Late Roman army vs "the Barbarians" who was Outnumbered?
I been reading a lot about the Gothic invasions, the Sack of Rome and the Campaigns of Atilla. The question is where the Romans really that inferior and incompetent? Or was it more like the Romans were too spread out on multiple fronts(Rhine, Danube, Persia) and the "barbarians" outnumbered the Romans in field battles.
The Roman army of the 4th century was about 400,000-500,000 strong total. Valens could only field about 30,000 men due to what conditions? (I don't know)
The Goths at Adrianople some say were more some say were less.
My assumtion is the Goths had more but Valens predicted less and charged their wagons before getting surprised by hordes of cavalry from the forests.
After Adrianople, what ration of the Roman army was barbarian allies? And how much do you think a barbarian tribe could field? Barbarians like the Goths, Huns, Vandals travelled with their familes and entire populations.
How about Atilla? Do you think he was some military genius or just took advantage of low garrisoned Roman forts? Atilla has only 1 well recorded battle and that is Charlons.
Atilla's other battle was the battle of Utus against the Byzantine Empire. Which is not well recorded.
The Roman army did not number 400,000 in the 4th century. Valens took every veteran warrior he could find to the battle. The Goths numbered about 12,000. The Cavalry for the Germanics were probably Alans. They were superior in fighting ability from the back of a horse. And skilled archers. There is no record of the Goths having cavalry in the 2 previous battles in 376 and 377. So in 378 the Goths were beginners. The Alan cavalry were fewer in number than the Roman cavalry so there were no "hordes". The Romans were taken by surprise and just overwhelmed.
Just 20 years earlier, at the battle of Strasborg., the Roman army numbering just 13,000 crushed the Alamanni army of 35,000. There were only a few hundred Roman casualties and 6,000 to 8,000 Alamanni killed. Why the big difference between this battle and Adrianople? The Alamani were said to have incompetent leaders, but the big reason is the physical size of the Goths. Not only did they overpower the Roman soldiers, but the Germanic mercenaries also.
After the Roman cavalry was swept away, the Alanic cavalry attacked the left side of the Roman formation causing it to cave in. Then the Goths rushed in and after that it was a wholesale slaughter.
In the book that chronicles that battle, "The Day of the Barbarians"(2007), the author gives a physical description of the Goths taken from the Greek historian Eunapius ,fragment 37. The Goths are described as having so much muscle in their upper body that the Romans didn't know how their feet could support them. And they tapered down to a narrow wasp size waist. This, along with being almost 6' 10"(208cm) is what gave the Goths this power to crush armies, even made up of Germanic mercenaries.
Writing from the comfort of civilized, 4th Century Greece, of course Eunapios would claim the Goths stood almost seven feet tall. That's how the barbarian stereotype is supposed to look. I would still like an explanation - from a modern believer of such ancient racist mythology - for what made the Goths so different from (let alone physically bigger than) anybody else living in their world, particularly fellow Germanic tribes.
I stick with Adrianople Goldsworthy's appraisal - that we will never really know figures for this era, but an army of 10,000 would have been considered enormous by barbarian standards.
To add a general consideration:
during the expansion of the Roman Empire the "safety of borderlines" was a never-ending concern for Roman authorities and usually they granted this safety conquering or controlling [by means of military expeditions and agreements based on power relations] the lands beyond the borderlines.
In the last period of the Western Empire this activity was run overall by Romanized Barbarian forces, but there was no more the push of expansion coming from the Mediterranean core of the Roman world.
In good substance the mechanism which carried fresh Roman forces towards the external regions of the Empire, spreading the civitas and romanizing the local population stopped. After that, it wasn't only a matter of possible lack of loyalty, but also an evident decrease of organization and capability of general activation of the Roman armies.
So it's not about being outnumbered, it happened that an incoming Barbarian population was concentrated on a certain sector of the Roman borderlines / borderline lands and Roman armies weren't that quick in organizing wide forces to react.
The Goths at Adrianople were outnumbered, even allowing for the absent cavalry, and on paper the Romans should have won the battle. Valens thought so - he was willing to go ahead without Gratian's reinforcements, and Sebastianus gambled on the result to save his ailing career.
It is true that Roman spies greatly underestimated the numbers of goths present (the cavalry had gone off to forage en masse for fear of Roman raids - they had suffered a notable defeat at the River Maritza three days earlier), but for practical purposes it made little difference. The Roman forces were simply unable to exploit their numerical advantage, suffering from tiredness and thirst for marching under a hot sun, suffering smoke in their eyes from fires set by the Goths, and were not well organised/led/motivated.
3500 years ago the Egyptians went into battle with the Hittites. The Hittites defeated them and sent them back to Egypt. The Egyptian historian wrote that their army won a big battle for their glorious pharaoh. When the Hittite language was recently translated it was discovered that the Hittites actually won the battle.
This tradition has been carried down to the present time when Wikileaks reported that the U.S. army conveniently failed to report 115,000 additional casualties in the latest Iraq war.
That is why these ancient historians like Pliney the elder and younger, Ptolomy, Tacitus and others are so valuable. They are the only source of accurate information from the ancient world.
When studying the primary sources, you would do well to consider just who's writing, why he's writing, and for what kind of audience he's writing. Eunapios was writing in a tradition that went straight back to Herodotos - regaling his civilized readers with tales of seven-foot bogeymen. It was a stereotype that was already ancient in the 4th Century. While I 'criticize' ancient historians, you're reading them selectively, without giving a second thought to their context or even the literary traditions they are embracing - because it suits your fantasy of the Goths as some kind of Aryan supermen.
The Goths weren't giants - on average, they would have towered a couple inches, not a couple feet, over the average Roman.
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