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The Roman Empire divided itself into two parts, the Eastern Roman Empire headquartered in Constantinople and the Western Roman Empire headquartered in Rome. The city of Rome itself fell in the year 476 AD. But the Eastern Roman Empire continued on, with the city of Constantinople falling in the year 1453 AD.

Now modern historians consider 476 to be the “fall of the Roman Empire”, and they have termed the Eastern Roman Empire as it existed in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages as the “Byzantine Empire”. But my question is, at what point did people at the time think the Roman Empire had actually fallen? Was it 1453?

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    I think this would depend on where in Europe the particular person was. Their perspective would be limited by the information that was available to them. – Steve Bird Jul 11 at 5:29
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    The question might be too broad. Things are somewhat clearcut in the East with fall of Constantinople. (The last remnants got mopped upon 1460.) It's a lot murkier in the West. Depending on who you asked, it could be quite a while after the fall of Rome before it dawned on contemporaries that a new reality had set in. Even with barbarians moving in and settling, continuity in many aspects of life, rather than disruptive changes, characterized the collapse of the Western Empire. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 11 at 8:40
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    What we call the Byzantine Empire was known at the time as the Roman Empire to its citizens, according to Wikipedia. Other people may have had a different opinion, e.g. the Holy Roman Empire in the west thought themselves a continuation of Rome, and so it seems did others in Italy (even Mussolini claimed continuity with the Roman Empire sometimes). So as people say, it depends on which contemporary you ask (and when in time, because we're talking a very long time). Maybe narrow the question down in time/location? – Stuart F Jul 11 at 11:13
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    What contemporaries do you refer to? People in 476 or people in 1453? The former would not have realised the Roman Empire had fallen in the west until several generations later; the latter would have known definitively that the Roman Empire had been extinguished in the East also. I feel that as phrased your question somewhat comes down to whether people thought the Eastern Empire was truly a continuation of the Roman Empire, which is a matter of perspective. – Semaphore Jul 11 at 12:51
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    Depending on where you are, you could make a good case for the Roman Empire having fallen on October 30, 1918 or November 1, 1922. – Mark Jul 11 at 19:26
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Most people at the time did not think the Roman Empire had fallen -- it's only from five hundred or a thousand years later that we can conclude that it did. Both points of view are reasonable.

What happened around 476 is that the Western part of the Roman Empire was lost to central control. This was not the first time it had happened -- consider the Gallic Empire of the late 200s. We can look back and say that this time there was no returning, but people at the time were not thus privileged.

Furthermore, the institutions of the Empire did not all fall together. Some of them had been growing increasingly ragged for a couple of centuries. Some of them (e.g. local administrative practices) had changed repeatedly over the course of the centuries as warlords replaced proconsuls -- what is the real difference between a chunk of Gaul being run by a Romanized German with an Imperial Army title and a Romanized German calling himself King? It had happened before, so what's new this time? 'Sure our local boss is a minor warlord -- has been from before my grandfather's time, at least. This German guy is better than that thieving lordling from down the Rhone valley, anyway.'

And while the city of Rome was sacked, so what? It hadn't been the actual ruling capital for a couple of hundred years -- the western part of the Empire had been ruled from places like Milan and Trier and Ravenna. 'Sure it's a great old city -- a shame that it was attacked -- but what does it really matter? It's still there, isn't it? Yeah, it's a lot smaller now, but it's been shrinking for hundreds of years.'

'Anyway, what do you mean that the Roman Empire fell? Its western territories are temporarily lost -- again -- but I hear that the Emperor in Constantinople -- the New Rome -- is sending Bellisarius with an army to reconquer Italy.' (And he did. It didn't stay conquered of course, but who could know that at the time?)

'And what's this Byzantine Empire you speak of? Did the Parthians finally beat back Rome or something? The only Empire I know of is Roman!' It's only looking back that we see that the eastern half of the Roman Empire eventually and gradually became a Greek-speaking empire clearly different from the classical empire -- in 500 AD its language of administration was Latin, and its everyday speech had never been anything but Greek. We can see the seeds of a later empire that looks very non-Roman; contemporaries? Not so much.

Finally, from the 200s on (and probably earlier) people whose outlook in life was tilted towards half-empty glasses wrote of the imminent (or maybe past) collapse of Empire. 'Yawn. Another over-educated parasite saying that the Empire is dead. Boring! I'm a practical man and as long as I have to pay taxes, the Empire is not dead."

Looking back, we can see that somewhere around 500 AD the Roman Empire in the West passed a point of no return, but people living at the time could not skip ahead to the end of the book to see that.

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    It's probably worth noting that the Senate was still in Rome (though then it is equally worth noting why that doesn't really mean anything). (I don't recall when the Senate finally gave up the ghost even in name, mid 600s?) – chepner Jul 11 at 13:52
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    And what about the Roman Empire in the East? When did people realize that that Empire was finally gone for good? – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 11 at 15:06
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    @KeshavSrinivasan, depends on who you ask. After he took Constantinople, Mehmed II considered himself Roman Emperor by right of conquest, and the Patriarch of Constantinople recognized his claim. The Ottoman Sultans continued to use the title Kayser-i Rum until the abolition of the Sultanate in 1922. – Mark Jul 11 at 19:47
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    + 1 for both content and style – Display name Jul 11 at 20:46
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    @MAGolding How is having other names and titles not taking it seriously? Did the Emperor of Austria not take his title seriously by also calling himself King of Jerusalem? – sgf Jul 12 at 19:23
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SHORT ANSWER:

The Roman Empire had many different avatars or incarnations, and thus it fell on many different dates.

LONG ANSWER:

I do not count the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, or the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the French Empire, the German Empire, or the Austrian Empire as any sort of continuation of the Roman Empire.

If the leaders of those organizations made a serious claim to be heirs of the Roman Empire, they would have changed the names of their organizations to Roman Empire, and they would have changed their title to Emperor of the Romans. Since they didn't even bother to take those small steps, they didn't take any claims they might have made to be heirs of the Roman Empire very seriously, and so there is no reason for us to take those claims seriously.

See page 16 here; https://historum.com/threads/date-for-end-of-the-roman-empire.130959/page-161

My post number 159 on page 16 of that thread lists 33 possible dates for the end of the Roman Empire:

My latest list of possible dates for the fall of various parts, fragments, branches, or avatars of the Roman Empire.

273 AD: The breakaway "Palmyrene Empire" is reconquered by the genuine original Roman Empire under Aurelian.

274 AD: The breakaway "Gallic Empire" is reconquered by the genuine original Roman Empire under Aurelian.

296 AD: The breakaway empire in Britain is reconquered by the genuine original Roman Empire under Constantius.

476 AD: Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus is deposed by Odoacar.

480 AD: Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos is assassinated in Dalmatia, possibly by men paid by Odoacar and/or former Emperor Glycerius.

486 AD: "Kingdom of Soissons", Roman rump state in northern Gaul, is conquered by the Franks under Clovis.

887 AD: Charles III "The Fat" is deposed as Carolingian emperor. There is no successor emperor until 891.

899 AD: Carolingian Emperor Arnulph dies. There is no successor emperor until 901.

905 AD: Carolingian Emperor Louis III "The Blind" is deposed. There is no successor emperor until 915.

924 AD: Carolingian Emperor Berenger I is assassinated. There is no successor emperor until 962.

1018 AD: The "First Bulgarian Empire" whose rulers sometimes used the title of "Emperor of the Bulgarians and the Romans" is finally completely reconquered by the genuine original Roman Empire Under Basil II.

1204 AD: Constantinople, capital of the genuine original Roman Empire is captured by the Fourth Crusade. Several rival Roman realms develop.

1242 AD: John Komnenos Doukas, emperor at Thessalonika, submits to the overlordship of rival emperor John Doukas Vatatzes at Nicaea and uses the title of Despot instead.

1261 AD: Forces of the "Empire of Nicaea" capture Constantinople, capital of the Empire of Romania or Latin Empire of Constantinople. Most sources say that the Latin Empire ends in 1261 but many fiefdoms in it remain vassals of the Latin Emperors. This could also be considered the end of the separate "Nicene Empire" since it now restores the eastern Roman or "Byzantine" Empire.

1282/83 AD: The English conquest of Gwynedd, last independent Welsh state, whose rulers were the rightful Kings of the Britons, and who may also have been the the rightful northwestern Roman Emperors, heirs of Constantine III.

1308 AD: Mesud III, last Seljuk Sultan of Rum (Rome) is assassinated.

1371 AD: Stefan Uros V, "Emperor of the Serbians and the Romans" dies without a successor.

C. 1373 AD: John Uros, reigning in Thessaly as rival "Emperor of the Serbians and the Romans" abdicates and becomes a monk, dying in 1422 or 1423. His successor in Thessaly, Alexious Angelos Philanthropenos, does not use the imperial title.

1383 AD: James of Baux, titular Emperor of Romania, dies childless. He wills his title to Duke Louis I of Anjou who never uses the title. The closest genealogical heir to the Latin Empire is John of Artois (1321-1387) who never claims the title either. Several fiefs of the Latin Empire remain for generations without any titular emperor.

1395 AD: Ivan Shisman, "Emperor of the Bulgarians and the Romans", is deposed by the Ottomans and Bulgaria annexed. Almost total end of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

1396 AD: Ivan Stratsimir, rival "Emperor of the Bulgarians and the Romans" at Vidin, is deposed and his lands annexed by the Ottomans.

1422 AD: Constantine II, son of Ivan Stratsimir and titular "Emperor of the Bulgarians and the Romans" who sometimes ruled pieces of Bulgaria, dies in exile at the Hungarian court.

1444 AD: Crusade of Varna. Fruzhin, son of Ivan Shisman and titular "Emperor of the Bulgarians and the Romans", and sometimes ruler of parts of Bulgaria, participates in the crusade, the last time he is mentioned.

1453 AD: the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet II capture Constantinople, capital of the eastern Roman empire. Emperor Constiantine XI is killed in battle. At this point Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III should have proclaimed himself Eastern Roman Emperor to reunite the two Roman realms.

1460 AD: The Morea, the last part of the eastern Roman Empire that had been ruled by Constantine XI, is captured by the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet II. Despot Thomas Palaiologos flees to Italy and is recognized as titular "Byzantine" emperor by western Europe.

1461 AD: Trebizond is captured by the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet II, ending the Roman Empire there.

1465 AD: Thomas Palaiologos dies and his son Andreas Palaiologos is recognized as titular emperor.

1475 AD: Ottoman Turks under Mehmet II conquer Principality of Theodoro in the Crimea, a fragment of the eastern Roman Empire.

1502 AD: Titular Emperor Andreas Palaiologos dies, apparently without any known legitimate children. At this point the closest heir to the Palaiologos dynasty, Carlo III Tocco, should have proclaimed himself the titular emperor and/or Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I should have proclaimed himself Eastern Roman Emperor.

1527 AD: The Duchy of Naxos, last fief of the Latin Empire, becomes an Ottoman vassal state, perhaps marking the end of the Latin Empire.

1579 AD: The Duchy of Naxos, last former fief of the Latin Empire, is annexed by the Ottomans, perhaps marking the end of the Latin Empire.>

1797 AD: The Republic of Venice, formerly part of the eastern Roman Empire, is conquered by France and granted to Austria in compensation for Austrian lands annexed by France. For centuries Venice had ruled various regions formerly part of the eastern Roman or "Byzantine" empire, at one point claiming to rule 3/8 of the Roman Empire.

1806 AD: Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, under threat from Napoleon, abdicates and declares the Holy Roman Empire dissolved.

So this brief list gives a few of the dates when the Roman Empire could be considered to have fallen.

I guess I could also add 516 as another possible end date for a Roman empire:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masties2

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