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Rise and Fall of Empires




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Mediterranean Chronology

The Battle of Adrianople



The battle of Adrianople was the beginning of the end for the Roman empire. This battle was fought between Roman emperor Valens and the Goths on August 9, AD 378. It took place ten miles outside the city of Adrianople, which is now the city of Edirne, Turkey. This critical battle also established the dominance of cavalry over infantry for the next thousand years. (Eggenberger; 4)

Initially, the Roman Eastern emperor, Valens, allowed the Visigoths to settle south of the Danube near Thrace, for the Huns had invaded their land. The terms of the agreement stipulated that the Visigoths were to surrender their weapons and also their male children as hostages, but the Visigoths only gave up their children. Ostrogoths also migrated into Roman territory, and conflict with the Romans gave way to open fighting. (Bunson; 4)

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Valens decided to march from Constantinople to attack the Goths. He was unwilling to wait for aid from Gratian, the Roman emperor of the West. Before the battle began, the 20,000 men of the Roman cavalry and the 40,000 men of the Roman infantry outnumbered the 50,000 Gothic foot soldiers. Valens attacked the Goths at an opportune time: while their cavalry was away on raids. (Bunson; 4) At the outset, the skilled Roman legions and cavalry seemed to have the battle well in hand, but suddenly the Gothic cavalry, numbering 50,000, returned. The Roman army was overpowered and their cavalry was quickly routed, which left the Roman foot soldiers defenseless to the attacks of the Gothic horsemen. The Roman army was crushed. Roman casualties numbered 40,000, including Valens. After the Goths crushed the Romans, they attempted to take the city of Adrianople, but could not penetrate its walls. (Dupoy; 157)

After the battle of Adrianople, the barbarians knew that they could be victorious in Roman territory. The new Eastern emperor, Theodosius I (the Great), was able to negotiate an unstable peace with the Goths, but it was not to last. The battle of Adrianople was the worst defeat the Romans had suffered since the German victory in AD 9 at Teutoburger Wald. St. Ambrose called the battle of Adrianople, "the end of all humanity, the end of the world." (Bunson; 4)


Bunson, Matthew, Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (New York; Facts on File, Inc, 1994)

Dupuy, R. Earnest, The Encyclopedia of Military History (New York; Harper and Row, 1970)

Eggenberger, David, A Dictionary of Battles (Binghamton, NY; Vail-Ballou Press, 1967)

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