Late barbarians invaded present-day Europe, contributing politically, culturally, and militarily to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire by establishing their own kingdoms.
The Huns, Alans, and Goths from the Asiatic steppes were the first wave of land invaders to make inroads into the waning Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries c.e., while the Vandals, Sueve, and Burgundians pressured the Roman Empire from the west.
The Franks, Alamans, and Bavarians invaded during the fifth and sixth centuries. The Lombards and Avars were the last of the land invaders in the sixth and seventh centuries. The maritime invaders included Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
The skillful mounted archers known as the Huns, who derived from present-day Mongolia, were an amalgam of multiracial, pastoralist nomads. Their invasion into southeastern Europe in 371 c.e. set off a domino effect of invasions from various tribes and geographical directions that permanently changed the economic and political landscape of Europe.
The Huns vanquished the Alans (Alani) who had settled in Pannonia, between the Don and Volga Rivers, and the Ostrogoths, who occupied the area between the Dniester and the Don Rivers. They also defeated the Goths in present-day Romania in 376.
The Huns allied briefly with Roman general Flavius Aëtius (c. 406–454) who had been a Hunnish hostage under King Rua (Rugila) in present-day Hungary. The Roman-Hun alliance ended when Rua died in 434 and his nephews Bleda and Attila, sons of his brother Mundzuk, succeeded to the throne.
Attila had Bleda murdered in 441 while the Huns reached the Danube River on the northern boundary of the Roman Empire and invaded Thrace. A peace treaty with Rome granted them an enormous tribute, but when a payment was missed Attila waged war on the Romans on the Danubian border in 441.
The Huns then moved into Italy and Greece. Aëtius and his allies defeated Attila on June 20, 451 at Chalonsen-Champagne at the Battle of Catalaunian Fields. Attila died in 453, and his sons divided his empire and began to fight their own people.
In 455 the Huns were finally routed at the Battle of Pannonia by an alliance of tribes including the Ostrogoths. The Huns were prevented from moving into the Eastern Roman Empire; consequently, they vanished as a tribe.
The Goths were originally a group of Teutonic tribes from Scandinavia who had settled between the Vistula and Oder Rivers in present-day Poland. The Roman Empire and the Goths met under the rule of Gordian III (238–244 c.e.).
The Goths invaded Thrace in 238 c.e. The Romans concluded an alliance (foedus) with them in 332 that remained in effect until 350 when Gothic king Ermeric extended his territory from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Black Sea.
Around 369 divisive internal issues caused a permanent split between the Goths, creating the Teuringi, meaning "forest people", who eventually became known as the Visigoths (western Goths), and the Greutingi, meaning "shore people", and known as the Ostrogoths (eastern Goths). Little animosity persisted among the split Gothic tribes; groups would pass from one tribe to the other.
The Visigoths first gained power under Emperor Theodosius I (346–395), who used them to help defend the frontier in Moesia, present-day Bulgaria. Under elected king Alaric (c. 370–410) they left Moeisa, became Arian, and plundered cities in the present-day Balkans and Italy until an pact was made with the eastern emperor in 397.
Alaric’s forces grew in strength until ultimately Alaric besieged Rome in 408 and 409 and received a huge ransom. Alaric proclaimed the usurper Priscus Attalus as his puppet Western Roman emperor. In 410 Alaric occupied Rome, an act that contributed to the final collapse of the Roman Empire.
The Burgundians, who had settled in present-day Poland, moved westward around 260 c.e. to the presentday Koblenz area. They founded their own nation, were crushed by the Huns, later established a foedus (alliance) with Rome, and rooted themselves in present-day Geneva. The Franks eventually vanquished the Burgundians, who converted to Catholicism by 533 and submitted to the Merovingian dynasty in 534, under whom they thrived.
The Franks were originally an alliance of numerous German tribes that included the Allemani, Franks, and Saxons. The Franks moved into present-day Belgium by 357 c.e., converted to Christianity in 360, and were soundly defeated by the Romans at the Battle of Argentoratum.
In 486 the Franks defeated the Romans in present-day France. Around 496 the Allemani component of the Franks were defeated, and they became members of the Ostrogoth tribe then ruled by Theodoric.
The Vandals first raided the Roman Empire around 275 c.e. As they fled from the Huns they settled in Gaul and then Spain from 409 to 411. They moved to North Africa ultimately conquering Algeria and Morocco.
The Vandals destroyed Hippo and finally settled in Carthage in 439, raided Sicily and Italy, then sacked Rome in 455. The Western Roman Empire, suffering from population decline, decaying cities, and a poor economy, finally collapsed in 476.
Their vicious methods made their name synonymous with wanton destruction. Byzantine emperor Justinian I conquered the Vandals in 533.
The Suevi were a Germanic tribe that resided in present-day Czech Republic. They were pressured by the Huns to relocate, and in 407 c.e. they crossed the Rhine, eventually settling in Galicia, present-day Spain. They were vanquished by the Visigoths in 456 and disappeared from the written record.
The Lombards were from present-day northwest Germany. They migrated south and by the sixth century c.e. moved into present-day northern Italy. The Franks besieged the Lombards in 773. Emperor Charlemagne (742–814) intervened and captured Lombard king Desiderius in 767, effectively ending Lombard rule in Italy.
The Avars were mounted nomads from Central Asia who settled on the present-day Hungarian plain. An 80,000-strong expedition of Avars, Huns, Gepids, and Bulgars laid siege to Constantinople in 626 c.e., but the attempt was unsuccessful.
The Avars successfully pushed the Croats and the Serbs southward and fought the Merovingians in present-day France. However, Charlemagne destroyed their capital in 796. Shortly thereafter the Avars disappeared as a tribe because they incorporated themselves into the Carolingian dynasty.
The Angles and Saxons
The Angles and Saxons derived from the present-day Netherlands, western Germany, and southern Denmark. Their maritime movements resulted in their settling in present-day England in the fifth century c.e. after the Romans withdrew their legions from Britain.
They conquered Celtic Britain and made the people subjects. The Angles and Saxons founded numerous kingdoms of which Northumbria, Wessex, and Mercia were the most prominent. The Anglo-Saxons established a strong culture but were vanquished by the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066.
The Jutes, from present-day Jutland in Denmark, were one of three Teutonic tribes to invade present-day England in the fifth century c.e. They settled on the Isle of Wight and in Kent.
The major effect derived from the late barbarians was the push toward the ultimate destruction of the Roman Empire. Their subsequent empires and kingdoms became the forerunners to the modern nation-states.