Battle of Adrianople

Battle of Adrianople

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The Battle of Adrianople (August 9, 378), sometimes known as the Battle of Hadrianopolis, was fought between a Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 army led by the Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

 Valens
Valens
Valens was the Eastern Roman Emperor from 364 to 378. He was given the eastern half of the empire by his brother Valentinian I after the latter's accession to the throne...

 and Gothic
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

 rebels (largely Thervings as well as Greutungs, non-Gothic Alans
Alans
The Alans, or the Alani, occasionally termed Alauni or Halani, were a group of Sarmatian tribes, nomadic pastoralists of the 1st millennium AD who spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.-Name:The various forms of Alan —...

, and various local rebels) led by Fritigern
Fritigern
Fritigern or Fritigernus was a Tervingian Gothic chieftain whose decisive victory at Adrinaople the Gothic War extracted favourable terms for the Goths when peace was made with Gratian in 382.-War against Athanaric:...

. The battle took place about 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of Adrianople
Edirne
Edirne is a city in Eastern Thrace, the northwestern part of Turkey, close to the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. Edirne served as the capital city of the Ottoman Empire from 1365 to 1453, before Constantinople became the empire's new capital. At present, Edirne is the capital of the Edirne...

 (modern Edirne
Edirne
Edirne is a city in Eastern Thrace, the northwestern part of Turkey, close to the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. Edirne served as the capital city of the Ottoman Empire from 1365 to 1453, before Constantinople became the empire's new capital. At present, Edirne is the capital of the Edirne...

 in European Turkey, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria) in the Roman province of Thracia
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

 and ended with an overwhelming victory for the Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

.

Part of the Gothic War (376–382), the battle is often considered the start of the final collapse
Decline of the Roman Empire
The decline of the Roman Empire refers to the gradual societal collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Many theories of causality prevail, but most concern the disintegration of political, economic, military, and other social institutions, in tandem with foreign invasions and usurpers from within the...

 of the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 in the 5th century. Adrianople actually was fought between the Goths and the Eastern Roman Empire, which ultimately withstood the Gothic invasions and developed into the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

.

Background


In 376 AD, displaced by the invasions of the Huns
Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

, the Goths
Goths
The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

, led by Alavivus and Fritigern, asked to be allowed to settle in the Roman Empire. Hoping that they would become farmers and soldiers, the emperor Valens
Valens
Valens was the Eastern Roman Emperor from 364 to 378. He was given the eastern half of the empire by his brother Valentinian I after the latter's accession to the throne...

 allowed them to establish themselves in the Empire as allies (foederati
Foederati
Foederatus is a Latin term whose definition and usage drifted in the time between the early Roman Republic and the end of the Western Roman Empire...

). However, once across the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 (and in Roman territory), the dishonesty of the provincial commanders Lupinicus and Maximus led the newcomers to revolt after suffering many hardships. Valens (of the Eastern Empire) then asked Gratian
Gratian
Gratian was Roman Emperor from 375 to 383.The eldest son of Valentinian I, during his youth Gratian accompanied his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian's brother Valentinian II was declared emperor by his father's soldiers...

, the western emperor, for reinforcements to fight the Goths. Gratian sent the general Frigeridus
Frigeridus
Frigeridus may refer to:*Frigeridus, Roman general, commander of the army of Pannonia Valeria under Gratian, fought in the Battle of the Willows .*Renatus Profuturus Frigeridus, fifth century historian...

 with reinforcements, as well as the leader of his guards, Richomeres
Richomeres
Flavius Richomeres was a Frank who lived in the late 4th century. He took service in the Roman army and made a career as comes, magister militum, and consul. He was married to Ascyla, with whom he had a son Theudemeres, who became king of the Franks...

. For the next two years preceding the battle of Adrianople there were a series of running battles with no clear victories for either side.

In 378, Valens decided to take control himself. Valens would bring more troops from Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

 and Gratian would bring more troops from Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

.

Valens left Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

 for Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, and arrived on the 30th of May. He appointed Sebastianus
Sebastianus
Sebastianus , a brother of Jovinus, was an aristocrat of southern Gaul. After Jovinus usurped in Gaul the throne of the western Roman Emperor Honorius in 411, he named Sebastianus as Augustus in 412...

, newly arrived from Italy, to reorganize the Roman armies already in Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

. Sebastianus picked 2,000 of his legionaries and marched towards Adrianople. They ambushed some small Gothic detachments. Fritigern assembled the Gothic forces at Nicopolis
Nicopolis
Nicopolis — or Actia Nicopolis — was an ancient city of Epirus, founded 31 BC by Octavian in memory of his victory over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium the previous year. It was later the capital of Epirus Vetus...

 and Beroe to deal with this Roman threat.

Gratian had sent much of his army to Pannonia
Pannonia
Pannonia was an ancient province of the Roman Empire bounded north and east by the Danube, coterminous westward with Noricum and upper Italy, and southward with Dalmatia and upper Moesia....

 when the Lentienses
Lentienses
The Lentienses were an Germanic tribe in the region between the river Danube in the North, the river Iller in the East, and Lake Constance in the South, in what is now south Germany. They were reported to be one of the most rebellious tribes at the time...

 (part of the Alamanni
Alamanni
The Alamanni, Allemanni, or Alemanni were originally an alliance of Germanic tribes located around the upper Rhine river . One of the earliest references to them is the cognomen Alamannicus assumed by Roman Emperor Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211 to 217 and claimed thereby to be...

) attacked across the Rhine. Gratian recalled his army and defeated the Lentienses near Argentaria (near modern-day Colmar
Colmar
Colmar is a commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Alsace in north-eastern France.It is the capital of the department. Colmar is also the seat of the highest jurisdiction in Alsace, the appellate court....

, France.) After this campaign, Gratian, with part of his field army, went east by boat; the rest of his field army went east overland. The former group arrived at Sirmium
Sirmium
Sirmium was a city in ancient Roman Pannonia. Firstly mentioned in the 4th century BC and originally inhabited by the Illyrians and Celts, it was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC and subsequently became the capital of the Roman province of Lower Pannonia. In 294 AD, Sirmium was...

 in Pannonia and at the Camp of Mars (a fort near the Iron Gates), 400 kilometers from Adrianople, where some Alans attacked them. Gratian's group withdrew to Pannonia shortly thereafter.

After learning of Sebastian's success against the Goths, and of Gratian's victory over the Alamanni, Valens was more than ready for a victory of his own. He brought his army from Melanthias to Adrianople, where he met with Sebastian's force. On August 6, reconnaissance informed Valens that about 10,000 Goths were marching towards Adrianople from the north, about 25 kilometers away. Despite the difficult ground, Valens reached Adrianople where the Roman army fortified its camp with ditch and rampart.

Richomeres, sent by Gratian, carried a letter asking Valens to wait for the arrival of reinforcements from Gratian before engaging in battle. Valens' officers also recommended that he wait for Gratian, but Valens decided to fight without waiting, ready to claim the ultimate prize.

The Goths were also watching the Romans, and on August 8, Fritigern sent an emissary to propose a peace and an alliance in exchange for some Roman territory. Sure that he would be victorious due to his supposed numerical superiority, Valens rejected these proposals. However, his estimates did not take into consideration a part of the Gothic cavalry that had gone to forage further away.

Composition of the Roman troops



Valens' army may have included troops from any of three Roman field armies: the Army of Thrace, based in the eastern Balkans, but which may have sustained heavy losses in 376–377, the 1st Army in the Emperor's Presence, and the 2nd Army in the Emperor's Presence, both based at Constantinople in peacetime but committed to the Persian frontier in 376 and sent west in 377–378.

Valens' army was composed of veterans and men accustomed to war. It comprised seven legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

s — among which were the Legio I Maximiana
Legio I Maximiana
The Legio I Maximiana was a comitatensis Roman legion, probably created in the year 296 or 297 by the Emperor Diocletian....

 and imperial auxiliaries — of 700 to 1000 men each. The cavalry was composed of mounted archers (sagittarii) and Scholae
Scholae Palatinae
The Scholae Palatinae , were an elite military guard unit, usually ascribed to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great as a replacement for the equites singulares Augusti, the cavalry arm of the Praetorian Guard...

(the imperial guard). However, these did not represent the strong point of the army and would flee on the arrival of the Gothic cavalry. There were also squadrons of Arab cavalry, but they were more suited to skirmishes than to pitched battle.
Ammianus Marcellinus makes references to the following forces under Valens:
  • Battalions of Lanciarii, and Mattiarii, the latter being apparently allied forces. However, mattiarii may refer to mace-armed infantry (mattea being Roman for mace). Valens is referred to as seeking protection with them as the Roman forces collapsed (apparently a sign of how desperate the battle had become). Eventually they were unable to hold off the Goths' superior numbers.
  • A battalion of Batavians; they were apparently held in reserve and fled, given a reference to a comes named Victor attempting to bring them up into battle but unable to find them.
  • Scutarii (shielded cavalry) and archers. As one or both were under the command of Bacurius the Iberian, these may have been allied auxiliary troops from Iberia (modern Georgia
    Georgia (country)
    Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

    ) rather than Roman.


He also refers to the following officers:
  • Ricimer (Richomeres
    Richomeres
    Flavius Richomeres was a Frank who lived in the late 4th century. He took service in the Roman army and made a career as comes, magister militum, and consul. He was married to Ascyla, with whom he had a son Theudemeres, who became king of the Franks...

    ), Frankish Comes
    Comes
    Comes , plural comites , is the Latin word for companion, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus, especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum. The word comes derives from com- "with" +...

    of Gratian's Domestici (the corps of bodyguards of the emperor who were stationed in the imperial palace) sent to assist Valens in 376. He offered to act as a hostage to facilitate negotiations when Equitus refused. He survived the battle, indicated due to retreating.
  • Sebastian, arrived from Italy previously, and clearly operating as one of Valens' generals. Killed in the battle.
  • Victor, master-general of the cavalry, a Sarmatia
    Sarmatia
    Sarmatia or Sarmatian can refer to:* the land of Sarmatians, western Scythia as described by many classical authors, such as Herodotus in the 5th century BC* Sarmatian languages, part of Scythian languages...

    n by birth, who led the officers counselling waiting for Gratian.
  • Equitius, a relation of Valens, a tribune and high steward of the palace. He refused to act as a hostage, as he had been a prisoner of the Goths in Dibaltum and escaped, and now feared revenge. Killed in the battle.
  • Bacurius (presumably Romanised Bakur), a native and possibly prince of Iberia, in command of the archers and/or scutarii with Cassio that accompanied Ricimer as hostage, and who attacked without orders.
  • Traianus
    Traianus (magister peditum)
    Traianus was a Roman general under Emperor Valens with whom he died in the battle of Adrianople.- Life :...

    , apparently in command of Roman forces before Valens assumed command, who was described as an illustrious man whose death in the battle was a great loss. He was supposedly still alive when Valens sought refuge with the Lanciarii and Mattiarii.
  • Victor, the comes
    Comes
    Comes , plural comites , is the Latin word for companion, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus, especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum. The word comes derives from com- "with" +...

    who tried to bring the Batavian reserve battalion into action.
  • Cassio, in command of the archers and/or scutarii accompanying Ricimer as hostage.
  • Saturninus, referred to as being able to stay alive by retreating. Presumably an officer or notable given he is referred to by name.
  • Valerianus, Master of the Horse. Killed in battle.
  • Potentius, tribune of the promoted officers, son of Ursicinus, former commander of the forces. He "fell in the flower of his age, a man respected by all persons of virtue."
  • Thirty five tribunes, with no particular command, who were killed. Presumably there were more than this, but who survived.

Strength of Valens' army


Several modern historians have estimated the strength of Valens' army.

Treadgold estimates that, by 395, the Army of Thrace had 24,500 soldiers, while the 1st and 2nd Armies in Emperor's Presence had 21,000 each. However, all three armies include units either formed (several units of Theodosiani among them) or redeployed (various legions in Thrace) after Adrianople. Moreover, troops were needed to protect Marcianopolis and other threatened cities, so it is unlikely that all three armies fought together.

Order of battle of Valens' army


It is not possible to precisely list the units of the Roman army at Adrianople. The only sources are Ammianus, who describes the battle but mentions few units by name, and the eastern Notitia Dignitatum
Notitia Dignitatum
The Notitia Dignitatum is a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the eastern and western empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial...

, which lists Roman army units in the late 4th to early 5th century, after Theodosius
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

. Many units listed in the Balkans were formed after Adrianople; others were transferred from other parts of the Empire, before or after Adrianople; others are listed in two or more sectors. Some units at Adrianople may have been merged or disbanded due to their losses. The Roman forces consisted of heavy infantry, various archers and cavalry.

Composition of the Gothic forces


The Gothic armies were mostly infantry with some cavalry, however; in the battle of Andrianople the large force of Gothic cavalry was 5,000 strong. Their destruction of Roman troops caused cavalry to be the new dominant fighting force for the next thousand years, taking the place of the previously exalted Roman infantryman.

There were probably two main Gothic armies south of the Danube. Fritigern led one army, largely recruited from the Therving exiles, while Alatheus and Saphrax led another army, largely recruited from the Greuthung exiles.

Fritigern brought most if not all of his fighters to the battle, and appears to have been the force the Romans first encountered. Alatheus and Saphrax brought most of their cavalry, and possibly some of their infantry, to the battlefield late. These infantry were indicated as being an Alan battalion.

Ammianus records that the Roman scouts estimated 10,000 Gothic troops; but Ammianus dismissed this as an underestimate. This appears to be due to Alatheus and Saphrax's forces being away when the Roman scouts estimated the Goth's numbers before battle. Several modern historians have estimated the strength of the Gothic armies at 12,000–15,000.

Course of battle


On the morning of August 9, Valens decamped from Adrianople, where he left the imperial treasury and administration under the guard of the legions. The reconnaissance of the preceding days informed him of the location of the Gothic camp north of the city. Valens arrived there after marching for seven hours over difficult terrain.

At around 14:30, the Roman troops arrived in disorder, facing the Gothic camp that had been set up on the top of a hill. The Goths, except for their cavalry, took position in front of their wagon circle, inside of which were their families and possessions. Fritigern's objective was to delay the Romans, in order to give enough time for the Gothic cavalry to return. The fields were burnt by the Goths to delay and harass the Romans with smoke, and negotiations began for an exchange of hostages. The negotiations exasperated the Roman soldiers who seemed to hold the stronger position, but they gained precious time for Fritigern.

A detachment of Romans began the battle without orders to do so, believing they would have an easy victory, and perhaps over-eager to exact revenge on the Goths after two years of unchecked devastation throughout the Balkans. The imperial scholae of shield-archers under the command of the Iberian prince Bacurius attacked, but lacking support they were easily pushed back. Then the Roman left-wing reached the circle of wagons, but it was too late. At that moment, the Gothic cavalry, alerted by messengers from the embattled wagon circle, arrived to support the infantry. The cavalry surrounded the Roman troops, who were already in disarray after the failure of the first assault. The Romans retreated to the base of the hill where they were unable to maneuver, encumbered by their heavy armor and long shields. The casualties, exhaustion, and psychological pressure led to a rout
Rout
A rout is commonly defined as a chaotic and disorderly retreat or withdrawal of troops from a battlefield, resulting in the victory of the opposing party, or following defeat, a collapse of discipline, or poor morale. A routed army often degenerates into a sense of "every man for himself" as the...

 of the Roman army. The cavalry continued their attack, and the massacre continued until nightfall.

In the rout, the Emperor himself was abandoned by his guards. Some tried to retrieve him, but the majority of the cavalry deserted. Valens' final fate is unknown; he probably died anonymously on the field, although one account says he was trapped in a nearby village house and burned.

Implications


According to the historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 Ammianus Marcellinus
Ammianus Marcellinus
Ammianus Marcellinus was a fourth-century Roman historian. He wrote the penultimate major historical account surviving from Antiquity...

, a third of the Roman army succeeded in retreating, but the losses were uncountable. Many officers, among them the general Sebastian, were killed in the worst Roman defeat since the Battle of Edessa
Battle of Edessa
The Battle of Edessa took place between the armies of the Roman Empire under the command of Emperor Valerian and Sassanid forces under Shahanshah Shapur I in 259...

, the high point of the Crisis of the Third Century
Crisis of the Third Century
The Crisis of the Third Century was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression...

. The battle was a devastating blow for the late Empire. In effect, the core army of the eastern Empire was destroyed, valuable administrators were killed, and all of the arms factories on the Danube were destroyed following the battle. The lack of reserves for the army led to a recruitment crisis, which accentuated the strategic and morale impact of the defeat; but it is also clear that Adrianople did not mark the end of the Roman Empire, because the imperial military power was only temporarily crippled.

The defeat at Adrianople changed the character of the Empire in that it signified that the barbarians, fighting for or against the Romans, had become powerful adversaries. The Goths, though partly tamed by Valens' successor Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 (who accepted them once more as allies), were to remain as a distinct entity within its frontiers; sometimes allies; other times enemies. Roman losses could only be made good by co-opting barbarians into the army as Foederati
Foederati
Foederatus is a Latin term whose definition and usage drifted in the time between the early Roman Republic and the end of the Western Roman Empire...

 under their own commanders; and, as so often, military power has ways of translating into political influence.

The long term implications of the battle of Adrianople have often been overstated, with many Twentieth Century writers repeating Sir Charles Oman
Charles Oman
Sir Charles William Chadwick Oman was a British military historian of the early 20th century. His reconstructions of medieval battles from the fragmentary and distorted accounts left by chroniclers were pioneering...

's idea that the battle represented a turning point in military history, with heavy cavalry triumphing over Roman infantry and ushering in the age of the Medieval knight. This outdated idea was overturned by T.S Burns in a ground-breaking article in 1973. Burns shows that the Gothic army's cavalry arm was actually fairly small, that Valens would actually have had more cavalry and that while the role of Fritigern's cavalry was critical to his victory, the battle was a mainly infantry versus infantry affair. The Medieval knight was not to rise for several centuries after Adrianople. It is also often stated that the defeat at Adrianople led to changes in the composition of the late Roman Army and an increase in the use of cavalry. In fact, this process had been going on in the Roman Army long before AD 378, with cavalry increasing its role and status in the Army from at least the time of the Emperor Gallenius (AD 253 to 260)

The real significance of the battle was political and strategic: the Roman defeat left a large and hostile foreign force within the frontiers of the Empire. This was a force that was to cause significant problems to the Empire for the next century and which would be a contributing factor to the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Books


Alessandro Barbero
Alessandro Barbero
Alessandro Barbero is an Italian historian, novelist and essayist. He attended the University of Turin where he studied literature and Medieval history. He won the 1996 Strega Prize, Italy's most distinguished literary award, for Bella vita e guerre altrui di Mr. Pyle gentiluomo. His second novel,...

 (2007). The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle That Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire. ISBN 0802715710

External links