Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although the Visigoths and Ostrogoths were forces to be reckoned with for a short while in the Roman Empire, both groups fell into obscurity. Other groups, like the Franks and the Saxons, hold a stronger place in history. The Franks were originally from the area between the North Sea and upper Rhine River in Germany. They expanded into France in the fifth century. The Frankish leader Clovis converted to Catholicism and began battling against pagan barbarian tribes.
As they took control of France, the Germanic tribesmen began a cultural fusion with Romans in France. By allowing the two cultures to join together, the Franks created a new culture and became a part of the area's existence, rather than perpetually trying to hold a dominant control and eventually being driven out.
The Anglo-Saxons were a group made up of tribes called Angles, Saxons and Jutes from Germany and Denmark. The Anglo-Saxons had invaded mainly in what we now know as England. Rather than assimilating and fusing cultures as the Franks did in France, the Anglo-Saxons found little of Rome's culture that they saw fit to absorb. They ignored Rome's legal system and followed only a Germanic tribal governmental structure.
They replaced Roman buildings made of stone with wooden structures. Many Anglo-Saxons kept their pagan religious beliefs despite the popularity of Christianity in Rome. They also kept their own language dominant, which would eventually develop into modern English.
The Roman Empire established control over much of Europe. As Germanic tribes invaded Rome, centralized control of the Empire faded. While some tribes, like the Franks, assimilated into Roman culture and became an established part of the society, others, like the Anglo-Saxons, kept their own native culture dominant.
The Roman Empire began to break apart with the continuous invasions and loss of binding cultural aspects. The Goths were chased out of their native lands in Scandinavia by the Huns. Both the Visigoths and Ostrogoths fought with the Romans until they were driven out of the Empire.
After viewing this video lesson, you should be able to identify the fall of Rome as a direct result of constant invasion by outside tribes like the Franks, Anglo-Saxons, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Vandals.
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