artifacts. This is why they are mostly remembered for their acts of plundering and looting, leading to our modern English word vandalism.

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