What Went Wrong

September 5th, 2004  

Topic: What Went Wrong

I’ve decided that this forum needs to Branch out of its WW2 phase, or actually, I read what Mark said and It made sense. Anyway, I decided that this topic would be a good way to cover Military History from a variety of times and points of views. The issue here Is Great Battles, or more precisely, how Armies lost, from a political and military point of view.

When nominating a Battle, the poster should consider the following….

Battle Name:
When It Happened:
Armies involved, lead by whom?:
Historical Backdrop (Set the context of how the engagement came about from a variety of perspectives, may they be political, cultural, religious, etc…):
Outline the Battle Itself:
Outline the result of the Battle:
Examine the consequences:
Critique the loser, what went wrong, how could It have been avoided?:
List your sources

Since I began the topic, I will nominate the first Battle. Feel free to disagree/agree with my assessment and please add your own comments.

The Battle of Adrianople (Hadrianopolis)
378 AD
Roman Army (Emperor of the East Valens) vs. Combined Gothic Force (Chieftain Fritigern)


During the mid-late 4th century, the Hun’s arrival In Europe threatened the security of many of the ‘Barbarian” Germanic people. Both the Visigoths and Ostrogoths asked the Emperor Valens permission to settle In the Empire in 375. Valens, who was eyeing reconquest of present day Iraq from the Persians (his predecessor has lost 5 provinces to the Persians there) allowed Goths under Fritigern to settle In Thrace (The Balkans) on the condition that they help boaster his army. However the Goth people were subjugated under the Roman rule, and faced famine. The Goth’s rebelled In 377 with help from the German Alans, and by 378 Valens was forced to confront them. He lead an Army of unknown size (more then 40,000) into Thrace, and caught up with the combined force of the Goths near Adrionople (see picture)

The Battle

Sentries reported that the Goth Force numbered only around 10,000 men, and seeing his numerical advantage, felt inclined to move on the enemy force without waiting for Western Emperor Gratian’s Army to deploy (Gratian had his army fighting Barbarians near the Rhine at the time.) The reason for Valens attack are not clear to this day, but It is likely that he either felt he could not wait any longer, or that he did not want to be put into a position of sharing the glory with Gratian. Seeing the Gothic infantry exposed at it’s camp, Valens decides to move on Aug 9th, 378.
Valens attacks the camp that day, hoping to destroy It before the Goth’s can move their Calvary Into the field of Battle. According to the Historian Ammianus Marcellinus, the Roman Army was slowed up by Fritigern efforts to stall by sending diplomatic envoy’s. We are told that the day was extremely hot, and the Roman troops were somewhat lethargic, duo also to hunger, according to Marcellinus. Whatever the case for the delay, that afternoon the Gothic Heavy Cavalry arrives, driving the weakly protected flanks of the Roman Army, which were attempting to break the Gothic infantry line around the camp.

The Roman flanks, as stated, are protected by light cavalry, and cannot sustain the superior Gothic charge. They break under the massive force, and Valens, who leads his Heavy Infantry In the center, is encircled by the Gothic cavalry. It is at this point In history where the Legion becomes mastered by Heavy Cavalry, which would become the dominate and deciding factor In war for centuries to come. Encircled, the Legion fights to the death, along with it’s Emperor. Roman casualties are 40,000 men, the Gothic casualties will probably never be known.


Theodosius would take the place of Valens soon after, and was able to negotiate a truce with the Goth’s, who would sack Rome several times In the coming years. The Roman Army would never fully recover, and depleted, was forced to withdraw from Britain and parts of Gaul, as they faced a even greater enemy, the Huns. Adrianople should not be considered the beginning of the decline the Empire, but rather the beginning of the Collapse. The Goth’s, who had slowly accepted Christianity, would soon become it’s protectors against the and forces, and did briefly allied with the Romans to stop Atilla at Chalons In 451 AD. Militarily speaking, the Legion was becoming outdated, and heavy cavalry become the newest great innovation of warfare.

What Went Wrong

So what went wrong for the Romans? A lot of things really. In retrospect, we can see them much clearer. First and most obvious, Valens should have waited for Gratian, for he must have none the Gothic cavalry was near by, and attacking as he did without knowledge of where a large enemy element is a definite no-no In war. Of course, he must have outnumbered the Gothic forces In the camp by at least 4:1, so attacking without Gratian can be understood. Still, he should of attempted to locate the cavalry before he made his decision. Once the cavalry arrived, their was little he could do. His own flanks were week, and he was bound to be encircled. This problem could have been solved by arranging his Infantry into squares as Wellington did at Waterloo, although even this could probably have been defeated by the ferocity of the Gothic attacks. To sum It all up, Valens should never have used the Goth’s and thus abused them as he did In 375. This defeat arose from the political gripes, and just ones they were, of the Goths, who had been arranged In concentration camps by the Romans, and were mistreated by the Provincial authorities (I wouldn’t blame Valens completely, because the Provinces were the ones dealing out the hard knock-life).


September 6th, 2004  
Jason Bourne
how did you make those picture things of the battle, the red and blue thingies. excuse the terminology.
September 6th, 2004  
I found them online...
September 6th, 2004  
Jason Bourne
neato, now back to the topic, i would have to say it was because the Goths were fighting for their freedom, and the Romans were fighting to conquer, i could go more indepth into this, but i would rather not at the moment, maybe tomorrow.
September 6th, 2004  
Good post, well constructed although some spelling errors in there.

The Romans were caught up in the aura of their own invincibility. They had used the same basic tactics for centuries and those tactics had served them well. They did not believe they could learn warfare from 'barbarians'. The Goths had 'learnt' from the Hunnish forces that pushed them West that mobility was key to successful warfare in the correct terrain. Attacking and not knowing exactly where the Gothic Heavy Cavalry were, like you said, a no-no and if he was doing that he should have waited for Gratian's armies.

The Romans, caught up in their own delusions of grandeur, failed to see the impact that heavy mobile cavalry could have on the field of battle. In many ways it was similar to the impact that the Mk IV Tank had when it first appeared on the battlefields of WW1. From then on Rome was reliant on mainly Gothic Cavalry to help augment it's own legions. Indeed, it was Visigothic Cavalry that won the day at Chalons in 451 AD. Make no mistake, Rome by itself would have been crushed by the forces of Attila.
September 7th, 2004  
Thanks for your comments Doppleganger, Im finally glad some people actually responded to this thread

Why do you think the Roman Army did not get the message after Adrionople that war was changing, and adjust accordingly for Chalons?
September 7th, 2004  
Mark Conley
oh..i believe it got the message..but did it have the resources and the will to change?

to change your armys equipment addapted for one type of fighting to be proactive against a new threat..could have been devastating to a possibly deleted treasury. since income from tribute was declining..but spending on public welfare was not..a balance here may not have been possible. and unlike modern era governments..rome could not just print more riches..gold and silver were the exchange mediums. no gold..no product.

and the will to change? its just my opinion, but i believe that the thought process of the aristocracy that commanded the armys probly erred in that it thought the threat was not long in establishment, and the romans could get the upper hand back. failure to reconize total change could have resulted in the non-acceptance of the facts.
September 8th, 2004  
Also I think they are going to show this Battle on the History Channel this coming Friday on Decisive Battles, (probably the best shown on Hist).

They show a computer generation of the battle man for man, you can see literally thousand upon thousands of soldiers on screen, you get the real scope of the battle including the panic that ensues once an army's morale breaks. Awsome show.
September 8th, 2004  
Sounds great, unfortunatly I dont get the history channel

Let me know how it turns out, I agree, that show Is awsome
September 8th, 2004  
Too bad you don't have the History Channel, I'll let you know how it happens though.

They showed Chalon a couple of weeks ago.

Last week they showed Carrhea, the Romans got massacred, it was painful to watch since I'm partial to the Romans (I see them as having spread civilization). It was the one were the invaded Parthia and lost 7 legions in the desert to horse archers.

The battle of Marathon was one of the best ones I saw.

...To add to the question "Why do you think the Roman Army did not get the message after Adrionople..."

My oppinion is,... added to what already been said, Armies tend to be slow to change, especially ones steeped in victory and tradition. It takes wilful and charismatic leaders with the rigth opportunity, which in combination don't come very often, to ensure the changes.