We know that the dawn of the age of Renaissance and the dusk of the Middle Ages were accelerated by the fall of Byzantine Empire and the transfer of a big chunk of "Ancient Knowledge" from Greece to Italy, since many scholars fled from the Arabs/Turks there.

But what about the "Ancient Knowledge" in the Western half of the Roman Empire? I am aware of the fact that Western Roman Empire fell around 450, while Eastern Roman Empire fell around 1450. But what happened to all the scholars and scientists of Western Rome during the barbarian invasions? Did they left for another part of Europe? As we know, dark times followed upon Italy since the fall of Rome until the Renaissance when it comes to science.

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    I find the premise of your question questionable, Many things were coming together, from changes in agricultural efficiency and industrial output in the West to ancient classical works preserved by Muslim scholars.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 18:29
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    Rome and the western Empire were in a state of war (civil and external) and instability from the third century onwards (with devastating plagues before then in the latter 2nd century). Greece was revered as the intellectual heartland of the Empire, and there were major libraries there and in the near east (e.g. Alexandria, Celsus's in Ephesus). Have you actually found any scholars who were in Rome in 450 CE?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 16:02

3 Answers 3


There is no analogy in this respect between the fall of the Western empire and the Eastern one. Decline of ancient scholarship happened before the main barbarian invasions, in both East and West. When the Academy in Athens was closed by the emperor's edict, the last few scholars emigrated to Persia. Many years later they were allowed to return, under the condition that they will not teach. What remained of scholarship in Europe after the spread of Christianity was exclusively "Christian scholarship".

Takeover of the Western empire by the "Barbarians" was a slow, gradual process, in which most of these Babarians became Christians. Christian scholars were not especially endangered by this process.

Concerning the Turkish conquest of Constantinople, the reason why many scholars moved was probably not the special hostility of the Turks to scholars, but general conditions of conquest by people of another religion. So those who could, emigrated to Christian countries.


I tend to agree with one of the above written statements regarding the existence of Roman Scholars around the 400's AD/CE. The scholarship during this time was primarily located in the East, in places, such as Alexandria, Egypt, as well as Ephesus in Western Asia Minor-(present-day Turkey), Antioch in Syria and Constantinople. There was 1 Roman oriented Library in Athens, known as Hadrian's Library, however, Rome proper and much of the Italian peninsula, during the 400's AD/CE, were too preoccupied with their own internal survival which was constantly under attack by Germanic barbarians. If there were any ethnic Roman scholars, educators, academics or librarians living during this tumultuous time, they were probably residing in one of the above mentioned cosmopolitan cities within the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. (And it should also be noted that much of the scholarship during this time, was Christian oriented).

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    Follow the money! Scholarship can only be done by educated people with leisure and that requires a large class with money and time to spare. The Western Empire (always poorer than the Eastern) became poorer still when Roman administration turned into a military dictatorship and then into barbarian kingdoms. What little education survived was in the Church which used it for its own purposes and in support of what government survived.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 14:26

But what happened to all the scholars and sciencists of Western Rome during the Barbarian Invasions?

They didn't pass on their knowledge, and then died of old age.

  1. There were a lot of Latin scholars in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
  2. People die.
  3. The way that knowledge gets lost is by not being transmitted from generation to generation.
  4. In general, society, even many in the upper classes got poorer. Poor people and those focused on fighting for power don't pay for education.
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    This is not true. For instance, St. Augustine wrote during this period, and we certainly know plenty of his work. But even before the fall, the Western empire was not the center of scholarship. This tended to be in the East in places like Alexandria.
    – user15620
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 20:27
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    You are acting as if there was a big fence between the East and West preventing people and knowledge from flowing. You might check the History Without any Gaps podcast for more details than you could possibly want.
    – user15620
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 21:05
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    @StevenBurnap why do so few women under 60 know how to bake anymore, when there are a jillion cookbooks? Because there was a break in the transmission of knowledge from mother to daughter. When that break occurred, knowledge was lost. Sure, it's somewhere, but for the vast majority of people, it's been lost. The same happened during the fall of the Western empire: if people stop learning from the academics, then within a generation, you've got a whole bunch of ignorant people who's grandparents were quite intelligent.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 21:13
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    In antiquity, scholarship was the province of the elites. The vast majority of people were ignorant of science and philosophy during the golden age of Rome. Anyway, answers need references that back them up, not appeals to baking anecdotes.
    – user15620
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 22:07
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    Also, my kid baked scones last weekend. He got the recipe from Youtube, so YMMV.
    – user15620
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 22:08

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