When I started writing It’s a Feudal, Feudal World, one of the first decisions I had to make was where to begin. The obvious place was with the fall of the last Roman emperor in the west, Romulus Augustulus, in 476 CE. The only problem being that the overthrow of Romulus Augustulus is, to quote my undergraduate textbook on late antiquity, “one of the most famous non-events in history.” Romulus was only the last in a long line of puppet emperors whose strings were jerked by a long line of Germanic war leaders, most of whose dictates were ignored by a populace that had better things to do – like survive. Equally importantly, the more-populated half of the empire – the east – had been independent of Rome since the emperor Theodosius I effectively split the empire in two in 395 CE. And even by then, the decline and fragmentation of the empire was already well underway. It just gets worse if you start adding questions like “was Romulus Augustulus really the last western emperor”? (Julius Nepos, whose throne Romulus effectively usurped, lived until 480. He wasn’t ruling an emperor, but neither was Romulus.)
Since trying to pick a date for the fall of the Roman Empire is a good way to give oneself a headache, I didn’t. The timeline at the front of It’s a Feudal, Feudal World shows the “Fall of Rome” as a 250-year process instead. And to start the book off, I went to what I dare say is a bigger movement – literally. In the fifth century (or thereabouts), thousands of people moved into the empire, crossing the Danube and the Rhine. They brought with them their kings, their cultures, and their clothes – like pants, which were considered un-Roman enough that Emperor Theodosius banned them in the city of Rome! And It’s a Feudal, Feudal World begins, instead, with them.