According to the major part of historians, It was the mismanagement of the migratory wave of Goths in the fourth century generated the hostilities at the base of the Battle of Adrianople, the beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire. On August 9, 378 AD, in Adrianople, in Thrace, now the province of Edirne, in Turkey, one of the worst military defeats ever suffered by the Romans was recorded: the massacre of 30 thousand soldiers of the Empire. The Eastern Roman emperor Flavius Julius Valens Augustus, simply known as Valens, and nicknamed Ultimus Romanorum (the last true Roman), led his troops against the Goths, commanded by Fritigern. It was a massacre, a defeat which marked the beginning of the chain of events that would lead to the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. It was a battle that Saint Ambrose referred to as “the end of all humanity, the end of the world.”
It seems that, as origins of the most important defeat in the history of the Roman Empire, there would have been the mismanagement by the Romans of an imposing wave of migrations by Goths two years earlier. In fact, the defeat of Adrianople didn’t happen because of Valens’s endless thirst for power or because he grossly underestimated his adversary’s belligerence. The same Goths who would be transformed themselves into the executioners of the legions of the City. Two years earlier the Goths had descended toward Roman territory looking for shelter. The mismanagement of Goth refugees started a chain of events that led to the collapse of one of the biggest political and military powers humankind has ever known.
In 376 AD, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus recounts, the Goths were forced to abandon their territories in the present Eastern Europe, pushed by the Huns, “a race savage beyond all parallel”, which pressed from the north on their borders. Their arrival, “descended like a whirlwind from the lofty mountains, as if they had risen from some secret recess of the earth, and were ravaging and destroying everything which came in their way.”, caused a bloodbath among the Goths who decided, as Syrians do today, to run away.
The Goths, led by Fritigern, then decided to establish themselves in Thrace, beyond the Danube: a fertile land with a river that would protect them from an hun invasion. That wasn’t free land, it was in the Roman empire, under the rule of Valens, and so Fritigern, who was leading the Goths, asked to “be received by him as his subjects, promising to live quietly, and to furnish a body of auxiliary troops if any necessity for such a force should arise.” In gratitude, Fritigern also converted to Christianity.
Initially, things seemed to work: the Romans, with regard to submissive populations, routinely exercised an inclusive strategy. They preferred to make Roman citizens and assimilate their culture, to avoid future rebellions. Tens of thousands of Goths (perhaps over 200,000) waddled the Danube by day and by night, embarking on ships and makeshift boats; many of them, because of the large number, drowned, and were dragged away by the currents…like today.
Under the agreements, the Goths who arrived in Thrace would have been conscripted into the Roman army and obtained citizenship. But the military officers who had to guarantee their support and supplies, an ancient network of support for the migrants, turned out to be corrupt and took advantage of the resources allocated to the new arrivals, selling the provisions on the black market. Reduced to hunger, the Goths were forced to sell their children as slaves and to buy dog meat from the Romans.
Hostilities between the two populations grew. The resentment hatched by the Goths went from wanting to become Roman to wanting to destroy Rome. Less than two years later, they took down the empire. It was with this rage brooded for a long time that exterminated the armies of Valens. And the battle was the beginning of the avalanche that overwhelmed the West. And in fact, many historians take on 9 August 378 as the date that signed the border between ancient times and the Middle Ages.
Off topic: I am Czech, and like most people in my country, I am against the invasion of migrants in Europe. It is only my point of view, and one could speak endlessly about this problem. But Historia magistra vitae….