Who defeated the Romans?

1.1.3 The barbarians and the decline of the Roman Empire in late antiquity

Illustration: tracing of a medallion, 4th century, lead, diameter 8.5 cm.

Analyze how the admission and settlement of Teutons in the Roman Empire are represented and assessed on the medallion.
The Teutons are portrayed as scantily clad or unclothed people, who are accepted by the Roman emperors, who are surrounded by soldiers. The Teutons are each smaller than the emperors, their physiognoms are not shaped as in the case of the Romans. The emperors sit, the Teutons stand or kneel and take a pleading posture. The inscription indicates that the Romans understand the admission as an act of grace, which represents a boon towards the barbarians, which enables them to live a civilized (and connected with it: urban) way of life.

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M1 An "untamed human race"?

1. Name characteristics that Ammianus ascribes to the Huns.
Ammianus describes the Huns as nomads who are displaced their entire lives. They are characterized as extremely wild and belligerent, they have no regard for themselves or others, and are prepared for the role of warrior from birth. They are described as ugly, almost animal-like, dirty, clad in furs that they wear until they fall apart. They live on their horses, the women on wagons, are completely cultured, have no religion, do not have moral standards, want to be completely independent, only accept leadership depending on the situation.
2. Develop theses how the characterization of the Huns can be explained.
The Huns threatened the political fabric that the Romans created outside their borders. They appear to contemporaries as extremely dangerous and invincible, little is known about their origins, goals and strategies. With conventional military and political means (such as the strategies often used by the Romans to defeat opponents by exploiting disputes in their camps or by making potential opponents allies, making monetary payments or admitting them into the empire), the Huns seem not to be able to be defeated or contained. Against the background of little knowledge about them and in view of their military successes, they are particularly alien to Ammianus, a mixture of humans and animals who appear to be particularly violent and unrestrained - and only because of this they are so militarily strong. Because they seem to be devoid of any civilization, they also offer no possibility of communication or alliance, political containment seems completely impossible because they are unpredictable. As the absolutely foreign, they can only be defeated militarily.
3. Christian writers who knew Ammianus' reports spread the idea in late antiquity and the Middle Ages that the Huns were sent by God to punish sinners. Evaluate this idea and reveal your criteria.
The Huns are described by Ammianus as devils, whose shape and actions are only partially understood as human and whose actions appear to be so strange, brutal and uncivilized that they do not seem to have sprung from human understanding. The fact that contemporaries had little knowledge of the Huns and that they advanced rapidly in the context of their expansion and in some cases quickly withdrew again contributed to the fact that the Huns were used as a tool of punishment in late antiquity and in the Middle Ages God have been understood.

M2 invasion of Rome by the Huns

"The Barbarian Invasion."
Painting by the Spanish artist Ulpiano Checa from 1887.
1. Name elements of the image of the barbarian conveyed by Ammianus (M1).
Elements of the barbarians depicted here are: unbridled ferocity, light armament, high speed, no order, but enormous penetrating power, a mass of people who have hardly any individual characteristics; Conquerors who seem to know no limit. They do not seem to pay any attention to the evidence of human civilization around them.
2. The time the painting was made refers to the late 19th century and the history of the formation of nation states. Explain to what extent this painting could therefore also be understood as a political statement.
Our own, the nation understood as the result of Western civilization, which is regarded as the guardian of culture and history, is endangered by the foreign, which unrestrainedly strives for destruction. Only the nation that remains vigilant towards the foreign, always arming itself against the foreign and is aware of its values ​​and strengths can survive.

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M3 The admission of Teutons into the empire and its consequences

1. Describe the goals the Visigoths pursued when they crossed the Danube. In return, what do the Romans expect from the acceptance of the Visigoths into the Roman Empire?
By crossing the Danube and being accepted into the empire, the Visigoths sought protection from (not named here, but the Huns are meant) warlike groups that exerted great military pressure on the southeastern European region from the east. The Romans hoped that by accepting the Visigoths and settling in Thrace, they would strengthen their military potential because the Visigoths had promised to take the side of the Romans. In addition, the inclusion of the Visigoths seemed to be able to reduce the costs of their own army.
2. Analyze the conditions under which the Visigoths are admitted. What do the Goths commit themselves to? What promises do the Romans make?
The Visigoths promise to be peaceful towards the Romans and to be available as auxiliary troops for the Romans. Ammianus also speaks of gold payments. The Romans offer a settlement within the empire in Thrace and thus protection.
3. Summarize how Ammianus Marcellinus assessed the events of the year 376.
Ammianus sees a central weakening of the Roman Empire in the recording. Populations that had previously pressed the borders of the empire were taken in in the hope of winning auxiliary troops. The Romans would have brought an incalculable and powerful enemy onto their own territory.
4. Evaluate Ammianus' assessment. Compare this with current political discussions (see also M3 on p. 15).
Ammianus sees dangers for the empire mainly from outside. The admission of barbarians is to him the admission of the "future destroyers of the empire". From his point of view, however, the Romans are responsible for this - military commanders who would not have faced combat, but rather hoped to secure the borders and save costs by taking on Visigoth auxiliary troops. Ammianus assesses this as misconduct by individuals, but not as a problem of the political system or the political elite as a whole. In fact, he also takes the view that dangers to the community come from outside (namely from the barbarians), but are not a result of social, political and economic problems inside the empire.
The Alemanni Museum in Ellwangen (southwest of Nuremberg) uses important archaeological finds from all over southern Germany to present an overview of five centuries of Alemannic settlement from the 3rd to the 8th century AD.

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M4 warning of the Visigoths

1. Summarize Synesios ’criticism of the integration of the Visigoths into the Roman Empire. What dangers does he warn of?
Synesios considers the admission of Visigoths to the Roman Empire to be dangerous. The Romans would no longer rely on their own military potential, but only on the Visigoth armies. Linked to this is the rise of Visigoths in the military and civil hierarchy of the empire. Outwardly, the Visigoth elite presented themselves as Roman, remained Visigoth at their core, and despised the Roman order and way of life. Rome was to a certain extent infiltrated by the Visigoth barbarians.
2. Work out which alternatives to cooperation with the Visigoths the author shows.
As an alternative, Synosios sees the return to the most extensive system of recruiting Roman citizens in the sense of military duty. In addition, the Romans would have to remember their military virtues from the period of expansion and oust the Visigoths from their positions in the military, administration and the Senate.
3. Draw up a speech in which the Emperor Arcadius comments on Synesius' views. Discuss and evaluate the two positions.
Elements of a speech by the Emperor Arcadius could be:
  • The interest of Roman citizens in compulsory military service is low, the costs of maintaining an army made up of Romans are too high - not only because of the costs of maintaining the army, but also because the citizens are deprived of other business and activities would.
  • The Visigoths had also rendered outstanding services to Rome and proved to be reliable allies who had earned their position in the state and in the military.
  • Rome benefited from the reception of the Visigoths and the Visigoths adapted to the Roman lifestyle and demonstrated their loyalty.

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Illustration: Gothic eagle brooch made of gold and precious stones, 5th century.

Explain what the cross on the bird's chest might mean.
Today it is assumed that the symbolism of the Gothic eagle fibulae is strongly influenced by the connection with the Romanesque culture: The eagles therefore do not refer to a specifically Gothic element, but to the Roman symbol of rule, which stands for power and strength. The Goths came into closer contact with Christianity since the 4th century. Christianization reached the Gothic elite particularly early. It can therefore be assumed that the cross refers to Christianity.

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M5 On the relationship between Visigoths and Romans

1. Explain how the Visigoth King Athaulf's attitude towards the Roman Empire developed. According to his own statements, what political goals did he pursue in the past, what is he aiming for now?
Athaulf initially strived for the destruction of the Roman Empire and for a complete reorganization of the political and cultural conditions. He wanted to turn the Roman Empire into a Gothic Empire. But he realized that this goal could not be achieved. That is why he has made the renewal and restoration of Roman power and Roman culture on the flag.
2. Work out why Athaulf changed his political goals. How do you rate the reasons given for this?
Paulus Orosius emphasizes two elements:
1. Athaulf's idea of ​​creating a Gothic empire had failed because of the savagery and insubordination of the Goths, who would not have wanted to submit to the laws and the monopoly of force of a state.
2. His wife, Galla Placidia, sister of the Western Roman emperor Honorius, had a great influence on him.
Evaluation: Since the Goths had lived in close contact with the Romans for many decades, many Goths held prominent positions within the empire and, above all, the elite was strongly Romanized, the idea that Athaulf wanted to destroy the Roman Empire is a barbaric one To be built richly, not very realistic. Athaulf can be understood as a politician and military leader who acted within the Reich Association and did not seek to destroy it from outside.
3. Athaulf's wife, Galla Placidia, is credited with having great influence on the Visigoth king. In a letter to Athaulf, discuss the arguments with which she could have won him over to an agreement with the Romans.
Depending on the processing by the students.
Elements could be: Galla Placidia could refer to the fact that the Visigoths, as allies of the Romans who would have offered them protection against the Huns, were obliged to the Roman Empire. They were only accepted into the empire to protect it. They had learned to appreciate the high standing Roman civilization and the peace order in the empire, they had gained an important position in the administration and army of the empire, so they could not stand against the Romans, but were part of the empire.
Stefanie Dick, The Myth of the "Germanic" Royalty. Studies on the organization of rule among the Germanic barbarians up to the beginning of the migration period, Berlin 2008
The Germans. Europe's mysterious indigenous people, Der Spiegel. History, issue 2/2013

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