Edirne, Turkey (378 AD)
The Battle of Adrianople was one of the decisive engagements that ultimately led to the downfall of the heartlands of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately for the Romans, it was a totally avoidable and unneccesary battle brought on by hubris, and the humiliating defeat only encouraged the Germanic tribes to further encroach on Roman territory. The Battle of Adrianople is also famous for the introduction of heavier cavalry, foreshadowing both the end of the legion as the central military unit and the beginning of cavalry-dominated warfare that would later come to dominate the Middle Ages.
In the second half of the 4th century AD, the arrival of the Huns in Central Europe drove many German tribes towards the Roman frontier. In most cases this resulted in fighting between the Germans and Romans. However, in a few cases, the invasions were little more than largely peaceful migrations. Such was the case of the Goths, who crossed the Danube River in 376 AD.
At first the displaced Goths did not seek to fight with the Romans, but instead offered peace and alliance in exchange for land on which they could settle. A bargain was struck, and the Goths were allowed to enter Roman territory. However, once across the Danube the Goths were badly mistreated and driven to the brink of starvation and death by ruthless Roman commanders who treated them as near-slaves.
In short order a revolt broke out, and fighting erupted along the Danube frontier. For the most part the Germans took the worst of it. In August of 378 a Goth army was in the vicinity of Adrianople, a little to close to the capital of Byzantium. The Roman Emperor Valens led the home army northwest to crush the main body of the rebellion. With superior numbers, arms and training, he expected an easy victory.
What the Romans had failed to take into account was the development of improved stirrups, which made the Goth cavalry much more effective in combat. At the outset of the battle, the Roman cavalry was quickly routed. The Goths then surrounded the main body of Roman troops, who suffered as many as 70 percent casualties in the slaughter. This Goth victory, unexpected by both sides, exposed the Balkans to further German conquest. Historians generally mark this battle as the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire in the west.
The Battlefield of Adrianople today is largely taken up farmland. It is unfortunately not well marked. Furthermore there is little in the way of monument or memorials to the battle, and the location where Valens was killed after the battle is not known with certainty.
The battlefield is located just outside of the modern-day city of Edirne, approximately 100 miles northwest of Istanbul. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.goturkey.com (official tourism website of Turkey).