Western Roman Empire

Western Roman Empire
Flag of Western Roman Empire
(the usual type
according to coins)
The Western Roman Empire in AD 400
The Western Roman Empire in AD 400
StatusWestern administrative division of the Roman Empirea
(401–403, 408–450, 457–461, 475–476)
Rome (403–408, 450–457, 461–475)[2]
Official languagesLatin
Common languagesVulgar Latin and other regional languages
Christianity (state)
Roman Emperor 
• 395–423
• 425–455
Valentinian III
• 457–461
• 474–480
Julius Nepos
• 475–476
Romulus Augustulus
LegislatureRoman Senate
Historical eraLate antiquity
• Death of Emperor Theodosius I
17 January 395
• Deposition of Emperor Romulus
4 September 476
• Murder of Julius Nepos
9 May 480
395[3]2,500,000 km2 (970,000 sq mi)
CurrencyRoman currency
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Roman Empire
Eastern Roman Empire
Kingdom of Italy
Kingdom of the Visigoths
Kingdom of the Vandals
Kingdom of the Franks
Kingdom of the Suebi
Kingdom of the Burgundians
Kingdom of the Romans
Kingdom of the Moors and Romans
Sub-Roman Britain
  1. ^ Since the Western Roman Empire was not a distinct state separate from the Eastern Roman Empire, there was no particular official term that designated the Western provinces or their government, which was simply known at the time as the "Roman Empire". Terms such as Imperium Romanum Occidentale and Hesperium Imperium were either never in official usage or invented by later medieval or modern historians long after the Western Roman court had fallen. In the ancient era the Latin term often used was "S.P.Q.R." ("Senatus Populusque Romanus" ["Senate and People of Rome"] Latin) used in documents, on flags and banners and carved/engraved on buildings.
  2. ^ Whilst the deposition of Emperor Romulus Augustulus in AD 476 is the most commonly cited end date for the Western Roman Empire, the last Western Roman emperor Julius Nepos, was assassinated in 480, when the title and notion of a separate Western Empire were abolished. Another suggested end date is the reorganization of the Italian peninsula and abolition of separate Western Roman administrative institutions under Emperor Justinian during the latter half of the 6th century.

The term Western Roman Empire is used in modern historiography to refer to the western provinces of the Roman Empire, collectively, during any period in which they were administered separately from the eastern provinces by a separate, independent imperial court. Particularly during the period from AD 395 to 476, there were separate, coequal courts dividing the governance of the empire into the Western provinces and the Eastern provinces with a distinct imperial succession in the separate courts. The terms Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire were coined in modern times to describe political entities that were de facto independent; contemporary Romans did not consider the Empire to have been split into two empires but viewed it as a single polity governed by two imperial courts for administrative expediency. The Western Empire collapsed in 476, and the Western imperial court in Ravenna disappeared by AD 554, at the end of Justinian's Gothic War.

Though there were periods with more than one emperor ruling jointly before, the view that it was impossible for a single emperor to govern the entire Empire was institutionalized by emperor Diocletian following the disastrous civil wars and disintegrations of the Crisis of the Third Century. He introduced the system of the Tetrarchy in 286, with two senior emperors titled Augustus, one in the East and one in the West, each with an appointed subordinate and heir titled Caesar. Though the tetrarchic system would collapse in a matter of years, the East–West administrative division would endure in one form or another over the coming centuries. As such, the unofficial Western Roman Empire would exist intermittently in several periods between the 3rd and 5th centuries. Some emperors, such as Constantine I and Theodosius I, governed, if briefly, as the sole Augustus across the Roman Empire. On the death of Theodosius in 395, the empire was divided between his two infant sons, with Honorius as his successor in the West governing briefly from Mediolanum then from Ravenna, and Arcadius as his successor in the East governing from Constantinople.

In 476, after the Battle of Ravenna, the Roman Army in the West suffered defeat at the hands of Odoacer and his Germanic foederati. Odoacer forced the abdication of the emperor Romulus Augustulus and became the first King of Italy. In 480, following the assassination of the previous Western emperor Julius Nepos, the Eastern emperor Zeno dissolved the Western court and proclaimed himself the sole emperor of the Roman Empire. The date of 476 was popularized by the 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon as a demarcating event for the fall of the Western Roman Empire and is sometimes used to mark the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Odoacer's Italy and other barbarian kingdoms, many of them representing former Western Roman allies that had been granted lands in return for military assistance, would maintain a pretense of Roman continuity through the continued use of the old Roman administrative systems and nominal subservience to the Eastern Roman court.

In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian I re-imposed direct Imperial rule on large parts of the former Western Roman Empire, including the prosperous regions of North Africa, the ancient Roman heartland of Italy and parts of Hispania. Political instability in the Eastern heartlands, combined with foreign invasions and religious differences, made efforts to retain control of these territories difficult and they were gradually lost for good. Though the Eastern Empire retained territories in the south of Italy until the eleventh century, the influence that the Empire had over Western Europe had diminished significantly. The papal coronation of the Frankish king Charlemagne as Roman Emperor in 800 marked a new imperial line that would evolve into the Holy Roman Empire, which presented a revival of the Imperial title in Western Europe but was in no meaningful sense an extension of Roman traditions or institutions. The Great Schism of 1054 between the churches of Rome and Constantinople further diminished any authority the emperor in Constantinople could hope to exert in the West.

  1. ^ Christie 1991, p. 236.
  2. ^ Gillett 2001.
  3. ^ Taagepera, p. 125.