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Battle of Adrianople (378 AD)

By Chris Jones

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. The Eastern Roman Emperor, Valens, agreed provided they would disarm. He no doubt hoped that they would provide a source of army recruits for his legions.

The Goths began crossing but there were problems. Supplies that should have been issued to them were diverted by the agents involved, there were Goth deaths caused during negotiations and a group of Ostrogoths joined them without permission. The Goths began to ravage the countryside and Valens called for aid from the Western Emperor, Gratian. He raised a large army and marched to face the Gothic forces. 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. The Goth cavalry, mainly Ostrogoths and Alans, 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 Goth wagon laager 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 - the morale effects would last for far longer.

Simulating Adrianople in DBA

Order of Battle

  • Late Roman (East) -- 2xKn, 2xCv, 2xLh, 2xBd, 2xAx, 2xPs

  • Early Goth -- 3xKn, 6xWb, 3xPs

Terrain

The Goths should have a set up wagon laager in the centre of the table which should be large enough to contain all their infantry. The laager functions like an extended DBA camp, offering a +2 modifier to defenders fighting against opponents outside the laagar, but allowing multiple Roman elements to attack anywhere along its circuit, with supports where appropriate.

Deployment

The Goth infantry should be deployed in the wagon laager. The Romans should deploy as usual. When the Goth general throws a 6 for PIPs the Goth cavalry return from their foraging at any table edge. The 3 elements of Kn can be divided between different entry points along the Goth base edge or Goth-controlled side edges if desired.

Special Rules

None.

Victory conditions

Normal DBA.


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Last Update: March 12, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.