I am hearing again and again in history documentaries and other such sources that the Romans abandoned their territory of Raetia and Noricum. After that Germanic people flooded in and settled there.
I have been researching this a lot and did not find any evidence for the Romans retreating (even if they did officially, there would still have been a lot of people who had stayed behind to keep their land), nor any evidence that a huge Germanic immigration took place. There are a lot of things that point to the Romanized Celtic population staying and building the nobility, while perhaps some Germanic people immigrated. This gives me enough reason to doubt the common opinion I hear on the media and makes me question the sources (which I found very little of to support either side of the claim).

Since I'm sadly lacking the sources I'm asking you:
What is the currently accepted theory and what are the sources (especially things like digging sites, artifacts and first hand accounts) to this conclusion?

My sources:

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    I think your basic assumption is mistaken. What eventually became the Roman provinces Noricum and Raetia was already populated well before the Romans came and made them provinces. (This is well documented by the articles you linked.) Those people were not expulsed, and didn't have to "flood back in" after the Romans left.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 8:47
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    @FelixGoldberg: I still think he is mistaken in believing that "the Romans leaving" left any significant void at the population level. It's a government / army level thing, followed by some (probably minor) migrating over the following years / decades.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 9:04
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    @DevSolar: Perhaps I wrote it badly, but what you say is exactly what I wrote. I do not believe that the Romans and Romanized Celtic population just left, but that is what I hear again and again without seeing the sources for those assumptions. Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 9:41
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    Actually, for Noricum there is a valuable contemporary source: the life of St. Severinus of Noricum written by Eugippius. I haven't the time to piece a proper answer out of it, but I did find a detailed summary and discussion online. P.S. Ward-Perkins draws some examples from Eugippius in the excellent book that @Alex mentioned. Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 4:31
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    There is also good coverage of the twilight of Roman Noricum in the last chapter of an eponymous book by no less an authority than Alfoldy. Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 4:40

1 Answer 1


I think the question comes from a misinterpretation of the expression "Romans abandoned". This was not related to any substantial movement of population. This only means that the Roman army (as an organized force) abandoned the defense and law enforcement in certain places. The population remained the same, part of it "Romanized", but not all. The army itself partially withdrew and partially dispersed, and in any case, orders from the Empire were not obeyed any more. The process of destruction of the empire was slow and gradual. The people who lived then, in most cases, did not notice that the empire "ceased to exist" at a particular moment.

EDIT. I was asked to add references. Of course what I wrote is my own (condensed) opinion. But it comes from a lot of reading. Tons of literature exists on the subject beginning from Gibbon's Decline and Fall. So I just list some of my recent favorite books:

  • B. Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome And the End of Civilization, Oxford UP 2006

  • Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Oxford UP, 2006.

  • A. Goldsworthy, The Fall of the West: The Slow Death of the Roman Superpower.

Several authors emphasize that most residents of the Empire were simply not aware of its "fall", that is of the displacement in Ravenna of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer. They did not know and did not care much.

And let me add two excellent works of fiction:

  • Iain Pears, Scipio's Dream.

  • Pascal Quignard, On Wooden Tables: Apronenia Avitia (transl. from French).

And here is a contemporary source: A poem of Rutilius Namatianus, he was a Gaul employed in Rome during the "fall of the empire", and he describes his travel back to Gaul.

Unlike Hollywood movies, good literature can be very helpful in such questions: A serious writer who studied the period tries to imagine how it really was to live at that time. History books do not always give you this feel. But a good writer can do this after having digested many history books!

  • While I think your answer is good and gives me a (seemingly) well educated opinion, I was asking for the sources of the currently accepted theory, by which I meant things like digging sites, artifacts, first hand accounts etc. Also I was asking especially of the area of Noricum and Raetia, since finding information for that area seems very hard in comparison to pretty much any other part of the former Roman Empire. I gave you +1 for your sources though :) Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 7:39
  • Well, nowadays the answer seems to have sources but nearly no answer.
    – Pere
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 10:17
  • A useful book: Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered by Peter S. Wells This discusses the archeological evidence.
    – Mary
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 20:01
  • @matthias Schreiber: I am afraid that there is no "accepted theory". The subject is controversial.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 0:52
  • @pere: a short answer is contained in what I wrote "nothing important happened" on September 4, 476, neither North nor South of the Alps. A more detailed answer will have the length of a book.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 0:56

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