Why did the (Western) Roman Empire Fall?

Previous empires, such as Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece were conquered by the armies of the next ‘world’ empire, but the mighty Roman Empire declined and fell over a period of hundreds of years.  Historians are therefore very interested in the causes of its decline. 

EDWARD GIBBON

The historian Edward Gibbon, in his 1776 book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was the first to do in-depth research on this subject.  The purpose of this article is to reflect on the causes of the Fall.  Much of this section is a summary of the Wikipedia article, Historiography of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  References are omitted from this section but can be found in that and related articles.

This article follows on from the previous article; Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire, which summarizes the events of the Fall.  The current article provides an understanding of the underlying currents that gave rise to the major events described in the previous article.

UNDERFUNDING OF THE IMPERIAL FORCES

Underfunding of the army may have contributed greatly to the Fall.  The rich aristocrats of Rome sought protection within the strong walls of the city of Rome. In theory, they supported the armed forces but did not wish to pay for it.

For example, Stilicho, like all other generals, was desperately short of recruits and supplies.  Though devoted to the Roman Empire, he was very active in confiscating assets, for the administrative machine was not producing enough support for the army (Wikipedia).

CHRISTIANITY

The rich aristocrats did, however, pass large amounts of money to the Christian Church. Edward Gibbon attributed a significant role to Christianity in the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  He remarked that “the soldiers’ pay was lavished on the useless multitudes … who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity.”

RELIANCE ON BARBARIAN MERCENARIES

Edward Gibbon placed the blame on the empire itself, for it gradually entrusted the role of defending the Empire to barbarian mercenaries who eventually turned on them. 

ROMAN SOLDIER

The historian Arther Ferrill, in The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military Explanation, has also suggested that the Roman Empire declined largely as a result of an influx of Germanic mercenaries into the ranks of the legions. They were more loyal to their Germanic commanders than to the Roman government. He added that the chief cause of the agricultural decline was high taxation which drove it out of business. This taxation was spurred by the huge military budget and was thus ‘indirectly’ the result of the barbarian invasions.

MANY CAUSES IN COMBINATION

JB Bury held that a number of crises, that arose simultaneously, was the cause of the fall: Due to the depopulation of the empire, it had come to depend on the enrollment of barbarians in the army.  It was furthermore necessary to pay them well as a consequence of the decline in military spirit.

PLUNDER ECONOMY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

Some historians argue that the Roman Empire itself was a rotten system from its inception. In their view, the Empire had a plunder economy based on looting existing resources rather than producing anything new. It relied on riches from conquered territories, but this source of revenue dried up with the end of Roman territorial expansion in the second century.  Meanwhile, the costs of military defense and the pomp of Emperors and the wealthy aristocrats continued. Therefore, the Empire looted its own people through exorbitant taxation, from which the élite was exempted.  This taxation drove small-scale farmers out of business, and into dependency upon the élite.

WEAKENING CENTRAL AUTHORITY

In The Complete Roman Army (2003) Adrian Goldsworthy, a British military historian, identified weakening central authority, resulting in endless civil wars between factions of the Roman Army fighting for control of the Empire, as the main cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire.  These civil wars weakened the army, making it less able to defend itself against its enemies.

SASSANID PERSIANS

According to Peter Heather, in his The Fall of the Roman Empire (2005), the Fall was caused by a series of sequential events:

First was the emergence of the Sassanid Persian Empire (also known as the Empire of Iranians or Neo-Persian Empire) in the east. They were powerful enough to push the Romans back. Many modern readers tend to think of the “Huns” as the nemesis of the Roman Empire, but it was the Persians who held the attention and concern of the Emperors. 

To cope with the Sassanid threat, the Roman Empire stripped the Western Roman Empire of resources, weakening it.

At the same time, Hunnic incursions in Germania forced peoples on the Empire’s borders to migrate elsewhere. Due to the weakened military capacity of the Western Roman Empire, the Germanic peoples were able to force their way into the Empire.

CONCLUSION

This article will not select from these causes, for the interest of this website is not primary WHY the Empire fell, but HOW it fell, namely that the empire did not really fell, but continued.  The goal of these articles is to show that the prophecies of Daniel accurately predicted HOW the Roman Empire will fall.

Articles in this series include the following:

Christology of the persecuted church – first 300 years
Council of Nicaea – A.D. 325 
The Nicene Creed Interpreted 
Fourth Century Arianism 

What did Arianism believe in the fourth century?
Long Lines Creed – one of the creeds during the Arian period
Death of Arianism – Emperor Theodosius
Fall of the Western Roman Empire
Why the Roman Empire fell Current Article
The massacres of the Waldensians – Middle Ages

The Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire

This article summarizes the key events and circumstances that resulted in the Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire; more or less in chronological sequence.  This is to support another article, which shows that the prophecies of Daniel correctly predicted HOW the Western Roman Empire was to fall. 

Much of this article is a summary of Wikipedia’s articles pertaining to that period.

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

The Roman Empire reached its zenith in the 2nd century.  There-after it slowly declined. 

EMPEROR THEODOSIUS’ DEATH (395)

Theodosius was the last emperor to rule the entire Roman Empire; east and west.  He died in 395.  Rome was sacked by barbarians in 410.  This indicates how weak the empire has become in the 15 years since Theodosius died.  Theodosius’ death initiated in a series of major changes, as described below, and was a major turning point in the history of the Roman Empire.  Rome was again sacked in 455 and the last Western Emperor was deposed in 476, but the real change occurred prior to 410. 

CROSSING OF THE RIVER RHINE (406)

The eagles were a popular symbol among the Goths.
GOTHIC SYMBOL

From the fourth century, the Empire was less able to repel invading barbarians.  Throughout the 4th and 5th centuries, large numbers of barbarians migrated into Roman territories.  In the year 376, an unmanageable number of Goths and other non-Roman peoples migrated into the Empire.  But during the 15 years after Theodosius’ death, in 406, the Crossing of the River Rhine by Germanic tribes was a decisive event in the Migration Period.  

To become part of the Empire – These barbarians did not enter the Empire to tear it down or to replace it with something new, but to become part of the Empire. They sought permission to settle in Roman territory, and Imperial authorities also granted such permission, on certain severe conditions.  In other words, these “barbarians” were absorbed into the empire.  

Second class citizens – These barbarians were accepted into the Empire, but as second class citizens or even as what we could call, migrant laborers or slaves.  However, the Goths resisted and sought full and equal citizenship.  

BARBARIANS CONTROLLED THE ROMAN ARMY

Recruited – Many barbarians were recruited into the Imperial Forces. The Imperial Forces became dependent on the service of Goths.  Historians speculate about why barbarians were allowed into the army.  But the Roman Empire required a strong army, for its armed forces were the basis for its power.   

Top Generals – Some of the barbarians became generals and even top generals.  

EMPERORS WERE FIGUREHEADS

After Theodosius’ death and throughout the 5th century, Western Emperors were mere figureheads. The real rulers in the West were military strongmen. The top generals of the armies often also became the emperor.  

COMPETE FOR CONTROL OF THE EMPIRE

There always remained friction and hatred between the original Graeco-Roman inhabitants of the Empire and the increasingly dominant Barbarian peoples as they competed for control of the Empire.  At times, the Graeco-Romans massacred the barbarians.  However, if we combine the two principles, namely that the top generals were the real rulers and that the barbarians became top generals, then we can see that the barbarians were progressively in control of the empire.

Not foreign armies – It, therefore, was not foreign armies that sacked Rome in 410 and 455, or that deposed the last Roman Emperor in 476: It was the Gothic section of the Roman army that eventually gained the upper hand in the struggle for control of the Empire.

Civil wars – The Empire was not only threatened by barbarian invasions, but also by civil wars between the Romans themselves. 

THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE DID NOT FALL.

Based on the analysis above and the more detailed discussion below, the Western Roman Empire did not come to an end in 476 when Odoacer deposed the last emperor.  A more appropriate description of what happened is that the barbarian faction of the Roman Empire became strong enough to take over control of the army, and therefore of the Western Empire itself.  This is confirmed by the continuation of Roman power and practices after the emperor was deposed.

CONCLUSION

In summary, what happened, over a period of more than 100 years, is that the barbaric faction in the Roman Empire became stronger and stronger, while the Gracio-Roman control of the Empire became progressively weaker until the barbarians took over control of the Western Roman Empire. 

The barbaric faction did not use its military supremacy to replace the political and legal structures of the Roman Empire with a different system, but to become part of it; they continued the culture and practices of the empire. 

The sack of Rome in 410 did not cause the fall of the Western Roman Empire; the sack of Rome was an indication of how far the Roman Empire has declined by then.

The Western Roman Empire, therefore, did not fall.  Bowersock (2001) described the process as a complex cultural transformation, rather than a fall.

These concepts will now be discussed in more detail.

BARBARIANS ACCEPTED INTO THE EMPIRE

From the fourth century, the Empire’s military capacity was insufficient to repel or exterminate the invading barbarians.  Throughout the 4th and 5th centuries, various Germanic tribes from southern Scandinavia and northern Germania migrated into the Empire’s territories in Western Europe and in Northwestern Africa, in what is sometimes called the Migration period

Personally, I do not like the term “barbarian” because these people were the forbearers of the French, German and other peoples, but the literature often refers to them as such and this term is useful to refer to a diverse group of peoples. 

As an early example of this migration, in the year 376, an unmanageable number of Goths and other non-Roman people migrated into the Empire.  Emperor Valens allowed Goths to settle within the borders of the Empire.  However, the local Roman administrators mistreated them.  They revolted, resulting in the first war against the Visigoths which climaxed in the Battle of Adrianople in 378, in which the Visigoths defeated a large Roman army and also killed Emperor Valens himself.

The important point is that imperial authorities admitted potentially hostile groups into the Empire and:

      • allotted to them lands (typically in devastated provinces),
      • allocated them a status (e.g. unfree workers (coloni) for Roman landowners), and
      • duties (sometimes, to defend a border) within the imperial system.

Cultural assimilation followed over the next generation or two.  In other words, these “barbarians” became part of the empire.

EMPIRE DIVIDED INTO EAST AND WEST

Emperor Theodosius I died in 395. He was the last emperor to unite the western and eastern halves of the Empire under the authority of a single emperor.  After his death, the empire progressively subdivided into a number of separate identifiable political entities.

ivory diptych, thought to depict Stilicho with his wife Serena
STILICHO

At his death, Theodosius’ two underage sons became the emperors of the two halves of the Empire.  Honorius became emperor in the West with General Stilicho as his guardian while Arcadius was placed on the Eastern throne in Constantinople with Rufinus the power behind the throne.  However, Rufinus was soon suspected of being was in league with the Goths and was killed.  (The Roman Empire did not fire leaders; they killed them.)

These two parts of the empire were administered fairly independently; even in opposition to one another.  For example, in 406, General Stilicho demanded the return of the eastern half of Illyricum (which had been transferred to the administrative control of Constantinople by Theodosius), threatening war if the Eastern Roman Empire resisted.

A GOTH RULED IN THE EAST.

Most of this article describes events in the Western Empire, but this subsection briefly mentions the rise and fall of the Goth Gainas in the East, for it highlights some of the principles we wish to emphasize.

Gainas was a Gothic leader who commanded the barbarian contingent of emperor Theodosius’ army in 394.  After Theodosius’ death, in the year 399, he was promoted to magister militum (literally, master of the military) in the Eastern Roman Empire.

Gainas was required to suppress the insurrection of the Ostrogoths in Asia Minor but failed. The Ostrogoths continued to devastate Asia Minor.  Gainas advised emperor Arcadius to accept the terms set by the Ostrogoths.  But then Gainas showed his true colors by openly joining the Ostrogoths with all his forces.  In this way, he forced the emperor to sign a treaty whereby the Goths would be allowed to settle in Thrace, entrusted with the defense of that frontier against the barbarians beyond the Danube. 

Backed by the Ostrogoths and given his position as top general of the Eastern Roman Empire, Gainas was now very powerful. He proceeded to install his forces in Constantinople (the capital of the Eastern Empire) and to depose all the anti-Goth officials.

However, the Graeco-Roman populace intensely resented both Goths and Arian Christians, and Gainas and his men were both. After a few months, in 400, the citizens of Constantinople revolted against Gainas and massacred 7,000 armed Goths and as many of his people and their families as they could catch. Some Goths built rafts and tried to flee across the strip of sea that separates Asia from Europe (the Hellespont), but their rag-tag ad hoc fleet was destroyed by another Goth in Imperial service; Fravitta  By the beginning of 401, Gainas’ head rode a pike through Constantinople.

A HALF-VANDAL REIGNED RULED THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE.

We will now turn our attention to the West.

Stilicho was the son of a Vandal cavalry officer and a Roman mother, but he considered himself to be nothing but Roman.  He joined the Roman army and rose through the ranks during the reign of Theodosius I. Theodosius promoted him to general and, seeing in him a man that would be able to lead the empire, appointed Stilicho as guardian of his son Honorius.  Thus, after Theodosius’ death in 395, the underage Honorius became Emperor of the Western Empire, with Stilicho as his caretaker.  Stilicho came to be the real commander-in-chief of the Roman armies in the west.  In 400 Stilicho was accorded the highest honor within the Roman state by being appointed consul.  He was now the most powerful man in the Western Roman Empire.  Some regard this as the high point of Germanic advancement in the service of Rome. 

VISIGOTHS ROSE TO THREATEN ROME

Alaric first appeared as the leader of a mixed band of Goths and allied peoples who invaded Thrace in 391 but were stopped by the Roman general Stilicho.  In 394, Alaric led a Gothic force of 20,000 under the Roman Emperor Theodosius. Despite sacrificing around 10,000 of his men, Alaric received little recognition. Disappointed, he left the Roman army and was elected to be the first king of the Visigoths in 395. The Visigoths then marched toward Constantinople until they were diverted by Roman forces. Nonetheless, the Eastern emperor appointed Alaric magister militum (general in the Roman Army; literally, master of the military).

NOTE: The Visigoths were an early Germanic people who, along with the Ostrogoths, constituted the two major branches of the Goths. These tribes flourished and spread throughout the late Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, or what is known as the Migration Period.

In 401 and again in 402 Alaric invaded Italy but was defeated, although he did force the Roman Senate to pay a large subsidy to the Visigoths.

MASSIVE IMMIGRATION OF BARBARIANS

In order to protect Italy, the Empire had depleted the Rhine frontier of forces. The Crossing of the River Rhine on 31 December 406 by Germanic tribes (including the Vandals, Burgundians, Alans and the Sueves) was a key event in the Migration Period.  This brought unmanageable numbers of Germanic and Alan barbarians into Gaul. For the next few years, these barbarian tribes wandered in search of food and employment, devastating Gaul’s provinces, while Roman forces fought each other in the name of Honorius and Constantine III, who was competing for the imperial throne.  The barbarians ravaged Gaul, initiating a wave of destruction and pillaging of Roman cities. Some moved on to the regions of Hispania and Africa. The Empire would never regain control over most of these lands. This was a climactic moment in the decline of the Empire and a serious setback for Stilicho’s reputation.

REVOLT IN BRITAIN CHALLENGED THE EMPEROR

In 406, the provinces of Roman Britain revolted. The garrisons chose as their leader a man named after the famed emperor of the early fourth century, Constantine the Great, who had himself rose to power through a military coup in Britain. Constantine was a common soldier, but one of some ability. 

Early in 407, the Roman military in Britain acclaimed Constantine as emperor. Constantine promptly moved to Gaul and took with him all of the mobile troops left in Britain, to confront the various Germanic invaders who had crossed the Rhine the previous winter. Constantine’s forces won several confrontations with the Vandals and quickly secured the line of the Rhine.

With the knowledge that Constantine III was a threat to his position as emperor, the Western emperor, Honorius, ordered Stilicho to expel Constantine. Stilicho’s forces defeated two of Constantine’s generals, but Constantine sent another army and Stilicho’s troops retreated into Italy, Constantine now controlled all of Gaul and garrisoned the Alpine passes into Italy.  Stilicho had failed to quash Constantine III’s rebellion.

In the summer of 408, the Roman forces in Italy assembled to attack Constantine. But Constantine struck first.  He sent his general Gerontius towards Hispania, where he defeated the last Roman force to try to hold the borders of Hispania.

STILICHO’S DEATH LED TO THE SACK OF ROME.

Stilicho’s death

After many years of victories against a number of enemies, both barbarian and Roman, the series of political and military disasters described above finally allowed Stilicho’s enemies in the court of the emperor to remove him from power, culminating in his execution in 408.

The Western Emperor Honorius furthermore incited the Roman population to massacre tens of thousands of wives and children of Goths serving in the Roman military. The Gothic soldiers then defected en masse to Alaric, increasing the size of his force to around 30,000 men, and joined his march on Rome to avenge their murdered families.

The first siege of Rome

The Visigothic leader thereupon laid siege to Rome in 408.  Alaric attempted to secure a permanent peace treaty and rights to settle within Roman territory.  Alaric’s military operations centered on the port of Rome, through which Rome’s grain supply had to pass.  His siege caused dreadful famine within the walls. Eventually, the Senate granted him a substantial subsidy and liberated all 40,000 Gothic slaves in Rome. That payment, though large, was less than one of the richest senators could have produced. The super-rich aristocrats made little contribution.  Rather, pagan temples were stripped of ornaments to make up the total.  In addition, Alaric hoped for promotion to magister militum – commander of the Western Roman Army, but Honorius refused.

Constantine becomes joint consul

Given that the Gothic army under Alaric roamed unchecked in northern Italy, when Constantine’s envoys arrived to negotiate, Honorius accepted Constantine’s demands, and the two were joint consuls for the year 409.   After military setbacks, Constantine abdicated in 411 but was captured and executed shortly afterwards.

NOTE: Consuls were mere symbolic representatives of Rome’s republican heritage and held very little power and authority; the Emperor acted as the supreme authority.

The second siege of Rome

In 409 Alaric again tried to negotiate with Honorius. He demanded frontier land and food but Honorius responded with insults. Alaric ravaged Italy outside the fortified cities (which he could not garrison), and the Romans refused open battle (for they had inadequate forces). Late in the year, Alaric expressed his readiness to leave Italy if Honorius would only grant his people a supply of grain. Honorius flatly refused. The Visigoths again surrounded Rome. Alaric lifted his blockade after proclaiming Attalus Western Emperor.

Third siege and sack of Rome

In the summer of 410 Alaric deposed Attalus and besieged Rome for the third time. According to some accounts, allies within the capital opened the gates for him, and for three days his troops sacked the city. The city of Rome was the seat of the richest senatorial noble families. Although the Visigoths plundered Rome, they treated its inhabitants humanely and burned only a few buildings, which is surprising given the massacre of Gothic women and children. In some Christian holy places, Alaric’s men even refrained from wanton wrecking and rape.  

Conclusions

The death of Stilicho has been included in this section under the heading of the sack of Rome because many historians argue that the removal of Stilicho was the main catalyst leading to this monumental event.  The city destroyed its own protection.  It is also interesting to note the similarities between the massacre of the Gothic soldiers and their families in Constantinople and the massacre of Gothic women and children in the West.  It shows the level of hate that existed between the Graeco-Roman people and the Gothic invaders. 

The sack of Rome did not cause the decline of the Roman Empire.  Rather, the decline of the Roman Empire caused the sack of Rom. 

The fact that barbarians were able to roam unchecked in the Italian countryside and sack Rome are indications of the decline; not only of the Western Roman Empire but of the Empire as a whole. 

The Western Empire never recovered.  Rome was sacked a second time in 455; this time by the Vandals.  Although the capital in the West, by this time, has moved to Ravenna, Rome remained the West’s largest city and its economic center.

VISIGOTHS SETTLED IN SPAIN.

After they sacked Rome, the Visigoths first settled in southern Gaul.  They also extended their authority into Hispania, where they founded the Visigothic Kingdom and maintained a presence from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD. In 507, their rule in Gaul was ended by the Franks under Clovis I, who defeated them in the Battle of Vouillé. After that, the Visigoth kingdom was limited to Hispania. In or around 589, the Visigoths under Reccared I converted from Arianism to Nicene Christianity, gradually adopting the culture of their Hispano-Roman subjects.

LAST EMPEROR IN THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE

from a 19th-century illustration
Romulus resigns the Crown

In AD 476, Odoacer—a Germanic chieftain—deposed the last emperor in Italy (Romulus Augustus).  This did not require a major battle, for by then barbarian kingdoms had established their own power in much of the area of the Western Empire, leaving the Emperor with negligible power and no effective control.  The circumstances were as follows:

Romulus usurps the throne

The Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos appointed Orestes as Magister militum in 475. However, before the end of that year, Orestes rebelled, drove Emperor Nepos from Italy and proclaimed his own young son Romulus as the new emperor Augustulus.  Nepos reorganized his court in Dalmatia and received affirmation from Zeno—the emperor in Constantinople.  Zeno refused to accept Augustulus but branded Romulus and his father as traitors and usurpers.

Odoacer leads the barbarian revolt

About that time the foederati in Italy rebelled.  Foederati were barbarians whom the Roman Empire allowed to stay within the Empire in exchange for military assistance.  They had grown weary of this arrangement. They petitioned Orestes to grant them lands and to settle them permanently in Italy. Orestes refused.

Odoacer was an officer in what remained of the Roman Army; rising through the ranks.  The foederati turned to Odoacer to lead their revolt against Orestes.  Odoacer and his troops quickly conquered the whole of Italy, killed Orestes, proclaimed Odoacer king of Italy, captured Ravenna (by then, the capital city of the Western Empire) and compelled the 16-year-old emperor Romulus to abdicate.   

No emperor in the West

But Odoacer chose neither to assume the title of Emperor himself nor to select a puppet emperor.  He, rather, proclaimed himself the ruler of Italy.  He sent the Imperial insignia to Constantinople and requested the Eastern Emperor Zeno to reign over both the eastern and western parts of the Empire.  Zeno agreed to this arrangement, setting Nepos’ claims aside and legalizing Odoacer’s position as Imperial viceroy of Italy.  In other words, the Eastern Emperor granted Odoacer legal authority to govern Italy in the name of the Empire.

The message was clear: The title Emperor no longer had value. The emperors in the West in the fifth century were, in any case, mostly figureheads, and this arrangement made an end of the puppet emperors in the West. 

Zeno was now, at least in name, the sole Emperor of the entire Empire.  Odoacer was careful to observe form and made a pretense of acting on Zeno’s authority, even issuing coins with both his image and that of Zeno.  He also maintained the Roman institutions, such as the consulship.

Odoacer solidus struck in the name of Emperor Zeno, testifying to the formal submission of Odoacer to Zeno.

Zeno did suggest that Odoacer should receive Nepos back as Emperor in the West, “if he truly wished to act with justice,” but Odoacer never returned any territory or real power to Nepos.  Nepos remained in Dalmatia until his death.

OSTROGOTHIC KINGDOM

rose from the ruins of the Western Roman Empire
OSTROGOTHIC KINGDOM

Concerned with Odoacer’s success and popularity, Zeno started a campaign against him.  In 488, Zeno authorized another troublesome Ostrogoth, Theoderic (later known as “the Great”) to take Italy from Odoacer. After several indecisive campaigns, in 493 Theoderic and Odoacer agreed to rule jointly. They celebrated their agreement with a banquet of reconciliation, at which Theoderic’s men murdered Odoacer’s, and Theoderic personally cut Odoacer in half. The Ostrogoths then founded their own independent Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy under the rule of king Theodoric

Roman Senate – The largely powerless but still influential Western Roman Senate continued to exist in the city of Rome under the rule of the Ostrogothic kingdom and, later for at least another century, before disappearing in the early 7th century.

Articles in this series include the following:

Christology of the persecuted church – first 300 years
Council of Nicaea – A.D. 325 
The Nicene Creed Interpreted 
Fourth Century Arianism 

What did Arianism believe in the fourth century?
Long Lines Creed – one of the creeds during the Arian period
Death of Arianism – Emperor Theodosius
Fall of the Western Roman EmpireCurrent Article

The massacres of the Waldensians – Middle Ages

The Vile Person of Daniel 11: Antiochus IV or an end-time Antichrist?

SUMMARY

INTRODUCTION

Daniel the prophet, according to the book of Daniel, lived in the sixth century B.C.  That was before the kingdoms of Greece and Mede-Persia existed.  But Daniel 11 and 8 mention these kingdoms by name.  Critical scholars do not accept that God knows the future.  They do not accept that these accurate descriptions of historical events could have been written in the sixth century BC, as the book itself claims.  They, rather, propose that the book of Daniel was written by an unknown writer after these kingdoms already came into existence.  In their view, the prophecies of Daniel are history written in the form of prophecy.

The main character in Daniel 11 is described as a “vile person.”  Interpreters generally agree that this is the same as the evil horn-king of Daniel 7 and 8:

Later prophecies elaborate on the earlier prophecies. 

Both the horn and the vile person persecute God’s people for a period of 3½ times, profane the temple by setting up the abomination (grotesque sin) and removing the regular sacrifice, use deceit and magnify themselves.

Daniel 11Antiochus IV was a Greek king who reigned in the middle of the second century BC.  He fits the sequence of kings and the activities of the “vile person” of Daniel 11 fairly well.  Critic scholars, therefore, propose that the book of Daniel was written in his time and that Antiochus IV was the “vile person.”  Critics transfer this interpretation to Daniel 7 and 8 and then also interpret the evil horn-king in these chapters as Antiochus IV.

JESUS CHRIST IN DANIEL 11

Interpreters generally agree on the interpretation of the first 13 verses of Daniel 11.  The chapter opens with a description of individual Persians kings.  It then moves to the Greek Empire. 

Interpreters also generally agree that verses 14 to 19 describe Antiochus III; one of the Greek kings and predecessor of Antiochus IV.

Verse 22 is a key verse.  It says that the Vile Person will:

Flood away the “overflowing forces“ and
Shatter the prince of the covenant.

There are strong word links between this verse and Daniel 9:24-27:

– The words “flood” and nagid (prince) are unique to these two passages.
– Only in these passages is “covenant” linked to a nagid-prince and is the nagid-prince cut off. 

On the basis of these word links, this article proposes:

– That the Prince of the covenant is Jesus Christ;
– That “shatter” refers to His death on the Cross.
– That the flood is the Roman Empire.

Since the events in Daniel 11 are given in chronological sequence, and since the abomination (11:31) and the persecution of God’s people (11:32-34) are described after verse 22, these must then occur in time after Christ’s death.  Verse 22, therefore, does not describe Antiochus IV.

OBJECTIONS

One possible objection to this interpretation is that Daniel 11 provides much more detail about Antiochus III (vv. 15-19); the father and predecessor of Antiochus IV, than about any previous king.  Critics argue that Daniel 11 emphasizes Antiochus III to identify the next king (the vile person) as his son Antiochus IV. 

In response, the current article points out that, once the prophecy reaches a key turning point in history, it jumps over the remaining kings of that empire to the next empire.  The wars of Antiochus III were a key turning point in history.  At that point, the prophecy jumps over the remaining Greek rulers to the Roman Empire, represented by the symbol of the vile person.  Therefore, Daniel 11 emphasizes Antiochus III because his reign was a turning point in history; not to identify the next king.

NO ROMAN EMPIRE

A second possible objection is that Daniel 11 does not mention the Roman Empire.  Daniel 11 continues, without an intervening empire, from Antiochus III to the vile person.  To this objection, we respond by showing that the symbol of the vile person in Daniel 11 and the evil horn in Daniel 8 include both the Roman Empire and the anti-God power that arose from it.

ANTIOCHUS FITS

A third possible objection is that Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings in Daniel 11 as well as the actions of the “vile person.”  This is true, but, on the other hand, the description of the “vile person” exceeds Antiochus IV.  There is much in the prophecy that does not fit Antiochus IV.  Antiochus IV is only a partial fulfillment of the anti-God successor.  He is a type of the ultimate fulfillment of the final and much larger worldwide anti-God ruler that will arise after the time of the Roman Empire.

These concepts will now be discussed in more detail.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Daniel 11 is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible.  The conservative interpretation, as defended on this website, is not based on Daniel 11, but on the earlier and easier to understand chapters.  The current article attempts to explain Daniel 11 from a conservative perspective.

INTRODUCTION

HISTORY WRITTEN AS PROPHECY

Daniel 8 mentions the kingdoms of Greece and Mede-Persia by name.  The first verses of Daniel 11 also clearly describe these kingdoms.  But Critics (critical scholars) do not accept that God knows the future.  They do not accept that these accurate descriptions of historical events could have been written in the sixth century BC, as the book itself claims.  They propose that Daniel was written after these kingdoms already rose to power.  In other words, in their view, the prophecies of Daniel are history written by an unknown writer in the form of prophecy.

THE VILE PERSON IS THE SMALL HORN OF DANIEL 8.

The KJV describes the main character in Daniel 11 as a “vile person” (11:21).  Interpreters generally agree that this “vile person” is the same as the horn of Daniel 8 and Daniel 7, argued as follows:

(1) As already stated, the later prophecies in Daniel elaborate on the earlier prophecies.  Based on this principle, chapter 11, even though it does not have beasts and horns representing kingdoms, but rather a series of selected individual kings who ruled those kingdoms, still refers to the same kingdoms.

(2) Both the horn and the vile person:
. . Persecute God’s people (7:25; 11:32-34);
. . For a period of 3½ times (7:25; 12:7); (See note **)
. . Profane the temple (11:31; 8:11) (See ***)
. . Set up “the abomination” (11:31; 8:13); (See ****).
. . Remove the continual sacrifice (the tamid) (8:11; 11:31);
. . Use deceit (8:25; 11:21-24); and
. . Magnify himself” (8:11; 11:36-37).

NOTE ** PERSECUTION

The persecution by the vile person is described in 11:32-34, but when Daniel asks in 12:6, “How long shall it be?”, the response came, “it would be for a time, two times, and half a time; and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be accomplished” (12:7).  In other words, the holy people will be persecuted for the prophetic period of “a time, two times, and half a time;” equal to 3½ times.  Since this question and answer come at the end of the prophecy of Daniel 11·12, it refers to the previously mentioned persecution, which is the persecution in 11:32-34.

The 3½ times of Daniel 12:7 is also mentioned in

Daniel 7:25 also mentions the “time, times, and half a time” as a period of persecution of the saints of the Most High by the little horn-king.

NOTE *** PROFANE THE TEMPLE

The vile person profanes the strong temple (11:31), which is equivalent to the casting down of the place of the temple by the horn in 8:11.

NOTE **** ABOMINATION

An abomination is a sin.  In Deuteronomy 7:25 “graven images of their gods” are called “an abomination to the LORD your God.`”  Both 11:31 and 8:11-12 mentions the “abomination” in connection with the “regular sacrifice” (the tamid).  Daniel 11, therefore, covers the same ground as Daniel 8 and provides additional detail.

THE VILE PERSON IS ANTIOCHUS IV.

After the death of Alexander the Great, his Greek kingdom was divided into four empires.  One of these was the Seleucids of the Middle East.  Antiochus IV was one of the kings in this kingdom.  He reigned in the middle of the second century BC.  He fits the sequence of kings and the activities of the “vile person” of Daniel 11 fairly well.  But the events described in the last part of Daniel 11 do not fit known history.  For these reasons, Critics propose that:

(A) The book of Daniel was written in the time of Antiochus IV;
(B) The book of Daniel was written in response to the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV;
(C) The evil king in Daniel is Antiochus IV, and
(D) The events described later in Daniel 11, that do not fit history, are the guesswork of the uninspired writer of Daniel.

Critics transfer this interpretation to Daniel 7 and 8, and interpret the evil horn-king in these chapters also as Antiochus IV.  This is called the Maccabean thesis.  As one Critical scholar wrote:

Daniel was written during the period of the Maccabees, in the middle of the 2nd century B.C., or about 400 years after the events it describes.  Its origin is betrayed in chapter 11, when Daniel supposedly prophesies about the future.

Conservatives, on the other hand, base their interpretation of Daniel mostly on Daniel 2, 7 and 8, but often find it difficult to explain Daniel 11.

PROPOSED INTERPRETATION

Critics do not accept that the future can be known. They believe that the evil king in Daniel 11 was the Greek king Antiochus IV. The current article defends the conservative interpretation of Daniel 11.There are no animals in Daniel 11.  The prophecy names the Persian kingdom (11:2), but none of the later kingdoms or kings are named.  Instead, the titles “king of the south” and “king of the north” are used to describe entire kingdoms, each consisting of a series of kings.  The reader of Daniel 11 has to identify the individual kings by comparing the events described in the prophecy with actual history.

Interpreters generally agree on the interpretation of Daniel 11:1-13:

PERSIAN KINGS

The chapter opens with a description of individual Persians kings, concluding with Xerxes, who attacked Greece (11:2).  By virtue of his failed attack on the Greeks, he brought the Greek nation onto the ‘world’ scene.

GREEK KINGS

King of the NorthThe prophecy then jumps over the next 150 years of Persian rule to the first Greek king—the “mighty king” (Alexander the Great) (11:3).  His kingdom was divided into four after his death (11:4).  Verses 5 to 13 describe key events in the history of two of the four divisions, namely those divisions that were threats to Judea.  To the north of Judea was the “king of the north;” the Seleucid kings of the Middle East.  To the south was the “king of the south,” namely the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt.  The actions of the Ptolemies and Seleucids, as described in these verses, are fairly consistent with what we know today as their history.

ANTIOCHUS III

Verse 14 refers to the “breakers of your people.”  Here interpretations start to diverge.  But interpreters generally agree that verses 14 to 19 describe Antiochus III.  To quote a Critical Scholar:

Daniel 11:2-20 is a very accurate & historically corroborated sequence of events from the third year (10:1) of the Persian era up to the predecessor of Antiochus IV: some 366 years!  Only the names and dates are missing.  Most of the details are about the conflicts between the kings of the South (the Ptolemies of Egypt) and the kings of the North (the Seleucids of Mesopotamia/ Syria).  The Seleucids are shown to become stronger and stronger (despite some setbacks) …  Of course, Jerusalem was in the middle and changed hand (197, from Egypt to Syria).

PRINCE OF THE COVENANT

Verse 22 is a key verse.  The following is a fairly literal translation of it:

The arms of the flood are overflowed from before him, and are broken; and also the leader (nagid; prince – NASB) of the covenant (YLT)

The text pictures inferior forces (“the arms of the flood“) being defeated by the superior forces of the “vile person” (v21). The lesser flood is flooded by an even greater flood of arms.  The prince of the covenant is also broken.  In other words, it says that the vile person will:

(a) Flood away the “overflowing forces“ and
(b) Shatter the prince of the covenant.

The current article proposes that the prince of the covenant is Jesus Christ and that “broken” refers to His death on the Cross.  This conclusion is based on the word links between 11:22 and the prophecy of Christ’s death in Daniel 9:24-27.

WORD LINKS

The word “flood,” as a noun, occurs only twice in Daniel—in 9:26 (“Its end shall come with the flood, and to the end there shall be war“) and in 11:22.

The word ‘sar’ (translated “prince”) occurs 11 times in Daniel (8:11, 25; 9:6, 8; 10:13, 20 [twice], 21; 11:5; 12:1).  But the word ‘nagid’, which is also translated “prince,” occurs only in 11:22 and in 9:24-27. In 9:24-27 we find the nagid in the phrases “Messiah the Prince” and “the prince who is to come.”  This implies that “the prince of the covenant” (11:22) is the “Messiah the Prince” (9:25), describing Christ when He was on earth.

In both 9:24-27 and 11:22 the nagid-prince will be destroyed.  He is “cut off” (9:26) and ”broken” (11:22).

The word “covenant” is found in both passages.  “Covenant” also occurs elsewhere in Daniel, but only in these two passages is a prince connected with the covenant.  Consequently, only the nagid-prince is connected with the covenant.  In 9:26-27 the nagid-prince makes strong the covenant for one week. (See Covenant in Daniel 9:27.)  In 11:22, the nagid-prince of the covenant is broken.  Elsewhere in Daniel, “covenant” always refers to the covenant between God and His people (9:4; 11:28, 30, 32).  This implies that the covenant in 11:22 also refers to God’s covenant with Israel.

CONCLUSION

On the basis of these word links, this article concludes as follows:

1. The nagid-prince in the two passages refers to the same individual, namely that the Prince of the Covenant is Jesus Christ.
2. The shatterring of the prince of the covenant in 11:22 refers to His death.
3. The flood that floods away the “overflowing forces“ in 11:22 is the same as the flood that destroys the city and the sanctuary in 9:26.  Both are the Roman Empire.

Since the events in Daniel 11 are given in chronological sequence, and since the abomination (11:31) and the persecution of God’s people (11:32-34) are described after verse 22, the abomination and persecution must occur after Christ’s death in the first century AD.  These events therefore occur during or after the end of the Roman Empire, and cannot refer to Antiochus IV.

Jesus confirmed this when He put the abomination in the future:

Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet (Daniel 11:31 and 12:11), standing in the holy place“ (Mat 24:15)

Jesus, therefore, also interpreted the “vile person” as an anti-God ruler that will arise after His time; not as the Greek king Antiochus IV who died about 200 years earlier.

PROPHECIES COMPARED

With this conclusion, and with the assistance of the previous articles in this series, we are now able to compare Daniel 11 with the earlier prophecies:

DANIEL 11 DANIEL 9 DANIEL 8 DANIEL 7
Persian kings (v2) Persian decree (v25) Ram (v2-4) Bear (v5)
Greek king (v3) Goat (v5-7) Leopard (v6a)
Kings of North and South Goat’s four horns (v8) Leopard’s four heads
Roman flood breaks Nagid of the covenant (v22) Nagid cut off (v 25-27) Horizontal expansion (8:9) Fourth beast (v8, 23)
Vile person: profanes temple, sets up abomination (v31), persecutes for 3½ times (v32-34; 12:7) Little horn: casts temple down, removes daily, transgression of desolation (v8-13) Little horn: persecutes God’s people for 3½ limes; (v25)

POSSIBLE OBJECTIONS

This section responds to possible objections to the interpretation proposed above.

EMPHASIS ON ANTIOCHUS III 

One possible objection against this interpretation is that Daniel 11 provides much more detail about Antiochus III (vv. 15-19); the father and predecessor of Antiochus IV, than about any previous king.  Critical scholars argue that this is to identify the next king (the vile person) as his son Antiochus IV.  

This article gives a different explanation as to why the prophecy emphasizes Antiochus III:

The reign of the fourth Persian king (Xerxes) was also emphasized earlier in verse 2 of Daniel 11, but not to identify the Persian king that would follow after him.  Daniel 11:2 emphasize Xerxes because his unsuccessful wars against Greece was a key turning point in history that shifted the balance of power in the known world from Mede-Persia to Greece.  After Xerxes was mentioned in verse 2, the prophecy immediately jumps over the next 150 years during which seven Persian kings reigned (Arlaxerxes I, Darius II, Xerxes II, Artaxerxes II, Artaxerxes Ill, Arses, and Darius III), to the first Greek emperor; Alexander the Great (11:3).

We then note that Antiochus III’s unsuccessful war against the Romans, as described in Daniel 11, was similarly a key turning point in history.  It shifted the balance of power from the Greek Empire to Rome.  As a result, Antiochus and his sons had to pay penalties to the Romans and their empire was left subject to the growing dominance of Rome.

KEY TURNING POINT

Both the reigns of Xerxes and Antiochus III were therefore key turning points in history that shifted the balance of power to the next empire.  Daniel 11 emphasizes Xerxes and Antiochus III for this reason; not to identify the kings that follow them.

JUMPS OVER THE NEXT KINGS

In the case of Xerxes, once the key turning point has been reached, that the prophecy jumps over the next 150 years of Persian rule to the next empire.  This principle applies equally to the shift from the Greek to the Roman empires.  After Antiochus III’s unsuccessful war against Rome, the prophecy jumps over the next 170 years, during which several Greek kings reigned, to the next empire (Rome).  Read in this way, Daniel 11:19 is a description of the death of Antiochus III, while 11:22 describes the death of Christ 200 years later.

This principle is also noted when Daniel 7 and 8 are compared.  The vision in Daniel 7 mentions Babylon, but the vision in Daniel 8, which was received only two years later (compare 7:1 and 8:1) does not.  The reason is that the key turning point, that shifted the balance of world power from Babylon to Mede-Persia, was reached between these two dates.  This was the war between the Medes and the Persians, which resulted in the prophesied Cyrus becoming supreme ruler of both the Medes and the Persians.  The prophecy, therefore, jumps over the remaining Babylonian kings.

CONCLUSION

The prophecy emphasizes Antiochus III because his reign was a turning point in history; not to identify the next king.

NO ROMAN EMPIRE

A second possible objection is that the Roman Empire is not mentioned in Daniel 11.  Daniel 11 continues, without an intervening empire, from Antiochus III to the vile person.

We respond to this objection in the same way as to the same question in Daniel 8, namely that the evil horn-king of Daniel 8 represents both the Roman Empire and the evil horn that arises from it.  The same principle applies to Daniel 11: The symbol of the “vile person” includes both the Roman Empire, symbolized by the flood (11:22), and anti-God power that arose from it.  To elaborate:

Daniel 7 describes a fourth empire, followed by a horn-king that seeks to exterminate God’s people and God’s message.  But, even in Daniel 7, the emphasis is on this anti-God ruler.  Daniel 7 describes the fourth empire in only two verses but allows 6 verses for the evil horn.

Daniel 8 does not mention the Roman Empire directly.  Political Rome is mentioned only indirectly in the initial horizontal expansion of the little horn (8:9).  The religious phase is represented by the subsequent vertical growth of the horn.  Daniel 8 uses the horn-king for both the Roman Empire and worldwide anti-God ruler.  Almost all the attention in Daniel 8 is on the religious phase.

Daniel 11 continues this pattern by representing both the Roman Empire and the anti-God ruler as a single symbol; the “despicable person” (NASB).  Political Rome is seen only as the flood that flows away both the “overflowing forces” and the “prince of the covenant” (11:22).  By far most of the descriptions in Daniel 11 are about the anti-God king that comes out of the Roman Empire.

As mentioned before, the sole purpose of these prophecies, including the descriptions of the first four kingdoms, is to identify the anti-God king that will come out of the Roman Empire.  Moving from Daniel 2 to 7 to 8 to 11, the emphasis on the political powers progressively reduces, while the emphasis on this anti-God power keeps increasing.

ANTIOCHUS IV FITS.

A third possible objection is that Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings in Daniel 11.  Studies by the current author (comparing Daniel 11 to the history of the Seleucids kings as it is available on the internet) have confirmed the majority interpretation up to 11:19, where Antiochus III dies.  The description of the vile person starts in 11:21. Therefore, if 11:20 describes Seleucus IV (and not Heliodorus), then Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings.

Critics also correctly argue that the descriptions of the “vile person” in the verses after 11:21 fits the actions of Antiochus IV.  These include his double invasion of Egypt (compare 11:25, 29), and the persecution of God’s people.

For Critics, these are conclusive evidence that the vile person is Antiochus IV, and not the Roman Empire or some later ruler.

It is true that Antiochus fits the description, but, on the other hand, the description of the “vile personexceeds Antiochus IV.  For instance, Antiochus never gained authority or ruled through deceit (v21).  He did not distribute the plunder (v24).  He did not magnify himself above every god or not had regard for the god of his fathers, nor for any god (v36-37).  And, as all agree, the events of the “time of the end” (v40-45) do not fit history at all.  As Desmond Ford noted:

Verses 21-35 fit his (Antiochus’s) time perfectly, but let it be noted that this interpretation by no means exhausts the passage (p 144; Daniel and the coming King).

For more detail, see Does Antiochus IV fit the profile?

ANTIOCHUS IV IS A TYPE.

Daniel 11 may, therefore, be understood as two stories intertwined:  The first story starts with Persia and continues until and including Antiochus IV.  But while discussing Antiochus IV it jumps to the second story, which is of a future and worldwide evil king.  This story continues until Michael stands up (12:1-3).

We see the same double meaning in Joel, where the prophet describes a local locust plague but unexpectedly jumps to the Day of the Lord.  Isaiah 14 similarly jumps from the king of Babylon to Lucifer, without interruption (14:4, 12) and Ezekiel 28 moves from the king of Tyre (v12) to an “anointed cherub who covers” (v14).  It is also similar to Matthew 24, where Jesus combined the description of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the end of the world into a single story.  As another example of this principle, John the Baptist was a first representation of the Elijah to come.

We then conclude as follows:

The “vile person” is a symbol, and not a literal person, just like the little horn in Daniel 7 and 8 is not a literal horn.  The “vile person” symbolizes both the Roman Empire and its anti-God successor.

Antiochus IV is only a partial fulfillment of the anti-God successor.  He is a type of the ultimate fulfillment of the final and much larger worldwide anti-God ruler that will arise from the Roman Empire.

WHY INCLUDE ANTIOCHUS IV?

Why did God include the reign of Antiochus IV in Daniel 11?  It takes a long time for a prophecy to become accepted in a community.  Daniel was also not a prophet in the normal sense of the word, and he was told, “as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time” (12:4).  Perhaps God’s purpose, for including references to Antiochus IV, was that the Jews would see these events (partially) fulfilled in his reign so that they would accept the book of Daniel as inspired and expect the coming of the Messiah as predicted in Daniel 9.

For a more specific identification of the evil horn-king, please read the article on The Seven Headed Beast in Revelation.

GOD IS IN CONTROL.

This article, therefore, supports the view that the book of Daniel was written before the time of Antiochus IV, and that the prophecies are real predictions of future events.  God is in control of history:

There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days” (2:28).

The Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes” (5:21).

NEXT:  Antiochus Does Not Fit the Description: In support of the current article, this article shows that Antiochus IV does not fit the specific characteristics of Daniel’s evil king.  A summary of this article is also available.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

The metal man of Daniel 2 
The four beasts of Daniel 7 
Three interpretations of the little horn
Compare Daniel 7 and 8 to identify the fourth kingdom.
Daniel 8: The evil horn does not come out of a Greek horn.
Daniel 11’s Vile Person: Antiochus or Antichrist?  Current article
Does Antiochus IV fit the profile of Daniel’s Evil King? Next

 

The evil horn comes “out of one of them;” the four wind directions.

SUMMARY

The previous article showed that the fourth beast of Daniel 7 must be the Roman Empire.  To do this, it compared the animals in Daniel 7 to the animals in Daniel 8.  The small horn in Daniel 7, therefore, grows out of the Roman Empire.  In Daniel 8 the small horn comes “out of one of them.”  Hebrew nouns and pronouns have genders which require agreement.  An analysis of the genders in Daniel 8 shows that the small horn comes out of one of the winds (compass directions) of the heavens.  It, therefore, did not come from one of the Greek horns.

Daniel 8 does not symbolize the Roman Empire with a separate beast.  However, Daniel 7 presents the little horn not as a new entity, but as a continuation of the beast.  The small horn in Daniel 8, therefore, includes both the terrible beast of Daniel 7 and its evil horn.  Evidence for this is the two phases of the horn.  It first grows horizontally (politically) and then vertically (against God).

PURPOSE

The previous article compared the animals in Daniel 7 to the animals in Daniel 8 and showed that the fourth beast of Daniel 7 must be the Roman Empire.  It, therefore, follows that the small horn in Daniel 7 grows out of that empire.  Furthermore, in the first article on Daniel 8, it was argued that the evil horn of Daniel 8 is the same as the evil horn of Daniel 7.  This means that the evil horn of Daniel 8 also comes out of the Roman Empire.

Daniel 8:8-9 reads as follows:

8 The male goat magnified himself exceedingly.
But as soon as he was mighty,
the large horn was broken;
and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns
toward the four winds of heaven.
9 Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn
which grew exceedingly great toward the south,

toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land. (NASB)

The male goat is “the kingdom of Greece” (8:21). The four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms that will arise from his nation (8:22).  The words “out of one of them” seem to indicate that the small horn comes out of one of these four Greek horns, and must, therefore, be a Greek king, such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  The purpose of this article is to show that this is not the case.

GENDERS

In Hebrew, nouns and pronouns have genders which require agreement.  In the English translation, this information is lost, but the Hebrew genders allow one to identify the “one of them,” and therefore to determine whether the evil horn is Greek or not.

The last phrase in 8:8, together with the beginning of 8:9, with the relevant words marked (f) for feminine or (m) for masculine, reads as follows:

8 … the large horn was broken;
and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns
toward the four (f) winds (f) of heaven (m).
9 Out of one (f) of them (m) came forth a rather small horn

To understand where the little horn comes from, we need to identify the antecedents of the “one” and “them.” (An antecedent is a previously mentioned noun to which something refers.)

THEM

Them” is plural, and can, therefore, refer to the “horns” or the “winds.”  It can also refer to the “heaven,” for, in Hebrew, “heaven” is always plural (heavens).  But “them” is also masculine, while the Hebrew word for “horn” is always feminine, and the word for “winds” is written in 8:8 as a feminine form. “Them” can therefore only refer to the “heaven.”

ONE

The numeral “one” is feminine in form.  Since “them” is masculine, the “one” does not have the same antecedent as “them.”  In other words, the “one” in the statement “one of them,” does not refer to “one” of the heavens.

Since “one” is feminine in form, it can either refer to one of the horns or to one of the winds.  (The word “winds” means the four directions of the compass.)

OUT OF ONE OF THEM

Putting the above together, the phrase “out of one of them” can therefore either mean:

1. Out of one of the horns of the heavens, or
2. Out of one of the winds (compass directions) of the heavens

The first option is not acceptable because:

(a) Heavens do not have horns, and
(b) Nowhere in Daniel do horns come out of horns.

The only valid option is that the small horn came out of one of the winds (directions) of the heavens.  This conclusion is supported by the fact that “the four winds of heaven” is the final phrase in verse 8.  The first phrase of verse 9, therefore, lines up as follows with the last phrase of verse 8:

  Feminine Masculine  
8:8 there came up four horns toward the four winds of the heavens
8:9 from the one from them came forth a small horn

CONCLUSION

Verse 8 states that four horns appeared in the place of the great horn that was broken.  They extended “toward the four winds of the heavens” (8:8).  Verse 9 begins by saying that the little horn came from one of these four winds of the heavens, that is, from one of the four directions of the compass.  It therefore did not come from one of the Greek horns and is therefore not necessarily Greek in origin.

WHERE IS ROME?

But are we able to show that the horn came out of the Roman Empire?  Where is the Roman Empire in Daniel 8?  Daniel 8 does not seem to describe another empire between the Greek Empire and the evil horn.

THE HORN IS THE BEAST.

Firstly, one needs to understand that Daniel 7 presents the little horn as a continuation of the beast; not as a new entity.  The beast remains alive as long as the horn is alive:

Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. (7:11)

Therefore, when we see the horn in Daniel 8, we actually see the beast from which this horn grows.

TWO PHASES

Secondly, Daniel 8 does allow for political Rome, for the horn in Daniel 8 has two phases of growth.  It first grows horizontally:

a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land (8:9).

Then it grows vertically:

It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down (8:10).

The horn does not literally grow up to the stars.  The stars are symbols of God’s people, and the trampling of the stars is the same as the persecution of God’s people described by Daniel 7 (7:21, 25).  The text continues:

It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down

The Commander of the host is God—“Him who lives forever” (12:7).

The horizontal expansion of the horn is its political phase and parallels the fourth beast of Daniel 7 when it “devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it” (7:8, 23).

The vertical expansion is the horn’s religious phase, parallel to the evil horn of Daniel 7.

Daniel 8, therefore, merges the beast and its prominent horn into a single symbol—the horn.

INCREASING FOCUS ON THE EVIL ONE

Daniel 2 describes the full period from the time of Daniel to the Return of Christ but does not mention any anti-God activities.

Daniel 7, for the first time, reveals the evil entity.  In fact, the evil entity is the main character in that prophecy.  It divides the fourth empire into a political phase, described in only two verses (7:7, 19), and a subsequent phase during which an anti-God power will reign, described in about six verses.

Daniel 8 does not mention the first (Babylonian) or the last (eternal) kingdoms, and includes both phases of the terrible beast under the symbolism an evil horn.  In other words, this anti-God power is more important than the political power from which it came.  In fact, the only reason that the prophecies mention the political empires is to enable us to identify the evil anti-God power.

We, therefore, see in Daniel an increasing focus on the evil one.  For that reason, in Daniel 8, the beast itself is subsumed under the symbolism of the horn.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

The metal man of Daniel 2 
The four beasts of Daniel 7 
Three interpretations of the little horn
Compare Daniel 7 and 8 to identify the fourth kingdom.
Daniel 8: The evil horn is not Greek. Current article
Daniel 11’s Vile Person: Antiochus or Antichrist?  NEXT
Does Antiochus IV fit the profile of Daniel’s Evil King?