9 – The West Treated Barbarians Poorly
There was an obvious Gothic crisis for both empires to deal with in the latter decades of the fourth century. It is likely that the disruption was caused by a major environmental shift as malaria was recorded in the North Sea while glaciers started to advance in China. Reports of barbarian hordes cramming into the Rhine started appearing with greater regularity from 376 onwards. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the marauding Huns who caused terror wherever they went.
Gothic families fled from the terrifying Huns and were soon crammed together near the edge of the Danube. The Goths and Visigoths who had suffered the wrath of the Huns were often converted to Christianity and were also occasional allies of the Roman Empire. When Valens allowed them to cross the Danube, it was a golden opportunity to increase the empire’s might. Bringing these so-called barbarians into the empire on fair terms would have been a great move. They were cultured and organized people who were also excellent fighters.
Instead, the Romans refused to help and the 150,000 or so Goths who had crossed the Danube expecting some kind of welcome, turned against the establishment and ultimately hastened the demise of the Western Empire. However, it was the East that suffered first as Valens died and his army was practically destroyed at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Goths marched on Constantinople but were repelled by the Arab troops that fought for the East. Theodosius initially pursued the enemy but wisely agreed to sign a treaty.
The treaty didn’t last long as Alaric marched on the city less than 20 years later. Further diplomacy helped quell the advances of Alaric who received lands in modern-day Albania. In 401, Alaric decided to expand West. Stilicho apparently had eyes on seizing the Byzantine throne, but he didn’t follow through and was killed in 408. The ensuing chaos resulted in the slaughter of thousands of barbarian women and children. They were the families of foederati: people who received the benefits of the empire in exchange for military service, but were not Roman citizens). The outraged barbarian men readily joined Alaric’s ranks; as many as 30,000 of them. On August 24, 410, they got their revenge as Rome was sacked.