Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day







The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.



The Great Migration of Peoples

375-568 A.D.


The formation of great tribes on the Rhine and Danube rivers put immense pressure on the Roman Empire in the third century. At first it was possible to hold the Germans back, and when necessary they were included in the empire, where they were welcomed as soldiers. The appearance of the Huns in 375 changed the situation. They triggered a massive migratory movement that the Roman Empire, which officially divided into Western and Eastern parts in 395, was unable to oppose. The Romans were forced to accept the founding of Germanic kingdoms on imperial territory until finally, in 476, the last Western Roman emperor was deposed by the Germans. Only the Eastern Empire, later Byzantium, survived the upheavals during the mass migrations.


The Migrations of the Germanic Peoples

The Huns stormed out of the Eurasian steppes in 375, driving some of the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths out of their settled regions north of the Danube and the Black Sea. Other Germanic tribes -were also on the move.

Even before the Hun invasion of 375, the Romans were forced to cede territory to the Germanic tribes.

The Romans were unable to repel the incursion of the 1, 2 Franks across the lower Rhine in 350, and were forced to accept a settlement.

The Franks were granted the status of allies and pacified with payments of money, Some of their leaders were appointed to posts in the Roman army and, after the fall of the empire, gained independence in Gaul.

Some Germanic leaders rose to become imperial generals—even commanders of the Roman army—and, like 3 Stilicho at the time of the division of the Roman empire in 395, were the power behind weak emperors.

The German Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor in 476.

1 Warrior's helmet, seventh century

2  Frankish stone carving,
seventh с

3 General Stilicho with his wife and son, ivory carving, ca. 400




The 5 migration of peoples began with the Huns driving the Goths out of their homeland in 375. The Goths, who most likely originated in Scandinavia, settled the area south of the Baltic Sea along the Vistula River during the first and second centuries a.d. and had reached the Black Sea and the Danube by the third century. From there, they raided both Greece and Asia Minor. During the second half of the third century, the Goths divided into the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths.

5 Germanic caravan, wood engraving, 19th century

After the Huns attacked in 375, many Visigoths fled south over the Danube border, and their victory over the 6 Romans at Adrianople in 378 led to an alliance.

After the Roman Empire's division in 395, the Visigoths effectively used the rivalry between East and West Rome to their advantage.

The Visigoth king Alaric fought many battles against the Western Roman general Stilicho, invading Italy in 401 and then 4 plundering Rome in 410.

4 Plundering of Rome in 410 per Alaric, king of the Visigoths

The Vandals in Rome

Alaric receiving the presents of the Athenians

The burial of Alaric in the bed of the Busento River, 1895 lithograph



Alaric, (born c. 370, Peuce Island [now in Romania]—died 410, Cosentia, Bruttium [now Cosenza, Italy]), chief of the Visigoths from 395 and leader of the army that sacked Rome in August 410, an event that symbolized the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

A nobleman by birth, Alaric served for a time as commander of Gothic troops in the Roman army, but shortly after the death of the emperor Theodosius I in 395, he left the army and was elected chief of the Visigoths. Charging that his tribe had not been given subsidies promised by the Romans, Alaric marched westward toward Constantinople (now Istanbul) until he was diverted by Roman forces. He then moved southward into Greece, where he sacked Piraeus (the port of Athens) and ravaged Corinth, Megara, Argos, and Sparta. The Eastern emperor Flavius Arcadius finally placated the Visigoths in 397, probably by appointing Alaric magister militum (“master of the soldiers”) in Illyricum.

In 401 Alaric invaded Italy, but he was defeated by the Roman general Flavius Stilicho at Pollentia (modern Pollenza) on April 6, 402, and forced to withdraw from the peninsula. A second invasion also ended in defeat, though Alaric eventually compelled the Senate at Rome to pay a large subsidy to the Visigoths. After Stilicho was murdered in August 408, an antibarbarian party took power in Rome and incited the Roman troops to massacre the wives and children of tribesmen who were serving in the Roman army. These tribal soldiers thereupon defected to Alaric, substantially increasing his military strength.

Although Alaric was eager for peace, the Western emperor Flavius Honorius refused to recognize his requests for land and supplies. The Visigothic chieftain thereupon laid siege to Rome (408) until the Senate granted him another subsidy and assistance in his negotiations with Honorius. Honorius remained intransigent, however, and in 409 Alaric again surrounded Rome. He lifted his blockade after proclaiming Attalus as Western emperor. Attalus appointed him magister utriusque militiae (“master of both services”) but refused to allow him to send an army into Africa. Negotiations with Honorius broke down, and Alaric deposed Attalus in the summer of 410, besieging Rome for the third time. Allies within the capital opened the gates for him on August 24, and for three days his troops occupied the city, which had not been captured by a foreign enemy for nearly 800 years. Although the Visigoths plundered Rome, they treated its inhabitants humanely and burned only a few buildings. Having abandoned a plan to occupy Africa. Alaric died as the Visigoths were marching northward.

Encyclopædia Britannica

When the Visigoths moved on in 418, the emperor offered them the south of France. There they established a kingdom that later stretched on into Spain.

The majority of the 9 Ostrogoths initially joined forces with the Huns.

After the death of the Hun king Attila, they settled in Eastern Roman territory as allies.

The Ostrogoth king, 8 Theodoric, who was raised in Constantinople, marched into Italy in 488 in the name of the Fastern Roman emperor Zeno, defeated the Western Roman regent Odoacer in 493, and founded his own realm.

In the meantime, at the turn of the fifth century, another wave of Germanic peoples pushed out of their former settlements in Central and Eastern Europe towards the West. In 406-407 the Vandals and Burgun-dians crossed the Rhine and moved into Gaul.

9 Ostrogothic eagle clasp, ca. 500

8 Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths,
image on a coin, ca. 500


Theodoric The Great

Theodoric, Late Latin Theodoricus, byname Theodoric The Great (born ad 454—died Aug. 30, 526, Ravenna), king of the Ostrogoths (from 471), who invaded Italy in 488 and completed the conquest of virtually the entire peninsula and Sicily by 493, making himself king of Italy (493–526) and establishing his capital at Ravenna. In German and Icelandic legend, he is the prototype of Dietrich von Bern.

Early life
Theodoric was the son of the Ostrogothic chieftain Theodemir and as a boy lived as a hostage in Constantinople, then the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although he thus had some of the advantages of a Roman upbringing, he was said to have remained illiterate. This is undoubtedly an exaggeration: what is meant is that he never attained the skill in calligraphy that was expected of a ruler in the 5th and 6th centuries. At the time of his birth the Ostrogoths had recently escaped from the empire of the Huns, who had fiercely oppressed them, uprooting them from their homes in the Ukraine, transferring them to Pannonia, and taking away their grain. For more than 30 years after Theodoric’s birth, the chief aim of the Ostrogoths was to find new land upon which they could settle and live in peace. In northern Pannonia they fought endlessly against other Germanic peoples, acted for and against the emperors at Constantinople, and sometimes received and sometimes were refused financial subsidies from the imperial government. On the death of his father in 471, Theodoric became his successor and soon led his people to new homes in Lower Moesia (in what is now Bulgaria), where they entered into relations, usually hostile, with another group of Ostrogoths led by Theodoric Strabo. Conditions in the Balkan provinces at this time were chaotic. Theodoric guided his people through the confusion with considerable skill but was unable to settle them safely and permanently on the land. The emperor Zeno gave him the title of patrician and the office of master of the soldiers and even appointed him as consul in 484; but in vain efforts to achieve his aims Theodoric frequently ravaged the imperial provinces and actually threatened Constantinople itself. In 488 Zeno ordered him to make his way to Italy, overthrow its barbarian ruler Odoacer, and govern the peninsula in the Emperor’s name. With his people, who may have numbered 100,000 persons, Theodoric arrived in Italy in late August 489. In the following year he defeated Odoacer in three pitched battles and won control of nearly all Italy, but he could not take Ravenna, where Odoacer held out for more than three years. This war caused untold damage to city and countryside alike in northern Italy.

Ruler of Italy
The circumstances of Odoacer’s death illustrate the crueller side of Theodoric’s character, a side he normally concealed. When the Ostrogoths had failed to take Ravenna, the two leaders agreed to govern Italy jointly, and Odoacer admitted Theodoric into the impregnable city on March 5, 493. In the palace of Lauretum 10 days later, two Goths, pretending to be suppliants, suddenly seized Odoacer by the hands, and Theodoric cut him down with a sword. Theodoric went on to murder the dead man’s wife and son and to massacre his followers remorselessly throughout northern Italy.

Whether Theodoric governed Italy as an independent king or as an official of the Roman emperor at Constantinople has been much debated. The truth appears to be that in theory he recognized the overlordship of the Eastern emperor; in practice, however, he was king both of the Romans and of the barbarians in Italy. In his official documents, he is simply “king” without qualification; he never defined of whom or of what he was the king. But there were some limits to his powers. He could not appoint legitimate consuls without confirmation by the emperor; he could issue edicts but not laws, though in practice there was little difference between the two; he could not confer Roman citizenship upon a Goth or appoint a Goth to a Roman civilian office or to the Senate; and his people could not legally intermarry with Romans. Early in his reign Theodoric put aside the skins or furs that Germanic rulers usually wore and surrounded his throne with something of Byzantine pomp. Unlike Odoacer, he dressed himself in the purple of the emperors.

Theodoric maintained peace in Italy throughout his 33-year reign. The Goths were settled in northern and central Italy, while Sicily and southern Italy as far north as Naples were free of them, but some of them lived in such overseas Ostrogothic dominions as Dalmatia and Pannonia. The Goths were divided from the Romans by language, for Gothic in the middle of the 6th century was both a spoken and a written language, used both for secular and for ecclesiastical matters. And they were further divided from the Romans by religion because they were Arian Christians, not Catholics, and they accepted the doctrines of the 4th-century heretical Gothic bishop Ulfilas.

Early in the 6th century Theodoric published his Edict, a collection of 154 rules and regulations. With one or two exceptions, these were not new laws but brief restatements in simple language of Roman laws that were already in existence. The Edict was a handbook issued for the convenience of judges, and it covered the cases that in the King’s opinion were likely to come most frequently before the courts. The rules of the Edict applied to Goths as well as to Romans: in other words, the Goths were to be subject to Roman law, though not to Roman judges, and no provision was made for the recognition of their own national customs and usages. This was a discrepancy in Theodoric’s policy of keeping Goths and Romans separate and of preventing fusion of the two nationalities.

Goths alone served in the army, and Romans were forbidden to carry arms. The Goths lived on the income of the estates on which they had been planted and also received an annual donative from the King. The warriors apparently went each year to Ravenna or wherever the King happened to be to receive the money from his own hand. On these occasions Theodoric would review the deeds of his troops, praising the brave and reprimanding the cowardly. Gothic soldiers on active service also received rations, either in kind or in the equivalent cash. Thus, the Ostrogoths of Theodoric’s reign lived a very different life from that of their forebears, who had starved under the rule of the Huns; entering the Roman Empire and taking over one of its provinces had been profitable for them. The Romans of the kingdom continued to be governed by the old Roman civil service, which continued to exist more or less unchanged.

The great aim of Theodoric’s administration was to preserve harmony between Goths and Romans. He was never guilty of religious persecution. In his letters of appointment and elsewhere, he stressed above all else that the Goths must not oppress the Roman population, must not plunder their goods or ravage their fields, and must try to live amicably with them. He made endless high-minded appeals to the warriors to behave decently. He even stooped to point out that “it is in your interests that the Romans should be undisturbed, for while they enrich our Treasury they multiply your donatives.” In fact, the animosity of the Gothic rank and file against the Romans was made clear over and over again, and no plea that might have held it in check was left unused by the King. He never missed an opportunity to propagate the idea of civilitas (“civilized life” or “civilization”), a concept that includes the maintenance of peace and order, racial harmony, and the outlawing of oppression and violence. “We do not love anything that is uncivilized,” says one of his documents, “we hate wicked pride and its authors. Our Piety execrates men of violence. In a law suit let justice prevail, not the strong arm.”

The end of Theodoric’s reign was disgraced by the murder of the Roman scholar Boethius, which the King later regretted. Theodoric died in August 526 and was buried in a remarkable tomb that still exists in Ravenna. He was succeeded by Athalaric, the son of his daughter Amalasuntha.

E.A. Thompson

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The 7 Vandals continued over the Pyrenees, settling in Spain by 409, while the Burgundians established their own kingdom on the Rhine.

7 Nicasius, Bishop of Reims, kneels before the Vandals, sculpture, 13th century

Under increasing pressure from Visigoth attacks encouraged by the Western Roman emperor, the Vandals under King Gaiseric crossed over to North Africa in 429. There they founded an empire with its capital at Carthage, depriving Rome of lands valuable for growing grain.

From the Baltic Sea coast, groups of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, under the leadership of 10 Hengist and Horsa, set off in the middle of the fifth century for Britain, which had been abandoned by the Romans around 400.

The Germans drove the Celtic Britons into Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. The Saxons who had remained on the continent were able to fend off the Franks, and Christianization was not widespread until the end of the eighth century.

The last of the important Germanic tribes to join the migration were the Lombards, who until the fifth century had lived between the Elbe and the Danube.

Driven out by the equestrian nomadic Avars, under 11 King Alboin they left their homeland and occupied a region in northern Italy that came to be named after them—Lombardy—in 568. This is considered the end of the Great Migration.

The widespread migration of peoples led to the fall of the Roman Empire and a westward shift of the areas settled by the Germans and the Slavs who followed. The union of late antiquity and Germanic tradition in the culture of the Visigoths, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and Lombards characterized the culture of Europe in the early Middle Ages.

10 Hengist and Horsa land on the British coast,
wood engraving, 19th century

11 King Alboin entering Pavia,
wood engraving, 19th century


King Alboin

Alboin (530s – June 28, 572) was king of the Lombards from about 560 until 572. During his reign the Lombards ended their migrations by settling in Italy, the northern part of which Alboin conquered between 569 and 572. He had a lasting impact on Italy and the Pannonian Basin; in the former his invasion marked the beginning of centuries of Lombard rule, and in the latter his defeat of the Gepids and his departure from Pannonia ended the dominance of the Germanic peoples.

The period of Alboin's reign as king in Pannonia following the death of his father, Audoin, was one of confrontation and conflict between the Lombards and their main neighbors, the Gepids. The Gepids initially gained the upper hand, but in 567, thanks to his alliance with the Avars, Alboin inflicted a decisive defeat on his enemies, whose lands the Avars subsequently occupied. The increasing power of his new neighbours caused Alboin some unease however, and he therefore decided to leave Pannonia for Italy, hoping to take advantage of the Byzantine Empire's reduced ability to defend its territory in the wake of the Gothic War.

After succeeding in gathering together a large coalition of peoples, Alboin began his trek in 568. After crossing the Julian Alps he entered an almost undefended Italy, and rapidly took control of most of Venetia and Liguria. In 569, unopposed, he took northern Italy's main city, Milan. Pavia offered stiff resistance however, and was only taken after a siege lasting three years. During that time Alboin turned his attention to Tuscany, but signs of factionalism among his supporters and Alboin's diminishing control over his army increasingly began to manifest themselves.

Alboin was assassinated on June 28, 572, in a coup d'état instigated by the Byzantines. It was organized by the king's foster brother, Helmichis, with the support of Alboin's wife, Rosamund, daughter of the Gepid king whom Alboin had killed some years earlier. The coup failed in the face of opposition from a majority of the Lombards, who elected Cleph as Alboin's successor, forcing Helmichis and Rosamund to flee to Ravenna under imperial protection. Alboin's death deprived the Lombards of the only leader who could have kept the newborn Germanic entity together, the last in the line of hero-kings who had led the Lombards through their migrations from Elba to Italy. For many centuries following his death Alboin's heroism and his success in battle were celebrated in Saxon and Bavarian epic poetry.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hengist and Horsa landing in England


Assassination of Alboin, King of the Lombards (1859) by Charles Landseer




During the Great Migration of Peoples, Ulfilas (or Wulfila) was an influential leader of the Germans. In 341 he was ordained "bishop of the Goths" and about 370 he translated the Bible into Gothic. Because he was an adherent of Arms, the Goths and most of the other Germanic tribes came to be called Arians. This led to conflicts with the Romans in the territories conquered by the Germans and hindered an integration of the two groups of peoples. The acceptance of Catholicism by the Franks, and later by the Visigoths and Lombards, eased their acceptance by the native inhabitants and lent their empires greater stability.

Ulfilas explains the gospel to the Goths,
engraving, 1890