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Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire is the name given to the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian. This part had significant social difference with the Eastern Roman Empire; whereas the East was Greek-speaking and later followed Orthodoxy and Monophysitism, the West was Latin-speaking and later followed Roman Catholicism. It is on those lines that the empire truly split up, as the Hellenistic east managed to hold together, centred around the Greek culture (while still remaining Roman). Meanwhile, the west, while connected by Latin, was in fact made up of much more numerous and less unified cultures which had been assimilated by the Romans. The east had been united, culturally at least, since the times of Alexander the Great's conquests in the 4th century BC. The west, however, was much different. Every new area in the west by Rome had a different culture, language, and history which had to be assimilated into the Roman Empire. The cultural unity of the west was also put under considerable strain due to the influx of barbarians to those regions. Allowed to settle there in order to replenish the manpower of legions along the frontier, they also may have had the unintended effect of even more discord in the west.
During the reign of Caesar Augustus, and into the late 1st century AD, the final boundaries of the Empire would be developed. Iberia and Britain in the west, the Danube and Mesopotamia in the east. During this period a huge amount of economic development would take place throughout the Empire. In the West, lands formerly controlled by barbarian tribes were being Romanized, their industries modernized, and a huge amount of infastructure development was taking place. In the East, redevelopment of the large urban centres was taking place, centres decimated first by continuous warfare as the hellenistic world crumbled, and then by Roman occupation. During the stable two-hundred years from the first to early 3rd century AD, an atmosphere was finally available for the actual Romanization of the empire. However, this economic development came at a cost. As the periphery grew, the core began to rot. Rome and Italy began to experience an economic slowdown as industries and money began to move outward. By the end of the Crisis of the Third Century this stagnation of Italy could easily be seen in the provincial born Emperors such as Trajan and Hadrian. Economic problems only grew for Italy as time continued, and it eventually spread into much of the rest of the west, especially Gaul, whose industries, particularly the pottery industry, began to suffer tremendously as the 4th century wore on. Another key problem that was almost certainly related to the economic slowdowns in Gaul and Italy was the cost on manpower of maintaining the frontier. Illyricum, a province technically part of the East but more or less in between Rome and Constantinople also suffered heavily in this regard as barbarian invasions increased in the Late Empire in strength and frequency.
While the West was experiencing an overall economic decline throughout the late empire, the East was maintaining economic stability and growth, especially as Emperors like Constantine the Great and Constantius II began pouring vast sums of money into economic development of eastern cities. The severe economic decline of the west, especially following the Crisis of the Third Century in the end helped to aid in the eventual collapse of the west. Once the west did collapse, the economic stability collapsed along with the Roman institutions. Most barbarian lords required the Roman subjects in the provinces they conquered to give a third of their land as tribute when they conquered an area, and this could turn into much more, as different lords conquered that same land and demanded similar tribute. Many plots of land were abandoned as irrigation failed and slowly hundreds of years of development was swept away. When Justinian I attempted to reconquer the west in the 6th century AD, his efforts proved extremely costly as most of the areas "reconquered" were saturated with barbarians, and due to the ongoing (and accelerated) economic decline these provinces had experienced under barbarian rule, they proved to be bottomless pits both in manpower and money.
Through the centuries, the East and the West were ruled as one, much the same way as they had been in the Republic. Various usurpers arose in both halves, but either were killed or assumed power over the entire Empire.
Starting on March 18/ 19, 235 with the assassination of Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, the Roman Empire fell into a fifty-year cycle of civil wars known as the Crisis of the Third Century. In 259, Emperor Valerian I was captured by Shapur I of Persia, a ruler of the Sassanid dynasty. His succeeding son, Gallienus was off fighting in the East. His own son and the Praetorian Prefect Aurelius Heraclianus were residing in Colonia Agrippina. The governor of the German provinces, Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus, took it upon himself to assault Colonia Agrippina, kill the heir and the prefect, and create an independent state now known as the Gallic Empire.
Its capital was at Augusta Treverorum, and in time it expanded to control not just the German provinces, but also all of Gaul, Hispania, and Britannia. It had its own senate, and a partial list of consuls still survive. It maintained Roman religion, language, and culture, and was more concerned with fighting the Germanic tribes than other Romans. However, in the reign of Claudius Gothicus (268-270), large expanses of the Gallic Empire were returned to Roman rule.
At roughly the same time, the eastern provinces were rebelling as the “Kingdom of Palmyra”, ruled over by Queen Zenobia. In 272, Emperor Aurelian managed to finally subdue Palmyra and return its territory to the Empire. With the East secure, he turned his attention west, and in the next year, the Gallic Empire fell. Due to a secret deal between Aurelian and the Gallic emperor Tetricus I and his son Tetricus II, the Gallic army was massacred while the two were allowed to live. This saved face for the two, and in exchange Aurelian went so far as to give them important positions in Italy.
The Tetrarchies and the Constantine Dynasty
After the restoration of Gaul, the west was largely quiet for the remainder of the Crisis of the Third Century. It was under Diocletian that the eventual permanent division of the Empire would start. In 286, through his creation of the Tetrarchy, he gave control over the western portion of the Empire to Maximian as Augustus, and named Constantius Chlorus as his subordinate (Caesar). This system divided up the Empire into four parts, and moved the capital from Rome to four smaller cities as a way to avoid the civil unrest that marked the 3rd century. In the west the capitals were Maximian's Milan and Constantius' Trier. On May 1, 305, the two Augusti stepped down and were replaced by their respective Caesars. However, the system quickly ran aground as the Western Empire's Constantius died unexpectedly in 306, and his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the army in Britain. A crisis followed as several attempted to claim rule in the west. In 308, the Augustus of the East, Galerius arranged a conference at Carnuntum which revived the Tetrarchy by dividing the power between Constantine and a newcomer named Licinius. Constantine was more interested in reconsolidating the Empire, Through a series of battles between the East and West, Licinius and Constantine had rejoined the Empire by 314, but they now competed for sole control of the reunified state. Constantine finally emerged victorious in 324 after the surrender and assassination of Licinius following the battles of Adrianople and Chrysopolis.
Once again the Roman Empire was ruled by a single ruler, but with the death of Constantine in 337, civil war erupted between his three sons, dividing the Empire into three parts. The west was reunified in 340 but the final reunification of the entire Empire did not occur until 353, the eventual victor being Constantius II. What is notable is that Constantius II focused most of his power in the East, and that he is often regarded as the first Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, as it was under his rule that the city of Byzantium, only recently refounded as Constantinople, was truly developed as a capital. In 361 Constantius II took ill and died, and Constantius Chlorus' grandson and Constantius II's Caesar, Julian took power. His rule was short-lived, however, as he was killed carrying on Constantius II's war against Persia in 363. He was replaced by an officer named Jovian whose rule was even shorter, lasting only until 364. These deaths marked the end of the reunified Empire.
Following the death of Jovian the empire fell into a new set of crisis similar to the Crisis of the Third Century. In 364, another officer named Valentinian I took power. He immediately divided the empire once again, giving the eastern half to his brother Valens. Stability was not achieved for long in either half of the empire as conflicts with barbarians intensified, esspecially with the Huns and Goths. Another serious problem in the west was a growing backlash by emperors against paganism. In 379, Valentine I's son and successor Gratian had refused to wear the mantle of pontifex maximus and in 382 had rescinded the rights of pagan priests, as well as removing the pagan altar from the Curia. In 388 a powerful and popular general named Magnus Maximus seized power in the west, and forced Gratian's son Valentinian II to flee to the east and the aid of the Eastern Emperor Theodosius I who quickly restored Valentinian II to power, but also converted him to Christianity and caused a ban on paganism to be implemented in the west in 391. In 392 pagan usurpers assassinated Valentinian II and a man named Eugenius was declared emperor until he was defeated in 394 by Theodosius I, who, having ruled both east and west for a year died in 395. This marked the beginning of the end for the West, as with Theodosius's death went the East's assistance for the West. A short period of stability under the puppet emperor Honorius controlled by Flavius Stilicho ended at Stilicho's death in 408, and many argue with him went the Western Roman Empire. It was during this period that the two empires truly diverged, as the east began a slow recovery and consolidation, the west began to collapse entirely.
Fall of Rome
With the death of Stilicho in 408 the weak emperor Honorius was left in charge, and although he ruled until his death in 423, his reign was filled with usurpations and barbarian invasions, particularly by the Vandals and Visigoths. In 410, Rome was sacked for the first time since the Gallic invasions of the 4th Century BC, and in effect as the military order of the western empire unraveled it ceased to be Roman and became barbarian. The instability caused by usurpers throughout the Western Empire helped the barbarians in their conquests, and as the 5th century wore on the barbarians became usurpers themselves. In 475, Orestes, a former secretary of Attila the Hun drove the emperor Julius Nepos out of Ravenna and proclaimed his son Romulus Augustus to be Emperor. Although some pockets of Roman civilization continued, (in northwest Gaul and Britannia, under Syagrius and Ambrosius Aurelianus, respectively) the rule of Rome over the west was effectively ended. In 476 after Orestes refused to grant the Heruli led by Odoacer federated status. Odoacer sacked Rome and sent the imperial insignia to Constantinople, installing himself as King over Italy. The last hope for a reunited Empire came in 493 when Odoacer was replaced by the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Great. Theodoric had been recruited by the Eastern Emperor Zeno to retake the western portion of the empire, Rome most importantly. Technically he was to be subordinant as a viceroy to the Emperor of the East, Theodoric was in fact an equal. It was in this period while Rome was under direct barbarian control for the first time starting 476 that the collapse started to become final in the West. Barbarian tribes flooded into the western provinces and began to take control, and without an organized Roman Army to stop them they had free reign. Following Theodoric's death in 526, the west no longer resembled the east, as both had transformed. The west was now fully controlled by barbarians, while the east retreated from former borders and hellenized. While the East would make some further attempts to recapture the west, it would never more be the Roman Empire.
The Continued Tradition of Empire
Although the west fell, the barbarians lords who took over felt compelled to uphold many Roman traditions. This can be seen in the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages. However, the most important remnant of the Western Empire is the Roman Catholic Church. The Church slowly began to replace Roman institutions in the west, even helping to negotiate the safety of Rome during the late 5th Century. As the barbarians invaded, many converted, and by the middle of the medieval period (ca. 9th and 10th centuries) the entirety of the former Western half of the Empire had been completely converted to Christianity and domination by the pope, who, if he was a strong leader, could exert as much influence over the former Empire as many of Rome's Emperors did. Ironically, Rome's final conquering of the Germans and Slavs came after her fall as an Empire through the Christian missionaries spreading ever further north, until paganism was stamped out throughout Europe.
List of Western Roman Emperors
Gallic Emperors (259-273):
- Postumus: 259-268
- Laelianus: 268 Usurpur
- Marius: 268
- Victorinus: 268-271
- Domitianus: 271 Usurper
- Tetricus I: 271-273
Augusti are shown with their Caesares, regents, etc., further indented
- Maximian: 293-305
- Constantius Chlorus: 305-306
- Flavius Valerius Severus: 306-307
- Maxentius/Maximian: 307-308
- Licinius: 308-313
- Maxentius: 308-312 Usurper
- Domitius Alexander: 308-309 African usurper
Constantinian Dynasty (313-363):
- Constantine I: 313-337 Sole emperor 324-337
- Constantine II: 337-340 Emperor of Gaul, Britannia, and Hispania
- Constans I: 337-350 Initially emperor of Italy and Africa; emperor of the west 340-350
- Magnentius: 350-353 Usurper
- Constantius II: 353-361 Sole emperor
- Julian: 361-363
Valentinian Dynasty (364-392):
- Valentinian I: 364-375
- Gratian: 375-383
- Magnus Maximus: 383-388 Usurper
- Valentinian II: 383-392
Theodosian Dynasty (394-455):
- Theodosius I: 394-395 Sole emperor
- Honorius: 395-423
- Constantine III: 407-411 Usurpur
- Priscus Attalus: 409-410/414-415 Usurper
- Jovinus: 411-412 Usurpur
- Valentinian III: 423-455
- Joannes: 423-425 Usurper
- Petronius Maximus: 455
- Avitus: 455-456
- Majorian: 457-461
- Libius Severus: 461-465
- Anthemius: 465-472
- Olybrius: 472
- Glycerius: 473-474
- Julius Nepos: 474-480 In exile 475-480
- Romulus Augustus: 475-476
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