What changes occurred in western civilization during late antiquity?

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We can attempt an answer to this question first by dividing it into issues involving politics, ethnicity, and religion.

1) Politics.

The disintegration of the Roman Empire in the West occurred in stages. We can probably identify the death of Marcus Aurelius as a turning point in AD 180. Historians have usually marked this as the end of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), a long period of stability. In the late third century the Empire was divided into Western and Eastern halves (though the division was not really finalized until AD 395). There were repeated invasions by Germanic peoples which finally led to what is considered the fall of Rome in the West in 476, when the emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Germanic leader Odoacer. The Eastern Empire, ruled from Constantinople, continued until 1453 when it was taken over by the Ottoman Turks.

2) Ethnicity.

The "period of migrations" in the fourth and fifth centuries resulted in large changes in the distribution of different national groups throughout Europe. The Saxons, Angles and Jutes, all of them Germanic peoples, invaded Britain and formed the basis of the English nation. The Huns and Goths, originating in Asia, invaded Western Europe. Other ethnic groups such as the Vandals migrated from Central Europe west and south. The present-day ethnic make-up of Europe is the result of the vast mixing of these different ethnic elements, which after a further period of several centuries began to coalesce into the European nations as they are today.

3) Religion.

During late antiquity Christianity, after a period of nearly three centuries as a new religion first persecuted by the civil authorities, became the official religion of the Empire. A series of ecumenical church councils were held: at Nicaea in 325, at Constantinople in 381, at Ephesus in 431, and at Chalcedon in 451. These councils resulted in the adoption of the canonical or official Bible of Christianity and established church doctrine that was universally held through Europe and most of the Christian areas of Asia until the schism between Roman and Byzantine churches in the eleventh century.

Historians have traditionally dated the next great period of Western history as beginning with the fall of Rome in the West near the close of the fifth century. The notion that the early medieval period that followed constituted a "Dark Ages" during which Europe fell into ignorance and disorder is only partly true. The Eastern Roman Empire, which included parts of Eastern Europe as well as what we now refer to as the Middle East, persisted for nearly another thousand years. And in the West, the foundations of modern Europe were being established, though the "rebirth" of learning and art would not occur there until, ironically, the same period in which the Eastern Empire finally was destroyed.

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