Visigoth Wars

251 to 410 A.D.
Visigoths — versus — Rome, Germanic tribes

Gothic War — 376-382      Wars of Alaric — 395-410     
Wars of the Visigoth Kingdom — 418-711     

The Visigoths first appear in Roman History in 251 when King Cniva, with a large force of Goths crossed the Danube into Roman territory and laid siege first to Nicopolis, and then Philippopolis. Emperor Decius raised an army to meet them, but failed to relieve the city. It was sacked and all its inhabitants massacred. The Romans met the Goths again at Forum Terebronii, but again were defeated and Decius killed. The new Emperor was forced to pay a large tribute to induce Cniva to return to his territory. Seventeen years later however, the Visigoths returned and overran the Balkans. The Romans pushed them back towards the Danube, and won a major victory at Naissus, but eventually withdrew from Dacia, and the Visigoths moved into the region immediately north of the Danube. There they lived for the next hundred years and many became Christians.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Philippopolis (Invasion of Dacia ) Goths victory
This city was besieged, 251, by the Goths, under Cniva, and after a gallant defense, and the defeat of an attempt by Decius to relieve it, was stormed and sacked. It is said that 100,000 of the garrison and inhabitants perished in the siege and subsequent massacre.
Siege of Forum Terebronii (Invasion of Dacia ) Goths victory
Fought 251, between the Romans under Decius, and the Goths under Cuiva. The Gothic army was drawn up in three lines, and the legionaries overthrew the first two, but, in attacking the third, they became entangled in a morass, and were utterly routed. Decius and his son were slain.
Battle of Naissus   Romans victory
Fought 269 between the Imperial troops, under the Emperor Claudius Gothicus, and the invading Goths. The Romans were hard pressed, when the Gothic lines were attacked in the rear by a force of 5,000 men, which Claudius had concealed for this purpose in the neighboring mountains, and being thrown into confusion, were totally routed. Fifty thousand men are said to have fallen in the battle.

Short Biography
Decius First Roman Emperor killed during an engagement with Barbarians, at Forum Terebronii.
King Cniva Barbarian chieftain of an army of Goths that raided the Balkins in 251.

Story Links
Book Links
Invasion of the Goths  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber

Gothic War : 376 to 382

In 376 the Germanic tribes in Dacia were threatened by the invasion of the Huns and the Visigoths requested permission to settle in Roman territory south of the Danube. Permission was granted was granted, but when they arrived on the southern shore, there was neither food nor land available. The Visigoths then ran riot over the Balkans, and in several pitched battles routed several legions and killed Emperor Valens. It was not until Theodosius came to the throne that a lasting peace was made, and the Visigoths settled down into Roman territory.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Marcianopolis (Fritigern ) Goths victory
Fought 376, between the Romans, under Lupicinus, and the Goths, under Fritigern. The Romans were totally defeated, but stood their ground to the last, and were cut to pieces almost to a man. Lupicinus fled as soon as the ultimate success of the Goths became apparent.
Battle of Hadrianople (Invasion of Dacia ) Goths victory
Fought August 9, 378, between the Romans, under the Emperor Valens, and the Goths, under Fritigern. The Roman cavalry fled from the field, and the legionaries were surrounded and ridden down by the overwhelming masses of the Gothic horse. Two thirds of the legionaries, and 9 great officers and tribunes perished. Valens was carried off the field wounded, but the hut in which he was lying was fired, and he perished in the flames.

Short Biography
Fritigern Visigoth Chief who asked received permission to cross the Danube, then over-ran the Balkans.
Valens Eastern Emperor embroiled in wars in Persia and with the Goths. Died fighting Visigoths at Adrianople.
Theodosius Emperor excommunicated by Ambrose for massacre of civilians at Thessalonia.

Story Links
Book Links
Breaking the Frontier  in  The Story of the Middle Ages  by  Samuel B. Harding
Goths Cross the Danube  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris
Armies of the North  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge

Wars of Alaric : 395 to 410

In 395 Alaric, a new King, came to the throne of the Visigoths. He had served in the imperial army of Theodosius, Emperor of the East, and during his campaigns had seen Italy for the first time. Once Theodosius died however, he abandoned all alliance to the Emperor, and marched on Greece, conquering all of its major cities nearly unopposed until finally Stilicho arrived with an army from Rome, and hemmed his army in the Northern Peloponnese. He escaped from this predicament, and raised another army, this time to invade Italy. His first Invasion of Italy began in 402 in conjunction with Radagaisus, another Germanic general. The invading Visigoths laid siege to several towns, but in all cases were ultimately beaten and driven out of Italy by Stilicho, who was himself of German blood. It was not until Stilicho was assassinated by the jealous Emperor of Rome that Alaric made his second Invasion of Italy. This time he besieged and sacked Rome itself—the first time the city of Rome had been sacked by enemy forces in 800 years.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Verona (Alaric ) Romans victory
Fought June of 402 by Visigoths, under Alaric, and a Roman force led by Stilicho. Alaric was defeated and withdrew from Italy.
Battle of Pollentia (Alaric ) Romans victory
Fought March 29, 403, between the Goths, under Alaric, and the Romans, under Stilicho. Stilicho attacked the Gothic camp while they were celebrating the festival of Easter, and owing to the surprise, the charge of the Roman cavalry threw them into confusion. They were, however, soon rallied by Alaric, and the Romans driven off with heavy loss, but Stilicho advancing at the head of the legionaries, forced his way into the camp, and drove out the Goths with enormous slaughter. Alaric's wife was among the captives.
Siege of Florence (Alaric ) Romans victory
This city was besieged in 406, by the German invaders under Radagaisus, and was almost on the verge of starvation, when the approach of Stilicho at the head of a large Roman army, encouraged the defenders to further resistance. The besiegers, in fact, now became the besieged, for Stilicho surrounded their camp, and starved the Germans into surrender.
Siege of Rome (Fritigern ) Goths victory
The city was besieged in 408 by the Goths, under Alaric, and after being brought to the verge of starvation and losing many thousands from famine, the Romans capitulated, but retained their freedom on payment of a heavy ransom, whereupon Alaric retired northward in 409. In the course of the year, however, Alaric seized Ostia, the port of Rome, and summoned the city to surrender. In the absence of the Emperor Honorius, the populace forced the authorities to yield; and Alaric, after deposing Honorius, and bestowing the purple on Attains, withdrew his troops. In 410, during the month of August, Alaric for the third time appeared before the walls, and on the night of the 24th the Salarian gate was opened to the besiegers by some sympathisers within the city, and Rome was given over to pillage and massacre, in which thousands perished.

Short Biography
Alaric the Visigoth Chieftain who led the Visogoths into northern Italy, and then besieged and sacked Rome.
Stilicho Roman general who fought off the Visigoths before they overran Rome. Murdered by Emperor Honorius.
Radagaisus Gothic chieftain who, in cooperation with Alaric raided Italy in early 400's. Besieged Florence.
Honorius Western Emperor during the Visigoth raids of Alaric. Moved capital to Ravenna. Murdered Stilicho.

Story Links
Book Links
Three Deadly Blows  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
Emperor's Penance  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Sieges of Rome  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Alaric the Visigoth in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Wanderings of the West-Goths  in  The Story of the Middle Ages  by  Samuel B. Harding
Alaric the Bold  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/soldiers/_back.html
Alaric the Goth  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing
Downfall of Rome  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris
Alaric the Visogoth Besieges Rome  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Wars of the Visigoth Kingdom : 418 to 711

After invading Italy, the Visigoths migrated to Spain and Southern France. They did not at first, establish their own kingdom, but lived as Roman subjects. However, as the Roman kingdom weakened, the Visigoths emerged as the dominant tribe in the area. Finally, Rome requested the assistance of the Visigoths in driving the Vandals out of Spain, and in return granted them land on which to settle. Although Rome recognized the Visigoth Kingdom, they were distrustful and feared a that the German kingdom would become too powerful. When Visigoths under Theodoric I besieged the town of Nabonne, the Roman General Aetius rushed to its relief. Yet only a few years later these same two former foes would combine forces to drive Attila the Hun out of Southern France. From that point on the Visigoth Kingdom was nominally subject to Rome, and in 485, after the Western Kingdom had essentially fallen, they were granted full independence. With the collapse of the Roman Empire however, many more Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine into Visigoth territory and in 507, the Visigoths lost an important battle to the Franks under Clovis, and had to give up much of their territory in southern France. Thenceforth the Visigoth Kingdom was centered in Spain. For two hundred more years the Visigoth Kingdom in Spain thrived until it was brought down suddenly by the Moslem invasion at the battle of Guadalete.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Narbonne (Champlain ) Romans victory
The walls of Narbonne had been shaken by the battering engines, and the inhabitants had endured the last extremities of famine, when Count Litorius, directing each horseman to carry behind him two sacks of flour, cut his way through the entrenchments of the besiegers. The siege was immediately raised; and the more decisive victory, which is ascribed to Aetius himself, was marked with the blood of eight thousand Goths.
Battle of Châlons (Hun Invasion ) Romans-Goths victory
Fought 451 between the Romans and the Visigoths under Aetius and Theodoric respectively, and the Huns under Attila. The battle was fought on an open plain, and while the right and centre of the allies withstood Attila's onslaught, the Visigoths on the left made a furious charge, in which Theodoric fell, and totally routed the right of the Huns. Attila then withdrew to his camp, having suffered heavy loss, and prepared to resist the attack of the allies on the following day. Aetius, however, did not renew the conflict, and allowed Attila to retreat unmolested.
Battle of Vouille   Franks victory
Fought 507, between the Franks, under Clovis, and the Visigoths, under Alaric II. Clovis and Alaric met in single combat, and Alaric was slain, following which the Goths were utterly routed. By this decisive victory, the province of Aquitaine was added to the Frankish dominions.
Battle of Guadalete   Moors victory
Fought July 19 to 26, 711, between 90,000 Spaniards, under Roderic, and 12,000 Moslems, with a numerous force of African auxiliaries, under Tarik. On the fourth day the Moslems suffered a severe repulse, leaving 16,000 dead on the field, but the defection of Count Julian, with a large part of the King's forces, revived their courage, and finally the Christians were routed and dispersed. Roderic fled from the field, but was drowned in crossing the Guadalquivir. This victory marks the fall of the Gothic monarchy, and the beginning of the Moorish domination in Spain. Also called the Battle of Xeres.

Short Biography
Theodoric I Visigoth King who fought Attila the Hun at Chalons.
Aetius Last great General of the Western Empire. Defeated Attila the Hun at Chalons.
Attila the Hun Barbarian chieftain who overran and terrorized much of Europe. Defeated at the Battle of Chalons.
Clovis Founder of the Frankish Kingdom. Converted to Christianity by his wife Clotilda.
Alaric II King of the Visigoths who fought Clovis of the Franks at Vouille (Poitiers).
Roderic Last king of Visigoth Spain. Died at the Battle of Guadalete.
Tariq ibn Ziyad Berber general who defeated the Visigoths at the Battle of Gaudalete.

Story Links
Book Links
Attila the Hun  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
Fall of the Western Empire  in  The Story of the Middle Ages  by  Samuel B. Harding
Attila  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/soldiers/_back.html
Coming of the Witch People  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing
Attila the Scourge of God  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Marion Florence Lansing
King Attila  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Barbarians Invade the Roman Empire  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Huns at Orleans  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Attila the Hun is Defeated at Chalons  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Story Links
Book Links

Image Links

The Triumph of Wamba and the Humiliation of Paulus.
 in The Romance of Spanish History

Alaric at Athens
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

Visigoths crossing the Danube
 in Back Matter

Alaric in Athens
 in Back Matter

The Goths descending into Spain
 in Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain

Alaric in Rome
 in Barbarian and Noble

Alaric's Burial
 in Barbarian and Noble

Alaric at Athens
 in European Hero Stories

A Barbarian Invasion
 in European Hero Stories