The Year 476: An Illustrated Panorama



History is full of linchpin dates around which the world is said to have pivoted. The year 476 is touted as the momentous one in which the Roman Empire fell and the world descended into a dark administrative vacuum inhabited by pillaging, horned demons. The reality is that, after blowing through dozens of emperors over the course of a generation, 476 was simply the year in which the ceremony of crowning yet another emperor didn’t seem worth the cost or trouble, and everyone stayed home.

What is usually absent from the “Rome fell” story is that the eastern half of the Roman Empire flourished for another thousand years. In fact, 476 was when things were just getting interesting.

The sixth-century historian Procopius wrote about his contemporaries in eastern Byzantine Rome in two works: one famous, one infamous. The first, the official history, paints a rosy picture of Emperor Justinian and his imperial accomplishments. The second, the “Secret History,” describes Justinian; his empress, Theodora; and their bosom companions General Belisarius and his wife, Antonina, as wicked, conniving, and so outrageously scandalous and beastly that the whole work has to be read as an act of either revenge or farce. Needless to say, the second one is a delight to read.

The following panels are culled from both works, and from lore about the period: a miscellany on the exciting century that followed 476.

Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.