Episode 3 AD 500-620

Emperor Justinian

The Roman Empire continued through the 400s and 500s – at Constantinople.
A sub-Roman order settled on the West, presided over by Theodoricus in Italy, with Goths forming the ruling élite in Spain and Franks that of Gaul. A new Roman emperor, Justinian, launched a great war to reunite the West to Constantinople, which largely succeeded.
But the Black Death and the struggle with the great power of Parthia in the east undermined the Roman state’s hold on Italy, where its allies the Lombards descended and took half of the peninsula. The Goths in Spain and the Franks in Gaul took over Roman territories and underwent a process of political consolidation, forming the kernel of a future European political paradigm that differed from the Roman one.
In 613 the Sassanids launched an invasion of the Roman Empire, taking Syria and Egypt. A Great War ensued, in which the Roman Emperor Heraclius was ultimately triumphant.
But both the civilized great powers, Roman and Persian, had exhausted one another. To their south in the deserts of Arabia, their Nemesis was stirring – Islam.


  • Nonsense to speak of “the fall of the Roman Empire” in the 400s AD
  • In the West, the Empire’s client generals – the semi-Romanised chieftains of the federate troops – were given, or took over, whole provinces.
  • The cities of the West became more provincialized, society more militarised and educational transmission declined.
  • Long-distance trade with the Roman Empire in the east was maintained.
  • The Mediterranean-centred world remained intact, with Egypt, Syria, Greece and the Aegean at its core, and Constantinople as its capital.
  • Italy, Sicily and Roman Africa remained the civilisational core of the West.
  • The new stability in the Occident. The rule of the Gothic-Roman Patricius of the West, Theodoric, from Ravenna.
  • The Roman Emperor Justinian launches a reconquest of the West in the name of religious orthodoxy.
  • A long war brought all of Italy, Sicily, Roman Africa and southern Spain under the direct rule of Constantinople, but at immense cost. Italy depopulated.
  • In reaction the far western kingdoms assert their independence – Iberian and Frankish kingdoms solidify. In the east, the Sassanids become increasingly aggressive.
  • The Lombards descend into a hollowed-out Italy; opposed by the Roman papacy. Slavic tribes migrate down as far as Greece.
  • In the far West, the Franks assimilate to Roman Orthodox religion and lifestyle. Bishops rise to assume the rule of the old Roman cities.
  • Invasion and near-conquest of the Roman Empire in the east by the Sassanids. In a devastating Great War, and in the name of Christianity, the Romans fight back and win.
  • A greatly weakened civilised world, of East Rome and of the Sassanid Near East, experience the first raids by a new force from the Arabian deserts.

Now with the audio-only version included

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