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Fritigern (also Fritigernus, died c. 380 CE) was a Visigothic king best known as the victor of the decisive Battle of Adrianople in 378 CE, which decimated the Roman army and haunted Roman military commanders for decades afterwards. He was a Thervingi Goth who converted to Arian Christianity and challenged the authority of the Visigothic king Athanaric (d. 381 CE), who persecuted the Gothic Christians, plunging the region into the Gothic Civil War of the early 370's CE.

Bested by Athanaric, he appealed to the Roman emperor Valens for assistance but still failed to unseat his rival. After his defeat, Fritigern led his followers across the Danube River into the Roman Empire in 376 CE to escape not only Athanaric's wrath but also the invasion of the Huns. Once he and his followers were in Roman territory, they found their situation rapidly deteriorating under corrupt provincial governors and revolted, initiating the First Gothic War with Rome (378-382 CE) in which the Battle of Adrianople played a key role early on.

Nothing is known of his life before his conflict with Athanaric, and he vanishes from history prior to the peace treaty ending the First Gothic War with Rome in 382 CE. He is presumed to have died around 380 CE but how or where is unknown.

Fritigern's Christianity & the Gothic Civil War

According to the ancient historian Socrates Scholasticus (5th century CE), Fritigern converted to Arian Christianity in 376 CE, along with his followers, at the request of the Roman emperor Valens (reigned 364-378 CE). Their conversion was a condition of being allowed entrance to the empire following Fritigern's defeat by Athanaric.

In the same work, however, Socrates notes that the Christian missionary Ulfilas had already won a number of Gothic converts to Christianity by 348 CE. Another ancient historian, Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century CE), also mentions Ulfilas' work and maintains that Fritigern was sympathetic to Christianity prior to 376 CE and the agreement with Valens. It is probable, then, that Fritigern was already a Christian before the Danube crossing, and that the public conversion was simply a part of the formal agreement between Fritigern and Valens.

Further support for Fritigern's early conversion from the Nordic paganism of his tribe to the Roman religion is suggested by the Gothic Civil War between Fritigern and Athanaric in the early 370's CE. Athanaric was the king of the Gothic confederacy that had repelled Valens' invasions between 367-369 CE. Part of the peace treaty signed between Athanaric and Valens stipulated that Athanaric was free to persecute any Christians among his own people as long as he did not cross the border to harass Roman Christians.

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A large part of Athanaric's position as king was his role as judge of the people, a sacred office which maintained the traditional religious beliefs and culture of the tribe. Athanaric, like his father before him, saw Christianity as a threat to the Goths' way of life and religious understanding and, after 369 CE, engaged in a number of brutal persecutions of Gothic Christians.

It is unclear whether Fritigern went to war against Athanaric to stop the persecutions or whether, with the Roman threat now gone, he simply withdrew from the confederacy and challenged Athanaric's rule. The historian Herwig Wolfram, among others, has noted how, due to the chaotic nature of the event, sources give no definite reason for the war and the causes may only be inferred.

Athanaric had brilliantly employed guerilla tactics to repel the Roman invasions and may have used the same against Fritigern (as he later would against the Huns). How he proceeded against Fritigern's forces is as unclear as the rest of the war, but he defeated Fritigern in the early engagements. Fritigern, along with his ally Alavivus, then turned to Valens for assistance in defeating Athanaric, and seems to have made some progress, but was again defeated.

It is at this point that Valens stipulated the conversion of Fritigern and the Goths under him to Christianity as well as having them promise to supply fighting men for the Roman army. Once these conditions had been met, Fritigern and Alavivus led their people into Rome. Although Fritigern is always mentioned prominently in the ancient sources, it seems Alavivus was initially the leader of these Goths and Fritigern his subordinate until after the crossing of the Danube. Alavivus' role is unclear, however, since the primary sources always reference the Gothic Civil War as a conflict between Fritigern and Athanaric.

The Goths often had two leaders in place, a king (knows as a reiks, which means judge) who presided over civil matters and a general (known as a dux) who commanded the military. It is possible that Alavivus was a reiks and Fritigern his dux, but the sources cite Fritigern as reiks so this remains unclear. It is apparent, however, that it was Fritigern who made the agreement with Valens and led the Goths to Roman territory.

The Danube Crossing & Life in Roman Thrace

The Thervingian Goths crossed the Danube under close Roman supervision. There were many Goths who were now fleeing from the Huns who sought safety in the empire but were not allowed to cross. Even Athanaric, a sworn enemy of Rome, is said to have approached the Danube to lead his tribe across but turned back after considering what reprisals Rome may have visited upon him for his earlier conflicts with Valens. Those Roman soldiers stationed along the banks were responsible for continually turning away those Goths who had not been granted permission to cross. The historian Christopher Kelly describes the crossing:

For several days and nights, the Thervingi were ferried across the Danube at one of its narrowest points, near the garrison town of Durostorum, sixty miles west of the Black Sea. This was a dangerous operation made more difficult by the fast-flowing river, still swollen by spring rains. Many Thervingi, frustrated by the slow progress and distrustful of Roman military supervision, ventured across in canoes made from hollowed-out logs; the most desperate decided to swim. Some were drowned when overcrowded rafts capsized. Darkness brought only greater confusion: the shouts of terrified families separated in the crush to board the boats, the wash of dead bodies against the banks, the harsh orders barked by unsympathetic soldiers. (13)

Once across, life for the Gothic refugees only became worse. Kelly observes, "The situation was beyond Lupicinus, the Roman commander on the frontier. Without warning, he was faced with eighty thousand refugees crammed together in a makeshift camp. The overflowing latrine trenches threatened an outbreak of disease; the stench drifted into nearby Durostorum" (13-14). The Goths had escaped the Huns but were now confronted by new enemies: starvation and the greed of the Roman authorities on the frontier. Ammianus writes of the situation:

During this time, when the barriers of our frontier were unlocked and the realm of savagery was spreading far and wide columns of armed men like glowing ashes from Aetna, when our difficulties and imminent dangers called for military reformers who were most distinguished for the fame of their exploits: then it was, as if at the choice of some adverse deity, that men were gathered together and given command of armies who bore stained reputations. At their head were two rivals in recklessness: one was Lupicinus, commanding general in Thrace, the other Maximus, a pernicious leader. Their treacherous greed was the source of all our evils. (10)

Lupicinus and Maximus diverted the grain wagons from the Goths, stole quantities of food to sell for their own profit, and then allowed the wagons to continue on to the camp. They also rounded up as many dogs as they could, and the Goths sold their children as slaves in exchange for dog meat; "the going rate was said to be one child for each dog" (Kelly, 14). After seven months, the situation in the camp was growing beyond the control of the Roman authorities. Lupicinus invited Fritigern and Alavivus to dinner to discuss the situation but allowed only a small number of their personal bodyguard inside the gates of the city of Marcianople.

The Goths, fearing for the safety of their leaders, crowded around the outside of the gates along with those members of the bodyguard who had not been admitted. Ammianus and the historian Jordanes (6th century CE) give slightly different accounts of what happened next, but both report that Alavivus and his escort were assassinated at dinner along with the contingent of bodyguards, but Fritigern escaped.

The First Gothic War & the Battle of Adrianople

Fritigern rallied his people and led them on raids throughout the area. Lupicinus had sent a contingent of Roman soldiers to manage the removal and relocation of a number of Goths, and these forces had previously been those guarding the frontier of the Danube. With the military presence withdrawn, Greuthungi Goths crossed the river easily, as well as a number of Huns who saw the opportunity for easy looting. Fritigern enlisted these forces and led them against Lupicinus and his army, easily defeating the Romans (though Lupicinus himself escaped). The Goths were now in full revolt and the region of Thrace was in chaos.

In the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Valens was constantly being harassed by the common people, demanding he do something about the situation in Thrace. He finally decided to march against the Goths and had the support of his younger nephew, Gratian, the emperor of the west. Gratian wrote Valens that he was coming soon and to wait for his arrival before engaging with the Goths. Valens marched his troops from Constantinople and waited for Gratian's reinforcements, but these were delayed by revolts in the west that Gratian had to attend to. Valens became impatient and moved his army to the area of the Goths' last known position: the city of Adrianople (modern-day Edirne, in Turkey).

Fritigern was in the vicinity with his men, raiding the countryside, and Valens gathered his councilors and asked whether he should attack or wait for Gratian. Some suggested he attack at once while others advised him to wait for Gratian. Valens was a proud and vain man who had always wanted the kind of glory in battle that characterized the greatest emperors of the early days of Rome.

It seems that, however substantial the advice to wait for Gratian was, Valens was going to try to attack on his own. Ammianus writes, "the fatal insistence of the emperor prevailed, supported by the flattering opinion of some of his courtiers, who urged him to make all haste in order that Gratian might not have a share in the victory which (as they represented) was already all but won" (28). Valens was also given to understand that the forces of the Goths numbered less than 10,000, while his own army was over 15,000 (though ancient historians place these numbers much higher). He gave orders for the Roman forces to mobilize to attack the Goths.

While the army was preparing for battle, Fritigern's forces were scattered. Valens' scouts had reported the small number of around 10,000 because that's the number they had seen in the Goths' camp; the actual number was closer to 20,000, but the cavalry (around 5,000 men) were away on a raid. Fritigern sent messengers to call them back but needed to buy some time. He sent an envoy to Valens with two letters; the first of these offered peace if Valens would simply permit the Goths to settle in Thrace on the land he had originally agreed to, while the second was a private letter to Valens.

In this letter, Fritigern essentially said that he hoped he and Valens could again be friends as they had formerly been and how Fritigern meant no harm and posed no threat; it was simply that he was having a hard time keeping his people under control and, from time to time, had no choice but to allow them to ravage the countryside until a Roman force threatened them and they backed down. Fritigern assured Valens that this present situation was one of those instances and there was no real need for hostilities.

Valens read the letters but, as Ammianus notes, "as to the envoys, their sincerity was doubted, and they left without accomplishing their purpose" (28). In fact, they had fully accomplished what they had been sent to do: delay Valens' advance into battle until the Goth cavalry returned.

Valens marched his army toward the Goth camp and arranged them in formation for attack. Meanwhile, the Goth cavalry still had not returned, and Fritigern needed to buy more time. He again sent envoys to Valens requesting negotiations and offering peace but, this time, Valens refused to even read the letters because the messengers were of low rank, and he would only speak with the those he felt were of some importance.

While the envoys were distracting Valens with their mission, other Goths set fires in the fields surrounding the Roman army. By all accounts, the day was hot, and the Romans had not had time to eat before they were mobilized for the march. Further, they had been standing in formation now for hours in full battle dress under the August sun. The smoke from the fires around them furthered their misery. Ammianus writes:

The enemy purposely delayed, in order that during the pretended truce their cavalry might return, who, they hoped, would soon make their appearance; also that our soldiers might be exposed to the fiery summer heat and exhausted by their dry throats, while the broad plains gleamed with fires, which the enemy were feeding with wood and dry fuel, for this same purpose. To that evil was added another deadly one, namely, that men and beasts were tormented by severe hunger. (29)

Valens' forces were not completely assembled, some still arriving on the field, when a skirmish toward the front lines initiated the battle. The Romans were driven back and, at the same time, the Goth cavalry arrived and drove through their ranks. Ammianus describes the battle:

Our soldiers who were giving way rallied, exchanging many encouraging shouts, but the battle, spreading like flames, filled their hearts with terror, as numbers of them were pierced by strokes of whirling spears and arrows. Then the lines dashed together like beaked ships, pushing each other back and forth in turn, and tossed about by alternate movements, like waves at sea. And because the left wing, which had made its way as far as the very wagons, and would have gone farther if it had had any support, being deserted by the rest of the cavalry, was hard pressed by the enemy's numbers, it was crushed, and overwhelmed, as if by the downfall of a mighty rampart. The foot-soldiers thus stood unprotected, and their companies were so crowded together that hardly anyone could pull out his sword or draw back his arm. Because of clouds of dust the heavens could no longer be seen, and echoed with frightful cries. Hence the arrows whirling death from every side always found their mark with fatal effect, since thy could not be seen beforehand nor guarded against. (30-31)

Valens was mortally wounded, and his bodyguard carried him to a nearby cottage where, in an effort to keep him safe, they carried him up to the second floor to tend his wounds. By this time the Goths had completely broken the Roman lines and were slaughtering every Roman soldier they could lay hands on. Coming upon the cottage, the Goths tried to break in, but Valens' bodyguard fired arrows down at them from the upper windows, so they simply set the building on fire, and Valens burned to death with his guard.

Ammianus reports that one of the guards leaped from the window and was taken by the Goths, and "when he told them what had happened, he filled them with sorrow at being cheated of great glory in not having taken the ruler of the Roman empire alive" (33). The massacre of the Roman army continued until night fell, when the Goths returned to their camp, and the surviving Romans escaped from the field in any way they could. Many of these men made their way back to the city of Adrianople and helped to fortify it against the possibility of an attack.

The Siege of Adrianople & Aftermath

The next morning, the Goths fell upon the city but were repulsed. Fritigern had already learned, as he said, to "make peace with stone walls", because his people lacked siege engines and could not take fortified cities. His soldiers, however, having lost their chance at glory in capturing Valens alive and hearing that the imperial standards and treasure were within the city, refused to listen to advice to leave Adrianople alone. They seemed confident that their superior numbers, and the demoralizing effect on the Romans of their victory the day before, would take the city.

Throughout the day the Goths tried to break through the city gates or scale the walls and even sent a delegation of Romans who had sided with them to enter the city pretending to be seeking refuge and then set fire to it (their intentions were discovered and they were executed), but they could not make any progress. By nightfall, according to Ammianus, they "retired disconsolate to their tents, accusing one another of reckless folly because they had not, as Fritigern had earlier advised, wholly held aloof from the miseries of siege" (38). The next morning they left the area under Fritigern's leadership and continued raiding the wealthy estates and villages in the region.

Two thirds of the Roman army had been lost in the battle as well as the emperor of the Eastern Empire. Kelly writes:

The Battle of Adrianople was the worst defeat suffered by the Romans for seven hundred years: out of thirty thousand troops, twenty thousand were killed. In the chilling phrase of the imperial court orator Themistius, in one summer afternoon `an entire army vanished like a shadow.' The impact of this moment of destruction of Roman policymaking cannot be underestimated. Most importantly, the defeat exposed the importance of the Danube frontier to the empire's security. Valens had been critically slow to react to the disruption caused by the emerging menace of the Huns west of the Black Sea. His support of Fritigern hindered Athanaric's attempts to restore order. The crossing of the Thervingi was poorly managed, and their internment and policing were left to barely competent officers…The decision to fight at Adrianople without waiting for reinforcements from the West was one of the poorest judgment calls made by any emperor in the history of the Roman empire. The scale of the defeat was a direct result of Valens' petulant rush to seize victory on his own. (21-22)

The defeat at Adrianople would continue to haunt the Roman Empire for the next century as it continued its slow decline. For Fritigern, however, it was a great victory, and he and his followers continued their raids throughout Thrace and passed into the Balkans and then down into Greece. No Roman force was able to stop them. Where or how Fritigern died is unknown, but he is no longer mentioned in any historian's account after 380 CE.

Following Valen's death, the emperor Theodosius I ruled the Eastern Empire and, by 382 CE, had managed to broker a peace with the Goths. This peace would last until Theodosius I's death in 395 CE when, again, the Romans would make the mistake of mistreating the Goths (most notably using them in the front lines at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 CE) and initiate the conflict that resulted in the sack of Rome by Alaric I of the Visigoths in 410 CE. Although nothing is known of Fritigern's early life, nor of his death, he is remembered as a great warrior and leader of his people who delivered to Rome the worst military defeat in its long history.

War against Athanaric

Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Zosimus refer to conflicts between Fritigern and Athanaric. [ 2 ] [ 3 ] [ 4 ] Ammianus Marcellinus and Philostorgius do not record such conflicts.

According to Socrates, Fritigern and Athanaric were rival leaders of the (Therving) Goths. As this rivalry grew into warfare, Athanaric gained the advantage, and Fritigern asked for Roman aid. The Emperor Valens and the Thracian field army intervened, Valens and Fritigern defeated Athanaric, and Fritigern converted to Christianity, following the same teachings as Valens followed. [ 5 ] Sozomen follows Socrates' account. [ 6 ]

According to Zosimus, Athanaric (Athomaricus) was the king of the Goths (Scythians). Sometime after their victory at Adrianople, and after the accession of Theodosius, Fritigern, Alatheus, and Saphrax moved north of the Danube and defeated Athanaric, before returning south of the Danube. [ 7 ]

The earliest sources that mention Fritigern originate from the period in which Valens, emperor of the Roman Empire, attacked the Thervingi (367-369) and from the period in which the Huns raided the Thervingi (ca. 376). In this period a civil war may have broken out between Fritigern and Athanaric, a prominent Therving ruler. Before or during this civil war, Fritigern converted to ("Arian") Christianity. Nevertheless, Athanaric seems to have won this war. This is deduced by historians from the fact that Athanaric would later lead the Thervingi in battle against the Huns in 376. [ citation needed ] [ original research? ]



Meet The Real 'Barbarians' Behind This New Series

Though I've enjoyed some of History's reality TV shows over the years, I do miss those specials and docuseries explaining real historical periods and events that form the foundation of the network. Luckily, we'll get a brand-spanking-new one starting Monday, June 6 at 9 p.m. ET, Barbarians Rising. Still, it'd be natural to wonder how much of Barbarians Rising is a true story while you're watching this four-part docu-drama.

Though this series about the fall of the Roman Empire as told through the eyes of the barbarian rebel leaders that eventually contributed to its downfall features dramatic re-enactments, it should be an altogether accurate depiction of history. "The four-part docu-drama reveals the true story of the 700-year battle for supremacy, a fight for freedom that would shape the world to come," History describes the series on its website. And the nine main barbarian leaders featured in the series were all real people that helped bring down the Roman Empire.

The "fully dramatized portrayals" of the barbarian leaders, as History calls it, will be accompanied by expert commentary that includes historians, military leaders, and civil rights activists. They will help "reveal the fact-based history behind the legends," the network said in a press release about the new series. This contemporary commentary will not only help Barbarians Rising tell a true story about the past, but it should also help us understand why our world is the way it is today.

Of course, it's possible that Barbarians Rising will not be 100 percent accurate since history is based on various sources and accounts that not all historians may agree with and that can change as new discoveries are made over time. But the stories of these nine barbarian leaders should be generally consistent with what we've learned about them over the years. Without any further ado, get to know a little bit about the history Barbarians Rising will present about these "legends" below.


Barbarians Rising starts out with the story of Hannibal of Carthage in North Africa, the son of the general Hamilcar, who had fought the Romans in the First Punic War and was forced to leave Sicily after the Romans destroyed the Carthaginian fleet, according to History's website. Hamilcar made his son vow to get revenge on the Romans, and he set out to do just that when he became a general himself.

With a large army of approximately 100,000 men and his now-famous use of elephants, Hannibal eventually marched his forces across the Alps and into Italy. Though the majority of his fleet was decimated by that time, the remaining troops wreaked havoc on the Roman Empire, even destroying a Roman force at Cannae, which was the worst Roman defeat of the war, according to History.

But after the armies led by Hannibal's brothers were defeated and the Romans attacked Carthage, the general negotiated a peace treaty with Rome before being forced into exile. Once Hannibal heard that the Romans were coming for him, he poisoned himself instead of allowing his perennial adversaries to capture him, which was likely in 181 or 183 B.C.


Next up in Barbarians Rising will be Viriathus of Lusitania, which was located in parts of what is now known as Portugal and western Spain, according to his description on History's website. The Romans broke a peace treaty with the Lusitanians around 151 B.C. and killed or enslaved all of the men of fighting age, which has been reported to be about 30,000 people. Viriathus escaped and went on to lead a rebel army of fellow survivors against the Romans.

Viriathus had his army use guerilla warfare in an effort to combat the highly-trained Roman soldiers, and they were successful, so much so that neighboring tribes used this strategy against the Romans as well. Viriathus tried to initiate peace with the Romans in 139 B.C., but they turned his messengers against him, and they assassinated the rebel leader while he slept.


Spartacus is a historical figure who may be best known by his dramatic portrayals, such as the eponymous 1960 epic film, whose trailer can be seen above, and the more recent Starz series, but this guy was very real. Born in Thrace, which was located in what is now Eastern Europe, Spartacus was said to have been captured and enslaved by the Romans after serving as an auxiliary in their army, according to his description on History's website.

After being chosen to become a gladiator, which we know is not such a great job, even when it's glamorized in such films as 2000's Gladiator, Spartacus organized an escape with dozens of his fellow gladiators. The army grew after Spartacus and his troops defeated the Romans at Mount Vesuvius. Three powerful Roman generals (Marcus Licinius Crassus, Pompey, and Lucullus) eventually came together with their armies to take down Spartacus and his rebels. It is said that Spartacus was wounded in battle, but his body was never found. As for the survivors of this fight, they were crucified along the Appian Way to Rome as a warning to anyone thinking about challenging Rome in the future.


Arminius and his brother Flavus were sent to Rome as hostages after the Romans defeated their Cherusci tribe, History's website describes. While there, they were forced to assimilate to Roman culture, becoming educated, training as soldiers, and becoming Roman citizens. Arminius, a statue of whom now located in Detmold, Germany is shown above, eventually rose through the ranks in the Roman military.

But once Arminius returned to his homeland of Germania and discovered that his people were being heavily taxed and treated as slaves by the Roman governor Varus, he decided to lead a rebellion. From then on, he sort of played as a double agent, gathering intelligence about the Romans while also forming a Germanic coalition to kick them out.

Arminius and the rebels ambushed the Romans and used guerilla tactics. As "one of Rome's most humiliating defeats," History describes on its website, this was a big win for the barbarians. Arminius then became the leader of the Cherusci, and his loyalty was completely with the Germanic tribe once again. Arminius fought the Romans for more than two years before they kidnapped his wife and he was injured in a battle at the Weser River. His retreat meant the end of his rebellion, and he was betrayed and murdered by a member of his own family, according to History.


Boudica is the sole female rebel leader featured in Barbarians Rising, but boy, was she fierce. She was born into a royal family and she married Prasutagus, the king of the Iceni, a tribe of Celtic warriors in the Roman province of Britannia, History's website says. Though the Romans and Iceni were at odds, they ultimately found peace, and Prasutagus agreed to make the Roman emperor co-heir to his kingdom, along with his wife and two daughters.

But when Prasutagus died, the Romans didn't live up to that promise. The Romans annexed Prasutagus' lands, beat Boudica, and violated her daughters when the former queen protested, History's website explains. The relatives of the king were enslaved.

After all of that, Boudica had revenge on the brain, and she united British tribes to rebel against the Empire. She led her army on a "slash and burn campaign against the island's Roman settlements" that destroyed three major hubs of Roman power and murdered "Romanized" civilians and a Roman legion, History describes on its website.

However, Boudica's forces were eventually defeated by the Romans on a plain near Londinium. There are varying accounts of Boudica's fate. Some say she escaped the battle, others belive she poisoned herself, and there's another record of her dying from an illness while planning a new attack. However, most historians agree that she was the first to unite the people of Britain.


And now we get to the Goths, thanks to Fritigern, who was from what is now known as Romania, according to History's website. After his tribe converted to Christianity, he asked fellow Christian and Roman emperor Valens to give his people asylum so they could escape the Huns, and in return, her would give the Roman army soldiers. Valens allowed the Goths to cross the Danube and settle in Thrace, but his general Lupicinus took advantage of the Goths' desperation by charging them high prices for few rations in return. What's more, Lupicinus invited Goth leaders to dine at the Roman camp only to betray them by killing their bodyguards and capturing them.

The Romans released Fritigern on the condition that he calm the angry Gothic masses, but he instead worked on getting revenge, attacking Lupicinus' army and gaining support from other rebel barbarians, according to History. Fritigern's troops eventually faced off with legions from Eastern and Western Emperors, and the Goths defeated the Romans. They settled back in Thrace, no longer under Rome's rule. Fritigern died shortly afterwards, but victory was sweet for his tribe.


After Fritgern's death, Alaric became the leader and eventual king of the Visigoths, History's website says. Alaric wanted to have his warriors become an official part of the Roman army, but the Romans' ill will and betrayals turned him against them for good. His troops faced off with those of the half-barbarian general Stilicho several times over the years.

After Stilicho was arrested and executed because the Romans suspected he was an enemy of the state, his remaining barbarian forces joined Alaric's army, History's website says. Alaric and the Goths entered Rome, demanding the freedom of 40,000 Gothic slaves and command of the Roman army. The Romans freed the slaves and gave Alaric a large sum of gold, but they refused to make another barbarian the commander of their army.

The Goths attacked Roma again for the third time in three years in 410 A.D., but Alaric died of disease that same year. Still, his reign showed that Rome wasn't invincible anymore, according to History.


Attila is one of the more famous rebel leaders to be featured in Barbarians Rising, and for good reason. As the leader of the Huns from Central Asia, Attila basically wanted to conquer the world, according to History's website. When Attila became the sole ruler of the Huns in 445 A.D. after his brother Bleda's mysterious death, the Romans recognized him as a major threat.

The Hun attacks in Eastern Europe caused a refugee crisis, which motivated barbarian tribes to make nice with the enemy Romans, as the aforementioned Fritigern did for the Goths. After the Huns developed siege weapons to take over walled cities and Attila eventually partnered up with the Vandal King Geiseric, the Huns' invading army was a serious force to be reckoned with, History's website says. Some incredibly bloody battles for both sides ensued.

However, the Huns became less of a threat to the Roman Empire when Attila mysteriously died after his marriage to an Ostrogothic princess, History describes on its website.


Geiseric was king of the Vandals, a traditionally wandering tribe who were eventually allowed to settle in Roman North Africa, History's website describes. Once they arrived, they were told to return to Spain, but Geiseric did not take no for an answer. The Vandals defeated the Roman forces, conquered a coastal territory, and then successfully led his troops into Carthage. Geiseric then turned "his Vandals into the Mediterranean's most formidable pirates," as History describes, and captured and sacked Sicily. While Rome was busy fending off Attila and the Huns, Geiseric and the Vandals easily raided Southern Europe.

In the 450s, Geiseric simultaneously made peace with the Roman Empire and bribed Attila to attack the Romans, according to History. After Emperor Valentinian died in a palace coup, Geiseric and the Vandals sacked Rome in 455, which was essentially the final nail in the coffin for the once-mighty empire. Geiseric would live for more than 20 years after that, dying in 477 after nearly 50 years on the throne.

Clearly, Game of Thrones has nothing on the history of the barbarian leaders.

The bloodbath at Adrianople [ edit | edit source ]

The Romers ended up finding out that Fritigern was wading towards Adrianople with his band, however they mistakenly thought that Fritigern only had around 10,000 men with him. The Kaiser bold as ever called a moot with his hildwisers, there Valens trusting the wisdom of his underlings as well as his sithreaden's might settled on rushing against the Goths as soon as they could. In the night of 8 August Fritigern sent a few tidings to the Romish overlord, telling him that he only wanted land in Thrace, and that if they were given said land the Goths would come to help him in the hilds to come. Valens, thinking that Fritigern was not being earnest, choose to waymind the earful.

Tired of waiting and true to his word to rush and slaughter Fritigern and his men, Valens marched his Sithreaden to met the Goths early in the morning of 9 August 378. After many stounds of marching under the summer heat his men came within the sight of a great stronghold made out of wagons. Fritigern was biding his time by sending some of his men to talk to Valens, trying to chaffer a stop to the fighting between them, for Fritigern was waiting for the arrival of the Gethrung horsemen lead by the heretoughs Alatheus and Saphrax which was unknown to the Romers.

The Eastern Romers tired and withered under the hot summer sun were quite bothered by the fires the Goths made to blow smoke and ash into them. Valens, seeing the way the wind was blowing, had an afterthought and sent the Frank Richomeres to talk with Fritigern. However the tired Romers could not wait any longer and rushed to meet the the Goths in the hildfield, starting the hild of Adrianople.

As the hild started the tired Romers were met with overwhelming strenght and eagerness from the Goths. The unmatched boldness and fearlessness of the Gothish men during orrest was spoken of by many following the hild. It was said that a Goth would get his arm slashed off, and even so he would still keep fighting for the lives of his kinmen and children until he bleed out. The withered Romers could not win any ground, and soon they started wavering. However the Gethrung horsemen had arrived at last, and they smashed against the Romers breaking them.


(1) There is nothing to suggest Fritigern was king (reiks). The Romanized form 'Fritigernus' leaves some doubt about the Gothic form, its component roots, and thus, its meaning. The specified form and translation are reasonable but hypothetical.

(2) There are problems identifying the Thervingi of the 370s with the Visigoths of the 390s and later. Heather demonstrates that the later Visigoths emerged from mixed Therving/Greuthing/other groups. Heather also notes the survival of Gothic, including Therving, groups outside the Roman sphere.

(3) The famine may have taken place in 376 or 377. Ammianus strongly suggests the famine came before any formal settlement, while many Goths were penned into refugee camps.

(4) The date of death is hypothetical.

Mainly Ammianus, Jordanes & Zosimus.

Mainly Heather, Peter, 1998, 'The Goths.' Also Wolfram, Herwig, 1988, 'History of the Goths.'

Wulfila's translation of the New Testament (in part). Also Bennett, William, 1980, 'An Introduction to the Gothic Language,' & Wright, Joseph, 1954, 'Grammar of the Gothic Language.'

Since three users have updated the main page since I posted my concerns, and none have addressed my concerns (on the article or the talk page), I noted these concerns on the article page. I would have to cut half the article to resolve my concerns about its accuracy. I am not willing to tear down other people's work and I would much rather address everything on this talk page. My apologies if this violates wiki protocol Thank you. Jacob Haller 03:54, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

Why in the world is this article included in the Spain Project? Fritigern never came within a thousand miles of Spain, and the Visigothic kingdom won't exist for another century. Also, the third paragraph equates the Goths with the Scythians, which is obviously not true. --Michael K. Smith (talk) 19:37, 19 February 2009 (UTC)

You are correct about Spain however, ancient historians often called the Goths Scythians - they came from roughly the same place as the Sythians came from, therefore they were Scythians, and a barbarian is a barbarian, right? (Don't blame me, that's how the ancients thought.) --Jmullaly (talk) 13:30, 4 January 2011 (UTC)

One Arrow

In 378, a single soldier, not even an officer, made a mistake that greatly hastened, and perhaps even led directly to, the final destruction of the Western Roman empire. It all started far away in the steppes of Asia. This is the traditional home of most tribes of horse barbarians, and among others, the Goths had started there before moving into eastern Europe. The Goths were tough, but they migrated toward the borders of both Roman empires (Byzantine and western) because a much nastier bunch of barbarians were pushing them. These were the Huns, as in Atilla the Hun, who were destined to wreak havoc across most of Europe a generation later. But at this time, the Huns were still a distant threat, and the Goths were on Rome&rsquos border asking to cross and settle into territories then controlled by the western empire. They were split into two groups: the eastern Ostrogoths and the western Visigoths. As described in Mistake 19 (see pages 77-79), Visigoth leaders met with Roman officials and asked permission for their people to enter Roman territory. It was agreed that if the men left their weapons behind, the Goths would be welcome. It was also agreed, since there would be no chance for the Visigoths to raise crops, that Rome would provide them food to get by until the next harvest.

The entire population migrated hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, with tens of thousands of warriors among them, crossed into the Roman empire. Even though they had not agreed to the deal, the other large group, the Ostrogoths, under pressure from Hun allies and caught amid the confusion, also crossed over the river that marked Rome&rsquos boundary. It became obvious fairly quickly that there simply was not enough food available for the Romans to keep the Goths supplied. Starving, the Visigoth tribes began taking what food they could find, often pillaging the villages while doing so. A near-constant fight between small groups of Goths and small Roman units erupted. To try to deal with the problem the two Roman governors requested a meeting with all of the Visigoth leaders. The meeting was a ruse with the intention of assassinating all of the Visigoth leadership, likely as a prelude to enslaving the hungry and (they hoped) leaderless Goths.

The assassination attempt failed, miserably. The Visigoth leaders escaped, their army was soon reinforced by the Ostrogoths, and open warfare resulted. For months, both sides sparred, small bunches of horsemen raiding and then ambushing one another, as infantry units defended the larger Roman towns and cities. Finally, Emperor Valens arrived to take control of the war. He hoped to win a decisive battle that would crush or drive the Goths away. The Visigoth king Fritigern offered peace if the Romans would allow his people to virtually take over the province of Thrace. This was rejected by Valens, who collected a large army made up of both cavalry and infantry. Fritigern also gathered the Goths, but once more offered to negotiate.

At this point in history, the Goths as a people were almost as civilized as the Romans and were actually more literate than the Roman citizens of Gaul. Their leaders were angry, but they also saw that both sides had more to lose than win. They did not really want a war or a battle whose loss would destroy them as a people. Even if they won, they were just weakening a potential future ally against the Huns. What the Goths really wanted was a safe place to settle. This is later shown by the fact that the Goths did unite with what was the last real Roman army to face down and defeat Atilla and the Huns eighty years later. The Visigoths may not have liked Rome, but they feared the Huns more.

The two armies met near Adrianople and camped in sight of each other. It was agreed that Valens would send a delegation into the ring of wagons that formed the Visigoths&rsquo camp. Remember, this was a movement of the entire Visigoth people, and in that camp were not only warriors but also families. Each side, not without cause, watched for betrayal and formed up their horsemen, ready to attack as needed. But Fritigern seems to have been more than ready to talk peace. Then a small mistake doomed Rome.

As the Roman delegation rode toward the Visigoth camp, they had to be nervous. Their side had just used a similar maneuver in an attempt to assassinate the very leaders they were riding to meet. Around them, thousands of horsemen armed with bow and lance stood poised to attack one another. For months, both sides had been fighting small, bitter battles and rarely taking prisoners.

Maybe it was in response to some sort of unusual movement on the wall of wagons as the Romans approached. Or maybe he saw an old enemy. One of the soldiers, who was acting as the bodyguard for the Roman delegates, fired an arrow, one arrow only, toward the disturbance. The other guards may have fired then as well. None survived to say if they did or did not. The Visigoths reacted with a shower of arrows. Most of the Roman delegation fell, and the survivors fled.

Seeing this, the Roman cavalry charged the Goths&rsquo camp from their position on both flanks of the infantry. The horsemen were unable to break into the Visigoth camp they surrounded. The bulk of the Visigoth and Ostrogoth heavy cavalry, well-armored men on fresh horses, had returned late. They had been waiting out of sight, behind a small wood, to one side of the battlefield. These armored horsemen charged first one, then the other force of Roman cavalry. Assailed by arrows from the wagons and attacked from behind by thousands of armored warriors, both groups of Roman horsemen fled. This left the still-unformed and badly trained Roman infantry at the mercy of the entire Gothic army. About 40,000 men died, and the power of the Western Roman empire was broken forever. Roman armies became less and less Roman and more and more barbarian. The vaunted infantry of the legions was shown to be gone. Rome never again ruled more than parts of Italy, and within a century, the city of Rome itself had fallen twice and the barbarian Odoacer held the meaningless title of emperor.

If that one arrow had not been fired, there was a very good chance that peace could have been achieved. It was the Visigoths, who had valid claims and concerns, who had asked to talk, and it was very much in Valens&rsquo interest to have them as allies and not enemies. Without the disaster at Adrianople, Rome would have remained stronger and much more capable of defending itself. A Rome that still had a real army with Gothic allies might have maintained the high level of culture and literacy the Romans and Goths shared. The centuries that followed the Battle of Adrianople are described as the Age of Barbarians and the Dark Ages. Except for one arrow fired by an anonymous bodyguard, those times might have been much less barbarous and far less dark.

Valens Makes a Treaty With the Goths

The Tervingi Goths led by their king Athanaric had planned to attack Valens' territory, but when they learned of Procopius' plans, they became his allies, instead. Following his defeat of Procopius, Valens intended to attack the Goths, but was prevented, first by their flight, and then by a spring flood the next year. However, Valens persisted and defeated the Tervingi (and the Greuthungi, both Goths) in 369. They concluded a treaty quickly which allowed Valens to set to work on the still missing eastern (Persian) territory.

378 Adrianople: Rise of the Barbarians And The Beginning Of The End Of The Roman Empire

The Fall of Rome was an arduous, drawn-out process, lasting centuries in the West to over a thousand years in the East. The so-called “barbarians” are often considered a main factor in the fall of the Western Empire and the weakening of the East.

By the 4 th century CE, the Romans had a lot of experience with barbarian confederations, opting to fight, recruit, settle or pay off tribes as they saw fit. For the Eastern Romans in the late 4 th century, they had to decide what to do with the large Gothic horde at the banks of the Danube.

This was not the first interaction between the Romans and the Goths, as the Goths had rampaged through Thrace a little over a hundred years before Adrianople and actually killed the co-Emperors Decius and Herennius Etruscus at the disastrous battle of Abritus, though this was during a period of instability in the whole empire and there was a recovery before the next major Gothic interaction.

The Goths were culturally and linguistically Germanic, supposedly migrating from Scandinavia then occupying areas around Crimea and the Black Sea. In the mid and late 4 th century they were under heavy pressure by the Huns and sought safety across the Danube within the Empire. The Eastern Emperor Valens agreed and planned to use the large force to supply troops, as he was currently embroiled in a tightly contested war against the Sassanid Empire on the eastern borders.

Once in Roman territory, the Goths were cruelly treated by the local officials. Food was withheld or sold at absurdly high prices, there were instances of stray dogs being rounded up by the Romans and sold for the price of one dog per child given up for slavery. The Romans did face an overall food shortage due to the influx of Goths, but the treatment of the Goths was intentionally cruel.

The Gothic invasions of 250-251, show that the Goths were indeed capable of dealing damage within Roman borders. By Dipa1965 – CC BY-SA 3.0

When the Roman officials heard of an impending rebellion they invited the Gothic leaders for a feast and attempted to kill them all. The assassinations did not go well and men on both sides were killed as a few Gothic leaders got away and organized a mass rebellion. Soon after they defeated the local Roman garrison army and armed themselves with captured Roman equipment and seized what food they wanted.

The Goths, actually two main large tribes, the Thervings and Greutungs, were much larger than many of the smaller bands that skirmished on the borders of the Empire and required a large mobilization to be dealt with. Their ranks also swelled with nearby tribes, escaped slaves and prisoners. Valens quickly organized a peace with the Sassanid Empire while heading to Constantinople to raise a larger army and received word that the Western Roman Emperor and Valens’ nephew, Gratian, would send an army as well.

Over the next two years, a few skirmishes and inconclusive battles occurred until Valens had his army assembled, some being newly raised and some coming from eastern territories. The Roman general Sebastianus had scored a number of small victories on the widely dispersed warbands, which caused the Gothic leader Fritigern to consolidate his forces.

Typical Gothic soldier around the time of Adrianople. By Visipix

Valens was eager for his glory, for his lesser generals and his younger nephew both had a great deal of glory, so when he got word that the Gothic army was moving south to Adrianople, and that they numbered only 10,000 men, he decided to cut off their advance and force a decisive battle rather than wait for Gratian’s reinforcements.

Valens had an army anywhere from 15-30,000, but he was woefully misinformed about the size of the Gothic army they had about as many soldiers as the Romans and likely more. Though on the day of battle, august 9 th 378, the Goths were without a majority of their cavalry, who were out foraging. Valens ordered his men to line up and march towards the fortified wagon camp of the Goths but was stalled when Fritigern sent envoys for peace talks.

This delay allowed Fritigern to send for his cavalry to return to camp while the Romans were forced to wait in the hot summer sun after marching without rest to get to the site. The Goths even fed their fires to send smoke wafting to the already parched Romans. At some point during the negotiations, some of the Roman cavalry attacked and sparked fighting all along the lines.

Gothic movements the year before the battle of Adrianople. They had difficulty taking walled settlements, but ravaged much of the countryside. By TcfkaPanairjdde – CC BY-SA 3.0

The light cavalry, particularly on the left flank, were quickly routed, though the Infantry battle was closely contested. The Roman infantry on the left flank pushed all the way to the wagon camp before the foraging cavalry returned. It is unclear how exactly the cavalry attacked, they may have separated and spread around each Roman flank, or they hit hard on the winning Roman left flank.

Either way, the previously successful Roman left was so compressed by this charge that they had no room to fight effectively. Smoke from the fires obscured views and arrows fired from the camp could not be seen to be defended against as they tore into the densely packed Romans. Along the rest of the line, the less experienced men fled while the more elite troops held their ground, but were ultimately overwhelmed.

The Battle of Of Adrianople

Emperor Valens may have either taken a fatal arrow shot, or he was wounded and taken to a farmhouse. When the Goths could not force their way in through the guard they reportedly burned down the house, unaware that the Emperor was inside. Aside from the emperor, many skilled officers were killed as well, including Sebastianus, the only general who had had success against the Goths. Sources say that over half of the army was lost, and since the elite troops held the longest, they accounted for the majority of the losses.

The defeat crippled Roman power in the region and The Goths marched on Adrianople and even on Constantinople, but proved ineffective in an assault and simply ravaged the countryside. The Goths dispersed and were eventually pushed back across the Danube.

The Eastern Roman Empire was able to recover and so the defeat did not directly lead to a decline for the East or West, but it set a notable precedent that the Barbarians could fight and win. Previously the power of Rome was too paramount to think of invading with much hope, but only a few decades after Adrianople, a branch of the Goths known as Visigoths sacked Rome.

The Battle of Adrianople

The Gothic triumph in the Battle of Adrianople exposed Roman military weaknesses on the battlefield. The Goths were victorious because of their successful usage of cavalry against the Roman infantry.This Gothic victory opened the door for further German attacks, beginning a domino effect that ended Roman imperial domination in Western Europe.

On August 378 CE, the battle took place between the rebellious Goths and a Roman army that had been called together to suppress the Gothic rebellion. The actual fighting occurred about 13 kilometers from Adrianople, modern Edirne, near the conjunction of the borders of Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey just west of Istanbul. The conflict involved the field army of the Eastern Roman Empire, commanded by the Emperor Flavius Valens, opposing a mixed Gothic army, with a core consisting of the Tervingi tribe under Fritigern, supported by Greuthungi led by Alatheus and Saphrax and other Gothic tribes.

The Goths made a treaty with the Romans in 376 CE that permitted them to settle within the empire, but the Goths rebelled because of the ill-treatment they received from the Romans. Valens intended to bring an end to this Gothic threat, but he attacked prematurely based on bogus intelligence reports about the Gothic inferior numbers, without waiting for the Western Roman army under Emperor Gratian to arrive. During the battle, the Roman army was thoroughly defeated. Two-thirds of the Roman forces, about 15,000 soldiers, were killed, including Valens.

The Gothic Cavalrymen

The Gothic forces at Adrianople were equipped with heavy cavalry. The Gothic cavalrymen were mounted on strong horses that could carry the weight and body armor of its rider. The Gothic horses wore body armor to protect the animal from various weapons. Since their armored horse were less susceptible to crippling injuries, the Gothic horsemen were more willing to close with enemy and employ their weapon of choice, the thrusting spear with devastating impact and deadly effect. The Gothic cavalry tactics played a decisive role in the Battle of Adrianople.

Battlefield Analysis and Tactics

During the summer’s mid-day heat, advanced elements of the both Roman armies were moving towards the Goths. Valens foolishly decided to initiate a decisive battle before Gratian could arrive on the battlefield because he was seeking all the glory and faulty reconnaissance persuaded him that only half the Gothic forces were present.

The Battle of Adrianople developed in several stages. First, the Romans advanced in column towards the Gothic encampment. As the Roman army approached, the Goths adopted a defensive formation, circling their wagons into laagers to protect their women and children. They protected their makeshift defense with infantry.

Second, the Roman army was suffering from heat exhaustion, thirst, and hunger, and in the absence of the Gothic cavalry a truce was being negotiated, when a disorderly attack by the Roman cavalry units provoked a general military engagement.

Third, after the Roman cavalry attack failed, suddenly the Gothic cavalry return from a foraging expedition and violently charged the Roman right flank, which resulted in the deaths of many Roman soldiers. As more returning Gothic cavalry arrive, they aggressively attacked the Roman’s exposed left flank. The Roman ranks were crushed together by Gothic cavalry attacks on both flanks until they broke entirely.

Finally, after the Roman cavalry was driven from the field in chaos, the Gothic cavalry continue their attacks on the Roman infantry’s flanks, rapidly surrounding and annihilating the Roman center. About two-thirds of the Roman army died on the hot summer battlefield, including Valens, whose body was never discovered.

Battlefield Impact and Significance

Although the Battle of Adrianople was significant because of Rome’s defeat, the conflict’s real impact was on the future of warfare. From the beginning of western warfare until the engagement at Adrianople, the infantryman with club, sword, and spear dominated the battlefield in European combat. Cavalrymen were deployed for occasional strikes, screening the flanks, and executing reconnaissance operations, but only a few warriors riding on horseback were employed directly against enemy forces.

This battlefield tactic changed with the Gothic victory at Adrianople. The Gothic cavalrymen became the predecessors of the Medieval Knights and many cavalry units that would dominate European Battlefields for the next 1000 years. Only when the English longbow archers’ defeated the French cavalrymen at Crecy (1346 CE) and Agincourt (1415 CE), the cavalry tactics of Adrianople began to disappear from many European battlefields. By the 20th century, horse cavalry had been replaced by armored mechanized cavalry on the ground and in the air where similar maneuvers and tactics were resurrected back to life again.

Watch the video: Barbarians Rising: Fritigern and the Battle of Adrianople. History (July 2022).


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