4. The Myth that the Roman Empire Fell in 476 AD
It is often bandied about that the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 AD. While that year is usually viewed as that empire’s traditional end date, the notion that it came to an end in 476 is a myth. The empire’s end was actually 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 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.