Hadrianople, Battle of

(378)
   Major battle between Roman imperial armies and rebellious Gothic armies; traditionally regarded as an important step in the "fall" of the Roman Empire. The battle was a dramatic victory for the Visigoths, who destroyed the imperial force and killed the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Valens. Although they inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Romans, the Visigoths were unable to take advantage of their victory and were forced to come to terms with the great Roman emperor, Theodosius. The victory of the Visigoths at Hadrianople did cause a change in the relationship between Rome and the barbarians, however, despite the Visigoths' inability to capitalize on their victory.
   During the course of the migrations of peoples during the later fourth century, increasing pressure was placed on the Roman frontiers. This was due in part to the aggressive nature of the Huns, whose movement westward had either absorbed or displaced numerous settled peoples. Among these peoples was a group that later came to be known as the Visigoths. Their traditional homeland had been devastated and could no longer support them, and the Huns proved too great a threat to the Visigoths. A new leader, Fritigern, seized power and declared that he would save his people by fleeing into the Roman Empire. By the year 376, when Fritigern petitioned for entry, the absorption of foreign peoples was nothing new for Rome, which accepted them on the condition that they lay down their arms, submit to Roman authority, pay Roman taxes, work the land, and serve the Roman military. Other peoples had done this, and Fritigern's Goths were admitted on these conditions, but the number of people admitted, which Bury placed at 80,000 or more, and the incompetence of the local administration opened the way for disaster.
   The Goths flooded across the border in numbers too large for the local military forces to keep order, and the Goths simply overran them. The emperor Valens was occupied with the Persian frontier and requested aid from his Western counterpart, Gratian. Over the next two years the Goths operated freely in the Balkans as the emperors prepared to march against them. In 378 both Valens and Gratian were ready to crush the Goths, and Valens assembled an army of infantry and cavalry of between 30,000 and 40,000 troops. Gratian too mobilized a sizeable force, but he faced a threat from the Alemanni, which he successfully overcame, that detained him from joining Valens. The Eastern emperor was all the more anxious to win a great victory over the barbarians after Gratian's victory over the Alemanni. He moved his troops forward to meet Fritigern's Goths, which reconnaissance numbered at 10,000 warriors, but which was actually three times that number. Despite warnings from Gratian, who had witnessed at first hand the new battle tactics of the Goths, Valens proceeded. In early August he marched his troops against the Goths near Hadrianople, and Fritigern sent messengers to treat with Valens. On August 5 and again on the day of battle, August 9, Fritigern sought to negotiate with the emperor, but without success. While Fritigern sent messengers, Valens sent his troops forward without food or water in the boiling sun to meet the Goths, who had set fires along the Romans' path. As negotiations were beginning, Roman soldiers, without orders, began the attack that proved fatal to the Roman force. The Roman attack was disorganized, and the counterattack of the Gothic cavalry was rapid and forceful. Units of Gothic cavalry returned from foraging to join the fray and made the assault on the Romans even more terrible. A cavalry unit then attacked the Roman left flank, and the Gothic foot soldiers made a ferocious push on the Roman center. The Roman cavalry fled, abandoning the Roman infantry, which was quickly surrounded and cut to pieces by superior Gothic forces. The Romans lost nearly two-thirds of the army at Hadrianople, and most of the casualties were from the infantry, the backbone of the Roman military. Among the dead were generals, unit officers, and the emperor Valens himself, who was either killed by an arrow or wounded and then burned to death when the building he was taken to was set on fire by the Goths.
   Although Ammianus declared it the worst loss since Rome's defeat at Cannae and a tragic defeat for the empire, the Battle of Hadrianople was not a military turning point nor especially catastrophic for the empire. The Goths had a golden opportunity to do permanent harm to the empire after their victory, but they failed to follow it up with an aggressive assault on the empire's cities or armies. Moreover, the arrival of the new emperor, Theodosius, provided the empire with much needed support, and together with the Western emperor, Gratian, he was able to force the Goths to terms within a few years of the defeat in 378. Fritigern's victory, however, did force the Romans to come to terms with the Goths and settle them in Roman territory as subjects of the empire. And it was the descendants of these Goths, under the leadership of Alaric, who caused such great disturbance in the early fifth century. The Battle of Hadrianople also contributed to the triumph of Catholic Christianity, because the death of the Arian Christian Valens seemed to be God's judgment, and the new emperor Theodosius ultimately declared Catholic Christianity the official religion of the empire.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Ammianus Marcellinus. The Later Roman Empire (a.d. 354-378). Trans. Walter Hamilton. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1986.
 ♦ Bury, John B. The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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