Historical Overview Section

In the summer and fall of 376, tens of thousands of displaced Goths and other tribes arrived on the Danube River on the border of the Roman Empire, requesting asylum from the Western Hunnic tribes. Fritigern, a leader of the Thervingi, appealed to the Roman emperor Valens to be allowed to settle with his people on the south bank of the Danube, where they hoped to find refuge from the Huns who lacked the ability to cross the wide river in force. Valens permitted this, and even helped the Goths cross the river at modern Silistra, Bulgaria. Emperor Valens promised the Goths farming land, grain rations, and protection under the Roman armies as foederatii. His major reasons for quickly accepting the Goths into Roman territory were to increase the size of his army, and to gain a new tax base to increase his treasury. The selection of Goths that were allowed to cross the Danube was unforgiving: the weak, old, and sickly were left on the far bank to fend for themselves against the Huns. But the Romans were unable to support the large numbers of additional settlers, and soon famine led to unrest, and then open revolt by the Visigioths who spent the rest of 376 and early 377 near the Danube plundering food from the immediate region.

In late winter 377 war began in earnest and would last for six years before peace would be restored in 382. The remaining Goths moved south from the Danube to Marcianople, and next appeared near Adrianople. The Roman response was to send a force under Valens to meet and defeat the Goths. In 378 Valens moved north from Constantinople and was defeated (and himself killed) at the Battle of Adrianople (378) (modern Edirne). The victory gave the Goths freedom to roam at will, plundering throughout Thrace for the rest of 378. In 379 the Goths met only light Roman resistance and advanced north-west into Dacia, plundering that region.

In 380 the Goths divided into Terving and Greuthung armies, in part because of the difficulty of keeping such a large number supplied. The Greuthungi moved north into Pannonia where they were defeated by western emperor Gratian. The Tervingi under Fritigern moved south and east to Macedonia, where they took "protection money" from towns and cities rather than sacking them outright. In 381, forces of the western Empire drove the Goths back to Thrace, where finally in 382, peace was made on October 3. By the end of the war, the Goths had killed a Roman emperor, destroyed a Roman army and laid waste large tracts of the Roman Balkans, much of which never recovered. The Roman Empire had for the first time negotiated a peace settlement with an autonomous barbarian tribe inside the borders of the Empire, a situation that a generation before would have been unthinkable. Within a hundred years the Western Roman Empire would collapse under the pressure of continued invasions as the Empire was carved up into barbarian kingdoms.

In 409 the Vandals, with the allied Early Alans and Germanic tribes like the Suevi, swept into the Iberian peninsula. In response to this invasion of Roman Hispania, Honorius, the emperor in the West, enlisted the aid of the Visigoths to regain control of the territory. In 418, Honorius rewarded his Visigothic federates by giving them land in Gallia Aquitania on which to settle. This was probably done under hospitalitas, the rules for billeting army soldiers (Heather 1996, Sivan 1987). The settlement formed the nucleus of the future Visigothic kingdom that would eventually expand across the Pyrenees and onto the Iberian peninsula.

The Visigoths' second great king, Euric, unified the various quarreling factions among the Visigoths and, in 475, forced the Roman government to grant them full independence. At his death, the Visigoths were the most powerful of the successor states to the Western Roman Empire. The Visigoths also became the dominant power in the Iberian Peninsula, quickly crushing the Alans and forcing the Vandals into north Africa. By 500, the Visigothic Kingdom, centred at Toulouse, controlled Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis and most of Hispania with the exception of the Suevic kingdom in the northwest and small areas controlled by the Basques and Cantabrians

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