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DBA 2.0 Army Essays

Early Visigothic 378 AD
(DBA II/65a)

By Chris Jones

This army is interesting in that it relates to part of a campaign only and essentially to one battle only. The army described here only operated from at the earliest late 377 AD until the battle of Adrianople in 378 AD. It is the story of the charisma and command ability of one man, the Visigoth Fritigern. In order to fully understand how the army came into existence it is necessary to go back some years.

The Roman Empire in the late fourth century was under pressure from barbarian forces at every frontier. Goths, Franks, Jutes, Saxons and Vandals all encroached on Roman borders, and to the East Sassanid Persia was still a powerful opponent. In 376 AD, a large group of around 200,000 Visigoths under Fritigern and Alavivus asked if they could settle within the empire. They were fleeing the Ostrogoths who themselves had been driven west by the Huns. The Eastern Roman Emperor, Valens, agreed to allow them to settle provided they would disarm. He no doubt hoped that they would provide a source of army recruits for his legions. In return they were to be provided with food and other necessities.

The Goths began crossing but there were problems. Supplies that should have been issued to them were diverted by the agents involved and other supplies were charged at extravagant rates. The Goths starved through the winter and when the leaders attempted to negotiate some Goths were killed treacherously including Alavivus. Fritigern now sole leader held the group together by the force of his personality. The Goths began to ravage the countryside. They first defeated the local forces and then at the battle of Ad Salices they fought a successful action against the initial forces sent against them. by Valens. A series of inconclusive actions followed in which the Goths were held in Thrace but clearly could not be driven out or beaten without the main army under the Emperor's command.

More Visigoths joined Fritigern's band as well as a group of Ostrogoths who crossed into the Empire illegally in late 377. A force of Huns and Alans also joined the successful commander in 377 or 378. This is the army described by this army list. Meanwhile Valens raised a large army and marched to face the Gothic forces in person. In the mean time he had called for aid from the Western Emperor, Gratian. Gratian moved slower but his troops had almost arrived when Valens hearing that there were only a few Goths decided to take all the glory for himself and defeat the Goths personally. He therefore marched towards the last known whereabouts of the Goth forces.

Valens was surprised when his army stumbled upon the Goth foot within a vast circular laager of wagons. He gave the order to attack and rushed his men from column of march into a line of battle. Meanwhile, Fritigern was equally surprised by the Romans. His cavalry were out foraging and he sent messengers ordering them to return in all haste, while attempting to delay the Romans with negotiation.

The Roman right wing cavalry and skirmishers began the battle by attacking the Goths before the Roman cavalry at the rear of the march column were able to reach their position on the left wing. The Roman infantry centre was drawn up ready to attack. The initial right wing attack was driven back and in the middle of this confusion, the Goth cavalry returned and attacked the flanks and rear of the Roman right wing. At the same moment Goth infantry left the laager and supported by returning cavalry on the other flank broke the partially deployed Roman left wing.

With the Roman flanks uncovered, the Goths swept round the rear of the advanced Roman foot pinning them against the laager. These continued to fight until nightfall despite being pushed together so close that they could not use their weapons properly. About a third of the Roman force managed to escape covered by the remaining left wing cavalry. Valens himself was killed either during the battle itself or later when the Goths burned down a cottage he and his bodyguard had taken refuge in. His body was never found. The destruction of over two thirds of the Roman Army of the East was a catastrophe which arguably the Roman Empire never recovered from. The material losses were bad enough - losses were bad enough - the morale effects would last for far longer.

Army Composition

1x 4Wb (Gen) Fritigern's personal following or Commitatus consisting of well-equipped Visigothic foot warriors with mail armour and shields
2x 3Kn Fast-charging Ostrogothic armoured cavalry armed with spear and shield
1x 2Lh Alan and Hun mounted light archers some also armed with javelins and shields
7x 4Wb Visigothic Foot Warriors armed with spears and swords - mostly unarmoured but with some better equipped with mail shirts
1x 2Ps Gothic Light Archers

Enemies

Only one enemy is allowed to this army - Late Imperial Roman East (II/78b). As described in the history above, the army only fought against elements of the Eastern army. The battle at Adrianople was joined before Gratian with the Western forces could arrive.

Tactics

Fritigern's Visigoths face a Late Imperial Roman (East) (II/78b) army consisting of 1 Cv (Gen), 2 Kn, 2 Lh, 3 Bd, 2 Ax and 2 Ps.

The Early Visigoths are Ag 3 while the Late Romans are Ag 2, so you will be the defender somewhat less than half the time. Both are arable terrain types. If you can possibly avoid it through the use of house rules or the 2.1 amendments, do not take a BUA when defending - your best troops for defending it are your Wb and they will be easy meat for the enemy Bd. The Late Romans have better bad-going troops than you so don't lay down too much bad going for them to use.

Essentially tactics come down to avoiding bad matchups and forcing favourable ones. Your Kn and Lh will probably be best used keeping the Kn off your Wb. If possible use the Wb second moves to get double-based Wb into contact with the enemy Bd in good going. Lead with your Wb general and hopefully you will quickly get 3 elements towards your victory. For the last element, Roman Ax in good going are good targets if you can outnumber and / or surround them - and victory will be yours.

Overall though a good Roman general will keep the legions out of the way and attempt to defeat you with his more powerful mounted arm and bad-going troops. However, like all Warband heavy armies it will be fun trying to hurl your Wb at his vulnerable troops or whatever else gets in the way. Meanwhile your Kn, Lh and Ps will be distracting and threatening his flanks.

Books

An excellent book on the history and army organisation of this army list is the Osprey title "Adrianople 378 AD" from the Campaign series.

The Osprey title "Germanic Warrior" from the Elite series has descriptions and coloured illustrations of Gothic warriors of the period.

Other Resources

See Chris Jones' Early Visigoth army.

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Last Updated: May 21, 2003