The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12859

There is a popular saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Yet there are many who believe the Roman Empire fell very quickly. Learn about the long history of the Empire, and use maps to tell the story!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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When did the Roman Empire fall?

  1. 100 AD
  2. 476 AD
  3. 1453 AD
  4. Trick question! The Roman Empire never fell!

The achievements of the Roman Empire make a pretty long list:

  • First of all, we remember them for their great mythology; of course, it was religion to them.
  • We named the planets after their gods, like Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.
  • The Romans were really good at architecture, and many of their buildings still stand today, hundreds of years after they were built.
  • They developed forms of government that would influence much later ones, including the American form of government.
  • At its height in the second century, the Roman Empire stretched from the Persian Gulf in the east all the way to Spain in the west.

Then, one fateful day in 476 AD, the barbarians of Europe descended on the city — barbarians with frightening names like the Vandals, and the Visigoths, and the Ostrogoths — and they laid it to waste. There was fire and screaming everywhere, babies crying, and general chaos, and then the Middle Ages happened. That was how the Roman Empire ended, or, rather, that is how people often think it ended!

You will be shocked to learn that the Roman Empire continued for nearly another thousand years!

Learn more about the history of the Roman Empire by reading the short passage below. As you read, write down the answers to the following questions in your notebook or journal:

  • When did Rome start?
  • What made the Roman Empire so special?
  • Why do people often say that the Roman Empire ended in the fifth century AD?

Now, read this passage and collect your information:

The city of Rome started out in the eighth century B.C. Within just a few centuries though, this little town grew and grew to eventually become an empire, and one of the most influential ones in all of history. The Roman Empire covered most of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

One of the great innovations of the Roman Empire was its form of government. After its last pure monarch was overthrown in 509 B.C., the Romans set up a republic, a mixed form of government that included elected officials. The "founding fathers" of the United States, big fans of the Romans, would use a similar system of checks and balances to create their own system of government.

Bad decision-making, power-hungry rulers, internal conflict, and attacks from outside tribes would wear down the power of Rome over nearly 200 years. The empire was split into two, and the western half of the Roman Empire officially ended in 476 A.D. when the Germanic prince named Odovacar took control of the Roman armies and proclaimed himself king of Italy.

The eastern half of the empire, however, would live on for centuries to come.

Once you have gathered your information, write your response to the following question in your notebook or journal:

  • Why might answer b) in the multiple-choice question at the beginning of this lesson not be completely correct?

The history of Rome has fascinated historians and history buffs for hundreds of years. One of the most famous books about the Roman Empire, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was written by the famous Edward Gibbon in the 1780s. It is twelve full volumes long! The history of this great empire is not just found in lengthy texts, though.

In the Got It? section, trace the history of Rome through the maps that show its rise and fall.

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