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Chapter 8: Fall of the Western Roman Empire
After the the Empire made peace with the Church and before the massive "barbarian" invasions, there was relative peace, which spread to the world of the spirit after the defeat of the Areian heresy. It proved short-lived.
8:1 And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
And then, "seven trumpets" began signaling the end of the Roman Empire, first in the West, and then in the East.
8:2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
A new challenge began for Christians, that of protecting their religion and the remnants of their civilization. The prayers of the saints were necessary.
8:3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
8:4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
From that time on, great turmoil lay ahead, and huge crimes were to be committed. The world order that was to emerge would only be crushed by the "earthquake" of the French Revolution, many centuries later.
8:5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
Let's follow history.
8:6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.Germanic peoples invade by land
The Eastern part of the Empire was invaded by the Visigoths in the late 4th century:
But the Eastern Empire repelled the Visigoths. It was the West that would eventually fall prey to the hands of the invaders. In the beginning of the 5th century, the whole of the Western Empire was swept over by Goths, Franks, Vandals, Alans, Sueves, Burgundians and other tribes. Rome was sacked by Alaric, the leader of the Visigoths, in 410:
8:7 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
"Green grass" denotes prosperity. The "trees" must symbolize centres of commerce and civilization; in other words, great cities, like Rome, Constantinople, or Alexandria. The Empire was destroyed in three distinct phases. This chapter deals with the first one, comprising the "barbarian" invasions in the West. The next chapter deals with the next two phases, the first one affecting mainly the areas of Syria, Palestine and Egypt (advent of the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century) and the second one affecting Asia Minor and the Balkan peninsula (the conquest of which was completed by the Turks in 1453). Thus, the Roman Empire can be schematically divided into three parts: 1. The Western part, with Rome as its centre, 2. The core of the Greek world, comprising the Balkan peninsula and Asia Minor, with Constantinople as its centre and 3. The Orient, under Hellenistic influence, comprising Syria, Palestine and Egypt, with Alexandria as its centre. Of the greatest cities, only Rome was sacked during this first wave of invasions. That's why only one-third of the "trees" are burnt up in this verse. Constantinople was not captured by the invaders, but the Eastern part of the Empire was not left untouched by them. That's why all "green grass" was burnt up. "Green grass" must symbolize all of the small, organized communities in the Empire, all of which suffered during those years. Commerce was adversely affected throughout the Empire, and the economy went through rough times.The Vandals invade by sea
The Vandals, together with other peoples, crossed what is now known as the strait of Gibraltar into North Africa and established their own maritime kingdom in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and for some time they were rulers of the western Mediterranean. They even sacked Rome in the middle of the 5th century.
8:8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;
8:9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.Attila the Hun
In the middle of the 5th century, the Huns also terrorized the West for some time. Their leader, Attila, is still remembered as a fearsome warrior and conqueror. The rivers of Gaul and northern Italy were bloodied by the destruction that he caused and by the wars made against him. He ultimately made peace with Pope Leo I, and Rome was spared. The Huns were ultimately defeated and their Empire was dissolved after Attila's sudden death.
8:10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;
8:11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
This map shows the Hunnic Empire (dark brown) and its defeat:
Until the year 476, Rome had managed to resist subjugation. But her time came in that year, when Odoacer, leader of the Heruli, subdued the former Capital of the world. This is what the situation looked like immediately after the fall of Rome:
The Ostrogoths occupied the Italian peninsula a few years later, led by Theodoric, and the Ostrogothic Kingdom became the most prominent among the new kingdoms for some time (notice also the growth of the Frankish Kingdom):
The Italian peninsula would be freed by Emperor Justinian a few decades later,
...but only briefly. The Lombards, and then the Franks, would ultimately sever the Italian peninsula off from Constantinople:
The Western Roman Empire was to exist no more after 476. In the West, the lights of Roman civilization went out, and the Dark Ages lay ahead.
8:12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
Great calamities were to strike the remainder of the Empire during the next centuries, but that is another chapter.
8:13 And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!