39. Did the Roman Empire Fall in 476 AD?
476 AD is often viewed as the traditional end date for the Western Roman Empire. However, the end of the empire was a gradual process, not an abrupt one. Contemporaries hardly noticed that anything special had happened in 476. What did actually happen that year was that a military strongman, Odoacer, beat another military strongman, Orestes, to become the power behind the throne – Western Roman emperors having long since been reduced to puppets, by then.
Odoacer then forced Orestes’ son, the sixteen year old Emperor Romulus Augustulus, to abdicate. Augustulus’ imperial regalia was then sent to the other Roman emperor, in Constantinople, who confirmed Odoacer as ruler of Italy in the now-sole Roman Emperor’s name. On the ground, little changed in Italy or the rest of the Western Roman Empire. Most people who lived in 477 would not have noticed anything particularly different from 476.