Eurasia - Invasions and empires (before the death of Theoderic in 526)

Classical antiquity
978-3-14-100890-6 | Page 57 | Ill. 3
Eurasia | Invasions and empires (before the death of Theoderic in 526) | Classical antiquity | Karte 57/3


Migration is not a phenomenon that has only been known since modern times. Already from the time of the Roman Empire, major migrations and migration flows are historically documented and well known. The last centuries of the Roman Empire in particular show numerous migration flows. Often there were military conflicts between the newly emerging tribes and the number one world power of the time. In the end, these contributed significantly to the decline of the Western Roman Empire.

Historical overview

The first migration of peoples was triggered at the end of the 2nd century by the Goths, who, coming from the Baltic Sea region, moved into the area of present-day Ukraine. At the end of the 3rd century, this first migration movement came to a halt. The great migration of the 4th and 5th centuries was caused by the Huns, when they moved from present-day Mongolia to an area close to the Black Sea and subjugated the Alans. The Huns then defeated the Ostrogoths, who, as a result, were forced to follow their army, as were the Gepids later on. Driving Ostrogothic and Visigothic tribes before them, they advanced further west and thus became the trigger for a comprehensive migration of Germanic peoples (Vandals, Franks, Burgundians, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Alemanni, Swebians, Heruls, Gepids).


Agriculture was the most important economic sector in the Roman Empire; around three quarters of the population were farmers. Initially there were two basic forms: imperial estate or other large properties (some with slave labour) and smallholdings of yeoman farmers. Some large estates did without slaves, partly because slave labour was less profitable than the seasonal use of other workers (viticulture), and partly because slaves were scarce in peacetime. In the 2nd century, the yeoman farmers increasingly ceded their land to the landowners, who in return offered protection against attacks by tax collectors or armed gangs. Intermediary tenants (conductori) were often interposed between large landowners and farmers. After the transfer of Roman agricultural techniques to other regions of the Empire, many peasants found themselves in a competitive situation that made their situation even more difficult..

Decline of an empire

The decline of the Western Roman Empire and the southward migration of many tribes created a power vacuum in Central Europe. The Franks, originally from the Meuse region, set out to fill it. Around 450, they pushed into northern Gaul via what is now Belgium. The first important Frankish king was Clovis from the House of Merovingians, who defeated the Western Roman general Syagrius, the Alemanni and Burgundians and ousted the Visigoths from Gaul.

The Goths, Vandals and other tribes

The Goths, ousted from their previous homes, went on a raiding expedition themselves. The Visigoths established an empire in 418 under King Wallia, which later had its centre in northern Spain and was not subjugated by the Moors until 711. The Ostrogoths conquered an empire in 493 under King Theoderic the Great that included Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Slavonia. It was destroyed shortly after Theoderic's death (526) by the Byzantine generals Belisar and Narses.

The Vandals, who came from the Hungarian Tisza basin, first crossed the Rhine under King Geiseric and then moved across Spain to Roman North Africa, which they occupied in a few months. In 439 they took Carthage and made it their residence. From here they conquered the islands of the western Mediterranean and plundered Rome. The Byzantine commander Belisar, who had already defeated the Ostrogoths, succeeded in destroying the Vandals in 534.

Around 450, the Jutes, Angles and Saxons took Britain, which had been abandoned by the Romans, from Jutland and northern Germany. The Celtic population was pushed into Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. The Burgundians, who came from the Vistula and Oder regions, first settled around Worms and Mainz but shortly afterwards moved on to the Rhône region, where they too founded a kingdom in 443.


Trade and traffic

The Roman Empire had a widely ramified trade network, yet the importance of trade was limited. For one thing, the transport of goods was comparatively expensive and risky, despite the existence of well-developed transport routes. On the other hand, although certain products were traded over long distances, there were only a few production sites of supra-regional importance. With a few exceptions (Ostia, Alexandria, Lugdunum, Rome), the cities drew their importance from their agricultural hinterland.

The Roman road network with its numerous bridges provided access to all important regions and places and ensured the political, military and economic cohesion of the empire. On these roads, couriers could cover up to 80 kilometres per day, but the transport of goods and the relocation of military units took much longer. Ports were built in many coastal towns, and important sea routes were secured by beacons. The Mediterranean area dominated in shipping.