Old Sources Story – Emperor Valens killed by the Gothic king Athanarik

Emperor Valens killed by the Gothic king Athanarik

© Inger Johansson E, Chapter manuscripts from the Gothic mosaics, Linköping, 1996, rev. Gothenburg 2003rd

Sources of narrative

The winter was long and cold. In November 375th Emperor Valentinian died of infarction. He had become very upset and angry at Peace Quadi-Ambassadeur´s unreasonable demands. Valentinian heart could not cope with stress. But this was not the only incident that affected the Roman Empire this year. Crete, Greece Peloponnesien and others suffered severe earthquakes

During the reign of Emperor Valens thirteenth [ie depending on how you count sometime between the years 375 and 377] the Huns attacked the Goths driving them in all directions – north, south and west. The Huns had long lived in the areas Orosius, a Spanish priest and historian of the 400s, called behind the high mountain ranges. The Huns came with their horses, their wives and children and waggons attacking the Goths.

Valentinian’s death, the severe earthquakes and the problems along East Roman borders caused severe problem for the tribunes Merobaudes and Equitius as well as the worry that the Goths would/could attack along the Danube.

At this time Emperor Valens and Gratian was far away. One far to the east and one as far away as in the western parts of Gaul. The Tribunes therefore called for Valentinan’s young son Valentinian the Younger, whose mother was previously married to Magnetius for help. Valentinian d.y was at that time only 5 years old. This election led caused West Roman Empire to be divided into two thirds. 375 Gratian was allowed to keep Gaul, Spain and England. Valentinian the Younger were given Italy, Illyria and the Roman Africa.

Turmoil in the Empire made Valens decide in a law that all Christian monks who did not work with secular questions were forced to enroll the Roman army. The decision, which in itself was deeply wrong came at the worst possible time for the Empire’s future. It happened at the same time as General Maximus rebelled mother of Emperor Valens.

The Huns attacked the Goths’ all over their fertile fields. The one who was hit first, was the king of Hermaneric. Hermaneric was at that time king of all Goths. Now many articles and encyclopedia place Hermaneric’s death around 370 AD. Contemporary sources however, one of them the Greek historian and advocat Zosimus, say that the Hermaneric who was the first attacked by the onslaught of the Huns. If it is true that Herman Erik died, after the Goths failed to stop the Hun, Hermaneric must at least have lived in early 375 AD

Hermaneric had made himself known by many expeditions and victories in major battles. His Gothic army was feared both by the ordinary people and the armies of the neighboring nations. When Hermaneric saw the threatening Hun army at first he tried f to keep attackers from the land of the Goths. When this wasn’t a posibility, Hermaneric appalled and was outraged at the imminent danger.

Huns couldn’t really fight man to man, but they was excellent rider and managed to cause great confusion and destruction among the Goths, who lived along the banks of the Danube. According to historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who was approx 45 years then, Hermaneric finally voluntarily search death in stead of being defeated by the Huns.

After Hermaneric’s death, Vitimiris was elected to be the Goths king. With the help of a group of Huns who Vitimiris bought over for a short period of time, Vitimiris managed to keep the major forces of the Huns away. Finally fell Vitimiris in a big battle. Then his minor son Videric was appointed king. To help him Alatev and Safraks appointed. They became the real leaders of the Goths in the great kingdom that had once been Herman Eriks. Alatevs and Safraks chose to withdraw the Gothic army northward in direction of river Dniester.

As the Gothic Teroeingian king Athanarik, heard about the other Goths major problems with the Huns, he decided that with all his forces should try to resist the Huns attack. To prepare for battle Athanarik and his troops camped along the Dniester in the Gothic Grevtungian’s valley. Munderic, [IEJ: who later became the Roman governor at the Arabian border], was commissioned by Athanarik together with Lagarimanian ”spy chief” to study the Huns rampage. The attempt to stop the Huns attack failed. The Huns who caught sight of the spies attacked directly. Athanarik had to flie to a height close to the river Gerasus bordering Taifalian land.

Rumors of the Huns spread to all other Gothic groups. A completely unknown people pulled out of the mountains like a snowstorm. The Huns destroyed everything. Many Goths decided to seek new settlements. As was customary among the Goths were the various chiefs and elected representatives decided together that Roman Thrace was the most suitable area to relocate to. There the soil was fertile and the river Hist (Danube) distinguished it from the attacking Huns. Under their leader Alavivus the forces first all went to the Goths Danube area sending a message to Valens praying to be allowed to settle in Thrace.

The kings of the Goths had on several occasions sent delegates to the Roman emperor Valens with petitions for the Holy Church sending them own bishops. Due to that the Emperor chose to partially meet the Goths request. Thus the Emperor sent the Goths some Arian missionaries. According to Orosius, all this was due to the emperor being perverse and showing prejudice against the true Christian church. That’s why most Goths converted to be Christians, Arian Christians.

Many of the Goths, especially the Visigoths wished to settle in the Roman Empire in order to escape the Huns rampage. After a series of terrible blows surviving Goths fled from the area north of the Danube of 376 e.Kr. They fled across the Danube and asked Emperor Valens for permission to settle in the Roman Empire. In return, the Goths promised to stop their own attacks and help the Romans.

Emperor Valens looked favorably on this prop as the Goths and gave them what some called ”desired status”. But he demanded in return that the Goths, at once lay down their weapons.

To reduce the risk of Gothic treason, Valens took most of the Goths’ children as hostages. They and their commander Julius had to travel to East Roman Empire’s areas. The Emperor Valens made the point, that the Gothic kids might pose a threat and fear for the Roman society. In Roman view this was considered important in order for the Goths children not be able to form opposition groups. That’s why the Gothic hostages, the children were allocated to multiple cities.

Despite the agreement no other Goths than the Visigoths had move into the Roman Empire. Under the peace agreement, which the Goths met with Emperor Valens, the Roman commanders would help Goths to flee into the Roman Empire.

Despite this agreement and in contravention of the orders of the Emperor, the Roman commanders chose beautiful gothic women and beautiful young men for so-called dubious purposes. The only others who were admitted were slaves of the Goths and Gothic peasants. While the Roman commanders made their own choice, might, however, other Goths sneak into the Empire by using ”the back doors”.

The Goths who were refused entry despite the agreement but slipped into the Roman Empire, considered themselves not bound by the agreement reached by the Goths or stated promises. That’s why Thrace, Pannonia, Macedonia and Thessaloniki rapidly were flowded by what the Romans called Gothic gangs of robbers.

Zosimus wrote in details of these events which more than once differs from the better-known Jordanes’ information. Jordanes believed that the background to the problems between Goths and Romans was a request from the fries, Alatheus (Alatev other sources) and Safraks to the Roman commandants Lupicinus and Maximus for the opening of a market and that the problems were caused by this. Failure was according to Jordanses that a large number of Goths were not allowed to reside within the Roman Empire, but did it anyway.

Among the Goths who were allowed to settle in the Roman Empire in 376 AD were the Tervingians a Wisigothic tribe. Their military leaders called Fritigern and Alavivius. Both latter mentioned in several later documents and by historians dealing with the Roman history, in the Eastern Roman Empire as well as westward – in Gaul and Britain! But this is an other story.

It was not as easy for Grevtungian King Videric, Hermaneric’s heirs to be allowed to settle in the Roman Empire. Together with his guardians Alatev and Safrak he prayed that they and their people would were allowed to reside inside the Roman Empire in order to escape the invading Huns.

Emperor Valens did not feel comfortable to allow Hermaneric’s heir – i.e the heir to the title All Goths king, to settled within the Empire. Goths attacking in older times and the great powers that Hermaneric had had, posed a threat to the emperor. As The Tervvingian King Athanarik heard of Videric not being allowed to settle, Athanarik became restless and was accompanied by some of his men who had been at a distance from the Danube region. It may seem that Athanarik had no cause for concern. With the inheritance law which prevailed at that time, it was Athanarik who if Videric died without heir, would be standing next to the Gothic throne. But this was also reason enough for Athanariks concern.

When a group of the Terovingian soldiers discovered that the Roman officers delibratly mistreated the treaty and the promise given during the peace negotiations, that all the Goths would be allowed to enter the Roman Empire, they became very upset. The Terovingers who not yet reached the safety on the south side of the Danube started to behave more and more threatening against the Romans. Eventually Lucian became very afraid that the Goths would start a revolt. This could then spread to the Goths who already had to settle in the Roman Empire and to the many of the Goths serving in the Roman army. Lucian decided that his soldiers should take the already saved the Goths quickly came further inlands. During the confusion that arose which fit Alatev and Safrak, Grevtungian Videric’s two guardians, who decided to take the opportunity to cross the Danube

The Gothic warchiefs Sverid (Svenios) and Kolios (Col) had at this time long had the Roman emperor’s permission to reside in the Roman Empire and to trade between the Romans and northern Europe. Sverid Kolios, used in wintertime to withdraw northward to their home countries, up the rivers inkl Great Volga to their home up on un island in the Northern Ocean where they had their winter quarters. After the riots that erupted emperor commanded them to stay in the kingdom and spend the winter near Adrianople.

When Sveridus and Kolios received the Emperor’s letter they were on the other side of the Hellespont. They then called for travel money and food as well as 2-3 day suspension for the trip. Adrianople’s Chief Administrative manager became angry and threatened war with the Goths and severe punishment if they do not voluntarily obeyed the emperor. The public and the factory workers in Adrianople also became very upset with demands and attacked the Goths. Goths struck crowds that came against them, killed, looted and chased away the survivors. After the event Sverid and Kolios forces joined forces with Fritigern who’s army were in the vicinity.

Fritigern also contacted the other Gothic tribes’ kings. Together their armies slowly moved towards Marcianopolis. There Lupicinus had invited goterkongarna Alaviv and Fritigern to a feast. During the feast a scuffle broke out between the Gothic soldiers and people of Marcianopolis. In anger the Goths killed theentire Roman garnison’s soldier. Lupicinus commanded ordered that Alavivs and Fritigern and their men should be killed. Fritigern escaped and fled. 2000 ship was filled with Goths who ravaged the land and sea in the Mediterranian area.

On 9 August in the year 377 were the Gothic forces ready to attack. After the succesful attack, they continued on towards Adrianople and Constantinople. Among the joint forces there were at that this time some Huns and the the Gothic military commanders promised them some of the taxes that were to ”fetch” in the two cities. After the siege of Adrianople, which took place under the leadership of Fritigern who had had to disbanded due to food shortages the Goths continued ravashing. They camped at Peritus. Then the resting soldiers started heading for Constantinople. For fear of being involved in Roman ambush soldiers moved in small groups, closed ”array”

The Gothic army was so close to Constantinople, that they could almost beat on the Town’s dorr. Had it not been for a group of Saracens who lived in the city who had caught sight of the enemy soldiers, and gone out to stop them outside the city, one doesn’t know what could have happened. The struggle between the Gothic troops and Saracens were hard and long. In the end, there were no clear winner, but a long-haired Saracen drew his dagger and cut straight into the gothic crowd. Saracen met one who had got his throat cut and blood flowed. Saracen leaned forward and drank of the blood. This terrible event caused great fear among the Goths who no longer dared to go forward as hard as before. The Goths tore down their scaffolding that was built for the siege of the city and returned northward.

At the same time Julius was made Supreme Commander of the Roman troops in Taurus. Julius had many Gothic soldiers among his men. For fear that the Goths in the army would cause a revolt, Julius sent a secret letter to all forces officers. The letter demanded the commander of troops would give managers the Goths a promise of prompt payment. The Goths were for this purpose are collected in a square of a town. When the Goths gathered they were surrounded and cut down by the other Roman soldiers.

In Emperor Valens’ fifteenth year there was a great battle between the Gothic and the Roman army soldiers close to Adrianopolis (Present days Edirne). Two years earlier the Goths, led by its General Maximus, who later became the Roman General that is said to have occupied Thrace. All the Gothic soldiers were well equipped, well trained and appeared to have had a never-ending stream of replenishment of supplies available from the gothic peasants who lived nearby. For the Roman army this was totally disastrous end. The fighting ended when Emperor Valens was killed.

When the emperor Valens saw that the Goths sacked all Thrace, he decided to send the Saracen against the Gothic cavalry. On the Emperor’s orders the Saracen of Constantinople left in small groups to avoid the Roman tactics were revealed. Emperor Valens decided once again to use the Saracens as he quickly moved to the battle fields in Thrace. The Saracens were known as skilled riders and skilled soldiers. Saracens attacked the Goths with their lances. Many Goths fell. Other Goths tried to interfere in an ambush. The Goths failed with their tactics, thanks to that Saracens’s lances being superior in fights. All happens so fast that many Goths tried to cross the Danube preferingly giving themselves up in the hands of the Huns than in the hands of Saracens.

From West Roman areas Sebastianus joined with the other Roman forces. Valens had appointed Sebastianus to Master Militium earlier. Sebastianus were allowed to choose 2000 soldiers for an elite guard. Most of the soldiers were new recruits had not yet been affected by East Roman Army’s weak military leaders. The soldiers exposed to an intense workout and exercise and then Sebastianus invaded a number of walled cities. These cities were ordered to prepare for Gothic attacks.

Meanwhile, his army managed to kill some Goths. Sebastianus usually considered it safe to attack them, when the Goths had hangovers after their party meetings or when they bathed in the river to be cleans. On these occasions, Sebastianus and his soldiers slaughtered as many they could. This led to the Goths came to fear Sebastianus. Sebastianus great success brought with it that the envy against him increased in the leading circles in Eastern Roman Empire. Sebastianus argued before a court in the presence of the Emperor. Thereafter Sebastianus influence decreased. Which didn’t do the Emperor any good.

The conflict in Ostrom’s leading circuits may might have forced the emperor Valens, in contrast to master militium Sebastianus view, to decided on an attack against the Goths with full strength. This led to a Gothic counter-attack. The battle, which took place August 9 378 AD was easily won by the Goths. Roman cavalery squadron at hand was surprised by the invading Goths. This caused many in the Roman cavalry to abondon their infantry. The infantry thus were completely unprotected, and found themselves surrounded by hostile Gothic cavalry from all sides. The Goths sent swarms of arrows against the Roman infantry who fleed. The men of the Infantry were either beaten by the Goths sword or by stuckna of lances. The swords and lances reached the Romans from all sides. Emperor Valens fled in haste after the battle with a handful of men to a small village. Groups from the Goths forces followed in his footsept.

Emperor Valens, who had been wounded by an arrow, was carried to a small farm in order to be hidden from the Gothic soldiers. Despite this Valens was captured by Visigothic soldiers and badly beaten. After the beeting the Goths light a fire in the courtyard close to a house which resulted in that nothing was left of the Emperor’s body for a normal burial. According to Zosimus (New History) the Goths colledted wood from the surrouning areas and placed them outside the house in which the emperor had taken refuge. Then the Goths lit a fire around the house. Causing the house with the Emperor to burned down to the grounds. This must have happened January 19th 379 AD. The man who led the attack on the Emperor was the Gothic Tervingian King Athanarik.

According to Eunapius The Emperor had sought refuge in a hut which were burned down. The fire must have been very hot because not one single bone were found for the Romans to bury after the fire. It may have been a cottage, a hut or small farm. One can’t know for sure. At this time the Goths acted harshly against the Romans never asking for those who suffered their attacks. The Goths were at samr time was living in Thrace in large numbers and was called ”qui Thrace populabantur” in contemporary sources.

When all looked as hopelessness as can be, Viktor who was the riding master equitium crossed through Macedonia. He continued in gallop towards Thessaloniki and Moesia until he reached Pannonia. Victor wanted to warn Gratian of the Roman army’s heavy loss, and the murder of Emperor Valens. When Gratian became aware of Valens’s death, he appointed Theodosius to his co-emperor. Theodosius who was born in calice in Spain was the son of Valentinian. Gratian gave Theodosius authority over Thrace and the Eastern Roman Empire. Gratian himself moved to address the increasing problems with the Germans in western Gaul.

Emperor Valens has, rightly or wrongly, become most remembered for the way he died. If we are to believe the contemporary sources, it was Valens who sent the Goths an Arian Christian bishop, thus he made the Goths converting to be Christians. To evaluate these data from a postitivisti-holistic wiew one need to link Germanic peoples, including the Goths, with todays Nordic countries from earlier or contemporaty primary sources. Which as seen can be done. [added text to the English translation. An island in the Northern Ocean, up the rivers among them Great Volga and so on.)
Considering all these primary sources and contemporary sources naming the emperor Valens, pas the one behind the convertion of the Goths to Christian beliefs, This is of great importance for further discussions re. Christianity’s history and distribution of Christianity in Northern Europe.

Emperor Valens right or wrong gave the the Gothic army promise to take refuge on Roman territory. This seems to have led up to his own death. The fighting forces of mixed groups of Goths, Huns, and various Germanic-Gothic speaking groups on one hand and the Roman army on the other, might have been the cause for the the weakening of the Roman army’s western front, as well as all of the Western Roman Empire and the remnants of various communities and groups in the Balkan region. Thus many people due to these events during the late 370s came to inhabiting other groups famous ancient sites, along with subsequent incremental ethnic groups in a mix of several different religions, (different views even within Christianity), the Christian groups who were ”true” Christians might be the reason up to modern time for the Balkans to be called Europé´s anxiety corner.

If the fighting between the Emperor Valens and Athanarik starting as early as 365 e.Kr not had ended with the latter killed the emperor, perhaps Athanarik only would have been remembered due to Emperor Theodosius later on, at Athanarik’s death gave him an imperial burial in the imperial tomb in Constantinople.
In light of all that seems to be unknown to scholars, or forgotten, re. Athanarik being the man behind the assassination of the Emperor Valens, one might ask whether the Gothic influence in the Eastern part of the empire was significantly greater than what scholars up to now assumed.

This is regardless of everything else the time when and where the fall of the Roman Empire begins. The decomposition described in the next chapter.

© Inger Johansson E, Chapter in manuscripts from the Gothic mosaics, Linköping, 1996, rev. Gothenburg 2003rd

Short list of the most important contemporary sources and Academic works analyzing them:

Ammianus Marcellinus, Roms historie i det fjerde århunrede e.Kr., Arendal 1877
Bede, The Greater Chronicle, Ed. Oxford 1994
Eunapius E 480
Eunapius Fragment 39M
Eunapius Live of the Sophists, transl. W C Wright Ph.D.,London 1921
Eutropius Book I och II, ed EC Marchant M.A., London 1899
Historiarum adversos paganos libri vii, Lipsiae 1889
Jordanes, Getica
Laud Chronicle E62
Neue Geschichte, Stuttgart 1990
Origin and deeds of the Goths, Princeton, N.J., 1908
Orosius Seven books against the Pagans, Washington DC 1964 (ingår i serien The Fathers of the church)
Parker Chronicle A62
Rerum gestarum libri qui supersunt, Leipzig 1978
the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, övers. prof. GN Garmonsway, London 1967

Priscus Exc. de Leg. Rom. 10
Vitae sophisarum, Romae, 1956
Zosimus New history, Sydney 1982

Blockley Roger C The fragmentary classicising historians of the later Roman empire 1-2 Liverpool 1981 resp. 1983
Cameron Averil The later Roman empire, Cambridge, Mass 1993
Collins Roger, Early Medieval Europe 300-1000, London 1991
Kremer Josef, Studien zum frühen Christentum in Niedergermanien, Köln 1993
Korkkanen Irma The Peoples of Hermanaric Jordanes, Cetica 116, Helsingfors 1975
The later Roman Empire, Harmondsworth 1986
Wagner Norbert, Jordanes, Getica,untersuchungen zum leben des Jordanes und zur frühen Gesichte der Goten, Berlin 1967
Wiebe Franz Josef Kaiser, Valens und die heidnische Opposition, Bonn 1995

For more information please contact me via commentfield.
Please note following:
You may copy all or excepts to your classes as long as you refer to whats written in copyright line Johansson, Inger E etc.
Also please note that above text have been used in High School classes since 1996/97 here in Sweden and in some countries around the world since year 1998. /IEJ


One Response to Old Sources Story – Emperor Valens killed by the Gothic king Athanarik

  1. […] At this time Emperor Valens and Gratian was far away….. Old Sources Story – Emperor Valens killed by Gothic King Athanarik, read more following this l… […]



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