The Fall of the Roman Empire: What actually fell and what came out of the ruins?

The Fall of the Roman Empire: What actually fell and what came out of the ruins?
with Charles Freeman (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 24th January, 2015.


The date 476 is etched in our memories as marking ‘the fall of the Roman empire’. Yet much of the empire’s structure had disintegrated in western Europe before then and other parts, notably the hierarchy of the Church, persisted through the next centuries. The Ostrogoth Theodric was actually restoring Rome in 500! In this study day I will try and untangle what survived of classical culture and what vanished in the years 400 to 750.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                The late empire – The organization of the empire and how it tried to sustain a political structure under external and internal pressures. The dislocation by the ‘barbarians’ 378- 476 and the reasons for the final collapse of the political structure of the western empire.

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                The late empire and culture change – The Christianisation of the empire and what this meant for the future (see Peter Brown in the reading list).

12.40 – 13.45:                Lunch break

13.45 – 14.35:                 The immediate effects of collapse – How far did living standards fall? Did Mediterranean trade collapse completely? What new patterns of survival and settlement emerged with the collapse of urban life (see Ward-Perkins in reading list)?

14.35 – 14.55:               Tea break

14.55 – 15.45:                The survival of Romanitas? What symbols of the empire survived and were recreated and restored? (See Peter Heather in the reading list.) The Church as the core of post-Roman civilization? Concluding summary of how far the Roman empire shaped later European history

c.15.45:                            Thanks and Close


Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, AD 150-750 (many editions, reprints) – still the classic introduction that sparked off a rethinking of this period; well illustrated. Brown has written extensively on this period and others of his books may be of interest.

Valerie Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Modern Europe (Princeton/ Oxford, 1991) – interesting look at the integration of pagan ‘magic’ into Christianity.

Charles Freeman, AD 381 (London, 2009) – looks at the specific moment when the emperor Theodosius assumes responsibility for enforcing Christian doctrine.

Peter Heather, The Restoration of Rome, Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders (London, 2013) – thoughtful analysis of what the fall of Rome meant.

Peter Sarris, Empires of Faith, The Fall of Rome to the Rise of Islam (Oxford, 2011) – erudite recent survey.

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford, 2005) – argues for the destructive nature of the ‘fall’; readable.


About Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman is a Suffolk-based freelance academic author with a wide interest in the history of the Mediterranean.. His published works include The Closing of the Western Mind (2002) and A New History of Early Christianity (2009). His most recent book, Holy Bones , Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (Yale University Press 2011), is the first systematic history of relic cults in English. He is also Historical Consultant to the Blue Guides series and has written the historical introductions to many of the Italian volumes. He leads study tours to Italy, Greece and Turkey. A fuller biography may be found online at ‘Charles Freeman Yale University Press’.