When the Roman Emperor Valens was killed in Battle by Goths


[This is in the late Roman Empire. The Goths seemed to have used wagons in the way that Americans and Boers would later do, except they did it on a bigger scale. Here's a summary of the battle. Jan]

The Battle of Adrianople (9 August 378), sometimes known as the Battle of Hadrianopolis, was fought between an Eastern Roman army led by the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens and Gothic rebels (largely Thervings as well as Greutungs, non-Gothic Alans, and various local rebels) led by Fritigern. The battle took place in the vicinity of Adrianople, in the Roman province of Thracia (modern Edirne in European Turkey). It ended with an overwhelming victory for the Goths and the death of Emperor Valens.[8]

Part of the Gothic War (376–382), the battle is often considered the start of the process which led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century.

A detailed contemporary account of the lead-up to the battle from the Roman perspective was written by Ammianus Marcellinus and forms the culminating point at the end of his history.[9]


On the morning of 9 August, Valens decamped from Adrianople, where he left the imperial treasury and administration under guard. The reconnaissance of the preceding days informed him of the location of the Gothic camp north of the city. Valens arrived there around noon after marching for eight miles over difficult terrain.[37]

The Roman troops arrived tired and dehydrated, facing the Gothic camp that had been set up on the top of a hill. The Goths, except for their cavalry, defended 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.

Some Roman units 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, returning from a foraging expedition, 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 of the Roman army. The cavalry continued their attack, and the killing 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 fled. Valens’ final fate is unknown; he may have died anonymously on the field. His body was never found. An alternative story circulated after the battle that Valens had escaped the field with a bodyguard and some eunuchs and hid in a peasant’s cottage. The enemy attempted to pillage the cottage, apparently unaware Valens was inside. Valens’ men shot arrows from the second floor to defend the cottage and in response the Goths set the cottage on fire. The bodyguard leaped out the window and told the Goths who was inside, but it was too late. Valens perished in the flames.[38]


According to the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, the Goths immediately marched to the city of Adrianople and attempted to take it; Ammianus gives a detailed account of their failure. Ammianus refers to a great number of Roman soldiers who had not been let into the city and who fought the besieging Goths below the walls. 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, the low point of the Crisis of the Third Century. The battle was a crushing blow for the late Empire, resulting in the destruction of the East Roman army’s core, the deaths of valuable administrators, and the destruction of nearly all armories on the Danubian provinces following the battle. The lack of reserves for the army worsened the recruitment crisis. Despite the losses, the battle of Adrianople did not mark the end of the Roman Empire because the imperial military power was only temporarily crippled.

The defeat at Adrianople signified that the barbarians, fighting for or against the Romans, had become powerful adversaries. The Goths, though partly tamed by Valens’ successor Theodosius I (who accepted them once more as allied tribes), were never expelled, exterminated, or assimilated; they remained as a distinct entity within its frontiers, for a few years allies, later semi or fully independent or often hostile.

The long-term implications of the battle of Adrianople for the art of war have often been overstated, with many 20th-century writers repeating Sir Charles Oman’s idea[39] 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 idea was overturned by T. S. Burns in 1973.[40] Burns shows that the Gothic army’s cavalry arm was 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 378, with cavalry increasing its role and status in the Army from at least the time of the Emperor Gallienus (253 to 268).[citation need

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Adrianople#/

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