Western Empire, the name given to the western of the two parts into which the Roman empire was divided on the death of Theodosius the Great, A. D. 395. By the will of that emperor the eastern portion, now known as the Byzantine empire, was given to his elder son Arcadius. (See Byzantine Empire.) The western portion, with Rome as its capital, was bequeathed to his younger son Honorius, then in his 11th year. His dominion extended over Italy, the islands of the western half of the Mediterranean, the province of Africa, Mauritania, Gaul, Spain, Britain, Rhcetia, Noricum, Pannonia, and Dalmatia. Yet it was intended by Theodosius that the two vast empires should be ruled in common by the two brothers. The guardian of Honorius was Stilicho, the master general of the forces. (See Stilicho.) The Visigoths, under the lead of Alaric, in 395 invaded the rich provinces of Thrace and Macedonia, and ravaged almost all Greece; and in 396 Stilicho marched at the head of the forces of the western empire to the Peloponnesus with the design of destroying the barbarian army.
But the jealousy of the Byzantine court led it to order Stilicho out of Arcadius's dominions, and make Alaric master general of eastern Illyricum. In 402 he invaded Italy, but in the spring of 403 was defeated with great slaughter by Stilicho at Pollentia and Verona. In 405 Radagaisus, at the head of a mixed horde of Goths, Vandals, Suevi, Burgundians, and Alans, crossed the Alps, pillaged and destroyed many cities, and besieged Florence, where the army of Stilicho forced them to surrender. Radagaisus was put to death, and most of his surviving troops were sold as slaves. In 407 a private soldier named Constantine, who had been placed at the head of the army in Britain by the mutinous troops, crossed the channel to effect the conquest of the western empire. The imperial army was ignominiously defeated at Vienna in Gaul, and forced to recross the Alps. This success was soon followed by the conquest of Spain under the usurper's son Constans. In the mean time Alaric after his retreat from Italy had left the service of the eastern empire and gone over to that of the western, being created master general of western Illyricum, which then embraced Noricum, Pannonia, and Dalmatia. In the negotiations which were carried on, Stilicho, who knew the weakness of the empire, advised compliance with the extravagant demands of the Gothic king, and the senate consented to pay a subsidy of 4,000 pounds of gold.
By the death of Stilicho, who was put to death in 408, the western empire lost its only military leader capable of withstanding the Goths. Alaric, after carrying on an artful negotiation with the Roman court, suddenly crossed the Alps and the Po in 408, ravaged all northern Italy, and encamped under the very Avails of Rome; but he raised the siege on receiving 5,000 pounds of gold and 30,000 pounds of silver, besides an immense amount of silk and scarlet cloth and spices. Fixing his winter quarters in Etruria, Alaric renewed negotiations with the Roman court, which acted with its customary treachery and weakness. At last, indignant at repeated insults, he took Rome (409), and gave it a new emperor in the person of Attalus, the prefect of the city, who in turn appointed the Gothic chieftain master general of the western empire. Nearly all Italy submitted to the new monarch, whom Alaric led to the gates of Ravenna, the capital of Honorius. The latter, without resources and surrounded by treachery, offered to divide the sovereignty with Attalus. Alaric disdainfully rejected the offer, and demanded for his creature the whole authority.
Honorius was on the point of flying to the protection of his nephew Theodosius II., emperor of the East, when 4,000 veterans unexpectedly landed at Ravenna. The troops of Attalus had been defeated in Africa by Count Heraclian, divisions had arisen in consequence, and Alaric publicly deprived the new emperor of all semblance of sovereignty. The Gothic king opened negotiations once more with the court of Ravenna; but with returning fortune the insolence of the imbecile government returned. A herald announced that the guilt of Alaric had for ever shut him out from the friendship and alliance of Honorius, and Alaric for the third time began his march to Rome. The city was taken by treachery on the night of Aug. 24, 410, and given up to the fury of his warriors, who pillaged private houses, burned a large number of the dwellings, and carried off many works of art; but by a special decree of Alaric the churches and the treasures contained in them were left untouched. After six days of spoliation the Goths took up their line of march along the Appian way to southern Italy, plundering the country and capturing the cities as they went. They were on the point of crossing the straits of Messina into Sicily, when the sudden death of their leader put an end to their design.
Alaric was succeeded by his brother Ataulphus, who as a Roman general marched in 412 to southern Gaul, which he soon conquered as far as the ocean. In 409 Constantino, who had usurped the dominion of Gaul and Spain, had made a treaty with Honorius to drive the Goths from Italy, and for this purpose he conducted an army as far as the Po. During his absence, his general Gerontius, commanding in Spain, revolted, set up Maximus as emperor, crossed the Pyrenees, defeated and slew Oonstans, and besieged Constantino at Aries, whither he had hastily returned. The place was about to surrender when the approach of the army of Honorius under Constantius scattered the forces of Gerontius, who fled and was killed. Constantius then took Aries and sent Constantine to Honorius, who put him to death. Jovinus, who had assumed the title of emperor in Gaul, marched to the Rhone with a large body of barbarians, and Constantius gave up Gaul without a battle. Jovinus was afterward defeated and slain by Ataulphus, who was compelled by Constantius to withdraw into Spain, where he was assassinated in 415. Wallia, the next king of the Goths, entered the service of the Romans, and subdued the Vandals, Suevi, and other tribes who had ravaged Spain. In 418 the Goths received from Honorius southwestern Gaul, with Toulouse for the capital, as a kind of feudal dependency of the empire.
The Burgundians and Franks also occupied permanent seats in Gaul, and the British asserted their independence. In 421 Constantius, who had married Placidia, daughter of Theodosius the Great, was raised to a share in the government, but he died shortly after, and Placidia fled in 423 to the court of Theodosius II. In the same year Honorius died. The throne was usurped by his principal secretary Joannes till 425, when Valentinian III., a boy of six years, received the imperial purple. Placidia, as guardian for her son, was the real sovereign. Aetius, the former general of Joannes, was raised to the dignity of comes. By intrigue he led Count Boniface, then commanding in Africa, to revolt, and the latter in 429 called in to his aid the Vandals, who under Genseric overthrew the Roman power and established the Vandal empire in Africa. A war broke out in southern Gaul, where the Goths under their king Theodoric defeated and made prisoner the Roman general. The extreme cities and provinces began gradually to drop off from the western empire; Sicily was ravaged by Genseric in 440; in 446 Britain was entirely abandoned by the Roman forces; and in 451 Attila, king of the Huns, marched into Gaul, and began the siege of Orleans. The city was almost on the point of surrendering, when the Roman and Gothic army under Aetius and Theodoric advanced to its rescue.
Attila crossed the Seine, and was defeated in a terrible battle on the plains of Chalons. ' In 455 Valentinian was assassinated. He was succeeded by Petronius Maximus, the unanimous choice of the senate and the people. The new emperor forced Eudoxia, the widow of Valentinian, to become his bride, though acknowledging to her his agency in the murder of Valentinian, and she secretly implored the aid of Genseric, king of the Vandals, whose fleets had already ravaged the coasts of Italy. At the head of an army Genseric landed at the mouth of the Tiber. Maximus in an attempt to flee was slain in a tumult at Rome, after a reign of three months. Three days afterward the Vandals marched upon the city, and for 14 days and nights the pillage went on. All the wealth and treasure that had been left by the Goths, together with a large number of captives, including the empress and her two daughters, were carried off. Avitus, an illustrious Roman, now ascended the imperial throne, but was soon displaced by Count Ricimer, one of the leaders of the barbarian troops defending Italy. In 457 Ricimer consented to the accession of Majorian, the ablest and best of the later Roman emperors.
Majorian granted release from all arrears of tribute and public debt, restored the jurisdiction of the provincial magistrates whose functions had been superseded in great measure by extraordinary commissions, compelled the municipal corporations to resume their duty of levying the tribute, revived the office of defenders of cities to protect the lower classes against the higher, and checked by severe laws the destruction of the public buildings in Rome. Nor was he less able and successful in his foreign policy. Vast numbers of barbarians, attracted by his fame, flocked to his standard from all quarters, and he reduced Gaul to obedience, defeating the Visigoths under Theodoric, whom he admitted to an alliance. Spain, which during the reign of Avitus had been overrun by the Goths, submitted to his authority. He undertook to restore Africa to the empire, but by treachery Genseric was enabled to destroy the immense fleet of Majorian in the bay of Cartagena. He immediately applied for peace, however, and the emperor consented to a treaty.
Count Ricimer, who found that he had raised a master instead of a servant to the throne, persuaded the inconstant soldiers to engage in a sedition, through which Majorian was obliged to abdicate on Aug. 2, 461, while at his camp near Tortona. Five days afterward he died or was put to death, and the Roman senate immediately obeyed the demand of Ricimer and conferred the imperial title upon Libius Sever us. Of the events of his reign, which lasted until August, 465, there is scarcely any record. The government was entirely in the hands of Count Ricimer, who after the death of Severus made no effort to have any successor placed upon the throne, but negotiated alliances, amassed treasures, and formed a separate army, as if he were emperor. His authority, however, did not extend beyond Italy. Meanwhile the Vandals continued their depredations on the Italian coasts. In one of their expeditions they subdued the island of Sardinia. Ricimer humbly solicited the aid of Leo, emperor of the East. That monarch determined to destroy the Vandal power, and placed upon the throne of the West Anthemius, one of his most distinguished subjects, who was inaugurated in Rome in 467. The daughter of Anthemius was married to Ricimer, and all the powers of the West and East were assembled to destroy the Vandal authority.
A fleet of 1,113 ships, carrying over 100,000 men, sailed from Constantinople to Carthage, and the entire armament was put under the command of Basiliscus, the brother-in-law of Leo. Landing his troops at Cape Bona, he was either joined or aided by the army under Heraclius, which had already subdued Africa Syrtica (Tripoli), and the fleet under Marcellinus advancing from Sardinia, and began his march toward Carthage. But the wily Genseric, having obtained a truce of five days, attacked by night the unguarded imperial fleet, and routed his enemies. He soon regained all lost ground, and added Sicily to his dominions. In the mean while Theodoric II., king of the Visigoths, and his successor Euric, had brought nearly the whole of Spain and Gaul under Gothic rule. The feeble government of Anthemius was finally overthrown by Ricimer in 472, who then proclaimed Olybrius emperor. Anthemius was killed by order of Ricimer, who died himself 40 days afterward, leaving the command of his army to his nephew Gundobald, prince of the Burgundians. The death of Olybrius followed on Oct. 23. Gundobald persuaded Glycerius, an obscure soldier, to accept the phantom sovereignty, and he was accordingly elevated to the throne in March, 473, at Ravenna. But his title was not acknowledged by the emperor of the East, who conferred the imperial dignity upon Julius Nepos, the nephew of Marcellinus and governor of Dalmatia. He immediately marched against Glycerius, who, unsupported by the Burgundian prince, was overthrown.
In 475 the general of the barbarian confederates, Orestes, raised the standard of revolt, and deposed Nepos. Orestes declined the title of emperor, but consented that his son Romulus Augustus, whose name the Latins contemptuously changed into the diminutive Augustulus, should be invested with the purple. Orestes, in whom the real sovereignty lay, refused the demand of his barbarian allies that a third part of the lands of Italy should be divided among them; whereupon Odoacer, their leader, in 476 revolted, stormed Pavia, in which Orestes had taken refuge, and deposed Augustulus. The barbarian general determined to destroy the name as well as the power of the emperor of the West, and at his wish the Roman senate sent to the emperor Zeno an epistle in which they consented that the seat of universal empire should be transferred from Rome to Constantinople. They also requested that the emperor would invest Odoacer with the title of patrician, and charge him with the civil and military administration of the diocese of Italy. Thus fell the western empire, after existing separately from the eastern 81 years, during which it had been ruled over by 12 emperors, besides many usurpers in the provinces.