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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Theodosius invited Athanaric to visit him


The

kingdom of the Ostrogoths, almost without offering resistance, fell to pieces. The king, Hermanric, now more than a hundred years old, threw himself upon his sword, at their approach: his successor, Vitimer, gave battle, but lost the victory and his life at the same time. The great body of the people retreated westward before the Huns, who, following them, reached the Dnieper. Here Athanaric, king of the Visigoths, was posted with a large army, to dispute their passage; but the Huns succeeded in finding a fording-place which was left unguarded, turned his flank, and defeated him with great slaughter. Nothing now remained but for both branches of the Gothic people, united in misfortune, to retreat to the Danube.

Athanaric took refuge among the mountains of Transylvania, and the Bishop Ulfila was dispatched to Constantinople to ask the assistance of the Emperor Valens, who was entreated to permit that the Goths, meanwhile, might cross the Danube and find a refuge on Roman territory. Valens yielded to the entreaty, but attached very hard conditions to his permission: the Goths were allowed to cross unarmed, after giving up their wives and children as hostages. In their fear of the Huns, they were obliged to accept these conditions, and hundreds of thousands thronged across the Danube. They soon exhausted the supplies of the region, and then began to suffer famine, of which the Roman officers and traders took advantage, demanding their children as

slaves in return for the cats and dogs which they gave to the Goths as food.

[Sidenote: 376.]

This treatment brought about its own revenge. Driven to desperation by hunger and the outrages inflicted upon them, the Goths secretly procured arms, rose, and made themselves masters of the country. The Roman governor marched against them, but their Chief, Fridigern, defeated him and utterly destroyed his army. The news of this event induced large numbers of Gothic soldiers to desert from the imperial army, and join their countrymen. Fridigern, thus strengthened, commenced a war of revenge: he crossed the Balkan, laid waste all Thrace, Macedonia and Thessaly, and settled his own people in the most fertile parts of the plundered provinces. The Ostrogoths had crossed the Danube at the first report of his success, and had taken part in his conquests.

Towards the end of the year 377, the Emperor Valens raised a large army and marched against Fridigern. A battle was fought at the foot of the Balkan, and a second, the following year, before the walls of Adrianople. In both the Goths were victorious: in the latter two-thirds of the Roman troops fell, Valens himself, doubtless, among them,--for he was never seen or heard of after that day. His nephew, Gratian, succeeded to the throne, but associated with him Theodosius, a young Spaniard of great ability, as Emperor of the East. While Gratian marched to Gaul, to stay the increasing inroads of the Franks, Theodosius was left to deal with the Goths, who were beginning to cultivate the fields of Thrace, as if they meant to stay there.

He was obliged to confirm them in the possession of the greater part of the country. They were called allies of the Empire, were obliged to furnish a certain number of soldiers, but retained their own kings, and were governed by their own laws. After the death of Fridigern, Theodosius invited Athanaric to visit him. The latter, considering himself now absolved from his vow not to cross the Danube, accepted the invitation, and was received in Constantinople on the footing of an equal by Theodosius. He died a few weeks after his arrival, and the Emperor walked behind his bier, in the funeral procession. For several years the relations between the two powers continued peaceful and friendly. Both branches of the Goths were settled together, south of the Danube, their relinquished territory north of that river being occupied by the Huns, who were still pressing westward.


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