Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great Byzantine defeats - Part I - The Battle of Adrianople

Byzantium is the only state that continuously survived from ancient times to the dawn of the modern age. Byzantium existed for more than a thousand years, and experienced great rises and deep crisis.

In this vast period, Byzantium has undergone a long way, from world force that was spread across three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa – to the dwarf state in the eastern Mediterranean, which can be compared to a infirm organism with a huge head - Constantinople.

In comparison to the surrounding nations, the Persians, Goths, Avars, Bulgars, Pechenegs, Russians, Arabs, Cumans, Ugrians, Serbs, Turks (Seljuks and Ottomans), Byzantine history knew many victories, but also a fair number of heavy defeats ...

Here are some of those great defeats.

The Battle of Adrianople (August 9, 378)

In 375, the Huns have started an invasion on the area between the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea, and suppressed the Goths, who then lived on that territory (present southern Russia).  Western Goths (Thervings) arrived on the borders of the Roman Empire, and Emperor Valens (ruled from 364-378) allowed them to settle in the Thracian diocese.

Due to constant abuses by the Romans, they soon started an uprisingEastern Goths (Greutungs) and a group of Huns joined with the Western Goths, and the whole Thrace was flooded with barbarians.

In those dangerous moments, Emperor Valens left the eastern battlefield, where he was in war with Persia, and rushed to the Balkan Peninsula.

The battle with the barbarians occurred near Adrianople (Edirne), on August 9, 378.  The Roman army was completely defeated.

Ammianus Marcellinus, the best historian of the fourth century, gives an exciting description of this battle: 

And while arms and missiles of all kinds were meeting in fierce conflict, and (Goddess) Bellona, blowing her mournful trumpet, was raging more fiercely than usual, to inflict disaster on the Romans… Then the two lines of battle dashed against each other, like the beaks (or rams) of ships, and thrusting with all their might, were tossed to and fro, like the waves of the sea. And by this time such clouds of dust arose that it was scarcely possible to see the sky, which resounded with horrible cries… while with mutual blows of battle-axes, helmets and breastplates were dashed in pieces. The plain was covered with carcases, strewing the mutual ruin of the combatants; while the groans of the dying, or of men fearfully wounded, were intense, and caused great dismay all around.

Valens himself, who lacked no courage, died on that battlefield.  According to some, an arrow dangerously wounded him, and caused his death, but his body was never found. Some say that he was burned in a farmhouse that the Goths put on fire, not knowing that the wounded emperor was inside.

Ammianus Marcellinus compared this defeat with the Roman defeat in the battle of Cannae, the famous battle in ancient history, when on August 2, 216 BC, Hannibal defeated the Romans.

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1 comments: on "Great Byzantine defeats - Part I - The Battle of Adrianople"


War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

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