The fall of Rome in A.D. 410 was just the beginning of a series of attacks that would continue to challenge the strength of the empire. In A.D. 452, the most infamous of all barbarians, Attila the Hun, paced the borders of the Roman Empire. As Attila and his Huns entered Rome, they suffered no resistance—no army and no emperor—but there was the Roman overseer, Leo, who did his best to control the hordes.
The Huns were an invading army from Asia that entered the West and quickly crushed the Ostrogoths (eastern German tribe) in the fourth century. Their leader, Attila, is known, even today, as one of the most vicious and aggressive tribal leaders the world has ever known.
Leo, who later became the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church, actually managed to strike a bargain with Attila, and the Huns retreated. However, Leo was not as successful when the Vandals (another “barbarian” tribe) darkened his doorstep in A.D. 455. He did manage to convince them not to kill or rape, but he could not stop them from looting and destroying property.
The tribes who attacked Rome were mostly from the north (Scandinavian region of Europe), and here is a list of some of them:
Franks: A powerful Germanic tribe (French, as we know them today), with their name originating from the word “fierce” or “free” in the Frankish language.
Goths (Visigoths and Ostrogoths): A Germanic tribe that settled on the Danube River and eventually formed an army to ward off the Huns.
Vandals: A Germanic tribe from Jutland (what is now Denmark).
Angles and Saxons: The Angles come from “Angeln,” a district of what we now know as Denmark, and the Saxons were a warring tribe that came from a region of Germany.
Huns: A nomadic Mongolian tribe that invaded southern Europe in the fourth century. The Huns were highly successful in their invasions of the western Roman Empire, maintaining their dominance as they fought off the Goths and several other defensive tribes.
The Western Collapse
In A.D. 476, a very tired and ravaged Rome was occupied again by Odovacar, who deposed the last of the Western Roman emperors and, thus, brought down the Western Christian Empire (the Eastern Empire still remained intact in Byzantium, or Constantinople). As a result, church leaders found themselves shouldering the burden of their lost politicians, which had a drastic impact on Christianity over time.
With all these attacks on Rome, and the witnessing of its demise, many religious scholars returned to monastic living. They felt their ministries and spirituality would be better served away from the chaos of Rome. In the monasteries and convents, one could nurture the spirit (The City of God) and flee from all the killing and mayhem that had become so much a part of the empire (The City of Mankind). After Augustine put his thoughts into words, even more men and women fled to the monasteries and convents, where they could work on their respective cities.
During the Middle Ages, Christianity was also flourishing in the Celtic society of Ireland. Because Ireland was a long way from the regions of the Roman Empire, the Christian Church there developed its own way of doing things. It wasn't until the meeting of Christian leaders at Whitby in A.D. 664 that Celtic and Roman churches became one.