Europe and the Mediterranean 500 CE

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Map Code: Ax02321

For many Roman citizens the end of the empire was by no means disastrous. While the towns and infrastructure were battle-scarred and derelict, relative peace returned to the land, and it was possible to withdraw to estates, villas and farms and live a prosperous and comfortable life. In many areas the existing provincial aristocracy retained both land and power, and as long as they accepted they were vassals of the new German elite, they were able to write and worship as before. The Visigoths, Alans and Burgundians who settled in southern France may well have shared the fruits of civilization with their Roman subjects, and certainly accounts of the Visigothic court at Toulouse in the late 5th century paint a picture of an opulent, and in many ways cultured, existence. When the last emperor, Romulus Augustus, retired to Campania in 476, Ravenna became the capital of the first two kingdoms of Italy, established by the Ostrogothic rulers Odoacer (r. 476–93) and Theodoric (493–540). Both kings were respectful of their legacy, allowing senatorial life in Rome to continue as before, and accepting members of the Roman aristocracy as holders of important offices of state. Following Theoderic’s death in 526 there was increasing conflict within his dynasty, culminating in the arrival of the Byzantine general Belisarius, who re-conquered Ravenna (540) and many of Rome’s lost territories. The weakened kingdom of the Ostrogoths finally fell in 553. The Byzantine Empire, which survived for several centuries, retained a uniquely Roman identity.

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