Sacking of Rome by the Visigoths on Augsut 24, 410

Rome was sacked four times: by the Goths in 410, the Vandals in 455, and later by the Saracens in 846 and the Normans in 1084. Rome was invaded for the first time in 1,163 years at midnight August 24, 410 when the Barbarian king Alaric and his hordes of Germanic and Scythian tribesmen poured in through the gates around Rome. In the 5th century. Rome was sacked again by the Vandals under the command of their king Genseric in 455. The historian Adrian Goldsworthy wrote that the barbarian invaders “struck at a body made vulnerable by prolonged decay.”

The final blow came in 476. The last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, was forced to abdicate and the Germanic general Odoacer took control of the city. Italy eventually became a Germanic Ostrogoth kingdom.

The Ostrogoths (ruled Rome 454-93) and the Lombards (ruled Rome 566-68) invaded from positions in the Balkans and moved in on Rome from what is now northern Italy. As Rome declined, the power of the eastern provinces grow into the strong Byzantine Empire. People in Rome still spoke Ostrogoth as late as 1780.

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Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
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Invasions and Barbarian Attacks on Rome

"Barbarian" comes from a Greek word used to describe anyone who wasn't Greek. Most of the Barbarian attacks on Rome came from the north, were tribes from Central Asia were moving into northern Europe, producing massive tribal displacements and migrations. People who had been driven off their land began looking more and more at land occupied by the Romans as new place to settle.

Gaul was lost in 406, Spain in 409, and Britain in 410 in battles with predominately Celtic tribes that had inhabited the regions before the Romans arrived. Other tribes that invaded Roman territory in Europe and North Africa included the Huns, Aland and Suebi.

Most of the great Barbarian tribes of the post-Roman period, many of who were involved in the fall of Rome, were either Germanic (Teutonic) or Celts. Druids and Gauls were Celts. Goths, Visigoths and Vandals were Germanic Tribes. The Iberians occupied Spain and intermingled with Celts. The Huns came from Central Asia.

In the various ways the provinces of the Western Empire—Spain, Africa, Gaul, and Britain—became for the most part occupied by German and Celtic tribes, and practically independent of the imperial authority at Rome. Gaul was lost in 406, Spain in 409, and Britain in 410 in battles with predominately Celtic tribes that had inhabited the regions before the Romans arrived. Other tribes that invaded Roman territory in Europe and North Africa included the Huns, Aland and Suebi.

The invaders were described as barbarians. "Barbarian" comes from a Greek word used to describe anyone who wasn't Greek. Most of the Barbarian attacks on Rome came from the north, were tribes from Central Asia were moving into northern Europe, producing massive tribal displacements and migrations. People who had been driven off their land began looking more and more at land occupied by the Romans as new place to settle.

While the continental provinces were thus overrun by the Goths, the Huns, and the Vandals, the Roman army was withdrawn from the island of Britain. For many years it was left to govern itself. But the tribes of northern Germany, the Jutes and the Saxons, saw in it a desirable place of settlement, and began their migration to the island (A.D. 449). [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Rome’s Ignorance About Its Enemies

Edward Gibbon wrote in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”: “The Romans were ignorant of the extent of their danger, and the number of their enemies. Beyond the Rhine and Danube, the northern countries of Europe and Asia were filled with innumerable tribes of hunters and shepherds, poor, voracious, and turbulent; bold in arms, and impatient to ravish the fruits of industry. The Barbarian world was agitated by the rapid impulse of war; and the peace of Gaul or Italy was shaken by the distant revolutions of China. The Huns, who fled before a victorious enemy, directed their march towards the West; and the torrent was swelled by the gradual accession of captives and allies. [Source: Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West from “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Chapter 38, published 1776]

“The flying tribes who yielded to the Huns assumed in their turn the spirit of conquest; the endless column of Barbarians pressed on the Roman empire with accumulated weight; and, if the foremost were destroyed, the vacant space was instantly replenished by new assailants. Such formidable emigrations can no longer issue from the North; and the long repose, which has been imputed to the decrease of population, is the happy consequence of the progress of arts and agriculture. Instead of some rude villages, thinly scattered among its woods and morasses, Germany now produces a list of two thousand three hundred walled towns; the Christian kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Poland, have been successively established; and the Hanse merchants, with the Teutonic knights, have extended their colonies along the coast of the Baltic, as far as the Gulf of Finland.

“From the Gulf of Finland to the Eastern Ocean, Russia now assumes the form of a powerful and civilized empire. The plough, the loom, and the forge, are introduced on the banks of the Volga, the Oby, and the Lena; and the fiercest of the Tartar hordes have been taught to tremble and obey. The reign of independent Barbarism is now contracted to a narrow span; and the remnant of Calmucks or Uzbecks, whose forces may be almost numbered, cannot seriously excite the apprehensions of the great republic of Europe.[6] Yet this apparent security should not tempt us to forget that new enemies, and unknown dangers, may possibly arise from some obscure people, scarcely visible in the map of the world. The Arabs or Saracens, who spread their conquests from India to Spain, had languished in poverty and contempt, till Mahomet breathed into those savage bodies the soul of enthusiasm.”

Goths, Gauls and Franks

The Goths were one of the main groups that threatened Rome. Originally from Scandinavia, they were the first Teutonic people to be Christianized. They migrated from Sweden across the Baltic Sea, through what is now Russia and the Ukraine to the Black Sea. From there they migrated into the Balkans and divided into two groups the Ostrogoths (East Goths) and Visagoths (West Goths). Before their division the Goths were allowed by the Romans to settle within the borders of the Roman Empire. They rose against the Romans and killed the Roman emperor Valentinian in battle. His successor Theodosius sued for peace.

The Goths were different from the Gauls. The Gauls lived in extreme northern Italy and the areas now occupied by France and Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Many centuries earlier they crossed the Alps from western Europe and pushed back the Etruscans and occupied the plains of the Po; hence this region received the name which it long held, Cisalpine Gaul. They held this territory against the Ligurians on the west and the Veneti on the east; and for a long time were the terror of the Italian people when Rome was a village in the 7th century B.C. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org ]

The Franks, a federation Teutonic tribes, were another group that were around at the time Rome fell. They arrived from what is now Germany and settled as far as the Somme River around A.D. 250 during a westward drive by Germanic tribes. By the 5th century, the Merovingian Franks had thrown out the Romans, and swept over a large population of mostly Romanized Gauls, Burgundians and Gaohs. Childeric I became leader of the Merovingian Franks in A.D. 458. His son was Clovis, regarded by some as the foudner of France. Other Frank tribes spread as far as Greece.

An argument persists today on whether the French descended from the Germanic Franks from the north or the Romanticized Gauls from the south. The French right has traditionally linked themselves with the Franks while the left has traditionally claimed descent form the Gauls, who were regarded as libertarian and egalitarian without necessarily being Christian. The Franks are mostly closely linked with Christianity and Catholicism.

Goths Revolt in A.D. 378 During the Reign of Valens


In the late A.D. 4th century, a great event occurred that set in motion a chain of events that would ultimately bring down Rome. That event was the irruption of the Huns, horsemen from the steppes of Central Asia, into Europe. They pressed upon the Goths and drove them from their homes into the Roman territory. It was now necessary for the Romans either to resist the whole Gothic nation, which numbered a million of people, or else to receive them as friends, and give them settlements within the empire. The latter course seemed the wiser, and they were admitted as allies, and given new homes south of the Danube, in Moesia and Thrace. But they were soon provoked by the ill-treatment of the Roman officials, and rose in revolt, defeating the Roman army in a battle at Adrianople (A.D. 378) in which Valens himself was slain. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Valens was the Roman Emperor at this time, reigned for 14 years from A.D. 364 to 378. Describing him, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote: “He was a faithful and steady friend — a severe chastiser of ambition — a rigid upholder of both military and civil discipline — always careful that no one should assume importance on account of any relationship to himself; slow both in conferring office, and in taking it away; a very just ruler of the provinces, all of which he was protected from injury, as if each had been his own house; devoting singular care to the lessening the burdens of the state, but a vehement and implacable foe to all thieves, and to everyone convicted of peculations; nor in affairs of this kind was the East, by its own confession, ever better treated under any other emperor. Besides all this, he was liberal with due regard to moderation, of which quality there are many example, one of which it will be sufficient to mention here: As in palaces there are always some persons covetous of the possessions of others, if anyone petitioned for lapsed property, or anything else which it was usual to apply for, he made a proper distinction between just and unjust claims, and when he gave it to the petitioner, while reserving full liberty to anyone to raise objections, he often associated the successful candidate with three or four partners, in order that those covetous suitors might conduct themselves with more moderation, when they saw the profits for which they were so eager diminished by this device.

“Of the edifices, which in the different cities and towns he either repaired or built from their foundations, I will say nothing (to avoid prolixity), allowing those things to speak for themselves. These qualities, in my opinion, deserve the imitation of all good men. Now let us enumerate his vices. He was an immoderate covetor of great wealth; impatient of labor, he affected an extreme severity, and was too much inclined to cruelty; his behavior was rude and rough; and he was little imbued with skill either in war or in the liberal arts. He willingly sought profit and advantage in the miseries of others, and was more than ever intolerable in straining ordinary offences into sedition or treason; he cruelly encompassed the death or ruin of many nobles. This also was unendurable, that while he wished to have it appear that all actions and suits were decided according to the law, and while the investigation of such affairs was delegated to judges especially selected as the most proper to decide them, he still would not allow any decision to be given which was contrary to his own pleasure. He was also insulting, passionate, and always willing to listen to all informers, without the least distinction as to whether the charges they advanced were true or false. And this vice is one very much to be dreaded, even in private affairs of everyday occurrence.

“He was dilatory and sluggish; of a swarthy complexion; had a cast in one eye, a blemish, however, which was not visible at a distance; his limbs were well set; his figure was neither tall nor short; he was knock-kneed, and rather pot-bellied. This is enough to say about Valens: and the recollection of his contemporaries will fully testify that this account is a true one. But we must not omit to mention that when he had learnt that the oracle of the tripod [Delphi], which we related to have been moved by Patricius and Hilanus, contained those three prophetic lines, the last of which is "Repelling murd'rous war in Mimas' plain;" — he, being void of accomplishments and illiterate, despised them at first; but as his calamities increased, he became filled with abject fear, and, from a recollection of this same prophecy, began to dread the very name of Asia, where he had been informed by learned men that both Homer and Cicero had spoken of the Mountain of Mimas over the town of Erythrae. Lastly, after his death, and the departure of the enemy, it is said that a monument was found near the spot where he is believed to have died, with a stone fixed into it inscribed with Greek characters, indicating that some ancient noble of the name of Mimas was buried there.”

Athanaric and Valens on the Danube

Events Before the Battle of Adrianopole

Ammianus Marcellinus wrote: “At this time Valens was disturbed by a twofold anxiety, having learned that the people of Lintz had been defeated, and also because Sebastian, in the letters which he sent from time to time, exaggerated what had taken place by his pompous language. Therefore he advanced from Melanthias, being eager by some glorious exploit to equal his youthful nephew, by whose virtue he was greatly excited. He was at the head of a numerous force, neither unwarlike nor contemptible, and had united with them many veteran bands, among whom were several officers of high rank, especially Trajan, who a little while before had been commander of the forces. And as by means of spies and observation it was ascertained that the enemy were intending to blockade the different roads by which the necessary supplies must come, with strong divisions, he sent a sufficient force to prevent this, despatching a body of the archers of the infantry and a squadron of cavalry, with all speed, to occupy the narrow passes in the neighborhood. [Source:Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 A.D.): The Battle of Adrianopole, 378 A.D. “The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus During the Reigns of The Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens,” translated by C. D. Yonge (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1911), pp. 609-618]

“Three days afterwards, when the barbarians [the Visigoths], who were advancing slowly, because they feared an attack in the unfavorable ground which they were traversing, arrived within fifteen miles from the station of Nike, which was the aim of their march, the emperor, with wanton impetuosity, resolved on attacking them instantly, because those who had been sent forward to reconnoiter---what led to such a mistake is unknown---affirmed that their entire body did not exceed ten thousand men. Marching on with his army in battle array, Valens came near the suburb of Hadrianopolis, where he pitched his camp, strengthening it with a rampart of palisades, and then impatiently waited for [the emperor] Gratian. While here, Ricimer, Comes of the Domestici, arrived, who had been sent on by that emperor with letters announcing his immediate approach. And imploring Valens to wait a little while for him that he might share his danger, and not rashly face the danger before him single-handed, he took counsel with his officers as to what was best to be done.

“Some, following the advice of Sebastian, recommended with urgency that he should at once go forth to battle; while Victor, master-general of the cavalry, a Sarmatian by birth, but a man of slow and cautious temper, recommended him to wait for his imperial colleague, and this advice was supported by several other officers, who suggested that the reinforcement of the Gallic army would be likely to awe the fiery arrogance of the barbarians. However, the fatal obstinacy of the emperor prevailed, fortified by the flattery of some of the princes, who advised him to hasten with all speed, so that Gratian might have no share in a victory which, as they fancied, was already almost gained.

“And, while all necessary preparations were being made for the battle, a presbyter of the Christian religion (as he called himself), having been sent by Fritigern [King of the Visigoths] as his ambassador, came, with some colleagues of low rank, to the emperor's camp; and having been received with courtesy, he presented a letter from that chieftain, openly requesting that the emperor would grant to him and to his followers, who were now exiles from their native homes, from which they had been driven by the rapid invasions of savage nations, Thrace, with all its flocks and all its crops, for a habitation. And if Valens would consent to this, Fritigern would agree to a perpetual truce. In addition to this same message, the same Christian, as one acquainted with his commander's secrets, and well-trusted, produced other secret letters from his chieftain who, being full of craft and every resource of deceit, informed Valens, as one who was hereafter to be his friend and ally, that he had no other means to appease the ferocity of his countrymen, or to induce them to accept conditions advantageous to the Roman state, unless from time to time he showed them an army under arms close at hand, and by frightening them with the name of the emperor, recalled them from their mischievous eagerness for fighting. The ambassadors retired unsuccessful, having been looked on as suspicious characters by the emperor.”

Battle of Adrianopole

Ammianus Marcellinus wrote: “When the day broke which the annals mark as the fifth of the Ides of August, the Roman standards were advanced with haste, the baggage having been placed close to the walls of Hadrianopolis, under a sufficient guard of soldiers of the legions; the treasures and the chief insignia of the emperor's ranks were within the walls, with the prefect and the principal members of the council. Then, having traversed the broken ground which divided the two armies, as the burning day was progressing towards noon, at last, after marching eight miles, our men came in sight of the wagons of the enemy, which had been stated by the scouts to be all arranged in a circle. According to their custom, the barbarian host raised a fierce and hideous yell, while the Roman generals marshaled their line of battle. The right wing of the cavalry was placed in front; the chief portion of the infantry was kept in reserve. But the left wing of the cavalry, of which a considerable number were still straggling on the road, were advancing with speed, though with great difficulty; and while this wing was deploying, not as yet meeting with any obstacle, the barbarians being alarmed at the terrible clang of their arms and the threatening crash of their shields (since a large portion of their own army was still at a distance, under Alatheus and Saphrax, and, though sent for, had not yet arrived), again sent ambassadors to ask for peace. [Source:Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 A.D.): The Battle of Adrianopole, 378 A.D. “The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus During the Reigns of The Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens,” translated by C. D. Yonge (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1911), pp. 609-618]

“The emperor was offended at the lowness of their rank, and replied, that if they wished to make a lasting treaty, they must send him nobles of sufficient dignity. They designedly delayed, in order by the fallacious truce which subsisted during the negotiation to give time for their cavalry to return, whom they looked upon as close at hand; and for our soldiers, already suffering from the summer heat, to become parched and exhausted by the conflagration of the vast plain; as the enemy had, with this object, set fire to the crops by means of burning faggots and fuel. To this evil another was added, that both men and cattle were suffering from extreme hunger.

“In the meantime Fritigern, being skillful in divining the future, and fearing a doubtful struggle, of his own head sent one of his men as a herald, requesting that some nobles and picked men should at once be sent to him as hostages for his safety, when he himself would fearlessly bring us both military aid and supplies. The proposition of this formidable chief was received with praise and approbation, and the tribune Equitius, a relation of Valens, who was at that time high steward of the palace, was appointed, with general consent, to go with all speed to the barbarians as a hostage. But he refused, because he had once been taken prisoner by the enemy, and had escaped from Dibaltum, so that he feared their vengeful anger; upon this Ricimer voluntarily offered himself, and willingly undertook to go, thinking it a bold action, and one becoming a brave man; and so he set out, bearing vouchers of his rank and high birth.

Fighting in the Battle of Adrianopole

Ammianus Marcellinus wrote: “And as he was on his way towards the enemy's camp, the accompanying archers and Scutarii, who on that occasion were under the command of Bacurius, a native of Iberia, and of Cassio, yielded, while on their march, to an indiscreet impetuosity, and on approaching the enemy, first attacked them rashly, and then by a cowardly flight disgraced the beginning of the campaign. This ill-timed attack frustrated the willing services of Ricimer, as he was not permitted to proceed; in the meantime the cavalry of the Goths had returned with Alatheus and Saphrax, and with them a battalion of Alans; these descending from the mountains like a thunderbolt, spread confusion and slaughter among all whom in their rapid charge they came across. [Source:Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 A.D.): The Battle of Adrianopole, 378 A.D. “The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus During the Reigns of The Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens,” translated by C. D. Yonge (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1911), pp. 609-618]

“And while arms and missiles of all kinds were meeting in fierce conflict, and Bellona, blowing her mournful trumpet, was raging more fiercely than usual, to inflict disaster on the Romans, our men began to retreat; but presently, roused by the reproaches of their officers, they made a fresh stand, and the battle increased like a conflagration, terrifying our soldiers, numbers of whom were pierced by strokes from the javelins hurled at them, and from arrows. Then the two lines of battle dashed against each other, like the beaks of ships, and thrusting with all their might, were tossed to and fro, like the waves of the sea. Our left wing had advanced actually up to the wagons, with the intent to push on still further if they were properly supported; but they were deserted by the rest of the cavalry, and so pressed upon by the superior numbers of the enemy, that they were overwhelmed and beaten down, like the ruin of a vast rampart. Presently our infantry also was left unsupported, while the different companies became so huddled together that a soldier could hardly draw his sword, or withdraw his hand after he had once stretched it out. And by this time such clouds of dust arose that it was scarcely possible to see the sky, which resounded with horrible cries; and in consequence, the darts, which were bearing death on every side, reached their mark, and fell with deadly effect, because no one could see them beforehand so as to guard against them.

“But when the barbarians, rushing on with their enormous host, beat down our horses and men, and left no spot to which our ranks could fall back to deploy, while they were so closely packed that it was impossible to escape by forcing a way through them, our men at last began to despise death, and again took to their swords and slew all they encountered, while with mutual blows of battle-axes, helmets and breastplates were dashed in pieces. Then you might see the barbarian towering in his fierceness, hissing or shouting, fall with his legs pierced through, or his right hand cut off, sword and all, or his side transfixed, and still, in the last gasp of life, casting round him defiant glances. The plain was covered with carcasses, strewing the mutual ruin of the combatants; while the groans of the dying, or of men fearfully wounded, were intense, and caused great dismay all around.

“Amidst all this great tumult and confusion our infantry were exhausted by toil and danger, until at last they had neither strength left to fight, nor spirits to plan anything; their spears were broken by the frequent collisions, so that they were forced to content themselves with their drawn swords, which they thrust into the dense battalions of the enemy, disregarding their own safety, and seeing that every possibility of escape was cut off from them. The ground, covered with streams of blood, made their feet slip, so that all they endeavored to do was to sell their lives as dearly as possible; and with such vehemence did they resist their enemies who pressed on them, that some were even killed by their own weapons. At last one black pool of blood disfigured everything, and wherever the eye turned, it could see nothing but piled up heaps of dead, and lifeless corpses trampled on without mercy.

“The sun being now high in the heavens, having traversed the sign of Leo, and reached the abode of the heavenly Virgo, scorched the Romans, who were emaciated by hunger, worn out with toil, and scarcely able to support even the weight of their armor. At last our columns were entirely beaten back by the overpowering weight of the barbarians, and so they took to disorderly flight, which is the only resource in extremity, each man trying to save himself as well as he could. While they were all flying and scattering themselves over roads with which they were unacquainted, the emperor, bewildered with terrible fear, made his way over heaps of dead, and fled to the battalions of the Lanccarii and the Mattiarii, who, until the superior numbers of the enemy became wholly irresistible, stood firm and immovable. As soon as he saw him, Trajan exclaimed that all hope was lost, unless the emperor, thus deserted by his guards, could be protected by the aid of his foreign allies.

“When this exclamation was heard, a comes names Victor hastened to bring up with all speed the Batavians, who were placed in the reserve, and who ought to have been near at hand, to the emperor's assistance; but as none of them could be found, he too retreated, and in a similar manner Ricimer and Saturninus saved themselves from danger. So now, with rage flashing in their eyes, the barbarians pursued our men, who were in a state of torpor, the warmth of their veins having deserted them. Many were slain without knowing who smote them; some were overwhelmed by the mere weight of the crowd which pressed upon them; and some were slain by wounds inflicted by their own comrades. The barbarians spared neither those who yielded nor those who resisted. Besides these, many half-slain lay blocking up the roads, unable to endure the torture of their wounds; and heaps of dead horses were piled up and filled the plain with their carcasses. At last a dark moonless night put an end to the irremediable disaster which cost the Roman state so dear.

Death of Valens

Ammianus Marcellinus wrote: “Just when it first became dark, the emperor being among a crowd of common soldiers, as it was believed — for no one said either that he had seen him, or been near him — was mortally wounded with an arrow, and, very shortly after, died, though his body was never found. For as some of the enemy loitered for a long time about the field in order to plunder the dead, none of the defeated army or of the inhabitants ventured to go to them. A similar fate befell the Caesar Decius, when fighting vigorously against the barbarians; for he was thrown by his horse falling, which he had been unable to hold, and was plunged into a swamp, out of which he could never emerge, nor could his body be found. Others report that Valens did not die immediately, but that he was borne by a small body of picked soldiers and eunuchs to a cabin in the neighborhood, which was strongly built, with two stories; and that while these unskillful hands were tending his wounds, the cottage was surrounded by the enemy, though they did not know who was in it; still, however, he was saved from the disgrace of being made a prisoner. [Source:Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 A.D.): The Battle of Adrianopole, 378 A.D. “The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus During the Reigns of The Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens,” translated by C. D. Yonge (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1911), pp. 609-618]

“For when his pursuers, while vainly attempting to force the barred doors, were assailed with arrows from the roof, they, not to lose by so inconvenient a delay the opportunity of collecting plunder, gathered some faggots and stubble, and setting fire to them, burnt down the building, with those who were in it. But one of the prisoners dropped from the windows, and, being taken prisoner by the barbarians, revealed to them what had taken place, which caused them great concern, because they looked upon themselves as defrauded of great glory in not having taken the ruler of the Roman state alive. This same young man afterwards secretly returned to our people, and gave this account of the affair. When Spain had been recovered after a similar disaster, we are told that one of the Scipios was lost in a fire, the tower in which he had taken refuge having been burnt. At all events it is certain that neither Scipio nor Valens enjoyed that last honor of the dead — a regular funeral.

“Many illustrious men fell in this disastrous defeat, and among them one of the most remarkable was Trajan, and another was Sebastian; there perished also thirty-five tribunes who had no particular command, many captains of battalions, and Valerianus and Equitius, one of whom was Master of the Horse and the other High Steward. Potentius, too, tribune of the promoted officers, fell in the flower of his age, a man respected by all persons of virtue, and recommended by the merits of his father, Ursicinus, who had formerly been commander of the forces, as well as by his own. Scarcely one-third of the whole army escaped. Nor, except the battle of Cannae, is so destructive a slaughter recorded in our annals; though, even in the times of their prosperity, the Romans have more than once had to deplore the uncertainty of war, and have for a time succumbed to evil Fortune; while the well-known dirges of the Greeks have bewailed many disastrous battles.

“Such was the death of Valens, when he was about fifty years old, and had reigned rather less than fourteen years...After this disastrous battle, when night had veiled the earth in darkness, those who survived fled, some to the right, some to the left, or wherever fear guided them, each man seeking refuge among his relations, as no one could think of anything but himself, while all fancied the lances of the enemy sticking in their backs. And far off were heard the miserable wailing of those who were left behind — the sobs of the dying, and the agonizing groans of the wounded. But when daylight returned, the conquerors, like wild beasts rendered still more savage by the blood they had tasted, and allured by the temptations of groundless hope, marched in a dense column upon Hadrianopolis, resolved to run any risk in order to take it, having been informed by traitors and deserters that the principal officers of state, the insignia of the imperial authority, and the treasures of Valens had all been placed there for safety, as in an impregnable fortress.

“And to prevent the ardor of the soldiers from being cooled by delay, the whole city was blockaded by the fourth hour; and the siege from that time was carried on with great vigor, the besiegers, from their innate ferocity, pressing in to complete its destruction, while, on the other hand, the garrison was stimulated to great exertions by their natural courage.”

Invasion of Italy by the Goths

In 401, the Visigoths entered northern Italy. The western emperor, Honorius, fled his capital in Milan for Ravenna in 410, the same year Rome was invaded. The Visigoths were a sub-group of the Goths from southern France and Spain. They marauded their way their way through the eastern and western Roman empire between 376 and 418, following a route that began in present-day Romania and followed the coast of the Mediterranean to what is now France.

Sacking of Rome

Rome was invaded for the first time in 1,163 years at midnight August 24, 410 when the Barbarian king Alaric and his hordes of Germanic and Scythian tribesmen poured in through the gates around Rome. For three days the city was given up to plunder. With Stilicho dead, Italy was practically defenseless. Alaric at the head of the Visigoths (West Goths) immediately invaded the peninsula, and marched to Rome. He was induced to spare the city only by the payment of an enormous ransom. But the barbarian chief was not entirely satisfied with the payment of money. He was in search of lands upon which to settle his people. Honorius refused to grant this demand, and after fruitless negotiations with the emperor, Alaric determined to enforce it by the sword. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Alaric then overran southern Italy and made himself master of the peninsula. He soon died, and his successor, Adolphus (Ataulf), was induced to find in Gaul and Spain the lands which Alaric had sought in Italy. \~\

Alaric's Sacking of Rome in A.D. 410

On Alaric's sacking of Rome in A.D. 410, Procopius of Caesarea (A.D. c.500-after 562 A.D.) wrote in “History of the Wars”: “The Visigoths, separating from the others, removed from there and at first entered into an alliance with the Emperor Arcadius, but at a later time (for faith with the Romans cannot dwell in barbarians), under the leadership of Alaric, they became hostile to both emperors, and, beginning with Thrace, treated all Europe as an enemy's land. Now the emperor Honorius had before this time been sitting in Rome, with never a thought of war in his mind, but glad, I think, if men allowed him to remain quiet in his palace. But when word was brought that the barbarians with a great army were not far off, but somewhere among the Taulantii (in Illyricum), he abandoned the palace and fled in disorderly fashion to Ravenna, a strong city lying just about at the end of the Ionian Gulf, while some say that he brought in the barbarians himself, because an uprising had been started against him among his subjects; but this does not seem to me trustworthy, as far, at least, as one can judge of the character of the man. And the barbarians, finding that they had no hostile force to encounter them, became the most cruel of all men. For they destroyed all the cities which they captured, especially those south of the Ionian Gulf, so completely that nothing has been left to my time to know them by, unless, indeed, it might be one tower or one gate or some such thing which chanced to remain. And they killed all the people, as many as came in their way, both old and young alike, sparing neither women nor children. Wherefore, even up to the present time Italy is sparsely populated. They also gathered as plunder all the money out of all Europe, and, most important of all, they left in Rome nothing whatever of public or private wealth when they moved on to Gaul. But I shall now tell how Alaric captured Rome. [Source: Procopius of Caesarea (c.500-after 562 A.D.): Alaric's Sack of Rome, A.D. 410, “History of the Wars”, III.ii.7-39, written A.D. 550, “Procopius, History of the Wars,” 7 vols., translated by. H. B. Dewing (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press & Wm. Heinemann, 1914; reprint ed., 1953-54), II.11-23]

“After much time had been spent by him in the siege, and he had not been able either by force or by any other device to capture the place, he formed the following plan. Among the youths in the army whose beards had not yet grown, but who had just come of age, he chose out three hundred whom he knew to be of good birth and possessed of valor beyond their years, and told them secretly that he was about to make a present of them to certain of the patricians in Rome, pretending that they were slaves. And he instructed them that, as soon as they got inside the houses of those men, they should display much gentleness and moderation and serve them eagerly in whatever tasks should be laid upon them by their owners; and he further directed them that not long afterwards, on an appointed day at midday, when all those who were to be their masters would most likely be already asleep after their meal, they should all come to the gate called Salarian and with a sudden rush kill the guards, who would have no previous knowledge of the plot, and open the gates as quickly as possible. After giving these orders to the youths, Alaric straightway sent ambassadors to the members of the senate, stating that he admired them for their loyalty toward their emperor, and that he would trouble them no longer, because of their valor and faithfulness, with which it was plain that they were endowed to a remarkable degree, and in order that tokens of himself might be preserved among men both noble and brave, he wished to present each one of them with some domestics.

“After making this declaration and sending the youths no long afterwards, he commanded the barbarians to make preparations for the departure, and he let this be known to the Romans. And they heard his words gladly, and receiving the gifts began to be exceedingly happy, since they were completely ignorant of the plot of the barbarians. For the youths, by being unusually obedient to their owners, averted suspicion, and in the camp some were already seen moving from their positions and raising the siege, while it seemed that the others were just on the point of doing the very same thing. But when the appointed day had come, Alaric armed his whole force for the attack and was holding them in readiness close by the Salarian Gate; for it happened that he had encamped there at the beginning of the siege. And all the youths at the time of the day agreed upon came to this gate, and, assailing the guards suddenly, put them to death; then they opened the gates and received Alaric and the army into the city at their leisure. And they set fire to the houses which were next to the gate, among which was also the house of Sallust, who in ancient times wrote the history of the Romans, and the greater part of this house has stood half-burned up to my time; and after plundering the whole city and destroying the most of the Romans, they moved on.

“At that time they say that the Emperor Honorius in Ravenna received the message from one of the eunuchs, evidently a keeper of the poultry, that Rome had perished. And he cried out and said, "And yet it has just eaten from my hands!" For he had a very large cock, Roma by name; and the eunuch comprehending his words said that it was the city of Rome which had perished at the hands of Alaric, and the emperor with a sigh of relief answered quickly, "But I, my good fellow, thought that my fowl Roma had perished." So great, they say, was the folly with which this emperor was possessed. But some say that Rome was not captured in this way by Alaric, but that Proba, a woman of very unusual eminence in wealth and in fame among the Roman senatorial class, felt pity for the Romans who were being destroyed by hunger and the other suffering they endured; for they were already even tasting each other's flesh; and seeing that every good hope had left them, since both the river and the harbor were held by the enemy, she commanded her domestics, they say, to open the gates by night.

“Now when Alaric was about to depart from Rome, he declared Attalus, one of their nobles, emperor of the Romans, investing him with the diadem and the purple and whatever else pertains to the imperial dignity. And he did this with the intention of removing Honorius from his throne and of giving over the whole power in the West to Attalus. With such a purpose, then, both Attalus and Alaric were going with a great army against Ravenna. But this Attalus was neither able to think wisely by himself, nor to be persuaded by one who had wisdom to offer. So while Alaric did not by any means approve the plan, Attalus sent commanders to Libya without an army. Thus then, were these things going on.

“And the island of Britannia revolted from the Romans, and the soldiers there chose as their emperor Constantinus, a man of no mean station. And he straightway gathered a fleet of ships and a formidable army and invaded both Spain and Gaul with a great force, thinking to enslave these countries. But Honorius was holding ships in readiness and waiting to see what would happen in Libya, in order that, if those sent by Attalus were repulsed, he might himself sail for Libya and keep some portion of his own kingdom, while if matters there should go against him, he might reach Theodosius [Theodosius II, Emperor in the East, 408-450 A.D.] and remain with him. For Arcadius had already died long before, and his son Theodosius, still a very young child, held the power of the East. But while Honorius was thus anxiously awaiting the outcome of these events and tossed amid the billows of uncertain fortune, it so chanced that some wonderful pieces of good fortune befell him. For God is accustomed to succor those who are neither clever nor able to devise anything of themselves, and to lend them assistance, if they be not wicked, when they are in the last extremity of despair; such a thing, indeed, befell this emperor. For it was suddenly reported from Libya that the commanders of Attalus had been destroyed, and that a host of ships was at hand from Byzantium with a very great number of soldiers who had come to assist him, though he had not expected them, and that Alaric, having quarreled with Attalus, had stripped him of the emperor's garb and was now keeping him under guard in the position of a private citizen.

“And afterwards Alaric died of disease, and the army of the Visigoths under the leadership of Adaulphus proceeded into Gaul, and Constantinus, defeated in battle, died with his sons. However, the Romans never succeeded in recovering Britannia, but it remained from that time on under tyrants.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Valen's death, Pinterest

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardianand various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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