Migration Period

Invasions of the Roman Empire
Map of Europe, with colored lines denoting migration routes
Timec. 375–568 AD or later[1]
PlaceEurope and the Mediterranean Region
EventTribes invading the declining Roman Empire

The Migration Period was a period that lasted from 375 AD (possibly as early as 300 AD) to 538 AD, during which there were widespread invasions of peoples within or into Europe, during and after the decline of the Western Roman Empire, mostly into Roman territory, notably the Germanic tribes and the Huns. This period has also been termed in English by the German loanword Völkerwanderung[note 1] and—from the Roman and Greek perspective—the Barbarian Invasions.[2] Many of the migrations were movements of Germanic, Hunnic, Slavic and other peoples into the territory of the then declining Roman Empire, with or without accompanying invasions or war.

Historians give differing dates regarding the duration of this period, but the Migration Period is typically regarded as beginning with the invasion of Europe by the Huns from Asia in 375 and ending either with the conquest of Italy by the Lombards in 568,[3] or at some point between 700 and 800.[4] Various factors contributed to this phenomenon, and the role and significance of each one is still very much discussed among experts on the subject. Starting in 382, the Roman Empire and individual tribes made treaties regarding their settlement in its territory. The Franks, a Germanic tribe that would later found Francia—a predecessor of modern France and Germany—settled in the Roman Empire and were given the task of securing the northeastern Gaul border. Western Roman rule was first violated with the Crossing of the Rhine and the following invasions of the Vandals and Suebi. With wars ensuing between various tribes, as well as local populations in the Western Roman Empire, more and more power was transferred to Germanic and Roman militaries.

There are contradicting opinions whether the fall of the Western Roman Empire was a result or a cause of these migrations, or both. The Eastern Roman Empire was less affected by migrations and survived until the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453. In the modern period, the Migration Period was increasingly described with a rather negative connotation, and seen more as contributing to the fall of the empire. In place of the fallen Western Rome, Barbarian kingdoms arose in the 5th and 6th centuries and decisively shaped the European Early Middle Ages.

The migrants comprised war bands or tribes of 10,000 to 20,000 people,[5] but in the course of 100 years they numbered not more than 750,000 in total, compared to an average 39.9 million population of the Roman Empire at that time. Although immigration was common throughout the time of the Roman Empire,[6] the period in question was, in the 19th century, often defined as running from about the 5th to 8th centuries AD.[7][8] The first migrations of peoples were made by Germanic tribes such as the Goths (including the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths), the Vandals, the Anglo-Saxons, the Lombards, the Suebi, the Frisii, the Jutes, the Burgundians, the Alemanni, the Scirii and the Franks; they were later pushed westward by the Huns, the Avars, the Slavs and the Bulgars.[9]

Later invasions—such as the Viking, the Norman, the Varangian, the Hungarian, the Moorish, the Turkic and the Mongol—also had significant effects (especially in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Anatolia and Central and Eastern Europe); however, they are usually considered outside the scope of the Migration Period.


A Migration Period Germanic gold bracteate featuring a depiction of a bird, horse, and stylized head wearing a Suebian knot sometimes theorized to represent the Germanic god Wōden and what would later become Sleipnir and Hugin or Munin in Germanic mythology, later attested to in the form of Norse mythology. The runic inscription includes the religious term alu.

Origins of Germanic tribes

Germanic peoples moved out of southern Scandinavia and northern Germany[10][11] to the adjacent lands between the Elbe and Oder after 1000 BC. The first wave moved westward and southward (pushing the resident Celts west to the Rhine by about 200 BC), moving into southern Germany up to the Roman provinces of Gaul and Cisalpine Gaul by 100 BC, where they were stopped by Gaius Marius and Julius Caesar. It is this western group which was described by the Roman historian Tacitus (56–117 AD) and Julius Caesar (100–44 BC). A later wave of Germanic tribes migrated eastward and southward from Scandinavia between 600 and 300 BC to the opposite coast of the Baltic Sea, moving up the Vistula near the Carpathians. During Tacitus' era they included lesser known tribes such as the Tencteri, Cherusci, Hermunduri and Chatti; however, a period of federation and intermarriage resulted in the familiar groups known as the Alemanni, Franks, Saxons, Frisians and Thuringians.[12]

First phase

The first phase of invasions, occurring between AD 300 and 500, is partly documented by Greek and Latin historians but difficult to verify archaeologically. It puts Germanic peoples in control of most areas of what was then the Western Roman Empire.[13] The Tervingi entered Roman territory (after a clash with the Huns) in 376. Some time thereafter in Marcianopolis, the escort to Fritigern (their leader) was killed while meeting with Lupicinus.[14] The Tervingi rebelled, and the Visigoths, a group derived either from the Tervingi or from a fusion of mainly Gothic groups, eventually invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 410, before settling in Gaul, and then, 50 years later, in Iberia, founding a kingdom that lasted for 250 years. They were followed into Roman territory first by a confederation of Herulian, Rugian, and Scirian warriors, under Odoacer, that deposed Romulus Augustulus on 4 September 476, and later by the Ostrogoths, led by Theodoric the Great, who settled in Italy. In Gaul, the Franks (a fusion of western Germanic tribes whose leaders had been aligned with Rome since the third century AD) entered Roman lands gradually during the fifth century, and after consolidating power under Childeric and his son Clovis’s decisive victory over Syagrius in 486, established themselves as rulers of northern Roman Gaul. Fending off challenges from the Allemanni, Burgundians, and Visigoths, the Frankish kingdom became the nucleus of what would later become France and Germany. The initial Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain occurred during the fifth century, when Roman control of Britain had come to an end.[15] The Burgundians settled in northwestern Italy, Switzerland and Eastern France in the fifth century.

Second phase

Migration of early Slavs in Europe between the 5th-10th centuries AD

The second phase took place between 500 and 700 and saw Slavic tribes settling more areas of central Europe and pushing farther into southern and eastern Europe, gradually making the eastern half of the continent predominantly Slavic.[16] Additionally, Turkic tribes such as the Avars became involved in this phase. In 567, the Avars and the Lombards destroyed much of the Gepid Kingdom. The Lombards, a Germanic people, settled in Italy with their Herulian, Suebian, Gepid, Thuringian, Bulgar, Sarmatian and Saxon allies in the 6th century.[17][18] They were later followed by the Bavarians and the Franks, who conquered and ruled most of Italy.

Bulgars' settlements in the 6th-7th centuries AD

The Bulgars, originally a nomadic group from Central Asia, had occupied the Pontic steppe north of Caucasus since the second century, but after, pushed by the Khazars, the majority of them migrated west and dominated Byzantine territories along the lower Danube in the seventh century. From this time and onward the demographic picture of the Balkans changed permanently becoming predominantly Slavic, while pockets of native people survived in the mountains of southwest Balkans, Albania and Greece.[19][20]

During the early Byzantine–Arab Wars, Arab armies attempted to invade southeast Europe via Asia Minor during the late seventh and early eighth centuries, but were defeated at the siege of Constantinople (717–718) by the joint forces of Byzantium and the Bulgars. During the Khazar–Arab Wars, the Khazars stopped the Arab expansion into Europe across the Caucasus (7th and 8th centuries). At the same time, the Moors (consisting of Arabs and Berbers) invaded Europe via Gibraltar (conquering Hispania—the Iberian Peninsula—from the Visigothic Kingdom in 711), before being halted. These battles broadly demarcated the frontiers between Christendom and Islam for the next millennium. The following centuries saw the Muslims successful in conquering most of Sicily from the Christians by 902.

The Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin from around 895 and the following Hungarian invasions of Europe, and the Viking expansion from the late 8th century conventionally mark the last large movements of the period. Christianity gradually converted the non-Islamic newcomers and integrated them into the medieval Christian order. After that, the German eastward expansion (german: (Deutsche) Ostsiedlung) started in the 11th century in Eastern Europe.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Völkerwanderung
Ænglisc: Folcawanderung
العربية: عصر الهجرات
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Вялікае перасяленьне народаў
hrvatski: Seoba naroda
Bahasa Indonesia: Masa Migrasi
kurdî: Koça Qewman
Lëtzebuergesch: Vëlkerwanderung
Lingua Franca Nova: Periodo de migras (germanica)
Bahasa Melayu: Zaman Penghijrahan
Nordfriisk: Fulkenwaanrang
norsk nynorsk: Folkevandringstida
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Xalqlarning buyuk koʻchishi
Seeltersk: Foulkewonderenge
Simple English: Migration period
slovenščina: Preseljevanje ljudstev
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Velika seoba naroda
Tiếng Việt: Giai đoạn Di cư