All About History


Pressure from Hunnic conquests from the east and a civil war among Germanic tribes north of the Danube meant that in the late summer of 376 CE, the Gothic tribe of the Thervingi gathered on the borders of the Roman empire. Modern estimates suggest that 200,000 men, women and children assembled on the northern bank of the Danube under their leader, Fritigern, and asked for asylum within the Eastern Roman Empire.

Fritigern had converted to Arian Christianity (the same faith as the Roman emperor, Valens) and was therefore considered to have a ‘special relationship’ with the Emperor. Nonetheless, fierce debate followed within the Imperial court about the wisdom of allowing an entire Germanic tribe to enter Roman territory. After two months of waiting, the Goths were eventually allowed to cross the Danube and settle in the province of Thrace. One of the factors in their favour was that they had agreed to be recruited into the Roman army, thereby solving a manpower shortage. Valens also required that the Goths all convert to Arian Christianity. They did so, and the crossing began.

Most of our surviving ancient sources view this decision as catastrophic for the Roman Empire – which it was, but all wrote with the benefit of hindsight. In 376 CE there were good reasons to allow such large numbers to cross over and settle in Roman territory. Allowing the Thervingi in can be seen as the moment the fate (and fall) of the Western Roman Empire was sealed, even though it was how those settlers were subsequently treated and what happened as a

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