The fall of the Roman Empire can mean a lot of different things, depending on precisely where you’re talking about. In some cases, it meant rampaging, marauding barbarians tearing down city walls and running off with the accumulated wealth of generations of prosperous Romans. In other areas, it meant the end of an economy based on money and industrial production.
But in other regions, the fall of the Roman Empire didn’t mean much of anything at all. For some people, life just kept on going as it had before.
Gaul—roughly today’s France and Belgium, along with parts of the Netherlands and Germany—included areas that fit all of these criteria. Widespread catastrophe coexisted with extreme continuity; it just depends on where you look.
I’m Patrick Wyman, and I just finished my PhD on the end of the Roman Empire. It seems pretty silly to me that professional historians don’t actually talk to the general public—why would you spend decades working on something if you don’t want to tell people about it?—so that’s why I’m doing this podcast on the fall of Rome.
In this episode, we take a look at the transformations that took place in Gaul between about 400 and 500, following the stories of three hypothetical individuals to ground ourselves in the lived experience of people in this time. We follow a blue-blooded aristocrat writing elegant letters in the southwestern part of Gaul, a merchant shipping his wares along the Mediterranean seaboard in the south, and a Frankish warrior fighting his way across the northern part of the region.
If that sounds interesting, give the seventh episode of The Fall of Rome a listen.