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Valens and the Battle of Adrianople (Hadrianopolis)

Emperor Valens' Military Defeat in the Battle of Adrianople


Map of the Battle of Adrianople

Map of the Battle of Adrianople

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Battle: Adrianople
Date: 9 August 378
Winner: Fritigern, Visigoths
Loser: Valens, Romans (Eastern Empire)

Bad intelligence gathering and the unwarranted confidence of Emperor Valens (A.D. c. 328 - A.D. 378) led to the worst Roman defeat since Hannibal's victory at the Battle of Cannae. On August 9, A.D. 378, Valens was killed and his army lost to an army of Goths led by Fritigern, whom Valens had given permission only two years earlier to settle in Roman territory.

Division of Rome Into an Eastern Empire and a Western Empire

In 364, a year after the death of Julian, the apostate emperor, Valens was made co-emperor with his brother Valentinian. They chose to split the territory, with Valentinian taking the West and Valens the East -- a division that was to continue. (Three years later Valentinian conferred the rank of co-Augustus on his young son Gratian who would take over as emperor in the West in 375 when his father died with his infant half-brother, Gratian, co-emperor, but only in name.) Valentinian had had a successful military career prior to being elected emperor, but Valens, who had only joined the military in the 360s, had not.

Valens Tries to Reclaim Land Lost to the Persians

Since his predecessor had lost eastern territory to the Persians (5 provinces on the eastern side of the Tigris, various forts and the cities of Nisibis, Singara and Castra Maurorum), Valens set out to reclaim it, but revolts within the Eastern Empire kept him from completing his plans. One of the revolts was caused by the usurper Procopius, a relative of the last of the line of Constantine, Julian. Because of a claimed relationship with the family of the still popular Constantine, Procopius persuaded many of Valens' troops to defect, but in 366, Valens defeated Procopius and sent his head to his brother Valentinian.

Valens Makes a Treaty With the Goths

The Tervingi Goths led by their king Athanaric had planned to attack Valens' territory, but when they learned of Procopius' plans, they became his allies, instead. Following his defeat of Procopius, Valens intended to attack the Goths, but was prevented, first by their flight, and then by a spring flood the next year. However, Valens persisted and defeated the Tervingi (and the Greuthungi, both Goths) in 369. They concluded a treaty quickly which allowed Valens to set to work on the still missing eastern (Persian) territory.

Trouble From the Goths and Huns

Unfortunately, troubles throughout the empire diverted his attention. In 374 he had deployed troops to the west and was faced with a military manpower shortage. In 375 the Huns pushed the Goths out of their homelands. The Greuthungi and Tervingi Goths appealed to Valens for a place to live. Valens, seeing this as an opportunity to increase his military, agreed to admit into Thrace those Goths who were led by their chieftain Fritigern, but not the other groups of Goths, including those led by Athanaric, who had conspired against him before. Those who were excluded followed Fritigern, anyway. Imperial troops, under the leadership of Lupicinus and Maximus, managed the immigration, but badly -- and with corruption. Jordanes explains how the Roman officials took advantage of the Goths.

" (134) Soon famine and want came upon them, as often happens to a people not yet well settled in a country. Their princes and the leaders who ruled them in place of kings, that is Fritigern, Alatheus and Safrac, began to lament the plight of their army and begged Lupicinus and Maximus, the Roman commanders, to open a market. But to what will not the "cursed lust for gold" compel men to assent? The generals, swayed by avarice, sold them at a high price not only the flesh of sheep and oxen, but even the carcasses of dogs and unclean animals, so that a slave would be bartered for a loaf of bread or ten pounds of meat."

Driven to revolt, the Goths defeated the Roman military units in Thrace in 377.

In May 378, Valens aborted his eastern mission in order to deal with the uprising of Goths (aided by Huns and Alans). Their number, Valens was assured, was no more than 10,000.

"[W]hen the barbarians ... arrived within fifteen miles from the station of Nike, ... 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."
- Ammianus Marcellinus: The Battle of Hadrianopolis

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