On August 9, 378 A.D., on a hot and dusty plain miles from the Roman city of Adrianople, the elite field army of the Eastern Roman Empire and a tribal army of refugee Visigoths fought one of the most celebrated battles in western military history.
The Goths and Romans had been enemies for centuries.
Originating in Sweden (the southern region of which is to this day called East and West Gautland: “Gothland”), the Goths had migrated in the early Christian Era onto the plains of western Ukraine and northern Rumania. By the mid-4th century, under their greatest king, Ermaneric, the Goths had created a powerful kingdom.
The broad rivers of the Ukraine flow southward, draining into the Black Sea. Throughout the 3rd Century A.D., these alluvial highways gave Gothic longships access to the Black Sea. Like proto-Vikings, Gothic fleets raided the civilized communities along its shores. Passing through the Bosporus and into the Aegean, they brought fire and sword to the ancient towns and cities of Greece and Asia Minor. Ephesus was one of the many cities sacked and pillaged. There the Great Temple of Diana, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”, was finally destroyed for all time.
Romans living along the Aegean Coast might well have prayed for deliverance from the “furore Gothicnorum”, the fury of the Goths!
On land, the Goths were equally formidable. In 249 an army of Goths and other barbarian warriors under the Gothic king, Cniva, crossed the lower Danube River; raiding into the Roman province of Moesia. After nearly 2 years, they were brought to bay by the Roman Emperor Decius, near the town of Forum Terebronii (modern Razgrad, Bulgaria). On swampy ground, the advancing Roman heavy infantry and cavalry bogged down; and were overcome by showers of Gothic javelins and arrows. Decius was killed, becoming the first Roman emperor to be slain in battle.
This defeat by the Goths made a deep impression on the Romans. And though the Gothic menace abated after their crushing defeat at the hands of the Emperor Claudius “Gothicus” at the Battle of Naissus in 269 A.D.; they remained a “bogeyman” in the minds of later Romans.
Then, in the 4th Century of the Christian Era, a greater “bogeyman” stormed out of the vast steppes of Central Asia: the Huns!
These nomadic herdsmen had been driven from the borders of China centuries earlier by the Han Chinese. (It is the subject of a great deal of scholarly debate as to whether or not the Huns are the same people as those known in Chinese sources as the Xiongnu. To date there is no consensus on this question.) Over a century, they had drifted ever westwards, across the “sea of grass” that covers the Eurasian hinterland. Along their westward trek, they subjugated or displaced other tribes of nomads. In 370 (approximately), after subjugating the Alans, they entered the lands of the Gothic king, Ermaneric.
The Goths, whose armies were….
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