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By the fourth century CE, the Roman Empire had become too big for its own good. So Emperor Diocletian came up with a strategically simple solution--split it in two. To the east is Byzantium, capitol Constantinople. To the west is Rome, capitol Rome. The latter was the target of a barbarian invasion that succeeded in reducing the glory of Rome into the Dark Ages. While Rome endured centuries of war, famine and illiteracy, Byzantium still adulated in luxury. In fact, it was Emperor Justinian who proposed reintegrating the two back into one new Roman Empire. (But certain circumstances strangled that ambition before it could get off the surface.)

I am merely curious as to what would happen if it were the other way around--that the sacking happened in Constantinople, not Rome. It was a much bigger city, with more money and possibly more food. Assuming that some barbarian army, be it Germanic, Slavic or even Hunnic, invaded and destroyed Constantinople, would the course of history be noticeably altered in any way?


closed as too broad by kingledion, Hohmannfan, JDługosz, Mołot, Zxyrra Nov 24 '16 at 15:07

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ This question is asking us to re-write a theoretical history after a single change 1600 years ago. This is the very definition of too broad. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 24 '16 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion Can't you at least try? $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Nov 24 '16 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ You first need to address two questions: 1) Why was the late Roman Empire glorious; and 2) Why were the Dark Ages dark? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 24 '16 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf "While Rome endured centuries of war, famine and illiteracy, Byzantium still adulated in luxury." $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Nov 24 '16 at 4:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey, this description of famine in the west and war in the east is a gross oversimplification. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 24 '16 at 5:57

A force which could sack Constantinople in the 4th century would have been a mighty force indeed. The Huns under Attila came close; in 447 they went to war gainst the Eastern Empire and appeared to be unstoppable, but the Empire was rich and had strategic depth, and finally managed to obtain a peace agreement in exchange for a ridiculously large annual tribute. The Huns then turned on the Western Empire. The Western Romans (allied with the Burgundians and others) sort-of-defeated them in the battle of the Catalaunian Plains, the last and greatest battle of the Antiquity, but that was the last time that the Western Empire managed to assemble a credible military force.

The important thing to remember is that in the Late Antiquity the Eastern Empire was rich and powerful and the Western Empire was an economic wastebasket. The Eastern Roman Empire was eventually killed by a stupid historical coincidence -- they had had a long and devastating war with the Persian Empire, and just when the war ended out of sheer exhaustion there came the Arabs from the south, inflamed by their shiny brand-new religion. They made short work of the Persian Empire and took Syria and Egypt from the Greeks who called themselves Romans. With Egypt, the Eastern Roman Empire lost most of its economic base. The state survived for seven more centuries, growing smaller and smaller, but it could never formulate a serious plan to restore growth and power.


The answer to your question is yes. Do you have any follow-up questions?

Of course history would be "noticeably altered" in many ways. As to what happens, it is complicated. You are working on plenty of wrong assumptions.

  • Rome was sacked because it had effectively fallen generations earlier, not the other way around. You don't defend a city like that with the troops behind her walls, you defend her with a net of garrisons and that was gone.
  • Rome had relied on citizen soldiers from relatively poor peasant families, who signed up for a decades-long hitch in return for a land grant on retirement. The spread of slave plantations reduced the available recruits and land to give away was running out.
  • The Roman Empire was split in two because the earlier ways to manage the Roman Empire had failed. The colonial management of the Republic depended on former city officials, and even then it was difficult to get competent and honest ones.
  • The split also reflects the economic changes which gave more power to the East, notably Egypt. When the power base of a military dictator was in the East, the West couldn't have the sole capital.

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