On this day, August 9th, 378 AD the emperor Valens lost the battle of Adrianople often seen as the beginning of the Great Migration and the Fall of the western Roman Empire.

The lead up to Adrianople is a story of botched immigration management.

In 375 the Huns (steppe nomads from Asia) had appeared in eastern Europe and attacked the Goths (a Germanic tribal federation) who had settled around the Black Sea. Some Goths fled west into the Roman Empire (the “Visigoths”) asking for asylum. The Romans were happy to have them, provided they serve in the army.

Whilst figuring out exactly what to do, they put them into a refugee camp. The officials running the camp left it in terrible squalor, did not provide sufficient food and sold provisions to them at exorbitant prices. The Goths suffered for months, and some would even sell their children as slaves to pay for food.

In 377 they could not take it any longer, armed themselves and broke out. For almost a year they roamed around the empire stealing and plundering wherever they went.

In 378 emperor Valens forced a military solution. He faced the Goths outside Adrianople. Discipline was a lax, and he believed the Gothic army to be much smaller. The Roman cavalry began the attack before the whole army had reached its positions. The Gothic counterattack turned into a rout made worse by poor visibility from dust and burning fields. The Roman army disoriented, without effective central command and exhausted, panicked and fled. Emperor Valens was abandoned and died anonymously in a field.

In the aftermath the Visigoths continued wandering around inside the empire until they were allowed to settle permanently in Bulgaria.

Adrianople is seen as a turning point that undermined the Roman empire leading to the collapse of the Western Empire. Things are rarely that straightforward. For instance a few years later the Visigoths served in the Roman armies.

However, the Goths were allowed to live inside the Roman empire without integrating. They had their own laws, administration and tax rules, a privilege later given to other Germanic tribes. Having a separate and well armed population living by its own rules within the empire undermined cohesion and crucially reduced tax income needed to pay them.

Adrianople appears in the Prologue Part 1 of the History of the Germans. Check it out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and any other provider of fine audio entertainment. Or alternatively, go to my website historyofthegermans.

P.S.: Remember, the descendants of the ferocious Germanic tribes are today’s fashionable Milanese and sophisticated Parisians, whilst the sausage eating Berliners and beer drinking Bavarians are the descendants of their peace-loving cousins who stayed behind