Gotland – “Adrianopoli”

The year 378 CE has traditionally been marked as the beginning of the end of Roman Empire, when on a scorching August day the legions of Rome were annihilated by a force of Goths, and with them the emperor Valens himself.

What led these armies to clash in the first place? A disastrous immigration policy on the part of the Romans. In truth the Goths were refugees seeking asylum within the Empire’s borders, fleeing their homes to the north and east from the advancing hordes of Huns that would terrorize Rome less than a century later. At this point, the Empire was ruled by the emperor Valens in the East and his nephew Gratian in the West. Valens granted the Goths asylum, but the forces he sent to facilitate their crossing the Danube did little else to make the newcomers feel welcome. To the contrary, they deprived the Goths of their weapons, and failed to supply them with provisions, forcing some to sell their children into slavery in exchange for food. Denied land to settle, the Goths rose in revolt under their leader Fritigern and began plundering the surrounding territory.

Valens naturally gathered his army to meet these barbarians. Gratian also promised to join forces with him to stamp out the threat, but his march was delayed. Valens, impatient and eager to claim sole victory (hubris!), marched his army through the summer heat to meet the enemy. Though exhausted, their time-tested tactics and discipline seemed sure to prevail against the less organized foe. However, the Goths gained the advantage in the cavalry engagements and turned on the Roman infantry’s flanks. Caught between the hammer and anvil of the Gothic foot and horse, the battle turned into a bloodbath. The emperor Valens himself perished in the fight. One account claims he fled into a nearby farmhouse, which the Goths then surrounded and set ablaze, roasting the monarch alive. Between 10,000 and 20,000 Romans (two thirds of the total force) lay dead.

This depletion in numbers of native Roman forces forced subsequent emperors to accommodate the migrating barbarians, increasingly exchanging land and sovereignty for their enlistment to fight Rome’s battles. This process was one of the main causes of the Empire’s fall, as its command of the provinces, and even Italy itself, gave way to the barbarian warlords.

The Italian folk metal band Gotland, in this song from their 2014 album Gloria et Morte, recognize the impact this battle had on subsequent history: “The fading of the glorious Empire / Can be forseen at the horizon.” Though sympathizing with their ancestors, Gotland recognize noble motives in both sides of the conflict. The Romans fight for fame, glory, and the defense of their lands against the “barbarian aggressor” (no mention of what prompted this “aggression”). On the other side, the Goths are also given a voice, clamoring for freedom, to not be treated as slaves, and for a “position in this huge Empire.” These all seem reasonable demands on their valor. Yet fate grants the palm of victory to the Goths, as both the dust and smoke of burning grass blinds the legions’ vision, and the hammer of the Gothic cavalry descends with the late afternoon sun to rout the Romans. The emperor vanishes in the fray, the manner of his death inconclusive. Sic transit gloria mundi.

A hated man has to claw back his name 
The glory won’t be prorated 
The emperor’s legions were already stride 
Firm and prepared man were setting the fight 

Fight for fame! For the glory of Rome! 
Fight for fame! For the East Empire! 
Defend your land from barbaric aggressor! 
The legions of Rome will triumph! 

A big cloud of dust ascends from their way 
A choir of scary screams rises 
A rain of arrows relapse on the circle 
The dry grass burns, provoke an acrid smoke 

Struggle for freedom! (Struggle for freedom!) 
We won’t live anymore as slaves! 
Clashing to conquer a position in this huge Empire! 

Tension rises while the sun begins to descend 
Immense cavalry ambush crippled horses 
And disorder of men 
Vain are the ways to escape 
Veterans ready to sell their life 
Run away the generals in the prey of loss 
Fall the souls more perseverant 

The Emperor mysteriously slaughtered 
Darkness helps fugitives 
The breakdown is always more imminent 

The fading of the glorious Empire 
Can be forseen at the horizon 
The known world will change in appearance

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