The decline and the Roman Empire can be date back to reign of Emperor Constantine and the coming of Christianity. Although neither of these events contributed directly to the collapse of empire, both do symbolize the immense and irreversible change the Roman world went through.
During the year 312, a young son of an Augusti named Constantine was battling to become emperor when an remarkable event occurred. Shortly before a major battle, Constantine saw a vision of the holy cross and heard voices call "with this sign you shall conquer". Taking no chances, Constantine ordered his troops to paint the cross on their shields. Following the next victorious battle, Constantine would be the new emperor and Christianity would forever be an important force in the Roman world.
To signify the new change, Constantine transformed a tiny Greek village called Byzantium into the New Rome or Nova Roma. Re-naming it Constaniople, the new emperor made sure that his city would be superior to old Rome. Thousands of artisans, laborers, engineers along with priceless statues and works of art were relocated to the new capital. Being strategically located on the banks of the Bosphorous at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the city would eventually outlive its predecessor. Following its grand opening, Constantine ordered a 40-day festival of games, fights and religious rites.
Today we can perceive the celebrations as being na´ve, for far into the dark frontier an unrepairable rain of destruction was about to befall on the Roman world.
Fierce Mongolian tribes, the likes of which Europe had never seen were pushing westward for generations. Their long journey from the borders of China was about to reach Rome and they would initiate a chain of events that would ultimately crush the Roman Empire.
In 370, the Romans were shocked at the sight of 200,000 Goth men, women and children pleading to be let in peacefully in the Empire. The Goths were perhaps Rome's most ferocious barbarian threat; they had led bold raids into the empire for almost a hundred years with ought showing a glimmer of restraint. But the Goths were in terror; the tribes adjacent to them had all suddenly been conquered by a people known as the Huns or Hsiung-nu.
After agreeing to harsh Roman terms the band crossed the Danube and settled on rocky land opposite its shore. Two years the poor, hungry and mistreated tribe rebelled. One of the co-rulers at the time, Valens marched quickly to put down the rebellion. After an initial attack on the Visigothic base, Valens and all his men were decimated when a large number of Goth cavalry arrived late and attacked suddenly. Afterwards, the Visigoths went on a rampage from the Balkans to Greece.
The battle of Adrianople had resounding affects throughout the Roman World. It left the western half of the empire virtually defenseless. It not only led to the invasions of the Goths about dozens of other tribes who started pouring in the empire.
The Visigoths were temporarily pacified by the next emperor Theodosius, who granted them more land in northern Greece. Although the empire was safe for the moment, peace was not the same as it once was. Theodosius, an ardent christen was forced to kneel barefoot before the pope during his own reign of face excommunication. It was an unusually event that gave testimony to the growing power of the Christian church.
After the death of Theodosius, the Visigoths were on the move again. The brave Roman general, Stilichio had kept them under check before he was assassinated. Then like a thunderstorm, the Visigoths advanced from the east while simultaneously the Alani, Vandals and Suevi crossed the Rhine.
Led by Alaric, the Visigoths reached the imperial city uncontested in 410. Two years earlier 35,000 pounds of gold had kept them at bay, this time they would except no compromise. For the first time in over a millenium barbarian hordes stormed into the eternal city. Alaric's horde began a three-day pillage of glorious Rome. Times had truly changed. Eventually, the Visigoths would wander through the empire and settle permanently in southern France.
The Vandals were another tribe that had violated the borders of the empire. After crossing the Rhine, the Vandals passed Gaul, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and under their leader Gaiseric settled in North Africa. Gaiseric was the first barbarian leader that built a navy and this made him very powerful. Today, the name Vandal is synonymous with destroying withought reason.
After the Germanic tribes penetrated the empire, the force that had pushed them out were not far behind. The leader of them would later be known by Christians as the one sent by God to punish the unfaithful. He was Attila, the Scourge of God. Under Attila, the Huns first turned east and laid siege to Constaniople. After receiving a huge tribute in gold, they turned the other check and moved westward. This time however the Roman and barbarian tribes banded together to stop the Huns. The 24-hour battle of the Catalunian plains pitted the Huns and their conquered barbarian allies against the Romans and the free tribes. The bloody day finally ended in a Hun retreat. Nevertheless, their threat was not pacified until Attila died two years later from a nosebleed. Aetius, the Roman general who had organized the allied stand against the Huns was assassinated by the emperor Valentinian. Twenty years later in 476, the last Western Roman Emperor who ironically was named Romulus quietly stepped down at the request of his German general, Odoacer. The Principate in the west was finally threw.
Meanwhile the Ostrogoths, a tribe that had recently regained their independence from the Huns where causing trouble in the east. The eastern emperor, Zeno hatched a scheme to have the Ostrogoths attack Odoacer in Italy. Under the leadership of Theodoric, the Ostrogoths pushed south toward Odoacer and finally killed him after a length siege of the city Revenna.
Unlike other barbarians, Theodoric was educated at Constaniople. During his long and enlightened rule, he sought to rebuild Italy and revive the use of Roman customs. His successors however, were not competent enough to continue defending Italy. A new eastern emperor, Justinian had his own visions of reunifying the Empire. Under his brilliant general, Belisarius he swiftly conquered the Vandal kingdom in North Africa. In 535 Belisarius captured Naples and set out for the rest of Italy. After 20 years of hard fighting, a Roman Emperor again controlled the destitute ravaged plains of Italy. It would be the last time Rome would unite with the east.
However, the Byzantine Empire would survive. For the next thousand years, this culturally Greek state would beat off countless attacks by the Persians, Arabs, Avars, Bulgars, Slavs and other foes by controlling the seas and wrapping its defense around the impenetrable walls of Constaniople. Ultimately, like its predecessor it would decline gradually until in 1453 when it was nothing more than an impoverished city-state. In that year, the mighty cannons of the Ottoman Turks battered its ancient city walls. The last remnant of the glorious Roman Empire was finally vanished from the face of the earth.