Day of the Barbarians: The Battle That Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire

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"In the early afternoon of August 9, 378, under a sun that was almost directly overhead, the imperial units were massed in perfect order around their dragonlike draco standards. They responded to the shouts of the barbarians with the deep lowing of the barritus, rhythmically beating their spears against their shields and raising a sinister, threatening din that spread across the plain. On the right wing of the Roman battle array, the cavalry pushed forward and quickly reached the line of high ground where the barbarians' wagon-circle stood. The
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The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle That Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire

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Overview

"In the early afternoon of August 9, 378, under a sun that was almost directly overhead, the imperial units were massed in perfect order around their dragonlike draco standards. They responded to the shouts of the barbarians with the deep lowing of the barritus, rhythmically beating their spears against their shields and raising a sinister, threatening din that spread across the plain. On the right wing of the Roman battle array, the cavalry pushed forward and quickly reached the line of high ground where the barbarians' wagon-circle stood. The cavalry on the Roman left wing, which had formed the rear guard of the column on the march, was late in reaching its position but hastening to make up for lost time. The infantry stood lined up in the center: around twenty regimental units, approximately fifteen thousand men. The soldiers of each regiment carried its distinctive insignia painted on their round shields; the insignia of the Lanciarii, for example, was a golden sun on a red background. As soon as the archers had moved within range of the wagon barricade, they started shooting their arrows, more to frighten the enemy than to do him any real damage. And the enemy, in fact, grew frightened; once again, a group of envoys came out from behind the wagons, and they were immediately ushered into the presence of the emperor."
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Editorial Reviews

Steven Coates
One of the many paradoxes in Barbero’s elegant and pleasurable little account — what a joy it is to read about the ancient world in digestible portions — is that the Eastern empire learned from its experience and intentionally shifted its barbarians farther and farther toward the West. Despite being the site of the first irreparable crack in the imperial fabric, the East lived on as the Byzantine Empire and remained stable and strong long after the shell of the West had crumbled under the barbarian onslaught.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Medievalist Barbero (The Battle: A New History of Waterloo) offers a revisionist history of the relatively obscure battle of Adrianople, arguing that the course of world history changed after the clash in 378, in the eastern Roman province of Thrace, between an army of Goths and a Roman imperial army. The battle resulted in an overwhelming barbarian victory—the eastern emperor Valens died along with two-thirds of his army—setting in motion a train of events that led directly to "the fall of the western Roman Empire," according to Barbero. Rejecting the traditional view that Rome's decline was well underway by the fourth century, Barbero claims that by the eve of the battle of Adrianople, the empire's earlier problems "seemed to be... under control." To reconstitute the imperial army after the devastating losses at Adrianople, the Romans had to turn to the Goths, whose loyalty depended on how well they were paid. Eventually, the barbarians—despite their questionable loyalty—became "indispensable" for the defense and administration of the empire. When their interest and Rome's diverged, the western empire's fate was sealed. While Barbero's thesis is sure to spark debate among scholars and students, his sprightly prose makes this slim volume accessible to a general audience. (Apr.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another colorful recounting of a historic clash of armies, from the author of The Battle: A New History of Waterloo (2005). This time the contest in question is the battle of Adrianople on Aug. 9, 378, when Roman forces took the field against Goth tribes united under their leader Fritigern. Barbero (Medieval Studies/Univ. of Piemonte Orientale) challenges conventional wisdom, arguing that the fourth-century Roman Empire was not "an organism in terminal decay." Matters were fairly stable in a.d. 376, when vast hordes of Goths were set in motion toward Rome's northern border by the arrival from Asia of the ferocious Huns. The Romans, in dire need of workers in the fields and fresh recruits for the army, allowed the barbarians to cross into the empire-and lived to rue the day. Once it became apparent that the food supply was insufficient for all of them, the Goths began a series of raids. With the Roman military already spread thin, Emperor Valens personally led a force to confront Fritigern, only to be defeated by a combination of circumstance, luck and hubris. This defeat, Barbero asserts, presaged the splitting of the eastern and western halves of the Empire and the birth of a new West, in which the Romans were forced to coexist with Germans. Mining the same limited source material as his predecessors, the author has few new insights to offer into the defeat's ramifications for Rome, and he's hardly the first to mark Adrianople as the beginning of the end. Where Barbero does excel, however, is in recreating the day of the battle with evocative details and shrewd commentary on troop deployment and tactics. Fascinating for generals, more mundane for historians.
From the Publisher
Praise for The Day of the Barbarians:

“Barbero’s narrative skillfully exploits the tensions inherent in these events…One of the many paradoxes in Barbero’s elegant and pleasurable little account—what a joy it is to read about the ancient world in digestible portions—is that the Eastern empire learned from its experience and intentionally shifted its barbarians farther and farther toward the West.”—Steve Coates, New York Times Book Review

“While Barbero’s thesis is sure to spark debate among scholars and students, his sprightly prose makes this slim volume accessible to a general audience.”—Publishers Weekly

“Barbero [excels] in recreating the day of the battle with evocative details and shrewd commentary on troop deployment and tactics. Fascinating.”—Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802715715
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 4/3/2007
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Alessandro Barbero is a professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Piemonte Orientale in Vercelli, Italy. A previous winner of the Strega Prize, Italy’s most distinguished literary award, he is the author of The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, and Charlemagne: Father of a Continent.

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Table of Contents


Prologue     1
The Roman Empire in the Fourth Century     3
The Empire and the Barbarians     9
The Goths and Rome     17
The Emergency of 376     33
The Outbreak of War     51
The Battle by the Willows     59
The War Goes On     71
Valens Moves     83
Adrianople, August 9, 378     93
After the Disaster     113
Theodosius     127
The Antibarbarian Reaction     137
Suggestions for Further Reading     147
Index     173
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2010

    Day of the Barbarians

    Liked this book so much I gave it to my Father as a present. Good history book, but adds interesting point of vies on a well told tale and a good reflection on current state of affairs.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Terrific and Readable History of Key Moment in Roman Empire's Decline

    Historians love to identify "notably rare moments" in history - symbolic dates that mark the end of one era and the beginning of another, states author Alessandro Barbero. World War II had its D-Day. Napoleon had his Waterloo. Was the Battle of Adrianople that notably rare moment in Roman history? "The Day of the Barbarians - The Battle that Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire" is a tightly written, 146-page review of a key moment in ancient Roman history, but Barbero argues that it's not that "rare moment" that lends itself to such dramatic interpretations.

    The Romans were soundly beaten by a barbarian army on August 9, 378. It was a turning point in Roman history, but according to Barbero much less of an earth-shattering, all-or-nothing moment in time as other key battles in history. Barbero's emphasis is that the Battle at Adrianople was a key point in time for the Empire more due to the context surrounding the event, rather than the event itself.

    What ultimately became an invasion, started slowly and steadily over time as immigration. Barbero writes, "Before the battle of Adrianople, the barbarian invasions had already begun." Barbero reminds us that the "Roman Empire already was a multiethnic crucible of languages, races, and religions, and it was perfectly capable of absorbing massive immigration without becoming destabilized."

    In autumn of 376, barbarians massed along the northern shores of the Danube. They wanted to cross into the Empire because a new threat was looming in the West - the Huns were moving closer and their violent and deadly reputation preceded them.

    As citizens of the empire grew increasingly resistant to military enlistment, the Empire looked to fill out its ranks from the outside. Barbero writes that "the barbarians were increasingly seen as...abundant, low-cost manpower.a potential resource that should not be wasted"

    So Valens ordered his troops to help the barbarians across the Danube. Except there were too many of them, and despite a reputation for superlative logistics, the Roman army wasn't prepared. Ultimately, the starving and horribly uncomfortable barbarians revolted.

    In the face of these challenges, Fritigern, a Gothic tribal chief, had been able to centralize enough cross-tribal power to lead thousands of barbarians on a two year war within the Empire's own boundaries.

    Near the walls of Adrianople on the morning of August 9, 378 Valens' armies had finally rallied and moved to face the barbarians whose own armies were positioned on a nearby hilltop. As the battle began, numerous barbarian cavalry, who had been foraging away from their camps, emerged amid the hills near the battle. This became a key moment, in a key battle, at a key point in Roman history. The Roman army was overwhelmed and surrounded by too many riders. Their fate was sealed.

    "Day of the Barbarians" is a very readable, enjoyable and engaging book. I'm not an academic and I felt that it had the right mix of historical background, research and most importantly to me, narrative. The book also has its requisite descriptions and analysis of strategic army movements and lively battle scenes. It may not be academic enough for the hardcore scholar, however this is a terrific book for insights into an instrumental period in Roman history.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Roman history, History

    This book was absorbing and interesting. Hard to believe that the author is an Italian professor. It could have been written about modern day USA.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2009

    A very educating book on history.

    This book enlightens a reader on how the past political, as well as the past wars have defined our modern way of life. It explains the problems of a past nation in dealing with issues such as immigratrion,warfare, even terroristic warfare in history. In all this book reflects how the modern world issues are a reflection of what happened in the past former world power domination of The Roman Empire.

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  • Posted August 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A profile of an obscure but interesting moment of history

    Breezy, literate, focused and well thought out. The context of the time is well conveyed, as well as the detail of the movements of each side that led up to the titular battle.

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