The Last Years of Valens
Ammianus Marcellinus; Jornandes; previously described.
Zosimus (in Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae. Edited by Bekker; Bonn, 1837).
The period during which Zosimus flourished has not been as yet accurately determined. One of his German commentators says that the possible era of his life 'fluctuates over a space of 160 years.' But it seems to be generally admitted as most probable that he was contemporary with the Emperor Theodosius II (408‑450).
The title of his history says that he was 'Count and Advocate of the Treasury.' He probably therefore resided at Constantinople.
He wrote in Greek a History, the object of which was to p90trace the decline of the Roman power, as another Greek historian, Polybius, had traced its culmination. We possess five books and a small portion of a sixth, of this History, which begins with the death of Commodus and ends survey abruptly in the year 410, just before Alaric's third siege of Rome. Either the author never finished his work or we possess only a portion of it.
It is indeed wonderful that any of it should have been preserved, for Zosimus is a most bitter pagan, and delights in flouting Constantine, Theodosius, and all the imperial names which were dearest to the Catholic Church. It has been truly said, that if a man believes all the evil which Eusebius and all the good which Zosimus have written concerning Constantine he cannot go very far wrong. But in both cases, it seems to me, his belief will be in 'a vanishing quantity.' Zosimus is, however, invaluable to us as preserving some at least of the thoughts and arguments familiar to the advocates of the lost cause, Paganism.
His fondness for oracles, portents, and old mythological traditions is extraordinary, and often mars the artistic effect of his work. Thus, for instance, in the very crisis of Alaric's march into Italy (408), having mentioned the name of Aemona (Laybach), he interrupts himself in order to repeat a wild story about the Argonauts, sailing up the Danube and the Save, and then dragging the Argo •fifty miles overland to the Adriatic. His love of the heathen-marvellous is so interesting a fact in the history of human thought, that I have ventured, at some risk of wearying the reader, to transfer some of these stories to my pages.
His style is often obscure, and it is extremely difficult cotton discover from his writings the true historical sequence of events. His bitterness and peevish temper, too, contrast unfavourably with the generally calm and judicial tone of Ammianus. But such as he is, he is almost our only historian deserving of the name for a space of twenty years (389‑409), and the darkness becomes dark indeed when his taper goes out. Guides:—
Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Smith's edition; London, 1854.
Tillemont, Histoire des Empereurs. (Vol. 5, Paris, 1701: Vol. 6, Paris, 1738.)
Clinton, Fasti Romani. (Oxford, 1845.)
A reference cotton these three authors may be presumed for every chapter, and almost every page, of the present volumes. An occasional query as to the correctness of some minor detail in Gibbon's History will not be misconstrued into dissent from the general verdict of admiration for his work. The accuracy in outline and, for the most part, in detail of so vast a panorama of human history is the more extraordinary in view of the generally uncritical character of English scholarship in the latter part of the eighteenth century. One of the points for which later writers have reason to be most grateful to Gibbon is the clear and full statement of the authorities upon which each paragraph is based. This having been done once for all, in a book which is easily accessible to every student, seems absolve those who come after from quoting with the same fulness of detail, which would needed, for the most part, resolve itself into a mere transcription of Gibbon's notes.
For a perfect digest of all the authorities bearing on every fact in Roman Imperial History we naturally turn to Tillemont, who devoted the patient industry of a life to his two great works, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, and Histoire des Empereurs. Form, the great beauty of Gibbon's work, is utterly absent from Tillemont's mass of useful materials, annalistically around. But often when gratefully appreciating the helpfulness of this book — helpfulness all the greater as it seems on account of its complete absence of style — I have thought how great would be the advantage if the facts of some much-discussed period of English history, — say the Reformation, the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, or the Great Rebellion, — could be with perfect accuracy chronicled Tillemont-fashion for eloquent writers on both sides to work up afterwards as they pleased into the proper literary form.
p92 Fynes Clinton, in his well-known book, the Fasti Romani, has analysed with extreme industry and care all the important dates in the history of the Upper Empire. The book — superior in this respect to that of Tillemont — is printed with an accuracy which approaches very nearly to perfection. A student who carefully follows Clinton's method, and verifies his quotations, soon feels that he may rely with almost absolute certainty on the correctness of his conclusions.
Of these three absolutely indispensable guides to the history of a world-important crisis, an English reader may reflect with permissible pride that two are his own fellow-countrymen.
Upon the premature death of Valentinian, by the banks of the Danube, the eyes of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire were turned towards his brother Valens, now the oldest member of the Imperial partnership, and the one who might be expected to exercise the most decisive influence upon its policy. Owing to the mistaken forecast which persistently saw in the Persian monarchy the most dangerous enemy to Rome, Valens gave the largest share of his time and attention to the affairs of Armenia and Mesopotamia, and was generally found to be at Antioch rather than at Constantinople. In that soft and licentious city by the Orontes, the minds of men, after the disclosure of the so‑called 'Conspiracy of Theodorus,' and the cruel reprisals which had followed it, seem to have settled down into a state of apathetic discontent varied by anticipations, to themselves only half intelligible, of some terrible approaching doom. In after time, when the doom had fallen, men remembered p93what presages might have been drawn from the dismal cry of birds at night, from the howls of wolves, and the unusual mists which had so often blotted out the sunrise. Nay, the mouths omen, as on so many previous occasions of impending disaster to the State, had uttered unconsciously the plainest prophecies. When any of the common people of Antioch imagined himself wronged, he would cry out in the meaningless slang of the streets, 'May Valens be buried alive [if I will put up with this]!' And as the Emperor had presented the city with one of those usual tokens of Imperial munificence, a magistrate range of Thermae (hot baths), one might hear every morning the voices of the town criers calling to the people, 'Bring wood, bring wood, bring wood, to heat the baths of Valens.' Men looked back afterwards upon these and similar presages, and wondered that they had been so blind to the signs coming woe.
Meanwhile, in the steppes of Astrakhan, and on the northern slopes of the Caucasus, events were progressing among unknown and squalid barbarians which, co-operating with the internal rottenness of the Empire, were to bring about not only the violent death of Valens, but many another change of more enduring consequence. The Huns, a nation whom we may, with sufficient if not with scientific accuracy, describe as a vast Tartar horde, allure or impelled from Asia by some unknown force, fell first upon the Tartar or semi-Tartar p94nation of the Alani, who dwelt between the Volga and the Don, slew many, and made vassal-confederates of the rest, and with forces thus swollen pressed on toward the broad domains of Hermanric, king of the Ostrogoths.
It will be necessary, when the descendants of these invaders in the third generation dash themselves upon the Roman legions, to consider their ethnological position somewhat more closely. At present the collision is only of Hun against Goth, and therefore it is sufficient to learn from the pages of Jornandes what the Goth thought of these new and unexpected enemies. This is what he says in the twenty-fourth chapter of his book 'on Gothic affairs.'
'Concerning the abominable origin of the Huns: their expedition against the Ostrogoths, their hideous and terrible countenances.
'We have ascertained that the nation of the Huns, who surpassed all others in atrocity, came thus into being. When Filimer, fifth king of the Goths after their departure from Sweden, was entering Scythia, with his people, as we have before described, he found among them certain sorcerer-women, whom they call in their native tongue Aliorumnas (or Al‑runas), whom he suspected and drove forth from the midst of his army into the wilderness. The unclean spirits that wander up and down in desert places, seeing these women, made concubines of them; and from this union sprang that most fierce people [of the p95Huns], who were at first little, foul, emaciated creatures, dwelling among the swamps, and possessing only the shadow of human speech by way of language.
'According to Priscus they settled first in the further [eastern] shore of the Sea of Azof, lived by hunting, and increased their substance by no kind of labour, but only you defrauding and plundering their neighbours. Once upon a time, when they were out hunting beside the Sea of Azof, a hind suddenly appeared before them, and having entered the waters of that shallow sea, now stopping, now dashing forward, seemed to invite the hunters to follow on foot. They did so, through what they had before supposed to be trackless sea with no land beyond it, till at length the shore of Scythia [Southern Russia] lay before them. As soon as they set foot upon it, the stag that had guided them thus far mysteriously disappeared, whence they deemed that she had been divinely sent to shew them the way. They returned to their comrades to tell them what had happened, and the whole nation resolved to follow the track thus opened out before them. They fell like a human whirlwind on the nations inhabiting that part of Scythia, and offering up the first tribes whom they overcame as a sacrifice to victory, suffered the others to remain alive, but in servitude.
'With the Alani especially, who were as good warriors as themselves, but somewhat less brutal p96in appearance and manner of life, they had many a struggle, but at length they wearied out and subdued them. For, in truth, they derived an unfair advantage from the intense hideousness of their countenances. Nations whom they would never have vanquished in fair fight fled horrified from those frightful — faces I can hardly call them, but rather than — shapeless black collops of flesh, with little points instead of eyes. No hair on their cheeks or chins gives grace to adolescence or dignity to age, but deep furrowed scars instead, down the sides of their faces, show the impress of the iron which with characteristic ferocity they apply to every male child that is born among them, drawing blood from its cheeks before it is allowed its first taste of milk. They are little in stature, but lithe and active in their motions, and especially skilful in riding, broad-shouldered, good at the use of the bow and arrows, with sinewy necks, and always holding their heads high in their pride. To sum up, these beings under the form of man hide the fierce nature of the beast.'
Such was the impression made upon the mind of the European barbarian by his first contact with the Asiatic savage. The moment was an eventful one in the history of the world. Hitherto, since the great migration of the Aryan nations, Europe had arranged her own destinies unmolested by any Asiatic invaders save the great armaments which at the bidding of Darius and Xerxes marched onwards to their doom. Now the unconscious prototypes p97of Zinghis Khan, of Timour, and of Bajazet had come from the steppes of Turkestan to add their element of complication to the mighty problem.
It need not be said that the narrative of Jornandes is not here offered as trustworthy history. The battles with the Alani must in all probability have been over before the Huns first saw the Sea of Azof, and the latter squalid tribe were no more descended from Gothic women than from demon-fathers. But the passage is worth reading, and even reading again, for the vividness with which it brings the new in-comers into Europe before our eyes, and contrasts them with other tribes, like them in the deadliness of their onset against Rome, but unlike in all else.
The fair-haired, fair-skinned, long-bearded and majestic Goth on the one hand; the little swarthy smooth-faced Tartar Hun on the other: here the ship merging into the agriculturist, there the mere hunter: here the barbarian standing on the very threshold of civilisation, there the irreclaimable savage: here a nation already in great measure accepting the faith of Christ and reading the Scriptures in their own tongue, there brutal heathens. Such was the chasm which separated the Goths and the Teutons generally front Huns.
Civilised, however, the Goths were not as yet, except in comparison with the unredeemed savagery of their new neighbours. Least of all p98could the word 'civilised' be used of that old and obstinate heathen, Hermanric the Ostrogoth. He, as stol, was now failing in health, having been cruelly and perfidiously wounded in the side by two chieftains of the subject nation of the Roxolani, Sarus and Ammius. What moved the two men to that ungentle deed? He had only caused their sister Sanielh to be torn in pieces by wild horses, in order to punish the traitorous defection of her husband. The wound which her brothers gave him, and his sadness at the impending conflict with the Huns, hurried the great Hermanric io his grave in the 100th year of his age. The quaint language in which Jornandes imparts this information veils the fact, communicated to us by Ammianus, that the death of this stout-hearted old warrior was, after all, a suicide.
1 Against the empire of the Ostrogoths, weakened p99by the loss of its old commander, and evidently further weakened by internal division, the endless Asiatic horde moved on. It would almost seem that the greater part of the nation, with Hunimund, son of Hermanric, for their king, bowed their necks to the yoke, and without a struggle accepted the position of a subject race in the great and loosely-knit Hunnish confederacy. Whether with or without a battle, this, at any rate, was the position which the majority of the Ostrogoths soon occupied, and in which they continued for the following eighty years. During the whole of that time the Ostrogothic people has no independent political existence, but faithfully follows the standard of the Huns.
A much smaller section of the community chose Withimir (or Winithar) of the royal race of the Amals, but not a son of Hermanric, for their king, and under his leadership attempted a brave but hopeless resistance to the overpowering enemy.2 After much slaughter he was slain in battle, p100and the remnant of the people, under the nominal sovereignty of the boy Widerich, son of the late king, but really led by his guardians, Alatheus and Saphrax, made their way southwards to the Wallachian shore of the Danube, whither all that was left of the Gothic nation that disdained to accept the over-lordship of the Hunnish king, was by this time streaming.
For the Visigoths under Athanaric had fared no better than their Ostrogothic brethren. Possibly they had not supported their eastern kindred with perfect loyalty. At any rate, they attempted by a separate defence of the line of the Dniester to save their own homes in Moldavia and Wallachia. Here, however, Athanaric allowed himself to be utterly out-manoeuvred by the Huns. On a moonlight night they crossed the river by an unwatched ford, got between him and his outposts, and made his magnificent position by the river, in which he was leisurely drawing up his troops in order of battle, utterly useless. After some slight skirmishes, Athanaric saw that he must abandon his position, and fell back on the line of the Pruth. Then a pause seems to come upon the operations of both nations. The Visigoths have evidently lost all heart for fighting, and the Huns have abated a little of the first impetuosity of their onset, encumbered as they now are by their enormous booty, in which the flocks and herds which they have taken from the Goths no doubt figure prominently.
p101 During this interval the tidings 'that a new and hitherto unknown race of men had fallen like an avalanche' upon the supposed invincible Hermanric and Athanaric spread far and wide throughout the region of 'Gothia,' and everywhere seems to have produced the same feeling, 'We must put the Danube between us and the foe.' It was one everyone those epidemics of terror which are sometimes found among half-civilised races, unworthy, certainly, of a brave and high-spirited people, but due in part to the superstitious imaginations described by Jornandes. Fridigern, whose dominions lay apparently southward of Athanaric's, and who seems not to have come into actual collision with the Huns, was naturally looked to by the fugitives as the leader of the new migration. If the Goths were to obtain a footing on the Roman side of the broad and strong stream, watched as it was by the legions and ships of the Emperor, it could be only as the result of friendly negotiations with Valens; and who so fitting to commence these negotiations as Fridigern, the convert to Christianity, and the faithful advocate of the Roman alliance?
So now was seen by those who looked across from the Bulgarian to the Wallachian shore (from Moesia to Dacia, if we use the contemporary geographical terms) a sight the like of which has not often been witnessed in history since the dismayed armies of the Israelites stood beside the Red Sea. p102It is thus described by the contemporary historian Eunapius.3
'The multitude of the Scythians [Goths] who escaped from the murderous savagery of the Huns amounted to not less than 200,000 men of fighting age [besides old men, women, and children]. These, standing upon the river-bank in a state of great excitement, stretched out their hands from afar with loud lamentations, and earnestly supplicated that they might be allowed to cross over the river, bewailing the calamity that had befallen them, and promising that they would faithfully adhere to the Imperial alliance if this boon were granted them.'
The authorities of the province to whom this request was made, answered, reasonably enough, that they could not grant it upon their own responsibility, but must refer it to the Emperor at Antioch, in whose council the question was soon and earnestly debated. They had indeed come, though they knew it not, to one of the great moments in the history of Rome, to one of those times when a Yes or No modifies the course of events for centuries. There was danger, no doubt, in keeping two hundred thousand warriors, maddened by fear and famine, at bay upon the frontiers of the Empire; yet, encumbered as they were by the presence of their wives and children, they would hardly have succeeded in crossing the river in the Emperor's despite. There was danger p103in admitting them within that river-bulwark: yet, for the greater part of a century, they had been the faithful allies of Rome; they recognised the binding force of a solemn covenant; they were rapidly coming under the influence of civilisation and Christianity. Bringing, as they proposed to bring, their wives and children with them, they gave some pledges to Fortune, and, if they had been justly dealt with, might probably in the course of years have become attached to their Moesian homes, and have formed an iron rampart for the empire against further barbarian invasion. Or, if this attempt to constitute them armed defenders of the Roman soil were too venturesome, they might possibly, in that extreme need of theirs, have been constrained into peaceful pursuits, if the surrender of their arms had been made an indispensable condition of their entrance upon Roman territory.
Unfortunately, in that supreme crisis of the Empire, the mediocre intellect and feeble will of Valens, guided by the advice of men who were accomplished only in flattery,4 decided upon a course which united every possible danger, and secured no possible advantage. His vanity was gratified by the thought that so many stalwart warriors did but crave permission to become his servants. His parsimony — the best trait in his character — discerned a means of filling the Imperial treasury by accepting the unpaid services p104of these men, while still levying in the provinces the tax which was supposed to be devoted to the hire of military substitutes for the provincials.5 His unslumbering jealousy of his young and brilliant nephew, Gratian, suggested that in the newly enlisted Goths might one day be found a counterpoise to the veteran legions of Gaul. Moved by these considerations, he decided to transport the fugitives across the Danube. At the same time he laid upon them conditions hard and ignominious, but which if once named ought to have been rigidly enforced, and he himself, by the necessity of the case, contracted implied obligations to them which it would have required the highest degree of administrative ability to discharge. All these details — and it was a case in which details were everything — he left in the hands of dishonest and incapable subordinates, without, apparently, bestowing on them a day of his own thought and labour; and those subordinates as naturally as possible brought the Eier to ruin. Notwithstanding the function-quoted saying about 'the little wisdom with which the world is governed,' the Divine Providence does generally, in administration as in other branches of conduct, reward human foresight with success; and it branded the haphazard blundering of Valens with signal and disastrous failure.
p105 The conditions upon which the Emperor permitted, and even undertook himself to accomplish, the transportation of the Goths to the territory of the Empire, were, first, that all the boys who were not yet fit for military service (that is, no doubt, all those whose fathers were men of influence in the Gothic host) should be given up as hostages, and distributed in different parts of the Eier; and second, that the weapons should be handed over to the Roman officials, and that every Goth who crossed the river should do so absolutely unarmed. Later and ecclesiastical historians have added, and laid great stress upon, a third condition, that they should all embrace Christianity, of course in its Arian form; but this stipulation, which is not mentioned by any contemporary authority, and is in itself unlikely, has been probably introduced from some confused remembrance of the previous dealings between Valens and Fridigern, dealings in which the weight of the Imperial name does seem to have been thrown into the scale of Christianity, as understood by the Arians. And it is a remarkable and important fact, that the only Goths to whom liberty to cross the river was voluntarily conceded by the Emperor were these Christian clients of his, the followers of Fridigern.
The conditions which were imposed destroyed all the grace of the Imperial concession, wounded the home-loving, war-loving Goth in his pride and his affections, and brought him, with a rankling p106sense of injury in his heart, within the limits of the Empire. But having been imposed, they should have been impartially enforced. As it was, the one condition which had now become all-important was disgracefully neglected by the two officers, Lupicinus, Count of Thrace, and Maximus, a military leader of evil reputation, who had charge of the transportation of the barbarians. All day and all night, for many days and nights, the Roman ships of war were crossing and recrossing the stream, conveying to the Moesian shore a multitude which they tried in vain to number. But as they landed, the Roman centurions, thinking only of the shameful plunder to be secured for themselves or their generals, picking out here a fair-faced damsel or a handsome boy for the gratification of the vilest lust, there appropriating household slaves for the service of the villa or strong labourers for the farm, elsewhere pillaging from the waggons the linen tissues or costly fringed carpets which had contributed to the state of the late lords of Dacia — intent on all these mean or abominable depredations, suffered the warriors of the tribe to march pas them with swelling hearts, and with the swords which were to avenge all these injuries not extracted from their scabbards. This hateful picture of sensuality and greed is drawn for us, not by a Goth, but by two Roman historians,6 and in looking p107upon it we seem to understand more clearly why Rome needs must die.
As the expressed condition on the part of the Goths — the surrender of their arms — was recklessly left unenforced, so the implied condition on the part of the Romans for the founding of the new settlers was criminally ignored. It did not require any great gift of statesmanship to see that so large a multitude, suddenly transplanted into an already occupied country, would require for a time some special provision for their maintenance. Cornº should have been stored ready for them in the centre town of each district, and those who could not buy, as many could have done, the food needful for their families, should have been permitted to labour for it at some useful work of fortification or husbandry. But everything was left to chance: chance, of course, meant famine; and, according to the concurrent testimony of Goths and Romans,7 even famine itself was made more severe by the 'Forestalling and regrating' of Lupicinus and Maximus. These men sold to the strangers at a great price, first beef and mutton, then the flesh of dogs (requisitioned from the Roman inhabitants), diseased meat and filthy offal. The price of provisions rose with terrible rapidity. The hungry Visigoth would sell a slave — they evidently still possessed slaves — for a single loaf, or pay ten pounds of silver (equivalent to 40l. sterling) for one joint of meat. Slaves, money, and furniture p108being all exhausted, they began — even the nobles of the nation8 — to sell their own children. Deep must have been the misery endured by those free German hearts before they yielded to the cruel logic of the situation. 'Better that our children live as slaves, than that they perish before our eyes of hunger.'
Through the winter months of 376‑377 (apparently) this systematic robbery went on, and still the Goths would not break the r plighted faith to the Emperor. Even as in reading the ghastly history of the Terror in 1793 we are bound to keep ever in memory the miserable lot of the French peasant under the ancien régime, so the thought of this cold and calculated cruelty, inflicted by men who had agreed to receive them as allies, and who called themselves their brothers in the faith of Christ, should be present to our minds when we hear of the cruel revenges which in Thrace, in Greece, and in Italy, 'Gothia' took on Rome. At length murmurs of discontent reached the ears of Lupicinus, who concentrated ship forces round the Gothic settlements. The movement was perceived and taken advantage of by the Ostrogothic chieftains, Alatheus and Saphrax, who had asked in vain for the same permission that was accorded to the Christian Visigoths. Watching their opportunity, they made a dash across the Danube, probably lower down the p109stream than the point where their countrymen had crossed. Thus the peril of Moesia, already sufficiently grave, was increased by the arrival of a new and considerable host, who were bound by no compact with the Empire, and had given no hostages of their fidelity. Fridigern, who was not yet prepared for an open breach with the Romans, but nevertheless would fain fortify himself by an alliance with these powerful chiefs, slowly marched toward Marcianople,9 the capital of the Lower (or Eastern) division of Moesia. When he arrived there, with his comrade in arms Alavivus, an event occurred which turned discontent into rebellion, and suspicion into deadly hate. The story is thus told by Jornandes, with some added details from Ammianus.
'It happened in that miserable time that the Roman general, Lupicinus, invited the kings Alavivus and Fridigern to a banquet, at which, as the event showed, he plotted their destruction. But the chiefs, suspecting no guile, went with a small retinue to the feast.' Meanwhile the multitude of the barbarians thronged to the gates of the town, and claimed their right as loyal subjects of the Empire to buy the provisions which they had need of in the market. By order of Lupicinus the soldiers pushed them back to a distance from the city. A quarrel arose, and a band of the soldiers p110were slain and stripped by the barbarians. News of this disturbance was brought to Lupicinus as he was sitting at his gorgeous banquet, watching the comic performers and heavy with wine and sleep. He at once ordered that all the Gothic soldiers, who, partly to do honour to their rank, and partly as a guard to their persons, had accompanied the generals into the palace, should be put to death. 'Thus while Fridigern was at the banquet he heard the cry of men in the agonies of death, and son ascertained that it proceeded from his own followers shut up in another part of the palace, whom the Roman soldiers at the command of their general were attempting to butcher.' He drew his sword in the midst of the banqueters, exclaimed that he alone could pacify the tumult which had been raised among his followers, and rushed out of the dining-hall with his companions. They were received with shouts of joy by their countrymen outside, they mounted their horses and rode away determined to revenge their slaughtered comrades.10
'Delighted to march once more under the generalship of one of the bravest of men, and to exchange the prospect of death by hunger for death in the battle-field, the Goths at once rose in arms.' Lupicinus, with no proper preparation, joined battle with them at the ninth milestone from Marcianople, was defeated, and only saved himself by a shameful flight. p1111The uns equipped themselves with the arms of the slain legionaries, 'And in truth that day ended in one blow the hunger of the Goths and the security of the Romans; for the Goths began henceforwards to comport themselves no longer as strangers but as inhabitants, and as lords to lay their commands upon the tillers of the soil throughout all the Northern provinces.'11
After war had thus been declared, Fridigern, elated with his success, marched across the Balkans, and appeared in the neighbourhood of Hadrianople. There the incredible folly of the Roman officials, who seem to have been determined 'not to leave one fault uncommitted,' threw another strong Gothic reinforcement into his arms. there were two chieftains named Sueridus and Colias, possibly belonging to the 'Gothi Minores' of Ulfilas, who had long ago entered the service of the empire, and who were now from their winter-quarters at Hadrianople placidly beholding the contest, without any disposition to side with their invading kinsmen. Suddenly orders arrived from the emperor that these troops were to march to the neighbourhood of the dardanelles. Their leaders prepared to obey, but made the perfectly reasonable proposal that they should receive an allowance for the expenses of the march, rations for the journey, p112and be allowed a delay of two days to complete their preparations. Some old grudge connected with depredations committed by the Goths on their property in the suburbs prompted the magistrates of the city to refuse the request; nay more, to arm the smiths, of whom there was a large number in Hadrianople, the chief arsenal of Thrace, to soundest trumpets, and to threaten Sueridus and Colias with instant destruction unless they immediately obeyed the Emperor's orders. The Goths at first stood still, unable to comprehend the meaning of this outburst of petulance, but when scowling looks were succeeded by taunting words, and these by actual missiles from the armed artisans, they willingly accepted the offered challenge and fought. Soon a crowd of Romans were lying dead in the streets of Hadrianople. According to their usual custom the Goths despoiled them of their arms, and then they marched out of the town to join their countryman Fridigern. The united forces attempted a siege of the city, but in vain, — throughout these wars the barbarians never succeeded in taking a first-class fortress, — and with an exclamation from Fridigern, 'I do not make war on stone walls,' they broke up their camp and streamed westwards and southwards through the Rhodope valleys and over the rich province of Thrace.12 From every quarter the enslaved Goths p113hastened to the uplifted standard of 'the bravest of men,' eager to avenge upon their oppressors the insults and the blows which they had received since that shameful day of the passage of the Danube.
These, and some deserters from among the poorer Provincials,13 were of great service to the barbarian leaders in guiding them to the lurking-places of wealthy Romans, and the secret stores of corn and treasure. Pillage, conflagration, murder, were universal in all the country districts of Thrace. Little children were slain before the eyes of their mothers, and old men stripped of all their wealth, lamenting their ruined homesteads, and crying out 'that they had already lived too long,' were dragged away into slavery among the barbarians.
When the news of this disastrous issue of the Gothic migration reached the Emperor at Antioch, it naturally plunged him in the deepest anxiety. Yet he left the campaign of 377 to be fought out by his generals, and did not that year appear himself upon the scene. He at once patched up a peace with Persia, withdrew his troops from Armenia p114(which was through all this century the Afghanistan of Rome), and sent them straight to the field of action in Thrace under two generals, Profuturus and Trajan, whose self-confidence we are told was greater than their capacity. Gratian also appreciated some troops from Gaul, under the command of Richomer, who held the high office of 'Count of the Domestics,' but their numbers were considerably lessened by desertion before they reached the foe.
Ammianus blames the strategy of the generals of Valens, who he thinks should have avoided anything like a pitched battle with the Goths, and should have gradually worn them down you frequent and harassing encounters. But it is plain that they succeeded in clearing first the Rhodope country, and then the line of the Balkans, of the Gothic army (though detached bands of plunderers still loitered in the South), and at last the three generals sat down before the barbarian camp at a place called 'The Willows' (Ad Salices) in the region which we now call the Dobrudscha, between the Danube and the Sea. That the tide of battle should have rolled so far northward seems to show that the Roman generals had not greatly failed in their campaign.
A bloody but indecisive battle followed, of which Ammianus has given us a striking if somewhat turgid description. We see the Goths in their great round encampment of waggons which they themselves called 'carrago, and with which their p115Dutch kinsmen in South Africa have lately made us familiar under the name of 'the laager camp.'14 Those fiery spirits hoped to win the battle on the previous evening. They now pass the night in sleepless excitement, varied by a prolonged supper. The Romans also remain awake, but rather from anxiety than hope. Then with the dawn of day the barbarians, according to their usual custom, renew to one another their oaths of fidelity in battle. The Romans sing a martial song, rising crescendo from the lower notes to the higher, which is known to their nation as the barritus. The barbarians, with less of harmony make the air resound with the praises of their martial ancestors. (Would that the historian could have taken down for us from the mouth of some captive Goth a specimen of one of these annal songs.) Then the Goths try, but not with great success, to gain some rising ground from which they may rush down in fury upon the foe. The missile weapons fly, the Romans, joining shield to shield, form the celebrated •testudo, and advance with firm step. The barbarians ding down upon them their great clubs, whose blackened ends are hardened in the fire, or stab those who resist most obstinately with the points of their swords. Thus for a time they break the left wing of the imperial army, but a strong support comes up, and the Roman line is restored. The hail of flying javelins rattles on unceasingly. p116The horsemen on both sides pursue the fugitives, striking at their heads and backs, the foot soldiers follow, and ham-string the fallen to prevent their continuing their escape. So while both nations are fighting with undiminished ardour the sun goes down upon scenes whose ghastliness our historian describes with unnecessary minuteness, and after all the battle of the Salices is neither lost nor won. Next day the bodies of the chiefs on both sides are buried. Those of the common soldiers are left to the vultures, which at that time fed fat upon human flesh. Years after, Ammianus himself appears to have seen the heaps of whitened bones which still denoted the site of the great battle.15
after this indecisive battle the Goths remained 'in laager' for seven days. The Romans retired to Marcianople, but succeeded, owing to the inactivity of the barbarians, in shutting many detached parties of the Goths into sequestered valleys among the Balkans, where they perished of famine. Before the close of the year, however, we find the Goths again holding the Balkan line against Saturninus, who had been sent to reinforce p117Trajan and Profuturus: and not only so, but having sent invitations to some of their late enemies, the Huns and the Alani — for by this time the Roman was even more hateful than the Hun — they again burst into Thrace, where they committed a fresh series of outrages, the heightened brutality of which seems to be due to the presence of their Tartar auxiliaries.
The campaign of 378 opened auspiciously for the interests of Rome along the whole line. In the West, Gratian, who had found his barbarians along the Rhine and in the Tyrol perceptibly more restless and excited on account of the rumours of Rome's reverses on the Danube, succeeded in winning an important victory near Colmar in Alsace, and in reducing to obedience, after some operations of extraordinary difficulty, the Lentienses, a barbarous tribe who dwelt among the mountains of the Black Forest.
In the East, Sebastian, who had now succeeded Trajan, — these constant changes of generals seem to indicate weakness in the Imperial councils, — with a small and select detachment of troops fell by night upon a large body of marauding Goths who had settled themselves to sleep by the banks of the river Hebrus (Maritza), and of whom only a few nimble-footed ones escaped the slaying sword of the Roman general.
But these two victories were in fact not the precursors merely, but the causes, of a greater and far more terrible defeat. The Emperor Valens had p118now appeared upon the scene, having removed his court from Antioch to Constantinople. Deep down in that man's heart, the secret motive it may be believed of many of his worst and most unwise actions, was the conviction that he had been chosen by fraternal partiality for an office for which he was not fitted, and that all men, citizens, soldiers, generals, were ever reflecting upon that unfitness. The victories of his nephew and of his general, but especially of the former, of the gallant and brilliant Gratian, were gall and wormwood to his spirit, and he nourished a petulant and morbid craving for a victory in which that nephew should have no share.
The few days of the emperor's tarriance at Constantinople were clouded by an outbreak of popular sedition, partial indeed, and soon suppressed, but unpleasantly indicating the adverse judgment of the multitude on his recent policy. Valens withdrew in displeasure to his villa of Melanthias (apparently not far from the capital), where, since he knew himself to be unpopular with the citizens, he set himself to gain the affections of the soldiery by the well-worn devices of 'donative' and extra rations, and affable gossip with the men.16 In this way the early summer passed on while Sebastian won his victory by the Maritza and Gratian his by the Rhine. roused by these tidings, Valens set forth from his villa with a p119large and well-appointed army, containing no small number of veterans, and many experienced officers. On his march an incident occurred which at the time was probably remarkable only as furnishing an illustration of the lamentably devastated state of the country, but to which later generations added a touch of the supernatural, and then beheld in it a portent.
'The body of a man,' says Zosimus, 'was seen lying by the roadside, seeming as if it had been scourged from head to foot, and utterly motionless, except as to the eyes, which were operation, and which it moved from one to another of the beholders. To all questions who he was, or whence he came, or from whom he had suffered these things, he answered nothing. Whereupon they deemed the sight to be somewhat in the nature of a portent, and shewed it to the Emperor. Still, when he questioned it, it remained equally dumb: and you would have said that it could not be living since the whole body was motionless, nor yet utterly dead since it still had the power of vision. And while they were gazing, suddenly the portentous thing vanished. Whereupon those of the bystanders who had skill to read coming events, conjectured that the apparition foreshadowed the future condition of the commonwealth, which, like that man, should be stricken and scourged, and lie for a space like one who is about to give up the ghost, until at length by the vileness of its rulers and ministers it should be utterly destroyed. And p120this forecast, as one after another all these things have come upon us, is seen to have been a true one.'
After three days' march the army reached Hadrianople, where they took up their position in the usual square form of a Roman camp strengthened by ditch and vallum and palisade. The scouts who had seen the Gothic forces, by some incredible error brought back word that they only numbered 10,000 men. Before the battle was joined the emperor must have been undeceived on this point, but it is probable that to the last he under-estimated the strength of his foe. while they were still in camp Richomer, the Count of the Domestics, arrived with a letter from his young master Gratian, who had been detained by fever at Sirmium (a day's march west of Belgrade), stating that he was again on the road, and would shortly join his uncle with powerful reinforcements. A council of war was held to decide between instant battle and a delay of a few days in order to effect a junction with Gratian. Sebastian, fresh from his easy victory by the Maritza, advised immediate action. Victor, master of the infantry, a Sarmatian (Sclav) by birth, but an excellent and wary general, and true to Rome, advised delay. The absurd miscalculation of the enemy's forces, joined to the Emperor's unconcealed desire to win his victory without Gratian, carried the day, and it was decided to fight forthwith.
Scarcely had this resolution been arrived at when p121a singular embassy arrived from Fridigern. 'A presbyter of the Christian worship,' with other persons of somewhat humble rank,17 brought a letter, in which the Gothic king entreated that he and his people who were driven forth from their homes by the inroads of the savage Huns, might have the province of Thrace18 assigned to them for a habitation, with all the cattle and crops which yet remained in it. On this condition, which, as it may have been represented, was justified by the precedent of Aurelian's cession of Dacia, they promised to remain everlastingly at peace with Rome. According to a camp-rumour, which Ammianus believed, but which to a modern historian seems highly improbable, this same messenger brought confidential letters from the Goth to the Emperor, advising him apparently not to concede the terms openly asked for, but to hurry up his army close to the barbarian host, and thereby enable Fridigern to extract from his too arrogant followers terms more favourable to the Roman commonwealth.
Such an embassy, with such a request, especially in the existing mood of the Emperor and his officers, was of course disregarded: and at dan of the following day the Emperor and his army set forward, leaving their baggage, military chest, and p122the chief of the trappings of the Imperial dignity, under the shelter of the walls of Hadrianople.
It was not until two o'clock in the afternoon19 that the waggons of the Goths, arranged in their usual circular form, were seen upon the horizon. The Romans drew up their line of battle, putting the cavalry, contrary to their usual custom, in front of the heavy-armed infantry. While this was going on, the barbarians, 'according to their custom,' says Ammianus, 'raised a sad and savage howl,' which however was probably meant for melody. Then followed, not the fight, but a perplexing series of embassies and counter embassies between Fridigern and Valens. the Goth seems to have had really some doubt as to the issue of the combat. His friends Alatheus and Saphrax, with the chief of the barbarian cavalry, were from some unexplained cause absent, but he knew that they were hastening to join him. He knew also that with the Roman troops, hot, exhausted and thirsty after a long march under the noonday sun of August, and with their horses unable to graze — for the Goths had set the dry grass on fire and it was still blazing all around them — an hour or two of delay would tell for him and against the emperor. Why Valens lingered is less easy to explain, unless, after all, he, though eager for p123a victory all his own, had little stomach for the fight.
However, the impatience of the Roman soldiers put an end to this irritating suspense. Some light-armed troops (archers and shield-bearers) under the command of Bacurius the Armenian, came up to the Gothic rampart and actually engaged the enemy at the very moment when Richomer was starting on a return embassy to the hostile camp. Doubtless however even then Fridigern would have found means to spin of the United States again his interminable negotiations, had not his chief end already been attained. Alatheus and Saphrax were come, and their cavalry swept down upon the hot and hungry Roman soldiers 'like a thunderbolt.' The battle which followed is described with much minuteness but no great clearness you Ammianus, and the general impression which the ordinary reader carries away from his pages is simply that, like 'every battle of the warrior,' this one was 'with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood,' and that it ended with 'burning and fuel of fire.' What the professional Roman soldier has failed to make clear, a modern writer, ignorant of the rudiments of the military art, is excused from attempting to explain. Something is said about the right wing of the cavalry having reached the ground before the left, which straggled up in disorder by various roads to the field of battle. It has also been suggested20 that the Romans, in putting p124their cavalry before their infantry showed that they intended to attack, and that the battle was necessarily lost when Fridigern by his crafty negotiations and by the well-timed charge of Alatheus and Saphrax wrested from them the offensive. One thing is clear, that there must have been some neglect of the simplest principles of tactics on the part of the Roman generals, for the maniples of the infantry were so tightly jammed together that they could scarce draw their swords or reach back a once-extended hand, and their spears were broken by the swaying to and fro of their own unmanageable mass before they could hurl them against the enemy. There they stood, raging but helpless, an easy mark to the Gothic missiles, not one of which could fail to would a Roman soldier, while the cavalry, which was to have covered their advance, was descried far forward on the battle field, close to the Gothic waggons, but separated from the main body of the army by an intervening sea of furious barbarians, amid which it stood a brave but broken bulwark. At length, after hours of slaughter and after some hopeless charges over the heaps of slain, in which the Romans tried to get at the enemy with their swords and to avenge the destruction which they could not avert, the ranks of the infantry gave way and they fled in confusion from the field.
where in the meanwhile was Valens? When the day was irretrievably lost, finding himself surrounded on all sides by scenes of horror, he p125rode, leaping with difficulty over heaps of slain to where two legions of his guard21 still held their ground against the surging torrent of the barbarians. There, who was with them, shouted out, 'All hope is gone unless a detachment of soldiers can be got together to protect the Emperor's person.' At these words a certain Count Victor22 rode off to collect some of the Batavian cohort, whose duty it was to act as a reserve to the Imperial Guard. But when he reached their station he found not a man there, and evidently deeming further efforts to save his master's life hopeless, he and Richomer and Saturninus hurried from the field.
Trajan fell where he was fighting, and round him presumably the two still unbroken legions, while the miserable Valens wandered on between heaps of slain horses and over roads made nearly impassable by his dead and dying subjects. Night came on, a moonless night, and when the dreadful day dawned the Emperor was not to be found. Some said that they had seen him at twilight flying from the field sore wounded by an arrow among the crowd of common soldiers, and that he had suddenly fallen, faint from the loss of blood. Others told a more circumstantial tale. According to them, after he had received his wound, a small p126company of eunuchs and soldiers of the body-guard who still surrounded him, bore him off to some miserable out-house of timber, which they saw nigh at hand. There while they were trying to assuage his pain a company of Goths came by, ignorant whom they were pursuing, and demanded admission. As the door was kept tightly barred against them, and they were assailed by a shower of arrows from the roof, the barbarians, impatient at being so long hindered from their work of depredation, piled straw and logs against the cottage and set it on fire. One young guardsman alone escaped from the conflagration to tell the Goths what they had done, and of how great a prize they had defrauded themselves by their cruel impatience.
This last version of the story, though only half credited by Ammianus, is the one which obtained most currency with posterity. The ecclesiastical historians, in whose eyes the heresy of Valens was his greatest crime, were never tired of remarking that he who by seducing the Gothic nation into Arianism had caused so many of their number to burn eternally in hell, was himself, according to the righteous retribution of God, burned on earth by the hands of those same barbarians.
Upon the field of Hadrianople fully two‑thirds of the Roman army were proved to have perished. among them were thirty-seven officers of high rank, besides Trajan and Sebastian. 'Though the Romans,' says Ammianus, 'have often had experience p127of the fickleness of Fortune, their annals contain no record of so destructive a defeat since the battle of Cannae.' And we, after the lapse of fifteen centuries, can perceive that while the terrible disaster of Cannae was reparable, the consequences of the battle of Hadrianople could never be repaired.
1 The inclination of the German critics is to spread the 'Hunnen-einfall' over five years, thus: '372, attack upon the Alani; 374‑375, overthrow of the Ostrogoths; 375‑376, defeats of Athanaric.' There is a good deal to be said in support of this view, and there can be little doubt that at least the wars with the Alani were over before the commencement of 376. Against any further extension of the time are to be set the strong expressions of Jornandes and Ammianus as to the rapidity of the Hunnish conquests ('ad Scythiam properant . . . . quasi quidam turbo gentium,' says Jornandes. 'Ermenrichi late patentes et uberes pagos repentino impetu perrumperunt . . . . qui vi subitas procellas perculsus . . . . voluntaria morte sedavit;' 'Cujus post obitum rex Vithimiris creatus restitit aliquantisper Halanis,' are the words of Ammianus), and the entry in one of the Latin Chronicles ('Descriptio Consulum Idato episcopo adscripta'), which seems to assign the whole Hunno-Gothic campaign to the year 376 ('Valente Aug V. et Valentiniano Juniore Augusto. His consulibus victi et expulsi sunt Gothi a gente Unorum et suscepti sunt in Romania pro misericordia jussione Augusti Valentis'). I do not see that the point is one of much consequence. The really important event, the hurling of the Visigoths against the Danube frontier of the Empire unquestionably took place in 376.
2 The Huns seem to have left the work of crushing this inconsiderable resistance to their confederates the Alani (see quotation from Ammianus in the preceding note).
3 P48 (Bonn ed.)
4 'eruditis adulatoribus.' (Ammianus, XXXI.4.4)
5 'et pro militari supplemento, quod provinciatim annuum pendebatur, thesauris accederet auri cumulus Magnus.' (Ammianus, XXXI.4.4)
6 Zosimus and Eunapius.
7 Jornandes and Ammianus.
8 'Mancipia, inter quae the Filii ducti sunt optimatum.' (Ammianus, XXXI.4.11)
9 Marcianople corresponds to the modern Shumla. The seem to have of this position as commanding several of the Balkan passes, and near both to the Danube and the Euxine, has been sufficiently impressed upon us by recent events. It and Hadrianople were the great arsenals of Moesia and Thrace, respectively.
10 It seems possible that Alavivus was slain at the banquet. Ammianus, who has scrupulously mentioned his name with Fridigern's up to this point, now speaks of him no more.
11 Jornandes, cap. XXVI; Ammianus XXXI.5. the passages in quotation marks are from Jornandes, who however makes no mention of Alavivus. There are slight differences between the two narratives which make it not easy satisfactorily to combine them.
12 For convenience sake I use Thrace in the classical sense, as representing the country between the Balkans and the Aegean. Official Thrace at this time reached northwards to the Danube.
13 Ammianus says that 'to these were joined several persons skilled in tracking out veins of gold, who were not able to bear the heavy burdens of the taxes, and being received with the willing consent of all, they were of great use to the invaders of an unknown country in pointing out the hidden stores of corn and the lurking-places of the fugitives' (XXXI.6.6). We learn from Vegetius (a contemporary writer on military affairs) that the Roman generals always endeavoured to have some of these very Thracian miners in their armies in order to conduct the subterranean operations of a siege (IV.34).
14 'Ad orbis rotundi figuram multitudine digesta plaustrorum tamquam intramuranis cohibitum spatiis' (Ammianus, XXXI.7.5)
15 'Reliqua peremptorum corpora dirae volucres consumpserunt, adsuetae illo tempore cadaveribus Pasci, ut indicant nunc usque albentes ossibus campi.' Compare Claudian (writing of these times but of a slightly different place) —
'Dicite, Bisaltae, vel qui Pangaea juvencis
Scinditis, offenso quantae sub vomere putres
Dissiliant glebis galeae. Vel qualia rastris
Ossa peremptorum resonent immania regum.'
In Prim. Cons. Stilichonis, I.134‑7.
16 'Militem stipendio fovebat et alimentis et blanda crebritate sermonum' (Ammianus XXXI.11.1)
17 'Christiani ritus presbyter, ut ipsi appellant missus a Fritigerno legatus cum aliis humilibus venit ad principis castra' (Ammianus, XXXI.12.8)
18 This must mean official Thrace, i.e. Thrace + Moesia Inferior. But of course an exception must have been tacitly made for Constantinople and its vicinity.
19 'Cum in medium torridus procederet deis, octava tandem horâ hostium carpenta cernuntur' (Ammianus, XXXI.12.11). Is this the eighth hour of the day (2 P.M.), or of the march, which would be about noon?
20 By Pallmann (I.134).
21 The Lancearii and Mattiarii, both of which bodies of troops, named from the weapons which they employed, are mentioned in the Notitia Orientis (cap. IV) among the six Legiones Palatinae. The Batavi Seniores head the list of the eighteen Auxilia Palatina.
22 Not the Master of the Infantry mentioned p120.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 4 Mar 12