In the decades leading up to the year 476 C E., the western half of the Roman empire lost considerable chunks of territory to so-called barbarian peoples. In that time frame, however, the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which is now sometimes known as the Byzantine Empire, remained essentially the same.
In 410, Roman military forces were withdrawn from Britain. In time, Angles, Danes, Frisians and Saxons began to migrate into eastern Britain (EE on the map) in family units and small warrior groups. In order to avoid these invaders, some of the native population of Celts, or "Britons" (Br1), moved westward (to present-day Wales and Cornwall), and others migrated across the English Channel to present-day Brittany (Br2).
Having sacked the city of Rome under the leadership of Alaric in 410, the Visigoths eventually moved into Spain and southern France in 415 C.E., where they would establish a fairly robust kingdom. The incursion of Visigoths into the Iberian Peninsula caused the Vandals who already lived there to leave. Led by Gaiseric, approximately 80,000 people departed Spain in 428 and headed to northern Africa, where over the course of the next decade or so they would conquer much of the region and establish a powerful kingdom of their own.
With Roman imperial control gradually lessening in central Europe, the Alemanni, Burgundians, Franks, Gepids, Lombards, Rugians, Saxons and Thuringians pressed southward into Roman territory. Some took over Roman estates, and small, scattered kingdoms emerged; but by the year 476, no single governmnent had taken over an entire territory of their kin. Usually, Roman citizens remained in these territories, and they still abided by Roman law, while each barbarian group followed their own laws. The "invasions" were not military ones, and therefore Romans seldom suffered real harm at the hands of the barbarians. But although they coexisted in relative peace, there was an undeniable measure of unease.
As the century progressed, the remains of western Rome -- which was, primarily, the Italian peninsula and lands north of there -- became a bone of contention among the stronger military leaders. A string of short-lived emperors, many of whom were puppets of the military, culminated in one Julius Nepos, who took the throne in 474. Nepos had little time to rule, however; he misjudged his choice of Orestes as the Patrician and Master of Soldiers, and the man he had trusted turned on him and deposed him in 475. Nepos fled to Dalmatia, where he had previously served as the military governor, while Orestes installed his own son, Romulus Augustulus, as emperor.
But Orestes and his son would rule no longer than Nepos had, for in the late summer of 476, the Germanic military leader Odoacer defeated and slew Orestes and forced Augustulus to resign. This act has often been seen as the end of the Western Empire, mostly because Odoacer didn't take the title of emperor, but called himself "King of Italy."
However, Nepos, who had retreated to Dalmatia to escape Orestes, was allowed by the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno to retain the title of "Emperor," and he ruled in Dalmatia (WRE1 on the map) until his death in 480. At the same time, the last remnant of Roman Gaul (WRE2) was held by a Roman patrician, Syagrius, until he was defeated by Clovis at the end of the 5th century.
"Political Map of Europe in 476 C.E." was created by your Guide and is copyright © 2012 Melissa Snell. Geographical data was derived from the National Geographic Atlas of the World, sixth edition, 1990. Historical data was derived from The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History by Colin McEvedy. Text is also copyright © 2012 Melissa Snell.
The boundaries represented in the above map are meant to offer a general idea of the territories occupied by the various peoples as the western Roman Empire officially came to an end. No guarantee is made as to the complete accuracy of this geographic rendering.
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