Western Roman Empire

Summary

Western Roman Empire

395–476/480b
Tremissis depicting Julius Nepos (r. 474–480) of Western Roman Empire
Tremissis depicting Julius Nepos (r. 474–480)
The Western Roman Empire in 418 AD, following the abandonment of Britannia and the settlement of the Visigoths, Burgundians and Suebi within imperial territory as foederati
The Western Roman Empire in 418 AD, following the abandonment of Britannia and the settlement of the Visigoths, Burgundians and Suebi within imperial territory as foederati
StatusWestern division of the Roman Empire
a
CapitalMediolanum
(286–402)[1]
Ravenna
(402–455, 473–476)
Romec
(455–473)
Salona/Spalatumd
(475–480)
Common languagesLatin (official)
Regional / local languages
Religion
Polytheistic Roman Religion until 4th century
Nicene Christianity (state church) after 380
GovernmentAutocracy
Roman Emperor 
• 395–423
Honorius
• 457–461
Majorian
• 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 Augustulus
4 September 476
• Murder of Emperor Julius Nepos
25 April 480
Area
395[2]2,000,000 km2 (770,000 sq mi)
CurrencyRoman currency
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Dio coin3.jpg 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
Alamannia
Armorica
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 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.
  3. ^ The Theodosian dynasty emperors Honorius and Valentinian III reigned from Ravenna. In the period between Valentinian and Glycerius (who once again reigned from northern Italy), most emperors appear to have reigned from Rome. Both emperors Petronius Maximus and Anthemius reigned from, and died in, Rome.
  4. ^ The de jure last emperor, Julius Nepos, reigned for five years in exile from Salona/Spalatum in Dalmatia.[3][4][5]

The Western Roman Empire comprises the western provinces of the Roman Empire at any time during which they were administered by a separate independent Imperial court; in particular, this term is used in historiography to describe the period from 395 to 476, where there were separate coequal courts dividing the governance of the empire in the Western 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 separate empires but viewed it as a single polity governed by two separate imperial courts as an administrative expediency. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476, and the Western imperial court in Ravenna was formally dissolved by Justinian in 554. The Eastern imperial court survived until 1453.

Though the Empire had seen 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 institutionalised to reforms to Roman law 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 separate senior emperors titled Augustus, one in the East and one in the West, each with an appointed Caesar (junior emperor and designated successor). 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 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 as the sole Augustus across the Roman Empire. On the death of Theodosius I in 395, he divided the empire between his two sons, with Honorius as his successor in the West, governing briefly from Mediolanum and 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 deposition of 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