The Gothic War - a brutal struggle between the Eastern Roman Empire and an entire people fighting for their very existence. The timeline below charts the key 'beats' to this historic war: the rise and fall of emperors, the chaos of battle and the journey of the XI Claudia through it all...
***Warning: series spoilers ahead***
Late 376 AD: The Huns surged across the great steppe towards Europe, in what we now call the Great Migration. The Gothic tribes lay directly in the path of these warlike horsemen. So, united under the banner of a Iudex (a judge or dictator) named Fritigern, most of the Gothic groupings travelled to the banks of the Danube, seeking peaceful entry into the Eastern Roman Empire. They probably numbered at least one hundred thousand people.
Early 377 AD: The Romans settled the Goths in a temporary camp somewhere in northern Thracia… then proceeded to make an absolute mess of matters. The odious officer, Lupicinus, oversaw severe maltreatment of what was effectively a refugee population. Tales of his soldiers offering the starving Goths only rotting dog meat, in exchange for their children to sell as slaves, have stained the history books ever since. Inevitably, the refugees broke out in revolt, and the Gothic War began.
Spring 377 AD: The Goths now moved around Thracia as a horde - self-sufficient and with a colossal army that dwarfed the legions present in Thracia. Emperor Valens, engaged on the Persian front, despatched to Thracia what legions he could spare.
Early summer 377 AD: The Gothic horde rebuffed the empire's first attempt to meet them in battle at Ad Salices (the 'town by the willows'). The result was technically a draw, and this left the Goths penned into the northern part of Thracia, behind the Haemus Mountains, while the bruised legions held Thracia's southern tracts.
Autumn 377 AD: A peace was concluded between Rome and Persia, rendering the eastern frontier stable for now. Emperor Valens set about rounding up the rest of his Persian frontier forces - elite legions and crack palace cavalry - in order to personally lead them to Thracia to end the Gothic War. But this would take time, and in the interim, he despatched one of his best generals, Saturninus, to the troubled land to make sure the Goths stayed penned beyond the Haemus range.
Late 377 AD: Saturninus established stony forts and redoubts in the five key Haemus Mountain passes. He managed to marshal his scant forces and hold these passes for a time… but eventually the Goths overran the blockades and spilled into central and southern Thracia. The legions and the Roman people were forced to take refuge in southern Thracia's high-walled cities.
Early 378 AD: With the Romans holed-up behind their city walls, A Western General, Sebastianus, ventured out into the Goth-ridden countryside to try to curtail the destruction. He lead a tiny crack force of legionaries in a new-style guerrilla warfare - striking at Gothic camps in the night, executing hit-and-run raids on their supplies.
Late Summer 378 AD: Emperor Valens arrives in Thracia at last, with his finest regiments in tow. They march to a site north of the city of Adrianople and meet the horde on a baking hot summer's day. The Battle of Adrianople turned the golden fields red, and the result has echoed through history as one of the worst defeats ever suffered by the empire. Emperor Valens died in the fray, along with two-thirds of the Eastern Army.
Early 379 AD: A new emperor rose to the Eastern Throne. Theodosius I took control of a realm in turmoil. Thracia was virtually a Gothic land, and the Romans were now the refugees, with just the well-walled cities of the empire serving as islands of sanctuary. Theodosius set about reforming and rejuvenating the broken eastern legions, recruiting slaves and criminals and recalling broken old veterans. He did achieve some success thanks to General Modares and his small band of hand-picked forces, who defeated a significant wing of the horde.
Summer 380 AD: However, the first major meeting of the Eastern legions and the horde (and Theodosius' first chance to prove his mettle as a warrior-emperor) took place somewhere in Macedonia, probably near Scupi. Fritigern's forces routed Theodosius' army, and all the rejuvenation efforts were undone.
Autumn 380 AD: A major split occured in the leadership of the horde. One half left the East behind, heading West in search of fresh spoils there. But Emperor Gratian's Western legions stood against them near the city of Sirmium on the east-west border, and achieved a long-needed victory.
381 AD: Gratian's forces roved east, in search of the remaining half of the horde. A game of manoeuvring and skirmishing ensued - a struggle that lasted all year and stretched across Thracia and Macedonica. During this period, Iudex Fritigern died.
382 AD: The legions gained the upper hand and forced the Goths into a retreat, driving them into northern Thracia. Cornered, the Goths had no option but to sue for peace. The nature of the peace deal would define all of Europe for centuries to come…
Gordon Doherty, writer, history fan, explorer.
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