By Jérôme Gautheret and Thomas Wieder

Posted on August 17, 2021 at 7:00 p.m., updated at 07:33 a.m.

“In the spring of 376, a legation of Visigoths arrived from the province of Moesia, near the mouth of the Danube, and presented themselves to the imperial Roman court in Antioch in Syria. The Germans said that a savage horde from Central Asia, the Huns, had defeated the Ostrogoths north of the Black Sea and now threatened the Visigoths with the same fate. After having fled to the north bank of the Danube, the latter were now asking to be welcomed into the Empire as peaceful refugees. “

Thus began a long article published on January 20, 2016, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His title : “The end of the old order”. Its author: Alexander Demandt, professor emeritus of the history of Antiquity at the Free University of Berlin and author of some thirty books. Among them, Der Fall Roms (The Fall of Rome), published in 1984 and republished several times since, took stock of the theories advanced over the centuries to explain the decline of the Roman Empire. At the time, the historian had identified 210 …

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There is no longer any question of this multitude of interpretations. Thirty-two years after leaving his vast historiographical panorama, Alexander Demandt showed that he had clearly chosen his camp. For this lover of counterfactual history, a great admirer of the German philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), author of a famous essay devoted to Decline of the West (1918-1922; Gallimard, 1931), the cause of the misfortunes of Rome has a name: the massive immigration of the IVe and Ve centuries. And here’s how he explains it.

An irreversible movement

In 376, therefore, the Visigoths chased by the Huns knocked on the door of the Empire. At court, says the historian, some oppose their reception. But they are in the minority compared to those who see these migrants as mercenaries and potentially useful taxpayers. Without counting those for whom the emperor, “Out of Christian charity, should not only think of the well-being of the Romans but give assistance to all those who are in need”. The decision is therefore taken: “The borders were opened, the Goths poured in. The Roman administration tried to count the arrivals. But the action got out of hand. “

To read Alexander Demandt, this decision triggered an irreversible movement. Soon, writes the historian, “The Goths began to loot and violence broke out”. Two years later, on August 9, 378, the Roman army was defeated at Adrianople, and the emperor was killed on the battlefield. The mechanics of the collapse were in place. “Despite this, the border on the Danube remained open. (…) In 406, that of the Rhine was no longer waterproof. The migration of peoples was underway. The conquest did not end until 568 with the arrival of the Lombards in Italy. “

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