From Reform to Fragmentation

In 376 C.E., bands of Visigoths, desperate to escape the deadly at-tacks of the Huns, begged the Roman emperor Valens (r. 364–378)to let them cross the Danube River from their homelands into Ro- man territory. As emperors before him had done, Valens admitted them

into the empire because he wanted to use their warriors in place of

Romans, who could buy their way out of military service by paying for

barbarian — that is, northern foreign — mercenaries to substitute for

them. Roman officers charged with helping the barbarians instead

greedily extorted bribes; they even forced the starving refugees to sell

some of their own people into slavery to buy dogs to eat.

Furious, the barbarians massacred Valens’s army at the battle of

Adrianople (or Hadrianopolis) in Thrace in 378. Valens trampled on

the bleeding corpses of his men as he tried to escape. He failed, and his

body was never found. Some said he was incinerated while cowering

in a farmhouse, eerily fulfilling the wishes of citizens who often ex-

pressed their unhappiness with his reign by rioting in the streets and

yelling, “We want Valens to burn alive!” Theodosius I (r. 379–395),

Valens’s successor, then had to allow the barbarians to settle perma-

nently inside the borders in a kingdom under their own laws and give

them annual “gifts” of money, in return for their fighting alongside

Romans as federates (allies) protecting the empire.

The battle of Adrianople, Rome’s bloodiest defeat since Hannibal

had invaded Italy six hundred years earlier, illustrates the love-hate

Reorganizing the Empire, 284–395 197 • From Reform to Fragmentation • The High Cost of Rescuing the Empire • The Emperors and Official Religion

Christianizing the Empire, 312–c. 540 204 • Changing Religious Beliefs • Establishing Christian Orthodoxy • The Emergence of Christian Monks

Non-Roman Kingdoms in the West, c. 370–550s 214 • Non-Roman Migrations • Mixing Traditions

The Roman Empire in the East, c. 500–565 221 • Imperial Society in the East • The Reign of Justinian, 527–565 • Preserving Classical Traditions


The Transformation of the Roman Empire 284–600 C.E.



Vandal General Stilicho and His Family This ivory diptych (“folding tablet”) from around 400 C.E. shows Stilicho, the top general in the Roman army in Europe and close adviser to the western Roman emperor, with Stilicho’s wife, Serena, and their son Eucherius. Born to a barbarian (non-Roman) father from the Vandal tribe in Germany and a Roman mother, Stilicho rose to prominence in Roman imperial government and society; he married the adoptive daughter of the emperor, and his daughter Maria married the emperor’s son. Stilicho’s parentage reveals the mixing of cultures in the later Roman Empire, while the depiction of the dual rulers points to the political and geographical fragmentation that also took place. Stilicho is shown dressed in the richly decorated clothing appropriate for a member of the Roman elite, and he wears a metal clasp to fasten his robe, a symbol of his father’s ethnicity. The images on his shield of the two emperors then ruling the divided Roman Empire proclaimed his loyalty. (Basilica di San Giovanni Battista, Monza, Italy/ The Bridgeman Art Library.)

Coin Portrait of Emperor Constantine Constantine had these special, extra- large coins minted to depict him for the first time as an overtly Christian emperor. The jewels on his helmet and crown, the fancy bridle on the horse, and the scepter indicate his status as emperor, while his armor and shield signify his military accomplishments. He proclaims his Christian rule with his scepter’s new design—a cross with a globe—and the round badge sticking up from his helmet that carries the monogram signifying “Christ” (see page 202) that he had his soldiers paint on their shields to win God’s favor in battle. (Staatliche Munzsammlung, Münich.)