Hard to be goth
Germanic tribes appeared in the Danube only in the III century AD. e., coming from Scandinavia. They were hardy warriors and dashing riders, but preferred to fight on foot. The Romans were constantly in contact with the Goths: now fighting with them, then trading.
In the 370s, the situation in the region changed dramatically. From the east, new, previously unknown conquerors poured into the territory of the ready. These were the Huns - a truly nomadic people, who overcame thousands of kilometers from the steppes of Mongolia as far as the Danube during their travels. Before the Goths, the question arose: to submit to the conquerors from the east, whose view inspires awe, or to agree with Constantinople about the resettlement of Gothic tribes south of the Danube in the rich pastures of Thrace. Gothic leaders preferred the second option.
Map of the Gothic War 377−382
Relocation and rebellion
In 376, the Goths humbly asked the emperor to settle them in the Roman territories. They agreed that the Gothic tribes resettled in Thrace on the rights of colons (semi-dependent peasants). However, due to the abuses of the Roman bureaucrats, who went so far as the Goths were forced to sell their children into slavery in order not to die of starvation, the Goths decided to take up arms.
Gothic leader Fritigern raised a rebellion against Roman power. After the victory over the Thracian governor, more and more people flocked under his banners. They were Roman deserters, and the Goths-federates who had long lived in the empire, slaves and even workers. For the emperor Valens, the suppression of the uprising was complicated by the large-scale war with the Sassanids in the east, which chained all the forces of the empire to itself.
Throughout 377 years, the Germans only grew - largely due to the influx of barbarians from behind the Danube. While the Romans adhered to the tactics of partisan war, they were able to hold down ready, but the new commander decided to give them battle in the open field. Despite the uncertain outcome, the Roman army, drained of blood and repressed, could no longer follow the same tactics and opened the way for the Goths to the south after they were joined by significant units of the Huns and Alans, seduced by their loot.
By the year 378, it became clear that the Goths needed to smash the Romans in a general battle in order to consolidate their achievements and settle down imperial federations. The Romans realized that only a large field army could drive out of Thrace. For this, the emperors agreed to oppose the willing together and force them to go beyond the borders of the empire. It is noteworthy that although the Roman army nominally numbered 500 thousand (!) People, it was difficult to assemble a separate field corps, as the troops were tied to the borders. To fight the Goths, as many troops were deployed from the east as the Romans could afford.Army composition
Roman troops were represented by a variety of parts, which only managed to gather to suppress the uprising. These were heavy riders, which, however, made up a small part of cavalry, and horse archers, but the main striking force of the army was still considered heavy infantry, armed with swords and spears. The tactics of the Roman army remained unchanged from the time of Caesar: in the center are infantry, built in two lines with arrows between them, and cavalry on the flanks. However, for 400 years, the qualitative composition of the Roman infantry significantly decreased, the infantry often did not wear protective weapons, were poorly trained.
The Goths and their allies (Germanic tribes, Romans, Alans, Huns) were armed with Roman weapons and also placed cavalry on the flanks. However, the cavalry was ready to wear more regular and widespread, especially given the presence in the army of such first-class riders like the Alans. However, the tactics of the use of infantry differed sharply from the Roman and was a "breaking through" of the enemy's system in a deep column.
On the eve of battle
In the summer of 378, the main forces of the Romans (15–20 thousand) concentrated near Constantinople and moved to Thrace. Not far from Adrianople, the army was ready to camp. The emperor gathered a council of war to decide whether to join the battle immediately or wait for the reinforcements approach. The courtiers convinced Valen to attack, because according to intelligence data, there were only about 10 thousand Germans. Interestingly, Fritigern himself sent an embassy to the emperor with a request to make peace on the terms of 376 years. In this proposal, you can see and sober calculation: use the Romans to use tactics, Fritigern's forces would melt faster than he could have won the Romans in the field. On the other hand, the German leader probably did not want to destroy the empire, let alone create his kingdom on its fragments. He sought to settle at the borders as a federate, to fight and trade as an imperial citizen. However, the emperor rejected the offer and decided to give battle.
The Emperor Valens (328-378)
On the morning of August 9, 378, the Roman army left Adrianople and headed for the Gothic camp, which was 15 km from the city. The German leader, to gain time and wait for reinforcements, resorted to negotiations, which he skillfully delayed. Negotiations did not lead to anything, and the opponents took up swords.
The scheme of the battle of Adrianople
The attack of the Roman cavalry, located on the right flank, began even before the infantry had time to reorganize into battle order. Unexpectedly for the Romans, this attack turned into a disaster. Instead of ordinary reconnaissance by force, the Roman horsemen entered the battle, but were defeated by the Gothic cavalry that had approached the main forces. Pursuing the retreating, the Germans cut into the flank of the Roman infantry, while the cavalry of the left wing of the Roman army was defeated by the impatiently approached Fritigern cavalry.
The army of Valens was in a vice, and along the front a deep column of Gothic infantry was advancing on it. Initially, the Roman infantrymen held steadfastly, but seeing that there was nowhere to wait for help, they rushed to flee, with the exception of a few legions who kept the line strictly. The emperor tried to bring reserves and court guards into battle, but neither of them turned out to be in place — parts either fled, giving in to general panic, or were deliberately withdrawn from battle by the enemies of the emperor.
Valens left his closest associates. According to one version, the emperor was wounded by an arrow, taken out by bodyguards and sheltered on a farm, where, however, the Goths soon showed up. The defenders fought back bravely, and then the Goths simply set fire to the farm along with the defenders, where the emperor died.
Battle of Adrianople
After the battle
According to the historian, two thirds of the Roman army died, among the dead were many high-ranking empires. Ammianus Marcellinus compares Adrianople with the battle of Cannes, when in 216 BC. e Hannibal, in similar circumstances, crushed the army of the Roman consuls.
After the victory, the Goths still could not take the well-fortified Adrianople and were forced to withdraw. The new emperor Theodosius fought with the Goths until 382, when, due to exhaustion of the parties, it was decided to proceed to negotiations. The agreement concluded this year repeated the clauses of the agreement of the year 376: the Goths settled on the southern bank of the Danube, preserving customs and autonomy, and were obliged to fight in the army of the emperor.
However, the world did not last long. After only 30 years, the Visigoths of Alaric will go to the west, plunder Rome and create their kingdom in Southern Gaul. For the Germanic peoples, Adrianople predetermined their dominance in Europe in the following centuries, and for the Roman Empire the year 378 became fatal, tipping the scales in favor of the barbarians. Soon throughout Europe, barbarian kingdoms will appear, and the title of Roman emperor will become a formality.
Meaning of battle
In the history of military art, the battle of Adrianople opens a new era of heavy cavalry: first in the Roman army, then in the armies of the barbarian states, where this process will end after Poitiers (762) or even after Hastings (1066). The military reforms carried out by Diocletian and Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century were not introduced quickly into the army. Realizing that the field armies of the time, consisting of horsemen, were much more effective than the old system developed in Caesar’s time, until 378 the Roman emperors continued to consider infantry as the main branch of the army, not noticing the decline of the Roman infantry recruited from citizens. After Adrianople, the appearance of the Roman (and then Byzantine) army changes forever. The main striking force becomes the cavalry, fewer and fewer units are recruited from the citizens proper and more and more the share of federates and barbarians-mercenaries is becoming. However, soon this new army will have to undergo a severe test on the Katalaun fields.