Casualties and losses
20,000 (roughly two-thirds of the Roman force)
Gothic War (376–382)
Fall of the Western Roman Empire
Catalaunian Plains (Chalons)
Battle of Adrianople
Battle of Adrianople (9 August 378), sometimes known as the Battle
of Hadrianopolis, was fought between an Eastern Roman army led by the
Eastern Roman Emperor
Eastern Roman Emperor
Valens and Gothic rebels (largely
well as Greutungs, non-Gothic Alans, and various local rebels) led by
Fritigern. The battle took place about 13 km (8 mi) north of
Edirne in European Turkey, near the border with
Greece and Bulgaria) in the Roman province of Thracia. It ended with
an overwhelming victory for the
Goths and the death of Emperor
Part of the Gothic War (376–382), the battle is often considered the
start of the process which led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire
in the 5th century.[by whom? – Discuss]
3 Composition of the Roman troops
3.1 Strength of Valens' army
3.2 Order of battle of Valens' army
4 Composition of the Gothic forces
7 Obsolete theories
9 External links
A detailed account for the leadup to the battle from the Roman
perspective is from
Ammianus Marcellinus and forms the culminating
point at the end of his history. The position in his histories and the
lack of a detailed history for the following century have tended to
exaggerate the significance of the battle for later historians.
Ammianus's account of the battle itself, as to be expected from a
losing side, is far from clear. Heat, fire and dust seem to have been
particularly significant. Much of what follows about the battle
itself is modern supposition.
In 376 AD, displaced by the invasions of the Huns, the Goths, led by
Alavivus and Fritigern, asked to be allowed to settle in the Eastern
Roman Empire. Hoping that they would become farmers and soldiers, the
Eastern Roman emperor
Valens allowed them to establish themselves in
the Empire as allies (foederati). However, once across the
in Roman territory), the dishonesty of the provincial commanders
Lupicinus and Maximus led the newcomers to revolt after suffering many
Valens (of the Eastern Empire) then asked Gratian, the
western emperor, for reinforcements to fight the Goths.
the general Frigeridus with reinforcements, as well as the leader of
his guards, Richomeres. For the next two years preceding the battle of
Adrianople there were a series of running battles with no clear
victories for either side.
Valens decided to take control himself.
Valens would bring
more troops from
Gratian would bring more troops from
Antioch for Constantinople, and arrived on the 30th of
May. He appointed Sebastianus, newly arrived from Italy, to reorganize
the Roman armies already in Thrace. Sebastianus picked 2,000 of his
legionaries and marched towards Adrianople. They ambushed some small
Fritigern assembled the Gothic forces at Nicopolis
and Beroe (now Stara Zagora) to deal with this Roman
Gratian had sent much of his army to
Pannonia when the Lentienses
(part of the Alamanni) attacked across the Rhine.
Gratian recalled his
army and defeated the
Lentienses near Argentaria (near modern-day
Colmar, France.) After this campaign, Gratian, with part of his field
army, went east by boat; the rest of his field army went east
overland. The former group arrived at
Pannonia and at the
Camp of Mars (a fort near the Iron Gates), 400 kilometers from
Adrianople, where some
Alans attacked them. Gratian's group withdrew
Pannonia shortly thereafter.
After learning of Sebastian's success against the Goths, and of
Gratian's victory over the Alamanni,
Valens was more than ready for a
victory of his own. He brought his army from
Melantias to Adrianople,
where he met with Sebastian's force. On 6 August, reconnaissance
Valens that about 10,000
Goths were marching towards
Adrianople from the north, about 25 kilometers away. Despite the
Valens reached Adrianople where the Roman army
fortified its camp with ditch and rampart.
Richomeres, sent by Gratian, carried a letter asking
Valens to wait
for the arrival of reinforcements from
Gratian before engaging in
battle. Valens' officers also recommended that he wait for Gratian,
Valens decided to fight without waiting, ready to claim the
Goths were also watching the Romans, and on 8 August, Fritigern
sent an emissary to propose a peace and an alliance in exchange for
some Roman territory. Sure that he would be victorious due to his
supposed numerical superiority,
Valens rejected these proposals.
However, his estimates did not take into consideration a part of the
Gothic cavalry that had gone to forage further away.
Composition of the Roman troops
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A re-enactor portraying a Roman soldier of the 4th century AD.
Soldiers similar to this would have been used by the Romans.
Valens' army may have included troops from any of three Roman field
armies: the Army of Thrace, based in the eastern Balkans, but which
may have sustained heavy losses in 376–377, the 1st Army in the
Emperor's Presence, and the 2nd Army in the Emperor's Presence, both
Constantinople in peacetime but committed to the Persian
frontier in 376 and sent west in 377–378.
Valens' army included units of veterans, men accustomed to war. It
comprised seven legions — among which were the
Legio I Maximiana and imperial auxiliaries — of 700
to 1000 men each. The cavalry was composed of mounted archers
(sagittarii) and Scholae (the imperial guard). However, these attacked
precipitately, while peace negotiations were going on, and
precipitately fled. There were also squadrons of Arab cavalry, but
they were more suited to skirmishes than to pitched battle.[citation
Shield pattern of the Germaniciani seniores, according to Notitia
Ammianus Marcellinus makes references to the following forces under
Legions of Lanciarii, and Mattiarii. The
Notitia Dignitatum lists both
as legiones palatinae. Some[who?] claim that the Mattiarii may have
been allied forces.[dubious – discuss] However,
mattiarii may refer to mace-armed infantry (mattea being Latin for
Valens is referred to as seeking protection
with the Lanciarii and Mattiarii as the other Roman forces collapsed
(apparently a sign of how desperate the battle had become). Eventually
they were unable to hold off the Goths.
A battalion[clarification needed] of Batavians; they were apparently
held in reserve and fled, given a reference to a comes named Victor
attempting to bring them up into battle but unable to find them.
Scutarii (shielded cavalry) and archers. As one or both were under the
command of Bacurius the Iberian, these may have been allied auxiliary
Caucasian Iberia (part of modern Georgia) rather than
He also refers to the following officers:
Ricimer (Richomeres), Frankish
Comes of Gratian's Domestici (the corps
of bodyguards of the emperor who were stationed in the imperial
palace) sent to assist
Valens in 376. He offered to act as a hostage
to facilitate negotiations when Equitus refused. He survived the
battle, indicated due to retreating.
Sebastianus, arrived from Italy previously, and clearly operating as
one of Valens' generals. Killed in the battle.
Victor, master-general of the cavalry, a Sarmatian by birth, who led
the officers counselling waiting for Gratian.
Equitius, a relation of Valens, a tribune and high steward of the
palace. He refused to act as a hostage, as he had been a prisoner of
Goths in Dibaltum and escaped, and now feared revenge. Killed in
Bacurius (presumably Romanised Bakur), a native and possibly prince of
Iberia, in command of the archers and/or scutarii with Cassio that
accompanied Ricimer as hostage, and who attacked without orders.
Traianus, apparently in command of Roman forces before
command, who was described as an illustrious man whose death in the
battle was a great loss. He was supposedly still alive when Valens
sought refuge with the Lanciarii and Mattiarii.
Victor, the comes who tried to bring the Batavian reserve battalion
Cassio, in command of the archers and/or scutarii accompanying Ricimer
Saturninus, referred to as being able to stay alive by retreating.
Presumably an officer or notable given he is referred to by name.
Valerianus, Master of the Stable. Killed in battle.
Potentius, tribune of the Promoti, a branch of the cavalry, son of
Ursicinus, former commander of the forces.[clarification needed] He
"fell in the flower of his age, a man respected by all persons of
Thirty five tribunes, including those of units and those of the staff,
who were killed. Presumably there were more than this, but who
Strength of Valens' army
Several modern historians have attempted to estimate the strength of
Warren Treadgold estimates that, by 395, the Army of
Thrace had 24,500
soldiers, while the 1st and 2nd Armies in Emperor's Presence had
21,000 each. However, all three armies include units either formed
(several units of Theodosiani among them) or redeployed (various
legions in Thrace) after Adrianople. Moreover,
troops were needed to protect Marcianopolis and other threatened
cities, so it is unlikely that all three armies fought together.
However, some modern historians estimated the real number of Roman
troops to be as many as 15,000 men, 10,000 infantry and 5,000
cavalry. This is much less than what historic accounts
Order of battle of Valens' army
It is not possible to precisely list the units of the Roman army at
Adrianople. The only sources are Ammianus, who describes the battle
but mentions few units by name, and the eastern Notitia Dignitatum,
which lists Roman army units in the late 4th to early 5th century,
after Theodosius. Many units listed in the Balkans were formed after
Adrianople; others were transferred from other parts of the Empire,
before or after Adrianople; others are listed in two or more sectors.
Some units at Adrianople may have been merged or disbanded due to
their losses. The Roman forces consisted of heavy infantry, various
archers and cavalry.
Composition of the Gothic forces
See also: Gothic and Vandal warfare
The Gothic armies were mostly infantry, with some cavalry, which was
significant in the battle of Adrianople.
There were probably two main Gothic armies south of the Danube.
Fritigern led one army, largely recruited from the Therving exiles,
Saphrax led another army, largely recruited from
the Greuthung exiles.
Fritigern brought most if not all of his fighters to the battle, and
appears to have led the force the Romans first encountered. Alatheus
Saphrax brought their cavalry into action "descending like a
thunderbolt" against the Romans. These forces included Alans.
Ammianus records that the Roman scouts estimated 10,000 Gothic troops;
but Ammianus dismissed this as an underestimate. This appears to
be due to
Alatheus and Saphrax's forces being away when the Roman
scouts estimated the Goth's numbers before battle. Several modern
historians have estimated the strength of the Gothic armies at
Ammianus notes the important role of the Gothic cavalry. Charles Oman,
believing that the cavalry were the majority of the Gothic force,
Battle of Adrianople
Battle of Adrianople as the beginning of the dominance
of cavalry over infantry for the next thousand years. Some other
historians have taken the same view. Burns and other recent
historians argue that the infantry were the vast majority of the
Gothic force, and that the battle had little effect on the
relationship between infantry and cavalry.
On the morning of 9 August,
Valens decamped from Adrianople, where he
left the imperial treasury and administration under guard. The
reconnaissance of the preceding days informed him of the location of
the Gothic camp north of the city.
Valens arrived there after marching
for seven hours over difficult terrain.
The Roman troops arrived tired and dehydrated, facing the Gothic camp
that had been set up on the top of a hill. The Goths, except for their
cavalry, defended their wagon circle, inside of which were their
families and possessions. Fritigern's objective was to delay the
Romans, in order to give enough time for the Gothic cavalry to return.
The fields were burnt by the
Goths to delay and harass the Romans with
smoke, and negotiations began for an exchange of hostages. The
negotiations exasperated the Roman soldiers who seemed to hold the
stronger position, but they gained precious time for Fritigern.
Some Roman units began the battle without orders to do so, believing
they would have an easy victory, and perhaps over-eager to exact
revenge on the
Goths after two years of unchecked devastation
throughout the Balkans. The imperial scholae of shield-archers under
the command of the Iberian prince Bacurius attacked, but lacking
support they were easily pushed back. Then the Roman left-wing reached
the circle of wagons, but it was too late. At that moment, the Gothic
cavalry, returning from a foraging expedition, arrived to support the
infantry. The cavalry surrounded the Roman troops, who were already in
disarray after the failure of the first assault. The Romans retreated
to the base of the hill where they were unable to maneuver, encumbered
by their heavy armor and long shields. The casualties, exhaustion, and
psychological pressure led to a rout of the Roman army. The cavalry
continued their attack, and the killing continued until nightfall.
In the rout, the Emperor himself was abandoned by his guards. Some
tried to retrieve him, but the majority of the cavalry fled. Valens'
final fate is unknown; he may have died anonymously on the field. His
body was never found. An alternative story circulated after the battle
Valens had escaped the field with a bodyguard and some eunuchs,
and hid in a peasant's cottage. The enemy attempted to pillage the
cottage, apparently unaware
Valens was inside. Valens' men shot arrows
from the second floor to defend the cottage and in response the Goths
set the cottage on fire. The bodyguard leaped out the window and told
Goths who was inside, but it was too late.
Valens perished in the
Goths immediately marched to the city of Adrianople and attempted
to take it; Ammianus gives a detailed account of their failure.
Ammianus refers to a great number of Roman soldiers who had not been
let into the city and who fought the besieging
Goths below the walls.
According to the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a third of the Roman
army succeeded in retreating, but the losses were uncountable. Many
officers, among them the general Sebastian, were killed in the worst
Roman defeat since the Battle of Edessa, the high point of the Crisis
of the Third Century. The battle was a significant blow for the late
Empire, resulting in the destruction of the core army of the eastern
Empire, the deaths of valuable administrators, and the destruction of
all of the arms factories on the
Danube following the battle. The lack
of reserves for the army worsened the recruitment crisis. Despite the
losses, the battle of Adrianople did not mark the end of the Roman
Empire because the imperial military power was only temporarily
The defeat at Adrianople signified that the barbarians, fighting for
or against the Romans, had become powerful adversaries. The Goths,
though partly tamed by Valens' successor
Theodosius I (who accepted
them once more as allies), were never expelled, exterminated, or
assimilated; they remained as a distinct entity within its frontiers,
for a few years allies, later independent and often hostile.
The long-term implications of the battle of Adrianople for the art of
war have often been overstated, with many 20th-century writers
repeating Sir Charles Oman's idea that the battle represented a
turning point in military history, with heavy cavalry triumphing over
Roman infantry and ushering in the age of the Medieval knight. This
idea was overturned by T.S Burns in 1973. Burns shows that the
Gothic army's cavalry arm was fairly small, that
Valens would actually
have had more cavalry and that while the role of Fritigern's cavalry
was critical to his victory, the battle was a mainly infantry versus
infantry affair. The Medieval knight was not to rise for several
centuries after Adrianople. It is also often stated that the defeat at
Adrianople led to changes in the composition of the late Roman Army
and an increase in the use of cavalry. In fact, this process had been
going on in the Roman Army long before AD 378, with cavalry increasing
its role and status in the Army from at least the time of the Emperor
Gallienus (AD 253 to 260).
Some older works attribute the Gothic victory to overwhelming Gothic
numbers, to Gothic cavalry, and sometimes to Gothic use of
stirrups. More recent scholarly works mostly agree that the armies
were similarly sized, that the Gothic infantry was more decisive than
their cavalry, and that neither the Romans nor the
Goths used stirrups
until the 6th century. For many years Roman cavalry had used
horned saddles which enabled riders to use the bow and lance.
Stirrups first appear in Europe in the 6th century, probably
brought by the Avars.
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^ Williams, S. Friell, G., Theodosius: The Empire at Bay. p. 177
^ Delbrück, Hans, 1980 Renfroe translation, The Barbarian Invasions,
^ Williams and Friell, p. 179
^ Heather, Peter, 1999, The Goths, p. 135
^ Williams and Friell, p. 18
^ Williams and Friell, p. 19
^ a b c Zosimus, Historia Nova, book 4.
^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapters 12–14.
^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapters 3–9.
^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapters 7–11.
^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapter 11.
^ Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 1, chapter 38.
^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapters 10–11.
^ a b c d Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapter 12.
^ Roman Empire – Adrianople roman-empire.net. Illustrated History of
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^ a b Eastern Notitia Dignitatum, parts 5, 6, & 8.
^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapters 7 & 11.
^ Treadgold, Warren, 1995, Byzantium and Its Army, 284–1081,
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and the Barbarians. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.,
2007. ISBN 978-0-19-532541-6. p. 181.
^ Simon Macdowall, Adrianople Ad 378, Osprey Publishing, 2001,
^ Delbrück, Hans, (trans. Renfroe, Walter), 1980, The Barbarian
Invasions, Lincoln & London, University of Nebraska Press, p. 276.
^ Oman, C.W.C., 1953, The Art of War in the Middle Ages, pp. 5–6
^ Davis, Paul (1999). 100 Decisive Battles. Oxford. pp. 83–86.
^ Macdowall, Simon, 2001, Adrianople AD 378: The
Goths Crush Rome's
Legions, p. 88
^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Historiae, book 31, chapter 13.
^ Charles Oman, Art of War in the Middle Ages, Cornell University
Press, 1960, ISBN 0-8014-9062-6
^ T. S. Burns, ‘The Battle of Adrianople, a reconsideration’,
Historia, xxii (1973), pp. 336–45
^ Asimov, Isaac., 1991, "Asimov's Chronology of the World", pp.
102–05, "350 to 400 CE"
^ a b c Bishop, M.C., and Coulston, J.C.N., 2006, Roman Military
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Coordinates: 41°48′N 26°36′E / 41.800°N 26.600°E /