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The Attack of the Huns. - Fritigerns Goths in the Balkans. - Alaric's Goths in the Balkans and in Italy. - The Western Goths in Gaul. - The Eastern Goths in Italy. - Links og litteratur.

The Attack of the Huns

In the winter of 375-76 AD rumors about heavy fighting in the area of the Eastern Goths along the coast of the Black Sea reached Constantinople. In the beginning the news were ignored. However, in late summer 376 AD a very large quantity of Gothic refugees, men, women and children arrived with their wagons and animals to the Danube's northern bank and asked for permission to cross the river and seek protection in Roman territory. There were many small family groups, but essentially they were organized into two major groups, each with their political leadership. The group dominated by the Terwingi Goths came from modern Romania and Moldova; under leadership of Alavivus and Fritigern they had broken loose from their king, Athanaric, who wanted to set up a defense against the Huns. The group dominated by the Greuthungi Goths were led by Alatheus and Saphrax; they had traveled all the way from southern Ukraine to the Danube.

The Goths lived scattered over the countryside in small villages
As all other Germanic farmers and stockbreeders the Goths lived scattered over the countryside in small villages - which made them vulnerable to the Hun's attack.

Amminius wrote about the the cause of this chaos: "However, the seed and origin of all the ruin and various disasters that the wrath of Mars aroused, putting in turmoil all places with unwonted fires, we have found to be this: The people of the Huns, but little known from ancient records, dwelling beyond the Maeotic Sea near the ice-bound ocean, exceeding every degree of savagery."

At first glance Amminius' report gives impression of a panic escape from a cruel and superior enemy. However, more details can be derived. The Huns first overcame the Alans on the eastern steppe, and then they turned to the Eastern Goths, led by the famous king Ermanarik, who resisted the Huns' attack "for a long time".

Creating fame takes time, so we must believe that Ermanaric had been quite old at this time. Amminius wrote: "He put an end to his fear of these great perils by a voluntary death". It does not sound likely that such a tough old king, who was feared far and wide, should have been overwhelmed by fear. We must believe that he hanged himself as a sacrifice to the gods to save his people. He was followed by Vithimer, who according to Amminius fought several battles: " - after many defeats, which he sustained, he was overcome by force of arms and died in battle."

The Goths could not resist
the Huns' attack
The Goths could not resist the Huns' attack.

Further Vithimer was able to recruit other Huns to fight on the Goths' side. Eventually he was killed in battle. He was succeeded by his underage son, Vitheric, who was supported by two military leaders named Alatheus and Saphrax. Under their leadership a large group of the Eastern Goths decided to leave their land around the river Dnieper in Southern Ukraine and seek safety behind the borders of the Roman Empire.

A very large part of the many groups of Goths however remained in their homeland and joined finally the Huns following the motto: "If you can't beat them, join them".

The Huns military superiority seems to have been based on their superb riding skills and perhaps better horses, combined with their advanced composite bows.

Amminius described the The Huns fighting form: "They enter the battle drawn up in wedge-shaped masses, while their medley of voices makes a savage noise. And as they are lightly equipped for swift motion, and unexpected in action, they purposely divide suddenly into scattered bands and attack, rushing about in disorder here and there, dealing terrific slaughter - they fight from a distance with missiles having sharp bone, instead of their usual points, joined to the shafts with wonderful skill; then they gallop over the intervening spaces and fight hand to hand with swords."

Kassai Lajos
The Hungarian Kassai Lajos has dedicated his life to archery on horseback. He uses a asymmetric composite bow. One can faintly see the trajectory of the arrow on the photo.
To my knowledge a well-preserved composite bow has never been found in graves from the Migration Period. But some have from the relative positions of preserved parts concluded that the Hun's used an asymmetric bow.
The longer a bow, the stronger it is. However, too long a bow would be impractical for a horseman, as it would become entangled in the harness, the horse's mane, etc. Therefore, some believe that the Huns used an asymmetric bow, where the the long end was kept at top. However, it will cause some aiming problems, some experts believe.

Zosimus wrote based on records of the historian Eunapius: "They were completely unable to and ignorant of fighting a battle on foot, but by speeding around, attack and pull back in time, while shoting from their horses, they evoked immense slaughter."

In modern times, the Hungarian Lajos Kassai has demonstrated that with a kompositbue it is possible to shoot 12 deadly arrows in less than 17 seconds, all hitting their targets. On horseback with a speed of 30 km per hour, he has demonstrated that he can fire six arrows in 10 seconds, all hitting their targets (See link to video below).

The Huns composite bows were more far-reaching than the Goths longbows. At safe distance they could soften the enemy with a hail of arrows. Then they galloped closer and fired another deadly shower of arrows from horseback, while they galloped hither and thither with great speed. When the enemy had been completely reduced, they attacked on horseback the last bewildered survivors with saber or sword in hand.

A Composite bow consisted of a core of wood, on which on the inner side was glued a layer of bone or horn and on the outside a layer of tendons. The amazing adhesive was made by boiling fishbones and animal skins.

Fritigerns Goths in the Balkans.

Antique sources did not think that the sudden emergence of thousands of Gothic asylum seekers on the Danube was a problem at all. Amminius explains: "The affair caused more joy than fear; and experienced flatterers immoderately praised the good fortune of the prince, which unexpectedly brought him so many young recruits from the ends of the Earth, that by the union of his own and foreign forces he would have an invincible army." Romans in both West and East were in constant need of suitable soldiers, in particular Emperor Valens, because he was in war against the Persians.
The Gothic Pietroasele
Treasure
The Gothic Pietroasele Treasure on display in the National Museum of Romanian History in Bucharest - Wikipedia.

The Western Goths under leadership of the Terwingi Goths Alavivus and Fritigern were given permission to cross the Danube and seek refuge in the Eastern Roman Empire. This happened in 376 AD near the fort Durostorum. The Eastern Goths led by the Greuthungi Goths Alatheus and Saphrax were rejected.

It was agreed that they should be resettled in Thrace. Young Gothic men should be recruited to the regular Roman army, and under their own leaders Gothic corps would fight together with regular Roman forces. The Gothic leaders expressed their willingness to convert to Christianity.

A reconstruction of Roman 
legionaries
A reconstruction of Roman legionaries in Aalen 24. of September 2000. - In the late emperial time the real Roman battle units were a kind of foreign legions, which mainly consisted of young men from various barbarian tribes, recruited individually, including many Goths. They were well equipped with helmets, chain mail and large shields. They were well-trained, perhaps as the French Foreign Legion today. There was a tight discipline, and the officers had the power to whip and execute soldiers, if they found it necessary.

Guarded by Roman soldiers under general Lupicinus they began the journey to their new home in Thrace. It is assumed that the Goths had arrived at the Danube with their harvest of the year 376 AD. But they spent a long time on the Danube waiting for the Emperor's permission to cross the river, and it had consumed the supplies. During the journey towards Thrace they began to suffer from hunger. Some sources tell that the Romans traded food for young Goths, whom they could sell as slaves. This was a source of growing anger among the Goths.

Late in the year 376 AD they camped outside the city of Marcianople. Lupicinus invited Alavivus and Fritigern for a dinner. The Roman general posted guards that should keep the other Goths in a distance. During the dinner fighting broke out between the guards and angry Goths, resulting in that a large group of Roman soldiers were killed. Amminius tells: "Having invited Alavivus and Fritigern to a dinner-party, Lupicinus posted soldiers against the main body of the barbarians and kept them at a distance from the walls of the town; and when they asked with continual entreaties that they might, as friendly people submissive to our rule, be allowed to enter and obtain what they needed for food, great wrangling arose between the inhabitants and those who were shut out, which finally reached a point where fighting was inevitable. Whereupon the barbarians, becoming wildly excited when they perceived that some of their kindred were being carried off by force, killed and despoiled a great troop of soldiers. When the aforesaid Lupicinus learned by a secret message that this had happened, while he had long been reclining at the prodigal table amid noisy entertainments and was drowsy and half drunk, guessing what the outcome would be, he put to death all the attendants of the two leaders, who as a guard of honour and to ensure their safety, were waiting for them before the general's quarters. When the people who were besieging the walls heard this news, in their resentment they gradually increased their number to avenge their kings, who, as they thought, had been detained by force; and they uttered many savage threats. And since Fritigern was quickwitted and feared that he might be held with the rest as a hostage, he cried out that they would have to fight with heavy loss of life, unless he himself were allowed to go out with his companions to quiet the people, who, believing that their leaders had been slain under pretence of friendly entertainment, had blazed out into turbulence. And when this request was granted, they all departed."

Gothic cavalry
An artistic representation of Gothic cavalry. - Unfortunately unknown artist as the signature is not easy to decipher.

The fighting began the morning after the fatal dinner. Initially the Goths looted the entire region of Marcianpolis. General Lupicinus gathered the troops, which he had to his disposal, and marched out against the Gothic camp, which was located about 15 km outside the city. The Romans were completely eliminated, and only Lupicinus and a few others escaped.

Fritigern encouraged now his Goths: "and advised them to attack and devastate the rich and fruitful parts of the country, which were still without protectors and could be pillaged without any danger."

Ammianus continues: "For without distinction of age or sex all places were ablaze with slaughter and great fires, sucklings were torn from the very breasts of their mothers and slain, matrons and widows whose husbands had been killed before their eyes were carried off, boys of tender or adult age were dragged away over the dead bodies of their parents. Finally many aged men, crying that they had lived long enough after losing their possessions and their beautiful women, were led into exile with their arms pinioned behind their backs, and weeping over the glowing ashes of their ancestral homes."

Goths on the move
Goths on the move - Everywhere Goths and other migratory peoples came, they brought their wives and children and all their belongings on wagons pulled by oxen. the line of a Gothic wandering people have probably had an extent of many kilometers. The Eastern Goths led by Theodoric departed from the vicinity of Constantinople to the Italian border in one year. This istance is around 1000 km in straight line on a map, which will give 3 km per day measured on such a line. They were several times delayed because of figthing against the Gepies and illness, but let's guess at an average cruise speed of less than 10 kilometer each day. The Vandals was about one year to travel from Tangier to Tunis, which gives about the same travel speed.- Drawing Rodney Thomsen.

Many excavations have in modern times documented burned down buildings and other destructions from precisely about 376-378 AD.

Fritigerns army grew like a snowball. In order to provide enough soldiers to guard the Western Goths on the march toward Thrace Lupicinus had had to thin out the garrisons along the Danube border. This gave the Eastern Goths, led by Alatheus and Saphrax, opportunity to cross the Danube and take part in the looting and later join Fritigerns forces. A small Gothic force led by Suerida and Colias was stationed in Hadrianople with their families, where they had long been part of the Roman military. When the fighting broke out, they got problems with local residents in the city, and therefore they chose to join Fritigern. Further, he managed to persuade a significant group of Huns and Alans to join the Goths in return of share of the spoils.

But Emperor Valens had not remained idle. He confided to one of his generals to negotiate a compromise peace with the Persians under the conditions that could be obtained, and sent a large part of his troops from Armenia back to Constantinople, where they arrived in the summer of 377 AD prompting the Goths to retreat towards the northern part of the Balkans. In addition, he persuaded his Western imperial colleague, Gratian, to send reinforcements to the Balkans.

The Roman plan was to unite the Western and Eastern armies in 378 AD and then with overwhelming force destroy the Goths.

The battle of Hadrianople
The battle of Hadrianople (Adrianople) - Amminius is not quite clear in his description of the battle. Much of our knowledge is from present rationalizations. But it has certainly been a "bloody mess "as it is said, filled with dust, smoke, screams and blood, where Goths and Alans fought desperately for their freedom and survival in view of their loved ones in the wagon lager - wikipedia.

Emperor Valens joined his troops outside Constantinople in the middle of June.

However, the Western Emperor Gratian had got problems at his empire's eastern border. He had already sent many soldiers to Pannonia in preparation for the expedition against the Goths in the Balkans, but this move had weakened the defense of the Rhine border. That was noticed by an Alemanni tribe called Lentienses. In February they crossed the Rhine and invaded the Roman Empire. This forced Gratian to call his troops back from Pannonia to defeat Lentienses, and thereby his Balkan campaign was delayed.

Valens and his army waited for two months without hearing or seeing anything to Gratian and his Western army. Finally a letter arrived that described Gratian's magnificent victory over Allemanni. He promised to come, but however late.

Valens could no longer keep his army in inactivity, moreover, he was eager to get an equally impressive victory as his western colleague. He marched to the north and approached the city of Hadrianople, where the Goths were encamped north of the city. Valens decided to strike without waiting for the arrival of the western army.

Early in the morning 9. of August 378 AD the Romans left their wagons in a camp, guarded by a smaller force, and marched north toward the Gothic camp. Around two o'clock afternoon, the wagon lager came in sight. Amminius says that the wagons were "arranged in a perfect circle; like turned on a lathe". We send a thought to the contemporary ring fortresses in Jutland and the later Viking ring castles.

Wagon lager from South Africa
Wagon lager from South Africa, which is built in memory of a historic battle at Blood River - Wikipedia.

Amminius describes the battle. The Romans attacked with a mixture of cavalry and infantry in the wings and with heavy infantry in center. Romans left wing had great success early in the battle and forced the Goths back to the wagon lager. They were already preparing to storm the wagon lager, when disaster struck. Then Gothic cavalry led by Alatheus and Saphrax together with heavy Alan cavalry attacked from behind and hit the Romans' left wing: " - the Gothic cavalry, returning with Alatheus and Saphrax, combined with a band of the Halani, dashed out as a thunderbolt does near high mountains, and threw into confusion all those, whom they could find in the way of their swift onslaught, and quickly slew them." The Romans left wing were scattered in wild confusion. Then the Roman center lay open for a flank attack.

Roman heavy infantry in the center was established in a tight shield wall formation, which gave very little room for the individual soldier. Amminius says: "The Roman heavy infantry in the center was drawn up in a dense shield wall formation, which gave little room for the individual soldier. - The foot-soldiers thus stood unprotected, and their companies were so crowded together that hardly anyone could pull out his sword or draw back his arm. Because of clouds of dust the heaven could no longer be seen, and echoed with frightful cries. Hence the arrows whirling death from every side always found their mark with fatal effect, since they could not be seen beforehand nor guarded against. But when the barbarians, pouring forth in huge hordes, trampled down horse and man, and in the press of ranks no room for retreat could be gained anywhere, and the increased crowding left no opportunity for escape, our soldiers also, showing extreme contempt of perishing in the fight, received their death-blows, yet struck down their assailants; and on both sides the strokes of axes split helmet and breastplate."

Emperor Valens perished along with most of his army; his body was never found, and nobody knows for sure, how he died. According to Amminius this was the largest Roman defeat since the Battle of Cannae in 215 BC, where Hannibal wiped out the entire Roman army.

The lower Donau provinces  in Roman times
The lower Danube provinces in Roman times - In the time of Emperor Valens and Fritigern the Roman Empire had abandoned "Dacia Inferior" - essentially today's Romania - which then was inhabited mainly of Goths and original indo-European peoples. Marciapolis and Hadrianople are marked with red circles. Hadrianople or Adrianople is today's Edirne in European Turkey. After four years of war the Goths were settled south of the Danube in the shaded area, which today is northern Bulgaria.

Gratian was only 300 km away and could only watch helplessly, while the Goths now became the undisputed masters of the Balkans. They marched directly towards Constantinople eager to take the city with its many treasures. But they had to give up on the city's mighty walls.

The war dragged on for four more years. The Goths were unable to win final victory by taking fortified cities, and the Romans had lost the best parts of their army at Hadrianople. The Goths were forced to wander restlessly about in the Balkans because of problems of providing food for their large numbers; we remember that they were not only armed men, they were the whole people including women and children.

The new emperor, Theodosius, recruited an army in Egypt and Middle East with the purpose to avenge the defeat at Hadrianople. But when the soldiers learned that they had to fight Goths, the army withered away mysteriously. Themistius wrote: "When there was not yet a King in charge of the Romans' affairs, with Thrace desolate, with Illyria destroyed, when entire armies had disappeared completely as shadows. - "

In 382 AD peace was concluded and the Goths were assigned land, which they could cultivate, on conditions that they carried out extensive military service for the emperor, partly as soldiers in the regular Roman army and partly as special Gothic auxiliary corps. One can say that they got a similar position in the Roman Empire, as the Cossacks later had in tsarist Russia.

Alaric's Goths in the Balkans and in Italy

The peace in 382 AD imposed extensive Gothic military service for the emperor, when he deemed it necessary. Emperor Theodosius called twice for exceptional Gothic forces, most likely something near all men of house. The first time in the fight against Magnus Maximus in 387 AD and the second time 392 AD in the confrontation with Eugenius, who had been placed on the Western imperial throne by the Frankish general Arbogast.

The battle at Frigidus
The battle at Frigidus drawn by Johann Weikhard von Valvasor in 1689.

A Roman civil war between the Eastern Emperor Theodosius and the Western usurper Magnus Maximus was settled in the Battle of the River Save in modern Croatia in 388 AD.

The civil war against Arbogast and Eugenius was settled 394 AD in the Battle at the River Frigidus, which is assumed to run around the modern border between Italy and Slovenia. Goths took part on both sides, also Arbogast had his own Gothic corps. Some assume that the Goths from the Balkans were led by Alaric. The Goths fought in the first line, and their losses were very significant. Orosius claims that their losses were about 10,000 men in the first day of the battle, although this number is almost certainly exaggerated. He writes on that the the Battle of Frigidus caused two Roman victories: one over Eugenius and the other one over the Goths, because their losses had been so big.

In both Roman empires was a a significant political and and public opposition to the barbarians that were mainly the Germanic tribes. Emperor Theodosius held his hand over his Goths, who were so important to him as military assets. When a Gothic soldier was lynched by a mob in Constantinople, the emperor sentenced the city to a heavy fine. When a Roman Military unit, which was stationed at Tomi on the Danube, attacked a Gothic unit, which was stationed nearby, the Roman officer in charge was dismissed.
Theodosius' Missorium Detail of Theodosius' Missorium
Left: Theodosius' Missorium is a large ceremonial plate, which is assumed to have been made in Constantinople about 388 AD on the occasion of the ten year anniversary of Theodosius I as emperor. He was the last Roman emperor, who reigned in both the kingdom's western and eastern parts. He is flanked by his bodyguards, perhaps Goths. The silver dish is exhibited in the Real Academia de la Historia, in Madrid in Spain.
Right: Detail of Theodosius' Missorium showing his bodyguards. In fact, the emperor ws almost always depicted with precisely such types behind him - Wikipedia.

After Emperor Theodosius died in 395 AD the Goths in the Balkans wanted to renegotiate the peace of 382 AD for greater security, and in direct violation of the agreement they appointed their own king, and their choice was the Visi-Goth Alaric.

He sought to achieve an agreement with the new emperor of Constantinople, which should give the Goths a more secure position in the Roman society, but all approaches were flatly rejected by the court. In frustration Alaric let his men loose, and throughout the rest of the 395 until 397 AD the Goths were plundering the Balkan provinces as usual. In AD 397 the eunuch Eutropius was prepared to negotiate on the emperor's behalf. He appointed Alaric to Roman general and gave the Goths land in Dacia and Macedonia as well as the security guarantees that they wanted.

Germans and Romans
Relief depicting Germanic peoples, perhaps Goths, and Romans. Goths can be recognized by their tight pants and beard. Several Goths seem to be pinioned. The seated person appears to be a Roman public official, possibly an emperor, he do not have tight pants but - unusual for Romans - he has a beard. Some think the prisoners are Sarmatians. Sarcophagus in Museo Pio-Clementino of the Vatican Museums - Wikipedia

But this was too much for the court; an intrigue got Eutropius deposed in 399 AD charged of love for barbarians. Then his agreement with Alaric's Goths was cancelled.

In general there was a pronounced anti-barbaric mood in Constantinople. Gainas was a Roman general of Gothic origin; he became a victim of an intrigue in 400 AD but managed to get out of the city alive. But several thousand Goths including their wives and children, who lived in the city affiliated to the regular Roman army, were not so lucky, they were all massacred by the city's mob. Peter Heather believes that Gainas led a rebellion consisting of Goths settled in Asia Minor, who wanted the same conditions as Alaric had obtained with Eutropius. The Arcadius column was thus raised to celebrate Emperor Arcadius' victory over Gainas.

Alaric tried to make the effective ruler of the Western Empire, Stilicho, interested in an agreement, but without success. His Goths spent the following years in the Balkans. The Roman Military was no threat to them, but in light of the prevailing anti-barbarian mood, they could not make contact, so that they could negotiate a safe position in the society.

But finally, in 406 AD a message came from Stilicho. He invited the Goths in the Balkans to be his allies in an attack on the East Roman Empire, which should give him the power in Constantinople. The Goths should go to Epirus (modern Albania) and there wait for the arrival of the Western Roman army. The attack was planned for the summer of 407 AD.

Radagaisus' last stand at 
Fiesole
In the decoration in the ceiling of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence is included this picture - painted 1563-1565 - showing how Giorgio Vasari imagined Radagaisus' last stand at Fiesole, near Florence - Google art project

Stilicho had short time before defeated a very large Gothic force, led by Radagaisus, which selfconfident headed directly against Italy. Some assume that they came from the Hungarian steppe, but in a not very distant past, they must had come from the original Gothic areas at the Baltic Sea and inner Danish waters. In half a year Radagaisus' Goths had free free reins in Italy, so long it lasted for Stilicho to gather enough soldiers to match them. But then it was also the end. They were beaten outside Florence, where Radagaisus were executed. Stilicho enrolled Radagaisus' elite fighters in his army, while their wives and children were accommodated in various Italian cities. The remaining Goths were sold as slaves, which knocked out the bottom of the slave market.

There is no doubt that the original Roman citizens were unsuitable as soldiers. An imperial candidate had to dispose of core troops of barbaric origin, Huns, Alans, Goths or other Germans, otherwise he could never win. Stilicho must have felt that the recent strengthening of the western army with many thousands of Radagaisus' elite fighters and an alliance with Alaric's battle hardened Goths would enable him to conquer the Eastern Roman Empire.

But events took a horribly turn for Stilicho. Many believe that in his effort to assemble enough soldiers to beat Radagaisus in northern Italy, he had brought south many units, which otherwise guarded the border on the Rhine. That was noticed by many barbarian tribes. 31 of december 406 AD, New Years Eve, a huge group of Vandals, Suevi and Alans crossed the frozen Rhine at Mainz almost without resistance. They spread immediately marauding all over Gaul (France). This event is traditionally considered as the start of the Migration Period. All Stilicho's plans to conquer the Eastern Empire in corporation with Alaric's Goths now self-evidently had to be canceled.

Stilicho and his wife and
son
Cover on an antique foldable wax writing board. Stilicho stands to the right and to the left his wife Serena and son Eucherius. Exhibited in the Roman-Germanic Zentralmuseum, Mainz in Germany. Wikipedia - Photo: Bullenwächter.

In the beginning of 408 AD Stilcho's position was very difficult. The Roman legions in Britannia (England) had hailed their own emperor, who had crossed the Channel and now promoted himself in Gaul, where Vandals, Suevi and Alans at the same time raided all over. Alaric and his Goths were becoming impatient. They advanced from the Epirus province to Noricum, which is southern Austria.

Stilicho was the son of a Vandal father and a Roman mother, and it came to cost him dearly. Some Senators staged an anti-barbaric smear campaign against him with the result that some ethnic Roman military units mutinied and killed his closest associates. Resigned he returned to the imperial city Ravenna, where he was beheaded, and later his wife and son also were executed. The new regime rejected firmly any negotiation with Alaric's Goths.

Shortly after Stilicho's execution ethnic Roman military units of the Western Army staged extensive pogroms in Italian cities against the families of the barbarian troops that Stilicho had recruited; It was mainly Radagaisus' elite fighters. All women and children were killed and their houses destroyed. Furious and eager for revenge the men left their units and joined Alaric in Noricum, and thereby doubled his strength.

Alaric summoned his brother Atawulf and his men, who stayed in Pannonia (Hungary). Then in charge of a huge army of battle hardened Goths he headed in a straight line toward Rome, and began a siege late in the year 408 AD. In the camp outside the walls of Rome the army was further reinforced by thousands of runaway slaves; we must believe that they were largely the part of Radagaisus' Goths, who had been sold as slaves in 406 AD.

It soon became clear that Alaric had no intention actually to take the city. He wanted loot to hand out to his huge army to keep them happy, and he wanted to use the threat to take Rome as an argument and pressure in negotiations with the emperor for an agreement with the Roman Empire, which was to include land to his men.

Part of the Titus column
A famous scene on the Titus column in Rome is where the Jerusalem Temple Treasure is carried in triumph through the streets of Rome. In 70 AD Jerusalem was plundered by the Romans under Emperor Titus, and they brought the temple treasure back to Rome. Here, it was kept for 340 years, until Alaric's Goths took in 410 AD - Wikipedia.

For two years the bulk of the great Gothic army was outside the walls of Rome. Alaric tried everything to come into serious negotiations, he used the threat to take Rome, the Goths took the most other cities in northern Italy, they besieged the imperial city of Ravenna, and he appointed an alternativ emperor in Rome, but nothing worked, the emperor was immune to any threat.

The Romans never did any whole-hearted attempt to attack the Goths; they knew that they impossible would be able to cope with such a large army of hardened and experienced warriors.

24. of August 410 AD Alaric had had enough; Moreover, most likely he needed loot to distribute to his many men. The Salarian gate was opened - by slaves some say - and the Goths entered the city without problems. For the first time in 800 years the city of Rome was occupied by an enemy.

For three days the Goths were allowed to plunder without restrictions . All houses and palaces were carefully searched for valuables. However, it was compared to the standard of the time a rather gentle looting. The Goths were Christians, and they did not rob the St. Peter and St. Paul basilicas, which was recognized as destinations for pilgrims. Only a few buildings were burned.

Rome's looting was not a victory for Alaric. He could have taken the city at any time during the two years, they had besieged it - some say. But he had wanted to use the threat to take Rome as a pawn in negotiations on assigning land to the Goths that they could cultivate; and he failed in this.

The Goths plunder Rome
A classic painting depicting the Goths' looting of Rome in 410 AD.

Heavily laden with booty the Goths then went south. Among the booty was the Jerusalem Temple Treasure, which had been stored in Rome since the Romans suppressed a Jewish rebellion in the first century AD. Besides, they brought with them a human treasure, namely the emperor's sister, Galla Placidia, who at that time must have been about 18 years old.

As Spartacus - more than four hundred years ago - they wanted to cross the Mediterranean to Africa. But a storm destroyed the ships that they had gathered, and the plan was abandoned.

Alaric died, and Jordanes says: " - Then turning from its course the river Busentus (Busento) near the city of Consentia (Cosenza) for this stream flows with its wholesome waters from the foot of a mountain near that city, they led a band of captives into the midst of its bed to dig out a place for his grave. In the depths of this pit they buried Alaric, together with many treasures, and then turned the waters back into their channel. And that none might ever know the place, they put to death all the diggers."

Atawulf, Alaric brother in law, was elected new king. Under his leadership the Western Goths again went north to Gaul in 411 AD. Maybe they had got intelligence that Aetius had departed for Hungary to recruit a Hunnisk army, which could solve the Gothic problem.

The Western Goths in Gaul

There is not much information about the Goths early life in Gaul. They were considering to support the usurper Jovinus, but soon gave up the project. In 413 AD there were battles between Goths and Roman forces around Marseilles. It is known that they settled in Narbonne at the French Mediterranean between Marseille and the Spanish border.
Galla Placidia's Maosoleum in Ravenna Portrait of Galla Placidia on 
medallion
Left: Galla Placidia's Maosoleum in Ravenna. Foto: Gunther Hissler.
Right: Portrait of Galla Placidia on medallion exhibited in Galla Placidia's Maosoleum - wikipedia

In January 2014 king Atawulf married his hostage, Galla Placidia, the emperor's sister, who then must have been about 22 years old. The wedding was celebrated in the house of a respectable citizen in Narbonne. Atawulf gave Placidia in wedding gift 50 young men, who each carried two dishes with gems and gold, all of which came from the sack of Rome. They soon had a boy, whom they named Theodosius, however, who died in infancy and was buried in a coffin of silver in a church near Barcelona. Throughout the rest of her long and eventful life Galla Placidia was always surrounded by Gothic bodyguards; maybe she loved her Atawulf.

Like all migratory peoples the Goths wandered around in long road trains bringing women, children and old people. Militarily, they were almost invincible, at least seen with Roman eyes; but they had a big strategic weakness, namely that they did not have a secure supply of food. They were forced to continually to find new areas that had not yet been looted; and even in this way it could be difficult to provide food for thousands of people.
Gothic belt buckle Gothic belt buckle Gothic belt buckle
Gothic belt buckles found in Spain - Los Godos Encuentro Ediciones.

Jordanes tells about the death of Atawulf: " - in the third year after he had subdued Gaul and Spain, he fell pierced through the abdomen by the sword of Ibr-wulf, a man whose short stature he had often had mocked." Olympiodorus mentions a certain Dubius as Atawulf's killer: " - his slayer was one of his own dependents, Dubius by name, who had been waiting the chance to avenge an old grudge. For long ago his master, a king of part of the Goths, had been slain by Atawulf, who afterward took Dubius into his own service. So, in killing his second master Dubius avenged his first."

Olympiodorus confirms that nor the Western Goths was a complete homogenous group, but most likely composed of several sub-groups, which were original Gothic peoples and the Visi- Goths was only the leading group.

Some say that in 415 AD the Goths had got enough of Atawulfs big ambitions. Led by Sergeric they killed him along with his brother and all his children from his first marriage. But already after seven days, Sergeric was removed from the throne and replaced by Wallia. The new king complied with the demands of the emperor and sent Galla Placidia, now a widow, to Ravenna and received in return 600,000 modii wheat, which is close to 24,000 tonnes.

The use of Gothic 
belt Buckle
Use of Gothic belt buckle suggested by V. Bierbrauer in 1975.

The new Roman-Gothic understanding soon gave results. In almost five years Vandals, Alans and Suevi had occupied Spain. In 416 AD they were attacked by a combined Roman-Gothic army with dramatic results. Hydatius says: "All Siling Vandals in Baetica were wiped out by King Wallia. The Alans, who ruled the Vandals and Suevi, suffered so heavy losses in the hands of the Goths that the few survivors after the death of their king Addax, without thought for their own kingdom, sought protection under Gunderik, the king of the Hasding Vandals, who had settled in Gallaecia."

After the Western Goths' achievement in Spain the emperor in 419 AD called them back to Gaul and rewarded them with land in the Garonne valley between Toulouse and Bordeaux. Olympiodorus wrote that "The Goths got land to cultivate." However, we must believe that the peasants, who did the actual work on the land, still were there, and the Goths mainly replaced the Roman landowners.

Again in 420 and in 422 AD the Vandals in Spain were attacked by Romans and Goths, but with less success. The Romans were led by Castinus, who could not stand Goths, and he indicated the reason for his defeats as "The Goths' betrayal".

The kingdom of Toulouse
The kingdom of Toulouse - In 419 the Goths got what they wanted, and what their kings always had worked for, namely their own land, where they could produce their food. They were assigned land in the Garonne valley in Gaul with Toulouse as their capital. They recognized the emperor's sovereignty, but they got the right to have their own king, and in return they would do military service, when the emperor wanted. It was much like the system, the Russian Cossacks had under Czar, only the Cossacks did not have the right to elect their own king.

In 428 AD the Vandal King Gunderik died, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Geiseric. Jordanes says about him: "Gaisaricus - was a man of moderate height and lame in consequence of a fall from his horse. He was a man of deep thought and few words, holding luxury in disdain, furious in his anger, greedy for gain, shrewd in winning over the barbarians and skilled in sowing the seeds of dissension to arouse enmity."

In 439 AD there were battles between Romans and the Goths in Gaul. A Roman army, mainly consisting of Hunnish mercenaries led by the Roman Litorius, who was Aetius' man, drove the Goths out of Narbonne and besieged Toulouse. However, in a desperate and furious sortie led by king Theodoric the Huns were completely defeated.

Geiseric knew that the intrigues and chaos in the Roman leadership one day would come to an end, and then he again would be attacked by Romans and Goths. Therefore he wanted to lead his people to a place, where they could enjoy wealth and security. This place was the Roman province of Africa. The Vandals did, what Spartacus and Alaric failed to do, in 439 AD they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, the whole people, including women, children, old, wagons and animals. One year after in 440 AD they began the siege of Hippo in the province of Africa, which was pretty much modern Tunesia, and after a few years they had conquered most of the Roman provinces in modern Algeria, Tunesia and Libya. This would ultimately break the spine of the Western Empire.
Honoria and Attila
Claus Deleuran depicting of the episode with Honoria's letter to Attila. There is disagreement about the family relationship between Galla Placidia and Honoria.

The late Roman Empire functioned in the way that the empire possessed rich and extensive provinces, which paid taxes. The emperor used these funds to pay mercenaries, mainly various barbarians, to defend the empire against other barbarians. Africa was the richest and most fertile province, cheap to run, because it was protected by desert and sea. When this rich province was conquered by the Vandals, the tax revenue decreased catastrophically, and that made the Western Empire unable to pay for the soldiers, who in the long run were necessary to defend the rest of the empire.

Slaget på de Kataluniske marker
Claus Deleuran depicting of the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains - Years ago the author of this article managed to find the place only directed by this drawing. However, one can feel doubt if it is really the right place because Jordanes explains that Attila defended himself in a wagon lager and not behind ramparts. The ramparts are undoubtedly of Celtic origin. Perhaps parts of the ramparts is the hill crest, which Jordanes mentions.

Prosper of Aquitaine from about 450 AD reports that Attila, king of the Huns, sent a message to the Western Empire saying that the Goths in Toulouse were his fugitive vassals, which he wanted to call to order, and as the Goths also were enemies of Rome, "he would act as protector of the Roman's friendship" by bringing them back to obedience.

Galla Placidia had two surviving children: the Emperor Valentinian 3. and a daughter named Honoria. Because of an affair with her steward Honoria had been placed in a kind of house arrest. In here boredom, she decided that she would have an exciting life; she would marry a great barbarian king, as her mother had been married to Atawulf. She sent the eunuch Hyacinthius to Attila with a letter in which she offered him marriage, if he would come and save her from an unwanted Roman marriage. As evidence Hyacinthius brought her ring to the king of the Huns.

Attila mobilized his Huns and all his vassals. Sidonius lists the vassals: "Rugians, Gepids, Geloni, Burgundians, Sciri, Bellonoti, Neuri, Bastarnae, Thuringians, Bructeri, and Franks living along the Neckar River". Jordanes states that the Eastern Goths participated on Attila's side: "Amid themself was conspicuous the army of the Ostrogoths under the leadership of the brothers Valamir, Thiudimer and Vidimer." Some believe that Heruls, Alans and Alemanni too participated on Attila's side, but the author did not succeed to retrieve such sources.

A mighty army set in movement to the west, and in the spring of 451 AC it crossed the Rhine, perhaps around Mainz or Koblenz. Like the armies of later times they invaded Gaul through today's Luxenbourg or southern Belgium. Then they went on marauding through the Moselle valley, conquered Metz, plundered Reims and Troyes for finally to initiate a siege of the walled city Orleans, which was defended by Alans under king Sangibanus.
Gothic belt buckle found
at Revel in Haute Garonne Gothic belt buckle found
at Toulouse
Left: Gothic belt buckle found at Revel in Haute Garonne. It depicts maybe a griffin.
Right: Gothic belt buckle found at Toulouse. The holes circled around must have been attachment points for precious stones, which, however, long since have been peeled of. - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

Attila's ambassador told emperor Valetinian 3.: "My lord Attila has ordered you through me to prepare your palace for him." He reasoned: Honoria was his, which he could prove with the ring, and thus belonged all that were hers to Attila. She had received half the kingdom from her father, but it had been deprived her due to her brother's greed. That would Attila rectify. He demanded half of the empire.

Aetius, the last Roman, so called by Jordanes, mobilized all forces in Gaul. The Goths in Toulouse had for many years been on hostile terms with Aetius. They were the strongest military power in Gaul. They were not many, but each adult Gothic man was an seasoned soldier with years of experience. To defeat Attila's army Aetius had to persuade his former enemies to go to war.

Relieffer fra kongedømmet Toulouse
On the left, a Christian motif and to the right the motifs are a rider, a deer and a dinosaur! Exhibited in the Museum Lapidario - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

He sent the later emperor Avitus, Theoderic's friend, to Toulouse. Avitus addressed king Theodoric: "O bravest of nations, it is the part of prudence for us to unite against the lord of the Earth, who wishes to enslave the whole world - Being mighty in arms, give heed to your own danger and join hands with us in common."

The old king replied: "Romans, you have attained your desire; you have made Attila our foe also - I would not call any war difficult other than when the cause is weak, for he on whom His Majesty smiles fears nothing ill".

The Western Goths from Toulouse turned out in strength: "And so a countless host was led forth by Theodorid, king of the Visigoths, who sent home four of his sons, namely Friderich and Eurich, Retemer and Mimnerith, taking with him only the two elder sons, Thorismud and Theodorid, as partners of his toil. O brave array, sure defense and sweet comradeship, having the aid of those who delight to share in the same dangers"

Jordanes tells of the western army: "On the side of the Romans stood the Patrician Aetius, on whom at that time the whole Empire of the West depended; a man of such wisdom that he had assembled warriors from everywhere to meet them on equal terms. Now these were his auxiliaries: Franks, Sarmatians, Armoricians, Liticians, Burgundians, Saxons, Riparians, Olibriones, and some other Celtic or German tribes."

Attila's Camp
The old Celtic ramparts, which are called "Le Camp d'Attila". Jordanes speaks of a ridge which extends over the battlefield; It's a little hard to imagine really high hills in northern France, but the old Celtic ramparts may have been the hills, to which he refers. The start of the battle would then have been about to prevent Attila to fortify in the ancient defence dyke - Photo Patrimoine Culturel.

Attila besieged still Orleans and the Alan king Sangibanus already negotiated surrender. When Attila learned that the united Roman, Gothic and Frankish army was approaching, he interrupted the siege, and went in haste to the east; he wanted to get out in open terrain, where the Huns' cavalry could unfold.

The armies met about 21 of June in the afternoon 451 AD at a place called the Catalunian Plains (Campis Catalaunicis), 70 km. east of Verdun and 12 km north of Chalons-sur-Marne. Jordanes gives a pretty detailed description of the battle.

It looks like Aetius had planned a Cannae strategy, which means luring the enemy's main force to penetrate between two strong wings, which then will attack him in the flanks on both sides.

Jordanes explains: "The battle field terrain rose in a steep bulge to a hilltop, which both armies sought to gain; for advantage of such position is a great help. The Huns with their forces seized the right side, the Romans, the Visigoths and their allies the left, and then, relinquishing the ridge, they began a struggle for its crest."

"Now Theoderidus with the Visigoths held the right wing, and Aetius with the Romans the left. In the center they placed Sangibanus and the Alani, thus contriving with military caution to surround by a host of faithful troops the man in whose loyalty they had little confidence."

"On the other side, however, the battle line of the Huns was arranged so that Attila and his bravest followers were stationed in the center. In arranging them thus, the king was chiefly exercising foresight for himself, given that by his position amidst the elite troops of his race he would be kept out of the way of threatening danger. The innumerable peoples of the diverse tribes, which he had subjected to his sway formed the wings."

This means that the Huns' strong center was facing a supposed weaker - but mobile and flexible - opponent. While the hardened and experienced Western Goths and Roman legions made up each wing of the Western army and facing a variety of units of different ethnicity, which most likely did not cooperate distinctly good.

The Celtic castle mounds at la Cheppe
The Celtic castle mounds at la Cheppe called Attila's Camp, as it looks like today. In the migration time the ramparts undoubtedly have been higher, so that it makes sense that Jordanes calls it a "mountain", whose possession was crucial for the outcome of the battle.

Jordanes tells of the preliminary fightings: "So then the struggle began for the advantage of the position we have mentioned." - Which was a high on a crest - "Attila sent his men to take the summit of the mountain. But he was headed off by Thorismudo og Aetius who, forcing their way up to the hilltop so that they surmounted it, got up higher and through this advantage of position easily routed the Huns as they came up."

Then Attila found it necessary to make a speech to his men: "If, after victories over such great peoples, after having subdued the world, you should come to a halt - For what is war but your usual custom? Or what is sweeter for a brave man than to seek revenge with his own hand? It is a great gift of nature to sate the soul with vengeance. - Let us then attack the foe eagerly; for they are ever the bolder who make the attack. - You know how ineffectual the weapons of the Romans are. - Attack the Alans, fall on the Visigoths! There is swift victory for us just where the battle is thickest. For when the sinews are cut the limbs soon drop, nor can a body stand, when you have removed the bones - No spear shall harm those, who are sure to live - I shall hurl the first spear at the foe. If any can endure to rest, while Attila fights, he is a dead man."

Attila expressed the greatest respect for Alans and Visigoths, as he called them the enemy army's tendons and bones. He warned potential cowards and deserters.

Perhaps because he feared and respected the Alans, whom Attila and the Huns were facing, they probably attacked them particulary eagerly.

"Hand to hand they clashed in battle, and the fight grew fierce, confused, monstrous, unrelenting, a fight whose like no ancient time has ever recorded. There such deeds were done that anyone, who missed this amazing spectacle could not have seen anything more extraordinary in his whole life."

Theodoric, the Goths' old King perished: "At this point king Theodoridus, while dashing around through his army encouraging them, was thrown from his horse and trampled under foot by his own men, thus ending his days at a ripe old age."

The Huns pushed forward in center, but were attacked in the flank by the Western Goths, and this decided the battle: "Then the Visigoths, separating from the Alans, fell upon the horde of the Huns and, indeed, would have slain Attila, had he not first prudently taken flight and immediately shut himself and his companions within the barriers of the camp, which he had palisaded with wagons."

Attila must have realized that he had pushed too far, he was attacked from several sides and his army was in disarray. He pulled his remaining men back to the wagon lager.

It became night and the confusion spread on the battlefield. Theoderic's son Thorismund strayed into the Huns' wagon lager and was only narrowly saved by his men. Aetius came away from his units and spent the night at the Visigoths.

Thorismund is raised on shields and crowned king
Thorismund is raised on shields and crowned king on the battlefield of Chalons in 451 AD - unknown artist.

Attila's army was pressed together in the wagon lager of the two strong wings of the Western army. He realized that he was losing a battle, for the first time ever, and ordered wooden saddles piled up in preparation for his funeral pyre. He must have expected the final attack on the wagon lager at sunrise.

The Goths found King Theoderic's body. They lifted his son Thorismund on their battle worn shields and proclaimed him the new king.

Jordanes continues: "Therefore the Goths and Romans assembled and considered what to do with the vanquished Attila. They decided to wear him out by a siege, because he had no supply of provisions and was hindered from approaching by a shower of arrows from the bowmen placed within the confines of the Roman camp."

It is said that after a few days the Huns to their amazement saw that the Goths and Franks left the battle field and seemed to be heading back home. Tradition says that Aetius lifted the siege and let his old allies off the hook. After a time the Huns ventured out of the wagon lager, and the remains of the army went straight back to Hungary.

It is said that nearly two hundred years later, when the Western Goths lived in Spain ruled by King Sisenanth, a revolt broke out, because the king would give the Frankish King Dagobert a famous jeweled gold bowl from the Gothic royal treasury. It was a gold bowl or panel, richly studded with jewels, which weighed five hundred pounds. Aetius had given it to Thorismund, as part of his share of the spoils of victory over Attila. This indicates that Attila was allowed to go back to Hungary in return for delivering his gold to the victors.

Apart from Huns and Alans, the battle of the Catalaunian Plains was between various Germanic tribes. Nor Aetius' Roman legions consisted of only Romans; For several hundred years through the late Roman Empire, Roman combat troops mainly consisted of Germans and other barbarians, who were recruited individually.
Sarcophagus from the kingdom Toulouse
Sarcophagus from the kingdom Toulouse Sarcophagus from the kingdom Toulouse
Above: Sarcophagus from the kingdom Toulouse - The motif on the long side depicts Jesus and ten of his disciples. They all have curly hair.
Left: The gable-end 1 has the motif: A shepherd and some sheep - he must be one of the missing disciples.
Right: The motif on the gable end 2 is a man who fights against a lion. He must be the twelfth disciple - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

Thorismund did not enjoy his royal dignity long. He quarreled with Aetius on the distribution of the spoils of the victory over the Huns, and began to wage war against the Romans; a powerful party among the Goths was very much against this and wanted to maintain friendship with the empire. A rebellion broke out, and in 453 AD Thorismund was murdered by two of his brothers, one of whom, Theodoric 2. succeeded him as king.
The kingdom of the Western Goths between 490 and 507 AD The Vandal Kingdom
Left: In 473 e.Kr the Goths in Spain still collaborated with a Roman general named Vicentius, but a few years after they alone ruled the majority of Spain. For 17 years the Western Goths under King Euric ruled an impressive empire from Paris to Gibraltar - Wikimedia.
Right: The Vandals kingdom during its greatest extent - However, in 461 AD the Goths ruled in Sicily, and they gave the Emperor Justinian permission to use the island as a base for attack on the Vandals.

The Romans still had their eyes firmly fixed on Africa. A general named Majorian did the first attempt in 460 AD. He collected about 300 ships around Barcelona; they should carry an invasion force to Africa along the same route that the Vandals had followed. But Geiseric struck first and destroyed the ships on the beach.

Then Constantinople stepped in. The emperor scraped the bottom of the treasury and collected heavy taxes from the citizens, thus raising the incredible sum of 100,000 pounds of gold, which was used to equip 1,100 ships with about 30,000 soldiers, not included sailors.
Mosaic showing Roman vessels 
from late imperial age Mosaic showing Roman vessels 
from late imperial age Mosaic showing Roman vessels 
from late imperial age Mosaic showing Roman vessels 
from late imperial age
In Piazzale delle Corporazioni in Ostia each of the late Emperor time shipping guilds is marked with a motif in mosaic, mostly a ship. It can be seen that merchant vessels was driven only by sail, which was a single square sail, sometimes supplemented by a small square sail at the bow. They used two steering oars. Some ships had a kind of bulp or ram-spear on the bow. The ships were rather small, perhaps smaller than viking ships. It must have been that kind of ships that constituted the Roman fleet in 461 AD. Mosaic no. 3 shows the famous lighthouse in Ostia - Photos: Ostia Topographial Dictionary.

In 461 e.Kr the fleet sailed from Sicily, and the many ships gathered as scheduled in leeward side of Cape Bon, a peninsula approximately 60 km. from Carthage - or rather, what they thought was the leeward side. The predominant wind direction in these waters in the summer is easterly, but by complete random the wind excactly this day was north-west. This meant that if a ship pulled up the anchor, it would immediately drive against the beach. The ships could only get away by crossing against the wind, which probably was not possible with the simple sails, and because so many ships were in one place. The fleet was "sitting ducks"!

Three ships arrive in Ravenna
harbor
Three ships arrive in Ravenna's harbor - Detail of mosaic from the sixth century in Basilica Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna.

Procopius describes what happened: "But the Vandals, as soon as the wind had arisen for them, which they had been expecting during the time, they lay at rest, raised their sails and, taking in tow the boats which, as has been stated above, they had made ready with no men in them, they sailed against the enemy. And when they came near, they set fire to the boats which they were towing, when their sails were bellied by the wind, and let them go against the Roman fleet. And since there were a great number of ships there, these boats easily spread fire, wherever they struck, and were themselves readily destroyed together with those, with which they came in contact."

Old sailing ships were filled with sun-dried timber, pitch and tarred ropes, they burned like torches, once they were ignited. Procopius tells further: "And as the fire advanced in this way the Roman fleet was filled with tumult, as was natural, and with a great din that rivalled the noise caused by the wind and the roaring of the flames, as the soldiers together with the sailors shouted orders to one another and pushed off with their poles the fire-boats and their own ships as well, which were being destroyed by one another in complete disorder. And already the Vandals too were at hand ramming and sinking the ships, and making booty of such of the soldiers as attempted to escape, and of their arms as well."

This foretold the end of the Western Empire. The Roman empires had no more money and no more ships, and there was no chance that they would get it in a foreseeable future, because they had precisely lost the provinces, which gave the largest tax proceeds.

The king of the Western Goths Theodoric 2. did not see the great importance of the Roman Armanda's destruction, he was still happy to serve the emperor in wars against other barbarians. But his younger brother, Euric, was made of a different substance; in 465 AD he organized a coup, where he killed his older brother, say some, and then took over the throne. Jordanes wrote that: "His brother Eurich succeeded him with such eager haste that he fell under dark suspicion."

Clovis is baptized by a Catholic bishop
Clovis is baptized by a Catholic bishop. Sculpture in Reims made by Paul Dubois in 1896. Photo: Wikipedia

Euric quickly occupied most of the Roman provinces of Gaul and sent ambassadors to the Vandals in Africa and the Suebi in northwestern Spain attempting to improve relations with them. Jordanes explains: "Now Eurich, king of the Visigoths, perceived the frequent change of Roman Emperors and strove to hold Gaul by his own right." He understood that there was no longer need to worry about the central Roman authorities.

The Goths and their kings were Arians; while the great mass of their subjects in Gaul and Spain were Catholics, and the hatred between the religions was so big that it was almost impossible for a ruler to win his subjects trust and obedience, because they considered him a heretic. It is fair to mention that the Arian Goths hardly ever were guilty of religious persecution. But when the Catholic bishops preached rebellion and conspired against the throne, Euric killed some of them, exciled others and refused to let successors inaugurate in the dioceses, where now no bishops were; consequently priests could not be appointed; parishes remained without priests, and the whole church organization disintegrated into a state of chaos, which triggered a bitter resentment both inside the kingdom and also among Catholic Christians in the surrounding countries.

This state of affairs continued until the year 496 AC; Then came the news that the Frankish king Clovis, had declared himself a Christian and had been baptized by a Catholic bishop. The idea of inviting a Frankish invasion now quickly won resonance among the Catholics in the kingdom of the Goths, the discontent was increased by reports about the growing wealth and prosperity of the church in Clovis' Frankish kingdom. Many priests began openly to preach rebellion and did public prayers for the coming liberators from north.

King Clovis fighting against the Goths
Battle between Clovis and the Goths - National Library of the Netherlands.

In the year 507 AC Clovis declared war against the Goths. All he said was: " - That it is a shame that Arians possess the finest land in Gaul, and that it was his duty as a Catholic king to drive them out, and add their land to his own possessions." As Henry Bradley puts it: "The Franks went to war against the Goths, like the Hebrews against the people of Canaan, convinced that they followed God's will, and that he was on their side. They were everywhere greeted with jubilation by the priests and their communities."

The war that followed sealed the Western Goths' destiny in Gaul. They were completely defeated in the Battle of Vougle south of Poitiers, where King Alaric 2. perished. His men brought his five year old son, Amalarik over the Pyrenees to Spain. During the next two years, Clovis captured nearly all the Goths' Gallic possessions - with very little resistance - and added them to the Frankish kingdom.

The Eastern Goths in Italy

As we remember, not all Goths took refuge in the Roman Empire, when the Huns attacked. Some, probably the majority, defended themselves and eventually followed the motto: "If you can't beat them, join them".

But even they survived, they were still defeated peoples. Priscus reports that during one of Attila's sons' last failed attack on a Roman town with a force of Huns and Goths, the Romans reminded the latter about how they were treated by the Huns: "These men do not care about farming, but like wolves they attack and steal the Goths' storage of food, with the result that they (the Goths) remains in a position as slaves and themselves continue to suffer from lack of food." It was probably an important motivation for the Eastern Goths to participate in Attila's wars that the Huns knew, where they lived.

After Attila's death disagreement arose between the Huns and their vassals. At a river called Nedao a battle took place in 454 AD between the Huns and the Gepids under King Arderik, in which the Gepids prevailed. Nedao was perhaps a tributary of the Sava, which drains Croatia and Serbia. Attila's son Ellac was killed either in the battle or in the wars that followed, as Goths and other subjugated people rose up against the Huns - and each other. Attila's last surviving son, Ernak, led his people to the southeast and out of European history.

In 376 AD the Goths fled in front of the Huns and the Western Goths sought refuge in the Roman Empire, but three quarters of a century later they defeated the Huns at Toulouse, on the Catalaunian Plains and at the river Nedao. They must have found a weapon or a tactic that could match the Huns' horseback archers; Maybe it was the frontal Gothic cavalry attack.

Jesus on the ceiling mosaic in the Arian
Baptistry in Ravenna
Jesus on the ceiling mosaic in the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna. It's a pretty revealing depiction of Jesus, and we're not used to see him as a puppyish teen-ager. But Theodoric and the Eastern Goths chose to portray him so, perhaps because they were Arian Christians, and they therefore believed that the Son was derived from Father and was ranking under the Father.

Theodoric, son of Theudemer, was born when the Eastern Goths lived in Austria, near Vienna around the year 454 AD, the same year as his uncle, King Walamer, won a great victory over the Huns. He would later become known as Theodoric the Great. In his youth he spent ten years as a hostage at Emperor Leo's court in Constantinople, where he was brought up as a young Roman of noble family.

Theudemer became the Eastern Goths' next king. His people complained to him: "They were on the brink of famine. For almost a century they had travelled far around under domination of the Huns. They were not fit to work the land as peaceful farmers, they said, and asked earnestly their king to lead them to war, no matter against which enemy, if only they could get the chance to support themselves by looting."

Kong Theudemer gave in to the wishes of his people and led them to the Balkans, which so often before had the sad fate of being plundered by the Goths. The city Naissus and several others fell in their hands, and Emperor Leo in Constantinople became so concerned about their victories, that he in 474 AD offered the Goths to settle in Macedonia around the town of Pella, against that they supplied him with soldiers, when it became necessary. Shortly after they had settled in Macedonia. King Theudemer died, and his twenty year old son, Theodoric, became king of the Eastern Goths.

The same year emperor Leo also died and was replaced by his son in law, Zeno.

However, when the Ostro-Goths arrived in the Eastern Empire, there was already another group of Goths, who was led by a Theodoric Strabo, a namesake for the kingof the Eastern Goths. The rival group of Goths supported an alternative emperor, who for two years reigned in Constantinople. But the Eastern Goths expelled the usurper and restored Zeno on the throne.
The Domagnano treasure The Domagnano treasure The Domagnano treasure The Domagnano treasure
The Domagnano treasure is a Gothic treasure found at Domagnano in San Marino in the late nineteenth century. The treasure is now shared between different institutions. The majority is owned by the the British Museum in London and Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. It is dated to around 500 AD.
From left to right: Two brooches in gold and precious stones shaped like eagles, both 12 cm. long.
A cloth pin in gold with inserted jewels - shaped like a cicada.
Earrings in gold with inserted gems - with an under-pendant.
Earrings in gold with inserted gems - with two sub-pendants - Wikipedia.

Zeno praised Theodoric and his Eastern Goths for their loyalty, but Theodoric did not trust the Emperor. All the while Theodoric Strabo plundered Thrace with great cruelty. It is said that he let hands cut off his prisoners, so they would not again be able to fight against him. Zeno sent a Roman army against him, which, however, was defeated. Once again Zeno had to send for Theoderiks Eastern Goths and ask them to defeat Theoderik Strabos Goths, he promised them the support of a large Roman army. But when the Ostro-Goths faced Theoderik Strabos fortified army, there were no Roman soldiers in sight, as the Emperor had promised. It was obvious that he had put them up against each other, in the hope that the two Gothic armies would destroy each other in a bloody battle.

Coin with portrait of Theodoric
Coin issued by Theodoric as Theoderik Rex - King of Italy, as he called himself - with his portrait. He has moustace, but not curly hair.

But however, to the horror for the emperor, Theoderik Strabo's Goths and the Ostro-Goths united and marched on Constantinople. Zeno then paid Strabo a large sum of money and promised him privileges, if he in return broke the alliance with the Ostro Goths. After years of hard fighting and wide spread lootings Theodoric Strabo died after falling from a horse. Most of his men then joined the other Theodoric.

Now Zeno was in a ifficult situation, as he now had to control a large unified Gothic army. He then got the idea to send Theodoric and the Goths against Italy, which for some years had been ruled by Odovacar, who was a Scirii of royal blood, who had worked his way up to become a Roman general and then came to power in that country. Scirii was a Gothic-speaking people, probably also a kind of Goths.

Odovacar recognized in words the emperor's sovereignty in Italy but tolerated in reality no interference in his government. In various ways he sought to achieve Emperor Zeno's benevolence. He sent the imperial purple robe and other symbols of the Western emperor's dignity to Constantinople and ordered statues of emperor Zeno erected in Rome and elsewhere.

But Zeno was eager to be the real master of Italy. In the year 488 AD he gave Theoderic the task to invade and conquer it on his behalf. Some believe that the kilometer long Gothic wagon train with women, children, old and cattle, which then crept up through the Balkans, numbered hundreds thousands of people, in any case they were many.
Three of the 22 female martyrs in Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna
Mosaic with three of the 22 female martyrs in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, which was built by Theodoric the Great in the Gothic period. All three have blue or gray eyes and look like so many North European women.

Early the following year the Goths stood on the banks of the river Isonzo, which runs around the border between Italy and Slovenia. On the opposite bank stood Odovacars army prepared to prevent them from getting over. Odovacar forces were composed of a patchwork of several small tribes, whose chiefs despised obeying orders from superiors, whom they consiered less noble than themselves - some say. On August 28. 489 AD the Goths pushed across the river, and Odovacar retreated to Verona.

After giving his army a few days' rest near the ruins of Aquileia, the Goths broke up to meet the enemy. On 30. of September the decisive battle took place at Verona. Prior to the battle Theodoric dressed himself in the most splendid robe, helped by his mother and sister. He hoped that it would show, who he was and inspire his men. The Goths' losses were very big, but in the end they had victory because of the King's leadership and example.

Mosaic in St. Apollinare Nuovo church in Ravenna depicting Theodoric the Great
Mosaic in St. Apollinare Nuovo church in Ravenna depicting Theodoric the Great - It is restored as Emperor Justinian, whose name appears at the top, but the portrait depicts with almost complete certaincy Theoderic. He has brown eyes. He has no mustache.

The victory put Theoderic in possession of the cities of Verona and Milan. Large parts of Odovacars army surrendered to Theodoric. Odovacar himself fled in confusion with the rest of his army and sought shelter in the impregnable fortress of Ravenna.

Among the chiefs, who deserted to Theoderic, was a certain Tufa, who had had an important command in Odovacars army. This man managed completely to win Theoderics confidence. He suggested that he should be entrusted a large army group and together with some picked Gothic officers besiege Odovacar in Ravenna. This was accepted. But when they reached the vicinity of Ravenna Tufa deserted back to his former master. Theoderiks officers were put in chains and handed over to Odovacar, who kept them imprisoned for some time and then killed them.

The soldiers, who had joined Theodoric, when Odovacars case seemed hopeless, again let him down in the thousands and joined Tufa. For a time it seemed as, if luck was reversed and Odovacar after all would come to reclaim his lost kingdom. The Goths had to abandon Milan and Verona, and pull back to the nearby Pavia.

But Odovacar were unable to follow up on his success. Contrary to the Goths his followers was a motley crowd - it is said - which was not held together by national feelings and sense of loyalty to their leader. They soon began to desert in large numbers; and quarrels between the generals made it impossible for them to undertake effective action.

Gothic gold ring with emerald found in Spain
Gothic gold ring with emerald found in Spain - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

With the support of an army of Western Goths, sent by King Alaric in Toulouse in 490 AD, the Goths now defeated the enemy everywhere in Italy, and before long Odovacar was contained in Ravenna.

Only after two and a half years of siege the hunger forced Odovacar to offer terms of surrender. It was determined that Odovacar should be allowed to live in Ravenna with the title of king and be treated with regard to pomp and circumstance in the same way as his conqueror. On 5. of March 493 AC Theoderik rode into the city and took the Imperial Palace in possession.

Already after ten days, he invited Odovacar to a banquet in the palace. In two side chambers armed men were waiting, who were instructed to come out and kill Odovacar and his supporters at a certain signal. As soon Odovacar had taken his seat, two soldiers grabbed his hands pretending to ask him for some services. The signal was given and the armed men stormed into the hall. But when they saw that they had to kill a defenseless elderly man - Odovacar was then sixty years - and not defend their king, they let their arms sink. Theodoric then drew his own sword, and shouting: "Thus, you treated my friends!" he clave almost Odovacar into two parts. Theoderik saw with astonishment the effect of his blow and snarled: "The poor wretch can not have had any bones."

The church San Vitale in Ravenna
The church San Vitale in Ravenna was founded by Theodoric but first completed after his death. It is the best preserved Byzantine church in Ravenna. Photo European traveller.

Although they lived among the Romans, the Goths did not mix with them; they were still a distinct people with their own laws and their own leaders. The army and the nation was the same, the same officers, who led the Goths to war, ruled them in peacetime. When a lawsuit occurred between Goths themselves, the case was settled by Gothic law; while disputes between a Goth and a Roman was tried before a court, where a Gothic and Roman judge sat together. One third of Italy's land was assigned the Goths. They were Theoderic's soldiers, law enforcements and guards; native Italians were not allowed to join the army.

The Roman Senate still existed, and although its power was limited, Theodoric always showed it great respect. He used preferably Romans in the state administration.

Under the emperors corruption had been a great evil. As long as they got the tax revenue that they wanted from each province, they did not care about that officials charged extra taxes for themselves. But Theoderic arranged strict supervision of the tax collection and did not allow corruption. Procopius wrote: "he was exceedingly careful to observe justice, he kept the laws as a safe basis."

The Goths were Arians and the Italians were Catholics, and this created a dangerous tension in society. Theodoric was very well aware of this. He watched carefully that the courts treated members of all faiths, Catholics, Arians and Jews alike and fair. He announced: "The benefits of justice should not be denied even for those, who deviate from the faith."

Mosaik i Basilica Santi Cosma e Damiano
Mosaic in Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano from the sixth century near Forum Romanum in Rome. The motif is the return of Christ. The basilica was founded by Theodoric the Great and Pope Felix IV (527 AD) on top of a pagan temple. In the middle Christ and to the right saint Peter, Cosmas and King Theodoric. To the left St. Paul, St. Damian and Pope Felix IV holding a model of the church in his hand. Cosmas and Damian were protectors of doctors and medics - Wikipedia.

The Christian emperors had allowed their subjects to use ancient temples and other public buildings from before the Roman's conversion to Christianity as quarries for materials for their own buildings. Theoderic forbade definitely this kind of destructions. It is common to blame "the Goths" for the destruction of the Ancient Rome's monuments; but the truth is that we are indebted to a Gothic king for preservation of many old buildings.

Through years of civil wars and misery, both in Italy and throughout the Roman World, art had suffered a hopeless decline. Theoderic spared no cost to find and reward the best architects, sculptors and painters that could be found; and one branch of art, the mosaic work, can be said to have reached its highest level in his reign.

Theoderic ruled Italy for 36 years from 490 to his death in 526 AD. Apart from some short lasting border wars against respectively Constantinople and the Frank there was peace and prosperity through all these years.

He had no sons, but a daughter named Amalaswintha, whom he got married to a man of age-old Ostro-Gothic bloodline called Eutharic. However, he died some years before Theoderic, but not before he had got a son named Athalarik, who thus was offspring of Theodoric and at the same time of the old Ostro-Gothic royal line, the Amals.

When the old king king died, Athalarik was proclaimed the new king, except that his mother, Amalaswintha, was to rule on his behalf until he came of age.

Ostrogotic
royal succession
The Eastern Goths' royal succession since the defeat of the Huns 454 AD

Amalaswintha herself was far more Roman than Gothic. She had not forgotten her own language; but she spoke Greek and Latin as well. Her chosen friends were all Romans.

Cassiodorus' letters tell us about Amalaswintha's policy. All acts of violence by Goths were carefully investigated and severely punished; laws on religion were changed in favor of the Catholics; some previously confiscated Roman estates were given back to former owner families; Roman officials were promoted and rewarded; and special exemptions from taxation were allowed for many provinces. It is said that during the reign of Amalaswinthas not a single Roman was punished either with death or loss of property.

She most likely had her attention fixed on the religious contradictions between Arians and Catholics, which smoldered under the state. Many believed that she also had considerable sympathy for the Romans at the expense of her own people.

Amalaswintha held her son strictly to the books, and after school he had to spend his time in company of three aging Goths, "the most intelligent and well-mannered" - meaning those who most resembled Romans - whom she had been able to find.

Amalaswintha
Face mask of Amalaswintha, it is said - Unfortunately I don't know where it is located.

The Goths were very much against this academic upbringing of their king. They believed that Athalaric was trained to be a sickly, useless bookworm, unfit to endure the hardships and dangers of a war, and brought up to despise his own people as ignorant barbarians. A King should have the skills of riding, fencing and archery, they said.

One day it happened that Athalaric did something wrong, and his mother had beaten him. The boy went crying into the men, and the Goths, who served there, soon learned what was wrong. Many angry speeches were made, and it was agreed that a deputation would be sent to the Queen to present their case.

Procopius wrote: "And all the notable men among them gathered together, and coming before Amalasuntha made the charge that their king was not being educated correctly from their point of view nor to his own advantage. For letters, they said, are far removed from manliness, and the teaching of old men results for the most part in a cowardly and submissive spirit. Therefore the man who is to shew daring in any work and be great in renown ought to be freed from the timidity which teachers inspire and to take his training in arms. They added that even Theoderic would never allow any of the Goths to send their children to school; for he used to say to them all that, if the fear of the strap once came over them, they would never have the resolution to despise sword or spear. And they asked her to reflect that her father Theoderic before he died had become master of all this territory and had invested himself with a kingdom which was his by no sort of right, although he had not so much as heard of letters. "Therefore, O Queen," they said, "have done with these tutors now, and do you give to Atalaric some men of his own age to be his companions, who will pass through the period of youth with him and thus give him an impulse toward that excellence, which is in keeping with the custom of barbarians."

Amalaswintha knew that she could not refuse them. She replied bitterly that they could get, what they wanted.

The maosoleum of Theodoric the Great in Ravenna
The maosoleum of Theodoric the Great in Ravenna - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

But her flexibility benefited her nothing. The Gothic nobles' continued rudeness was a burden in her life. Her orders were rarely obeyed.

The opposition to Amalaswintha's government was headed by three Gothic nobles, who were so powerful and influential that she felt that if she only could get rid of them, she would be able to rule the kingdom, as she wanted. She managed to send these three men to different parts of the country under the pretext of entrusting them the defense of the borders, and there she got them all killed.

Athalaric never became a real Gothic king. He died in 534 AD - About 16 years old - by consuming too much, drinking or abundance, as it is said. Perhaps the young man was obese.

His mother, now maybe 35-45 years old, continued to rule the kingdom in her own name, but she felt that her position was untenable. The Goths had reluctantly accepted a female ruler on behalf of the king; there was little hope that they would tolerate anything so unheard as a female supreme ruler. Therefore, she decided to invite her cousin Theodahad, son of Theoderic's sister Amalafrida, to participate in the government, however, in such a way that she was the one, who took the important decisions. Then Theodahad and Amalaswintha subsequently were proclaimed as king and queen of Italy.

Gothic belt buckle
found in Italy
Gothic belt buckle found at Landriano near Pavia in Italy.

Theodahad was a man somewhat advanced in years, greatly known for his learning, familiar with Latin literature, Plato's writings and the Holy Scriptures. Unfortunately, he was even more known for his cowardice and greediness. Almost all land in the province of Tuscany belonged to him, and he was always busy to acquire more land. More than once Theodoric had forced him to give back, what he unlawfully had acquired.

In 534 AD an imperial envoy from Constantinople tried to problematize the relationship to the Goths in Italy. Amalaswintha replied: "Oh Emperor, this brings us to mind that when you wanted to wage war against the Vandals, not only we did not prevent you to do it, but we gave you carefully free passage to the enemy, and arranged a market to your disposal, where you could buy all the essential supplies, especially the many horses, as your final victory over the enemy was mainly due."

Jesus at Geneserat Sø
Mosaic in Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna depicting Jesus at Galilee Lake. We are not accustomed to see such a youthful, indeed childish Jesus. The Goths were Arian Christians, and for them the Son was derived from the Father and had his power from Him. And we can think that such childish Jesus represents precisely a son.


For a time it seemed, as if Amalaswintha had achieved, what she wanted. The opposition among Goths became frightened by the murders of the three great nobles, and she ruled Italy as an absolute monarch. But her triumph did not last long. Theodahad hated his cousin fervently, and after only a few weeks as king, he allied himself openly with Amalaswintha's enemies, who were relatives and supporters of the three murdered men. The men, who had carried out the murders were executed, and the queen was imprisoned on an island in the lake Bolsena, about 90 kilometers north of Rome.

Secretly Theodahad already had started negotiations with Constantinople about the price of submitting Tuscany to the emperor.

Syd Vest Europa omkring 525 e.Kr.
South West Europe around 525 AD.

After a short time henchmen got access to the castle on the island in the lake, where they strangled the imprisoned queen in her bath. It happened in the 534 or 535 AD, and then she had ruled Italy for about nine years. Most assume that Theodahad was behind, but the murder was never solved.

The economically blooming Italy during Theodoric's and Amalaswintha's reign was a steady increasing temptation for foreign powers. The Emperor of Constantinople, the Goths' old enemies the Gepids, the Franks, the Lombards and the Burgundians in the north all wanted part of the Italian riches. The growing chaos in the Goths governance opened a possibility.

Emperor Justinian bore by all accounts no responsibility for the queen's death, but it gave him a long-awaited excuse for a war of conquest against the Goths. By declaring himself the avenger of Theoderic's murdered daughter he could get sympathy not only from all Romans in Italy, but also from many Goths, who detested Theodahad as a cowardly traitor. Moreover, the crisis in the Gothic governance with an incompetent king offered him an unrivaled chance.

In the year 535 AD Justinian declared a war, which he vowed to be continued until the Gothic power in Italy was destroyed. He kept his promise; but the fight became tougher and longer, than he had dreamed of. Only after twenty years of war and destruction, he reached the target, and then the hitherto prosperous Italy had became destroyed, depopulated and devastated.

Gothic clothes pin found in Italy
Gothic clothes pin from the 6th century AD made of gold and inlaid with enamel and precious stones found in Italy - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

The emperor immediately sent letter to the Franks. Procopius tells: "And he also sent a letter to the leaders of the Franks as follows: "The Goths, having seized by violence Italy, which was ours, have not only refused absolutely to give it back, but have committed further acts of injustice against us, which are unendurable and pass beyond all bounds. For this reason we have been compelled to take the field against them, and it is proper that you should join with us in waging this war, which is rendered yours as well as ours not only by the orthodox faith, which rejects the opinion of the Arians, but also by the enmity we both feel toward the Goths." Such was the emperor's letter; and making a gift of money to them, he agreed to give more, as soon as they should take an active part. And they with all zeal promised to fight in alliance with him."

At the same time the emperor paid the Goths old enemies, the Gepids, to attack the Gothic areas east of the Adriatic Sea..

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna
Theodoric the Great built the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, and it was originally dedicated to "Christ the Redeemer", which must mean the Arian Christ. After the Goths' defeat the Emperor Justinian had church decoration changed in order to obliterate all traces of the Goths and their faith, and the church was renamed to Sanctus Martinus in coelo Aureo - wikipedia.

Emperor Justinian's famous general Belisarius, who had just defeated the Vandals in Africa, landed in Sicily with a small but very experienced and well-trained army. We must not believe that the soldiers were Romans, most were probably all sorts of barbarians. It is known that there were Huns, Arabs, Heruls and Massagetes from Central Asia in his army.

Cantana, Syracuse and most other Sicilian cities surrendered without resistance. Palermo however, was heavily fortified and guarded by an important Gothic garrison. Belisarius called the Goths to surrender, but confident in the strength of the city walls, they rejected his demands. But still they surrendered after a few weeks, which can not be explained. The Goths never forgave the Sicilians for their ingratitude by so excited to receive new rulers.

Belisarius' army was not very large, yet the Goths did not do well in the beginning of the war. There is no doubt that the enemy's initial success was due to the helpless and weak king Theodahad and chaos among the Goths' leaders.

Portrait of Theodahad on
coin
Portrait of the Ostro-Gotth Theodahad on coin issued in Rome. He had a mustache, and his hair was not curled. Perhaps mostly the Visi-Goths were characterized by curly hair. It would in that case show that they were a group of relatively closely related persons.

Theodahad feared to find himself in mortal danger in the head of a Gothic army exposed to the enemy's weapons. He already negotiated with the emperor's agents on conditions for a peace, which included recognition of the emperor's supremacy in Italy, the Goth's duty to provide soldiers for the imperial army, no senators or Catholic clergy should be punished without the emperor's approval and money to Theodahad himself.

In April 536 AD Belisarius crossed the Strait of Messina and landed in Reggio without meeting any resistance. He was welcomed by Ebermund, who was Theodahad's son and had been entrusted with the leadership of the defense of the southern coast. Ebermund defected to the enemy with all his followers and was rewarded by the Emperor with money and honor.

Without further resistance the imperial army pushed forward to Naples, where they found a strong fortification and a numerous Gothic garrison. Belisarius cut off the viaduct with water from the mountains and began a siege, but the city had plenty of water from wells within the walls, and could be expected to hold out long.

The besieged sent messengers to their king, Theodahad, and asked for help and rescue. But Theodahad took no action, he was already negotiating a surrender.

Belisarius was on the verge of abandoning the siege of Naples, when one of his men, a Massagetes named Paucaris, by chance found a narrow tunnel through a rock, which had led the viaduct water into the city. In silence they extended the tunnel until a man in armor could barely squeeze through. A volunteer force of 600 man crept through the tunnel and attacked the defenders on the city wall from behind. The Goths and the city's Jewish men fought desperately, but the battle ended with that the city fell in Belisarius' hands. In the first days the conquerors killed all residents that they came over, men, women and children, because they have resisted the emperor's command.

Jesus on mosaic in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo i Ravenna
Jesus, the Redeemer, on mosaic in the church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna - As we can see a very youthful, not to say childish Jesus, who must have been in line with the Arian Christianity.

While these events took place, the Goths near Rome had waited patiently that Theodahad should take measures for defense. Their loyalty to their king had such a strange power that it was not until Napoli had fallen, and Justinian's rulership had been proclaimed only 75 kilometers from Rome that they could bring themselves to believe that their king was a traitor. But now, after all this had happened, and Theodahad was still passive, they could no longer doubt.

A national council was convened at a place called Regeta about 60 km. south of Rome. The leaders presented their reasons to complain about the king, and asked the the assembly, what was their will. "Down with Theodahad!" was the unanimous shout. As the new king they chose Witigis, a man of humble origins, who they believed was the best military leader, they had.

When Theodahad heard about this, he immediately set on the way to Ravenna with great speed to seek safety there. But King Witigis sent a man named Optaris after him with orders to bring him back, dead or alive. This Optaris hated Theodahad, because he once had prevented him to marry a woman he loved. A beautiful and wealthy young woman had been promised to him in marriage, but influenced by bribes the king had forced her to marry another. Optahari was in charge of the pursuit of the refugee, and by riding day and night he managed to grab him before he reached Ravenna. The wretched king was thrown on his back on the ground and killed, Procopius wrote: "And he overtook him while still on his way, laid him on his back on the ground, and slew him like a victim for sacrifice."

Gothic military installations in Italy during the war against Constantinople
Gothic military installations during the Gothic war 535-555 AD - Fra Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

Kong Witigis was an honest and brave man, but it should be proved that he was of an anxious nature and did not have full overview of the war's major lines. He explained a meeting in Rome that the majority of the army had to go to Ravenna. He would leave a garrison in Rome of four thousand men. The reason was that he did not want to fight a war with two fronts. First he would make peace with the Franks, and then he would confront Belisarius. The Goths felt disappointed, but they obeyed the king, that they themselves had chosen. However, it should be proved to be a very bad decision.

A brave and skilful officer named Leudahari was given command of the four thousand garrison troops in Rome, and then the entire army marched to Ravenna.

Witigis made peace with the Franks by giving them the Gothic areas in Gaul and two thousand pounds of gold. The Franks promised to send their vassals the Alemanni and Burgundians to support the Goths in the war.

In Rome, Pope Silverius and the senators had heard about the sad fate that had befallen Napoli due to its opposition to the imperial army, and determined to save Rome from similar misfortune by timely surrender. They sent message to Belisarius and invited him to come to Rome, and they promised that the gates should be open by his arrival. Belisarius wasted no time and went immediately to Rome.

When the Romans told Leudahari and his four thousand Goths, what they had done, the soldiers refused to fight. While Belisarius and his army in December 536 AD marched into Rome through the southern gate, four thousand Goths marched out through the northern gate. Only Leudahari remained back and let himself be taken prisoner by Belisarius.

Belisarius sent part of his army, which included the Asian Massagetes, to the north to occupy the towns in Tuscany, which Theodahad had promised the emperor in exchange for a life in Constantinople. Narnia, Spolitium, Perusia and a number of other cities surrendered willingly and without any resistance.

Emperor Justinian 1.
Emperor Justinian 1. on mosaic in the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna - Justinian reigned in Constantinople 527-565 AD. He sought to restore the original Roman Empire by re-conquering Africa and Italy. He also sent troops to Spain and southern Gaul, but without significant success. Thereby he engaged in a costly and exhausting war against the Goths in Italy, which came to cost the Empire defeats on the eastern front against the Persians. -Wikipedia.

Witigis now had made peace with the Franks in the north and collected a very large army at Ravenna, then he moved south and enclosed Rome. Balisarius did not have troops enough for manning the whole of Rome's city wall, which was 21 kilometers in circumference, and therefore he recruited all able men in the city to guard the walls. When the Goths saw this, they shouted to the Romans on the wall: "What madness has gripped you, oh Romans! - that you've replaced your brave protectors with a handful of miserable Greeks that never will be able to defend you. What has Greece ever sent to Italy other than actors and thieves" . Nobody replied with one word.

The Goths broke down the viaducts and surrounded Rome with a series of fortified camps. However, the Romans had still water, since the Tiber flowed through the city. Witigis tried everything, attacks with rams, catapults and ladders, attacks through tunnels, attempts to give the guards on the wall wine with sleeping drug, diversionary attacks and subsequent attacks on the opposite side of the city, several deputations tried to persuade the contained Romans to surrender, but all in vain. Belisarius army, however, was gradually halved, and people in the city were starving.

While the Goths were occupied by the siege of Rome, their property, women and children were unprotected. Crowds of bandits, led by the robber chief John, devastated the country. The robber John was also sent by the emperor. Eventually they gave up, set fire to their camps and left the walls of Rome. The siege had then lasted one year and nine days, and the Goths did not come through.

Gothic bracelets made of gold and precious stones found in Spain
Gothic bracelets made of gold and precious stones found in Spain - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

The Goths besieged then Rimini. In the meanwhile - in the same way as the Romans had done - Milan's citizens invited the Emperor's army to take over their city to avoid the sad fate that had surpassed the inhabitants of Naples. Belisarius sent an army of thousand men to take possession of the city. Witigis became furious, when he heard about the Milan citicens' treason and sent his nephew Uraias with a large part of his army; he ordered that when the city was taken, no mercy should be shown to the traitors. Uraias was accompanied by ten thousand Burgundians.

Precisely at this time, the summer 538 AD, a new imperial army landed at Ancona south of San Marino under command of the eunuch Narses, the emperor's chamberlain. The fact was that the emperor had begun to fear Belisarius' success. He had told Narses to take orders from Belisarius - but only if the order was beneficial for the state! These conflicting orders led to organizational chaos in the imperial army. They managed to rescue Rimini, but Milan was conquered by Goths. As punishment for the Milan citizens' treachery they destroyed the city, killed all the men and gave the women to the Burgundians. By this news all the surrounding cities rushed to assure the Goths on their fidelity.

At the end of 539 AD the situation was that the imperial troops controlled the entire Southern Italy until the river Po, however, except Ravenna, where Witigis had fortified with a large Gothic army. The area north of the Po around Milan, which today is called Lombardy, was controlled by the Goths.

Constantine presiding over the synod of Nicaea
Constantine presiding over the synod of Nicaea in 325 AD. The Synod decided many practical things for instance the appointment of bishops and the right time for Easter. They also agreed to the correct understanding of the relationship between God and Jesus, and thus condemned Arius and his belief that the son is derived from the Father, and stands under him. It is Arius, who is lying in the basement. Only two deputies voted in favor of Arius, and both were exiled to a remote provinces along with Arius himself. As Procopius wrote nearly all of Germanic migrations people were Arians. It must have seemed important to them that everything were properly organized, even in heaven, and there was someone in charge. The Franks remained pagans rather long, and they were wise enough to see the benefits of letting themselves convert to the Catholic Christianity. - I do not know the origin of this image, but it seems to be Greek.

Procopius was secretary of Belisarius and thus himself present in Italy; he wrote about the terrible scenes that he was an eyewitness to: "And the Tuscans, no less than the others, were attacked by famine for the same cause; and many of them as lived in the mountains were eating loaves made of the acorns of the oak trees, which they ground up just like grain. The natural result of all this was that the most of the people fell victim to all manner of diseases, and it was only a few, who threw these off and recovered. Indeed it is said that among the Roman farmers in Picenum not less than fifty thousands persons perished by famine, and a grat many more north of the Ionian Gulf."

"I shall now tell of the apperance, which they came to have, and in which manner they died, for I was an eye-witness. All of them first became lean and pale; for the flesh being ill supplied with nourishment according to the old saying "laid hold upon itself", and the bile, having now the mastery of their bodies by reason of its excess, lent them almost its own appearance. And as the malady developed, all moisture left them, and the skin became very dry so that it resembled leather more than anything else, giving them appearance of having been fastened on the bones. And as they changed from a livid to a black colour, they came to resemble torches thoroughly burned. And their faces always wore an expression of amazement, while they always had a dreadful sort of insane stare. And they died, some because of the lack of food, and others too by sating themselves too much with it. For since all the warmth which nature kindled within them had died away, whenever anyone fed them to satiety, and not little by little, just like infants newly born, the result was that, since they were as yet unable to digest the food, they died much more quickly."

Procopius continued: "And the most of people were so overcome by their hunger that if they happened upon a bit of grass anywhere, they would rush to it with great eagerness, and kneeling down, would try to pull it up from the ground. Then finding themselves unable to do so, because all strength had left them, they would fall upon the grass and their outstretched hand and die." - "The corpses lay unburied, but the birds did not touch them, for there was no flesh on the bones".

The king's nephew, Uraias, Milan's conqueror, took to the road to the north with four thousand men to attack the besiegers of Ravenna, but almost all his soldiers deserted, and he was forced to return to Liguria and leave Ravenna to its fate.

Then ambassadors arrived from Emperor Justinian, who were authorized to offer the Goths a liberal peace settlement. Witigis would remain king of the country north of the Po, and keep half the royal treasure. The Goths were satisfied with the proposal, but they suspected that it could be a trap, and therefore they refused to accept it, unless Belisarius in writing would assure them that he considered himself bound by this treaty.

Gothic cross found in Spain Gothic belt buckle of silver found in
Italy
Left: Gothic cross found in Spain.
Right: Gothic belt buckle of silver found in Italy - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

Quite soon after the Goths decided to offer the Kingdom of Italy to Belisarius himself. The messengers, who brought this proposal to Belisarius, also brought a letter from Witigis, in which he declared that he was tired of his kingship and pleaded his conqueror to give in to the Goths' desire.

Belisarius pretended that he accepted the proposal. Along with the Gothic ambassadors he entered Ravenna with his men, while also Roman food supplies arrived, which was distributed to the starving population in the city.

When the Gothic women saw the low statured, miserable-looking men that followed Belisarius, they attacked their own men with scorn and mockery, and even spit in their faces, that they had allowed themselves to be defeated by such enemies.

But when it came to the crunch Belisarius rejected to become king of Italy; instead he went to Constantinople with the Goths treasures and king Witigis and his Queen Mataswintha, who was Amalaswintha's daughter and Theoderic's grandchild.

Mosaic in the church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna
Mosaic in the church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. It depicts perhaps Jesus' throne, waiting for his return. During the Gothic rule Ravenna flourished as never before, and the mosaic art reached all time high.

Thereafter, the Goths addressed Uraias and offered him to become king. He declined the offer referring to that he was the nephew of such an unfortunate ruler as Witigis, and therefore he would not be able to achieve the army's trust. He recommended instead Hildibad, who was the nephew of Theudis, King of the Western Goths. Hildibad accepted, and he led the Goths to victory over the rivaling Roman generals, who were now without a commander. But he did not rule for long. One day, when the king sat laid back in his chair at the dinner table together with all its important noblemen, a Gepid soldier, who had a private matter to revenge, came behind him and cut off his head with his broad sword.

Then they chose a king named Erarik that belonged to the Rugii, who was a subgroup of the Goths in Italy. But after that Erarik had been on the throne three or four months and did nothing against the Romans, the Goths became impatient and sent a deputation to offer the crown to Hildibad's nephew Totila, who was a young man of 25 years. He told the deputation that if Erarik would be killed before a set date, he was willing to be king of the Goths. Sure enough, Erarik was shortly after murdered, and Totila was proclaimed king.

Gothic belt buckle from Italy or
Spain
Gothic belt buckle from Italy or Spain.

Emperor Justinian did not appointed a commander in Italy to replace Belisarius, and the eleven independent imperial generals had problems getting along. They did, however, agree on an attack on Verona, which woefully failed. The Romans then fled to the south, pursued by Totilla heading the Goths, who were victorious in several battles. Tortilla captured one town after another, and in 542 AD he stood in front of Neapel's walls. Justinian sent a relief force, which also was beaten, and its chained leader, Demetrius, was exhibited in front of the city walls. After a few weeks, hunger has done its work, and the city gate was opened.

The head of the emperor's garrison in Rome was Bessa, a Thracian Goth, who had shown himself as a brave soldier, but his hard-hearted greed was now added the unfortunate Romans' sufferings. During the siege he enriched himself by selling his large supply of food to the city's starving inhabitants for outrageous prices.
Pendants from the Domagnano treasure Pendants from the Domagnano treasure Pendants from the Domagnano treasure
Pendants from the Domagnano treasure, which is a gothic treasure from around the year 500 AD found in Domagnano in San Marino - Wikipedia.

An imperial relief force arrived in 544 AD led by Belisarius - whom the emperor had taken into favor againt - to the Roman seaport Ostia. But the Roman attack broke down because of poor coordination with the forces in the city, and Belisarius retreated to the port city.

However, in December 546 AD one of the gates of Rome was opened by four guards, who collaborated with Totilla, and Rome was again in the hands of the Goths. They found that most of the residents had left the city, perhaps fearing the same fate as Milan's citizens. Totilla had large parts of the city wall destroyed, but apparently gave up to have the whole wall demolished. Maybe it was hard and lengthy work to destroy 21 km. city wall.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, he found it necessary to march to Ravenna with all his fighting forces, and Rome was left unguarded. When Belisarius learned this, he immediately went into Rome and again took it in possession in the name of the emperor. Of course there was no time to rebuild the walls, but by putting men to work day and night, he succeeded within three weeks to erect palisades in the places where Totila had destroyed the original city walls. Residents flocked back to the city, which once again regained some of its former appearance.

Belisarius is leaving Rome
"Sortie of Belisarius from Rome" 19. century illustration by H. Vogel.

When Totila heard what had happened, he marched in haste with his army to Rome. Belisarius had not yet had been able to set up new ports, instead of those that had been destroyed. After three furious attempts to take the gates by storm the Goths were forced to give up. As Procopius writes: "Hitherto the Goths almost worshiped their young king as a God, but now they reproached him angrily that he did not either destroy Rome or occupied it himself." It was much the same mistake as Witigis did. "They did not rebel against Totila: one of their national virtues are faithfulness to their elected leaders, even in adversity. But their confidence in his wisdom and luck was shaked," Procopius wrote.

But Belisarius anyway considered the situation as hopeless and asked the emperor for permission to return to Constantinople. In 549 AD he left Italy for never to return.

Shortly after Rome again fell in the hands of the Goths, also this time by imperial soldiers collaborating with Totilla. The Goths simulated an attack near the Tiber, and the garrison rushed to there, but in the meantime four Roman soldiers opened a gate in the opposite side of the town, and the Goths poured in. The imperial troops surrendered quickly and enlisted in the Gothic army.

Gothic gold cross found in Spain
Gothic gold cross found in Spain - Los Godos Encuentro ediciones.

Totila spent two years plundering Sicily as a punishment for its inhabitants past infidelity. He captured the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and made victorious invasions of the Emperor's domains in Greece.

But amid all the these victories dark clouds gathered in the horizon. The emperor ended the war against the Persians and had now free hands against the Goths. The Catholic Pope Vigilius traveled to Constantinople and invited urgently Emperor Justinian to reconquer Italy from the Arian heretics. In response to Catholics' prayers Justinian prepared a new expedition, which he put under the command of his nephew Germanus. One of the reasons that the Goths found this news so disturbing was that Germanus was married to their own Gothic princess Mataswintha, since her former husband, Witigis, in the meantime had died. She would accompany her new husband to Italy. Princess Mataswintha was Amalaswinthas daughter and Theoderiks grandchild and known to admire everything Roman and despise her own people even more than her mother and her uncle Theodahad had done.

To everyone's surprise Justinian funded huge sums of money to support the expedition, and also Germanus himself helped out of his private assets. The high pay that were offered, tempted many Gepids, Heruls, Langobards and other barbarians to enlist under Germanus, so that the army, which now threatened the Goths in Italy was by far the most formidable as the Emperor had ever sent against them.

But it was not Germanus' fate that he would conquer Italy. He got ill and died before he had crossed the Adriatic Sea. Justinian appointed instead the eunuch Narses to Command the expedition; He was now 75 years old, it is said, weak in his body but clear in the thought.

Narses accepted the job on one condition: He must have unlimited supplies of money, so he could raise an army of overwhelming strength - even the army, which was already gathered under Germanus, seemed him inadequate.

Narses' request was granted, and before long he was on his way to Italy at the head of the mightiest army that ever had served under Justinians banner. It numbered soldiers from many barbarian peoples. Even the far away Persia was represented by numerous renegades that served under a grandson of the Persian king.

Gualdo Tadino
The battle at Gualdo Tadino is also known as the Battle of Busta Gallorum - Wikipedia.

The imperial army arrived in Ravenna without having met much resistance. Here, they rested for nine days. Narses received a letter from Usdrila, the leader of the Gothic garrison at nearby Ariminum, who mockingly asked if the Romans had the intention to hide behind stone walls, and challenged them to to come out and fight like men. In a skirmish at the bridge over the river Marecchia Usdrila was killed, and his head was carried into the Roman camp.

The armies met in June 552 AD near the small town Taginae (Tadino), where Totilla had camped with his army.

The Goths were about to lose heart at the sight of such superiority, but Totilla encouraged his men: "Soldiers," he said, "this is our last fight. If we win this battle, Justinian's power will be crushed, and our freedom will be assured. Show yourselves as men today, because tomorrow it will be too late - Spare neither your horses or your weapons, for whether it will be victory or defeat, you will never again need them. Remember that there are only safety through victory, to flee is to seek destruction. Do not let the many enemies terrify you; We are a nation fighting for our freedom, for our country and for all, what makes life precious; they are a gathering of mercenaries, Huns and Heruls, and people of all races and tongues, torn by old grudges and only bound together by a common interest: their pay."

The imperial army was hesitant, they wanted the Goths to attack first. Totilla spent several hours riding along the front of his army because he was still waiting for the arrival of his brother in law, Teja, with a group of some thousands riders. When they arrived, he changed his horse and was ready for battle.

Although Narses had the advantage of numerical superiority, he had set his army in a strong defensive position. In the center were a large number of barbarian mercenaries drawn up in a close phalanx with the actual Byzantine troops on each side. On each wing he had placed 4,000 archers. He had only 1,500 cavalry, one third of which was to take care of their own deserters, and two-thirds were reserved for attacking the Gothic cavalry from behind.

Teja's death in the Battle of Mons
Lactarius
Teja's death in the Battle of Mons Lactarius - The battle took place on the southern slopes of Vesuvius in 552 or 553 AD. The Goths had fortified on Vesuvius' slope, where they were safe from attack, but they had no food, and finally they decided to make a surprise attack. It was so unexpected that the Roman army did not have time to take their usual formation. The Goths had left their horses and attacked on foot. In this struggle, there was no room for tactics, it was a pure test of personal strength, bravery and skill. King Teja led the attack, and he became the target of the enemy's spears and arrows. Teja was protected by his shield. At one point twelve spears stack in the shield, and he found that he could not move easily. He asked for a new shield. It was brought to him, but in the moment, when he replaced the old with the new, he was unprotected, and a lucky javelin throw wounded him fatally. The rest of the Goths continued to fight until nightfall, and again the next day. The battle ended because they finally realized there was no hope. They negotiated with Narses, and it was agreed that they could take to the north with their families and belongings and possibly join the Western Goths or the Lombards. Drawing by Erich Förster 1830.

Totilla ordered his men to carry only lances to the battle. The Goths seemed to have begun the battle with a head on massive cavalry attack, which however collapsed in a hail of arrows from Narses' 8,000 archers. The battle lasted until well after dark. There are several different reports of Tortilla's death. Some say that he already at the beginning of the battle was hit by an arrow, others say he was killed after dark by the Gepid Asbad. The Goths were completely defeated and at least 6,000 men fell.

But it would take three more years before the Goths in Italy finally gave up. In Pavia Teja was proclaimed the new king. He tried in vain to ally with the Franks. The last real battle in the Gothic war in Italy took place in October 552 AD at Mons Lactarius not far from Naples; here Teja fell. Then no more Gothic kings were proclaimed in Italy. The Gothic garrisons in the Italian cities defended themselves often to the last man. The last Goths surrendered to the Imperial Army at Salerno in 555 A.D. By that time the war had been raging for twenty years, and the rich flourishing Italy, which the emperor had stretched his hand out for, was completely ruined, depopulated and razed.
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