The Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire

A Historiographical Essay


  • Melissa Franklin


This article analyzes the historiographical trends and the impact of archaeological discoveries on historical research since the late twentieth century. It argues that the inclusion of material evidence in scholarly research led to a revisionist movement within the field, wherein Edward Gibbon’s theory of catastrophic decline was rejected in favor of theories of transformation and continuity based on discoveries from archeological digs. However, around the early twenty-first century, counter-revisionist scholars returned to the older theory of decline and supported their conclusions with the addition of archeological evidence. It strives to prove that these significant historiographical shifts were a direct result of newfound, material evidence and that historians combined it with a bottom-up approach to construct an explanation for the collapse of the Western Roman Empire that is steeped in social, cultural, and material evidence from the everyday lives of Roman citizens.