Europe at the time of the migration of nations. By this time, the Roman Empire can look back on 1000 years of achievement. With the help of powerful military leaders such as Julius Caesar, the Empire had subjected large parts of the continent, and the eagle, emblem of the Roman Empire, symbolises not only the supreme military power of Rome, but also the enormous cultural and material superiority of the Mediterranian nation.
Beyond the borders of the Empire, however, to the East and North of the continent, stretch the largely unexplored territories of the uncivilized nations, who are notorious for their extreme brutality and savagery. Contemptuously called barbaricum by the Romans, it was here that the forces rallied which would eventually cause the fall and decline of the mighty Roman Empire.
Yet there had been no lack of warnings. Half a millennium before, alien hordes had been raiding the Roman Empire from the north, plundering and pillaging as they went. The tall, fair-haired Cimbri and Teuton warriors had invaded the peaceful Roman provinces with unrestrained savagery and had brought Rome to the brink of destruction in the course of just a few years. At the last minute, the Romans managed to win a decisive battle, thus only just averting impending disaster.
And once more, in the following centuries, when the Roman army conquered more and more parts of Europe, they encountered insuperable obstacles in the area north of the Danube and east of the Rhine. Too inhospitable was the country, too indomitable its inhabitants. At the same time, the resources of the imperial army had reached their limit. Finally they settled for erecting a mighty border fortification, the limes, along these rivers. And if an ambitious Roman military commander did venture into the unknown wilderness beyond that border, these expeditions frequently ended in disaster – like the famous battle at the Teutoburg Forest, where a few Teutonic tribes wiped out three Roman legions and their commander Varus.
All the same, Rome did not really consider the barbarians a serious threat, as long as they restricted their activities to the occasional frontier crossing and raid. Instead, they dedicated their attention to domestic squabbles, which frequently brought the empire to the brink of a civil war and finally even caused its division. However, even if the Roman Empire had been unified and vested with its full military might in the 4th century AD, it is doubtful whether it could have withstood the massive invasion of the barbarians that suddenly came upon the Empire.
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