FROM THE FALL OF ROME TO THE RENAISSANCE
A BACKGROUND READING LINKING CLASSICAL TO MODERN TIMES From approximately 200 B.C. to 476 A.D., the "civilized" areas of Europe and the Near East were dominated, ruled, and imprinted with a lasting influence from the Roman Empire. At its greatest extent, the Roman Empire stretched east to include Greece, Turkey, Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia; it stretched south to encompass Africa north of the Sahara from the Atlantic to Egypt; and, it stretched north and west in Europe with its frontiers on the Danube and the Rhine and included Great Britain south of Scotland and Hadrian's Wall. This great empire crumbled for a variety of reasons including: internal political corruption; the economic and social difficulties arising from ruling such a vast territory; the high cost of warfare to maintain the empire; labor surplus problems largely caused by slavery; overindulgence by the citizenry; and immorality, indolence, and reduced production causing heavy public welfare expenses. Religious and ethnic strife caused division of the people of Rome from within while Germanic tribes invaded the Empire from the North and East. The fall of Rome actually occurred gradually over a period of many years, but is usually set at 476 A.D., the year Odoacer, a chieftain from a Germanic tribe, seized the city and proclaimed himself emperor. Although the western Roman Empire and the government in Rome itself fell, the Empire lived on in the East. The Emperor Diocletian had divided the Empire during his reign (284-305) to increase administrative efficiency. The Emperor Constantine (reigned, 324-337) had erected a new capital on the site of the Greek city of Byzantium, which controlled the passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, calling it Constantinople. Theodosius I (r. 378-395) was the last emperor to actually rule both portions of the Empire simultaneously. The Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire contained more diverse nationalities than the West. The dominant language of the Byzantine Empire was Greek rather than Latin, and it featured a much heavier influence from Hellenistic, Semitic, and Persian cultures. The Byzantine Empire contained most of the Roman Empire's rich commercial centers including Alexandria, Athens, and Damascus, as well as Constantinople. While Rome and the western Empire fell, the Byzantine Empire survived at Constantinople, the modern city of Istanbul, until 1453 when it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Only then did the city cease to be the cultural and economic center of Byzantine rule in the East. During the centuries of Roman rule, the entire civilized European world was united under one rule. (The Romans called everyone who was not Roman a barbarian.) When Rome fell, that union also vanished: For centuries there was no unity and there were no nations as we know them today. As the many nomadic Germanic tribes from northern Europe moved across the continent during this period, sometimes called the "Dark Ages", what political organization did exist in Europe grew out of the tribal organization of these peoples. Only a few of these tribes made a lasting impression.
The Angles and Saxons established their rule and culture in Great Britain (hence the name "Angleland") and the Franks (as in "France") dominated northern and western Europe. The Vandals are remembered for their especially destructive behavior, and the word Gothic (from the Goths) was later used to describe these tribes collectively. Charlemagne (French for Charles the Great) was King of the Franks from 768-814 and was able to unite most of western Europe into the Frankish Kingdom which lasted from 800-860. On Christmas Day, 800 A.D., after restoring Pope Leo III (reigned, 795-816) in Rome from which he had been driven by invaders, Charlemagne (reigned, 768-814) was crowned by the Pope as "Emperor of the Romans". The Frankish Kingdom then became known as the Holy Roman Empire, a name that would