The Huns, after having traversed the territories of the Alani and having slain many of them and acquired much plunder they made a treaty of friendship and alliance with those who remained.
Continuing The Huns Move West,
our selection from Res Gestae by Marcellinus published in 390. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Huns Move West
Nor is there any temple or shrine seen in their country, nor even any cabin thatched with straw, their only idea of religion being to plunge a naked sword into the ground with barbaric ceremonies, and they worship that with great respect, as Mars, the presiding deity of the regions over which they wander.
They presage the future in a most remarkable manner, for they collect a number of great twigs of osier, then with certain secret incantations they separate them from one another on particular days; and from them they learn clearly what is about to happen.
They have no idea of slavery, inasmuch as they themselves are all born of noble families; and those whom even now they appoint to be judges are always men of proved experience and skill in war. But now let us return to the subject which we proposed to ourselves.
The Huns, after having traversed the territories of the Alani, and especially of that tribe of them who border on the Gruthungi, and who are called Tanaitae, and having slain many of them and acquired much plunder they made a treaty of friendship and alliance with those who remained. And when they had united them to themselves, with increased boldness they made a sudden incursion into the extensive and fertile districts of Ermenrichus, a very warlike prince, and one whom his numerous gallant actions of every kind had rendered formidable to all the neighboring nations.
He was astonished at the violence of this sudden tempest, and although, like a prince whose power was well established, he long attempted to hold his ground, he was at last overpowered by a dread of the evils impending over his country, which were exaggerated by common report, till he terminated his fear of great danger by a voluntary death.
After his death Vithimiris was made king. He for some time maintained a resistance to the Alani, relying on the aid of other tribes of the Huns whom by large promises of pay he had won over to his party; but, after having suffered many losses, he was defeated by superior numbers and slain in battle. He left an infant son named Viderichus, of whom Alatheus and Saphrax undertook the guardianship, both generals of great experience and proved courage. And when they, yielding to the difficulties of the crisis, had given up all hope of being able to make an effectual resistance, they retired with caution till they came to the river Dniester, which lies between the Danube and the Dnieper, and flows through a vast extent of country.
When Athanaric, the chief magistrate of the Thuringians, had become informed of those unexpected occurrences, he prepared to maintain his ground, with a resolution to rise up in strength should he be assailed as the others had been.
At last he pitched his camp at a distance in a very favorable spot near the banks of the Dniester and the valleys of the Gruthungi, and sent Muderic, who afterward became duke of the Arabian frontier, with Lagarimanus and others of the nobles, with orders to advance for twenty miles, to reconnoiter the approach of the enemy; while in the meantime he himself, without delay, marshalled his troops in line of battle.
However, things turned out in a manner very contrary to his expectations. For the Huns — being very sagacious in conjectures — suspecting that there must be a considerable multitude farther off, contrived to pass beyond those they had seen, and arranged themselves to take their rest where there was nothing at hand to disturb them; and then, when the moon dispelled the darkness of night, they forded the river, which was the best plan which presented itself, and fearing lest the pickets at the outposts might give the alarm to the distant camp, they made all possible speed and advanced with the hope of surprising Athanaric himself.
He was stupefied at the suddenness of their onset, and, after losing many of his men, was compelled to flee for refuge to the precipitous mountains in the neighborhood, where, being wholly bewildered with the strangeness of this occurrence, and the fear of greater evils to come, he began to fortify with lofty walls all the territory between the banks of the River Pruth and the Danube, where it passes through the land of the Taifali; and he completed this line of fortification with great diligence, thinking that by this step he should secure his own personal safety.
While this important work was going on, the Huns kept pressing on his traces with great speed, and they would have overtaken and destroyed him if they had not been forced to abandon the pursuit from being impeded by the great quantity of their booty. In the meantime a report spread extensively through the other nations of the Goths, that a race of men, hitherto unknown, had suddenly descended like a whirlwind from the lofty mountains, as if they had risen from some secret recess of the earth, and were ravaging and destroying everything which came in their way. And then the greater part of the population which, because of their want of necessaries, had deserted Athanaric, resolved to flee and to seek a home remote from all knowledge of the barbarians; and after a long deliberation where to fix their abode, they resolved that a retreat into Thrace was the most suitable for these two reasons: first of all, because it is a district most fertile in grass; and also because, by the great breadth of the Danube, it is wholly separated from the barbarians, who were already exposed to the thunder-bolts of foreign warfare. And the whole population of the tribe adopted this resolution unanimously.
Accordingly, under the command of their leader Alavivus, they occupied the bank of the Danube, and having sent ambassadors to Valens *, they humbly entreated to be received by him as his subjects, promising to live quietly, and to furnish a body of auxiliary troops if any necessity for such a force should arise.
[* Emperor of Roman Empire]
While these events were passing in foreign countries, a terrible rumor arose that the tribes of the North were planning new and unprecedented attacks upon us; and that over the whole region, which extends from the country of the Marcomanni and Quadi to Pontus, a barbarian host, composed of different distant nations, which had suddenly been driven by force from their own country, was now, with all their families, wandering about in different directions on the banks of the river Danube.
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