Byzantine Alternate History Series: Chapter II- Preventing the Fall of the Western Roman Empire 4 Years in Advance

Posted by Powee Celdran

Disclaimer: Although this is a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 5th century AD.

This story is a tale between two empires, the Eastern and Western Roman Empires under two different emperors but facing the same struggles.

Previous Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter I- 4th Century

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Welcome to the second chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time, in the first chapter of my alternate history series, I discussed what could have happened if the armies of the combined eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire worked together and won the critical Battle of Adrianople in 378, where in real history the Romans lost thus marking the beginning of their end. In the previous story, I also discussed possible scenarios that could have happened but never happened in history such as if the western emperor Valentinian I the Great- who died in 375- lived a bit longer in time to help his brother the eastern emperor Valens in the fight against the invading Gothic tribes at the Battle of Adrianople itself as well as a possible scenario of the future Roman emperor Theodosius I taking sides with the Goths, then eventually becoming their ruler and one day take the Roman Empire for himself and unite it with the Goths ruling a super-empire. However, in this new alternate history story I am writing, despite it being the second chapter of the series, it will have no continuity to the previous story. As I mentioned it previously, all 12 articles will be stand-alone pieces, and this one will have a totally different what if scenario beginning with real history, but with a twist at the end that none of us had ever seen happening. Since this series will feature one what if per century of the 1,100 years of the Byzantine Empire’s existence, I will write some of them together with other Byzantine history enthusiasts such as myself. This is my 5th century AD fan fiction and just like the first chapter, it is just myself writing it. This article will be not just the story of one empire, but two- the Eastern and Western Roman Empires and the climax will be a particular event taking place in the year 472, 4 years before the actual fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) and here a very much unknown scenario that could have prevented the eventual fall of the west involving the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Emperor Leo I and a secret order, the Western Roman Emperor Procopius Anthemius and an assassination attempt on him, and an insignificant battle in Rome took place. The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 happens to be so romanticized especially in the western context when in reality, it was nothing more but humiliating rather than dramatic as all that happened was that a puppet boy emperor Romulus Augustus was simply overthrown by his barbarian general Odoacer who decided to just abolish the title of emperor thus putting an end to the western empire making everyone later on believe this event marked the end of the Roman Empire. This event in 476 personally makes me cringe a lot as Rome did not really fall here, its still lived on in the east as Byzantium, though I believe this fall in 476 could have easily been stopped. One scenario that could have prevented Western Rome from falling in 476 was something that took place 4 years prior to it where the western emperor Anthemius, who was actually an Eastern Roman (Byzantine) and one of the very few competent emperors in the 80-year history of the failed state of the Western Roman Empire would have not been in killed 472 at the Battle of Rome, whereas in real history he fell out with his powerful barbarian general Ricimer who later defeated him and had him killed. Though Anthemius ruled the west for only 5 years (467-472) being a puppet of the Western Empire’s army general Ricimer, he was a still a strong and competent emperor who clearly did not want to be a puppet and even though ruling an empire that was falling apart, he was still motivated to restore it and fight back the barbarian tribes that had been taking over it as well as establishing a dynasty to make sure the empire would still last, but sadly he did not achieve his dream. Anthemius was killed by the orders of his puppet master Ricimer who only out of chance intercepted a letter made by the eastern emperor Leo I to kill Ricimer, which he used instead as an order to kill Anthemius. After the death of Anthemius, disorder and anarchy reigned in the Western Roman Empire for 4 more years with 4 more weaker emperors following him and a lack of central authority eventually culminating in the abolition of the western empire in 476, leaving the west to completely fall to barbarian rule and the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople to be the only Roman Empire left around. Now, if Anthemius still stayed alive by receiving the letter ordering Ricimer’s death before Ricimer got his hands on it, would the Western Roman Empire still have many more years left to live or not?  

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Note: Since the story is set in the 5th century, Byzantine characters will be referred to as Romans not Byzantines.

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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD

The previous article discussed the Gothic War from 376-382 with a Roman victory, but in real history the defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 was the beginning of the end, for the western half of the empire at least, as the east though being devastated, was in the perfect geographical position to remain standing as the western half was more exposed to frequent barbarian invasions through the Rhine and Danube river borders. In only less than a hundred years after the catastrophic Battle of Adrianople, the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist in 476 but in that 98 years between 378 and 476, a roller coaster of events has happened for the Romans, both east and west. Following the Gothic War’s conclusion in 382, peace was settled and the enemy being the Goths were settled into the Roman Empire as allied soldiers under their own leaders known as Foederati by the new eastern emperor Theodosius I, however in the years to come, these barbarians would prove to be terrible and rebellious allies. In 395, the Roman Empire would be permanently split in half when Theodosius I died passing the eastern half which would be the Byzantine Empire to his older son Arcadius and the western half to his younger son Honorius and in the years that followed, disaster after disaster occurred in the western half including a massive barbarian invasion into the empire crossing the frozen Rhine in 406, the loss of Roman Britain, 2 sackings of Rome, the Eternal City (410 by the Visigoths and 455 by the Vandals), the birth of new barbarian kingdoms within the empire, a series of invasions by the world’s enemy being the Huns, and an epic battle worth talking about thousands of years later which was the Battle of Chalons in Gaul in 451 wherein the Western Romans with their barbarian Visigoth, Frankish, and Burgundians allies proved successful in defeating the world’s enemy, Attila the Hun. Though the Huns were eventually defeated after 451, the Western Roman Empire was beyond repair, as in the past few years, barbarian tribes that had recently invaded such as the Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, Suebi, and Ostrogoths already took over Roman lands and began becoming a constant headache for both the western and empires while the western empire’s government and succession system remained unstable especially due to having a series of incompetent emperors whether from an imperial bloodline or just usurpers wanting to take power for themselves or worse, puppet emperors controlled by barbarian puppet masters. The western half of the Roman Empire based in Ravenna though was only more or less a satellite state of the eastern half or Byzantine Empire which stood stronger as it held the richer provinces of the Roman Empire including Syria and Egypt as well as several important cities including Antioch and Alexandria and at the same time having mostly competent emperors and a more stable system. As for the west being the east’s satellite state, basically its emperor to be considered legitimate had to be appointed or have the consent of the eastern emperor for sitting in the western throne, or he’d be considered a usurper. Now in the entire 80-year history of the western empire, it turns out only 5 out of the 13 western emperors were considered legitimate as they were recognized by the eastern emperor and only 2 of these 5 were competent ones which was Majorian (r. 457-461) the ambitious soldier emperor who still had a vision to restore his empire but met a tragic end, and Procopius Anthemius (r. 467-472) who is the central character of this story, a Greek in blood and a native of Constantinople who had a vision to restore the dying western half that had been overrun by barbarians but was betrayed and killed by those who feared his growing independence, particularly his puppet master general Ricimer. Since only 4 other western emperors ruled the west after Anthemius and neither of them were strong ones, Anthemius has the legacy of being perhaps the last capable Western Roman emperor and even in his short 5-year reign, he had a pretty good start in saving the western empire from total extinction.

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Flag of the Western (red) and Eastern (purple) Roman Empires combined
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Roman Empire 5th century map, dissolution of the west (red). Cover photo of the blog as this story focuses on the western empire’s dissolution
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Guide to the late Roman army’s structure (by Powee Celdran); this article contains a lot of terms of late Roman army units.

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part I (330-1000)

Lesser Known and Would be Roman and Byzantine emperors (27BC-695AD)

The Fall of Western and Eastern Rome Compared

Fall of Western Rome Related Videos:

Unbiased History: Rome XIX- The Fall of Rome (Dovahhatty)

Unbiased History: Byzantium I- The Eastern Empire (Dovahhatty)

Ranking the Byzantine Emperors: The Leonid Dynasty (Eastern Roman History)

Fall of the Roman Empire, 337-486 timelapse (TominusMaximus)


The 5th century was one epic story for the Roman Empire especially being the western empire’s last century and the steady rise of the eastern empire or Byzantine Empire. Now, there happens to be so many crucial events in the 5th century history of Rome that could create many what if scenarios such as what if the general Stilicho was not executed in 408, what if Attila defeated the Romans in 451, what if the Vandals never sacked Rome in 455, or what if the western emperor Majorian was not killed in 461, but out of all the events that happened in this century, I chose to go for one particularly obscure scenario which is one that involves the western emperor Anthemius and his death and what if it did not happen, which I believe would be something that could at least save the western empire for some more years. Just recently, a video by the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History came out which had been ranking the Byzantine emperors of the Leonid Dynasty starting with its founder Leo I who will be a central character of this story and this video made quite a theory saying that if the eastern emperor Zeno in 476 who was overthrown here stayed in power instead, the west would have been saved and another one being that if Zeno’s son the short reigning emperor Leo II (r. 474) did not die after only 9 months in power as child history may have turned out to be different, though for me I would go for the option of saving the west from falling back in 472 with Anthemius but after watching this recent video as well and hearing of the theory of Leo II living long enough, I decided to put this theory of Leo II here. Basically, I wanted to do an article covering a lesser-known part of Roman-Byzantine history and a character in this period which happens to be a very interesting figure and in this case is the Constantinople-born Western Roman emperor Procopius Anthemius, another forgotten but able ruler in history and only recently I have been fascinated with him and his story. On the other hand, the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 455 had undergone such epic events but the few years between the Vandals’ sack of Rome in 455 and the final end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 are not very much remembered so what I am doing here in this article is to bring some light into this mysterious 20-year period of history set in the middle of important and well-remembered events. It was only recently when I got to know about the emperor Anthemius and what he did which was last December when I wrote an the article of comparing the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century to the fall of Byzantium in the 15th century and here I discovered something interesting which was not only Anthemius but a particular mystery that involved a secret letter sent by the eastern emperor Leo I and again I should mention that it was my through favorite history related Youtube channel Dovahhatty in this final episode of his Unbiased History of Rome series, Chapter XIX: The Fall of Rome where I first came across this particular story and Anthemius himself. Strangely, I have already grown very familiar with the Eastern Roman characters of this part of the 5th century such as Emperor Leo I, his successor Zeno, Basiliscus, Aspar, and many others, but not with Anthemius who in fact was a Byzantine too. In the past I have also included these characters previously mentioned in my articles but not Anthemius, so now I will do my best to blend Anthemius into the story making him a leading character together with the eastern emperors Leo I, Basiliscus, and Zeno. Since in this series I will be experimenting by playing around on some historical characters and their back stories, in this case I will do it with Anthemius who has not so much written about him by historians of his time despite being one of the most documented of the unknown western Roman emperors, so here I will do my best to create his character’s traits and motives. In addition, I will do the same as last time in blending in a fictional character into the historical setting to add some more plot twists to the story and in this case, it will be however a real character which was the Eastern Roman soldier sent by Leo I with secret orders to kill Ricimer which was for Anthemius’ eyes only, though this soldier was never named and his story never told, so in this story I will give a bit of a story to this particular soldier named Cyriacus and in addition, I also decided to include a side story of Emperor Leo I no one has heard of which was his discovery of a miracle making spring in Constantinople. Now in real history, the Western Roman Empire ever since 456 was basically under the control of a powerful Germanic barbarian general in their army named Flavius Ricimer and under his manipulation were the puppet emperors Majorian (r. 457-461), Severus III (r. 461-465), and Anthemius (r. 467-472) and all these emperors met their ends by Ricimer who fell out with all three. In 472, which is where this story will take place, it happened in real history that the eastern emperor was pressured by the Vandal king of Carthage Genseric to make Olybrius the western emperor who would be Genseric’s puppet but Leo being a friend of Anthemius who worked well with him as a co-emperors came up with a smart trick which was to pretend to agreeing to kill Anthemius to please Genseric but secretly he planted a letter with this soldier Cyriacus escorting Olybrius to Italy but when arriving in Italy, Ricimer intercepted the letter which had orders to kill him as well as Olybrius to break Anthemius out of his control. Being shocked when seeing this letter, Ricimer decided to turn on Anthemius, proclaimed Olybrius his new puppet emperor and besieged Rome where Anthemius held himself in and after 5 months, Anthemius was defeated and beheaded by Ricimer’s orders but shortly after, both Ricimer and his new puppet Olybrius died of natural causes, and just 4 years later with instability in the west growing more and more, the western empire was finally abolished in 476. However, I believe that if Anthemius got the letter ahead of Ricimer, he would have ruled himself independently, establish a dynasty, and keep the empire alive for much longer while at the same time closely cooperating with his eastern co-emperor Leo I. In this story, the main antagonists will be Ricimer and the eastern empire’s puppet master Aspar who will be depicted as those who seek to destroy civilization itself from within which will be a more fictional element as real history does not really say what their true intentions were except that they were clearly power-hungry leaders. Though even if the western empire would still survive after 476, there would still be a possibility of the whole known world eventually starting what would be the first world war thousands of years before World War I happened and here I could imagine the Eastern and Western Empires allying with the Franks, Suebi, and Sassanid Empire against a large coalition of barbarians including the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Saxons, Suebi, and Huns fighting wars all across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. At the same time, with the Western Roman Empire still surviving after 476, this could also mean that the epic reconquests of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th centuries would not really come to happen anymore. This story here will be much longer than the previous one because of its variety of character as well as the geography it focuses on and it will not only tell the story of one character or one empire but both Eastern and Western Roman empires, a number of emperors, and other nations including the Vandals, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths and several ongoing conflicts between them in a setting of such a large world over the span of not just many years but decades. 


The Leading Characters:

Procopius Anthemius- Western Roman emperor

Leo I (Leo Marcellus)- Eastern Roman emperor

Flavius Ricimer- Magister Militum of the West

Anicius Olybrius- Rival of Anthemius

Flavius Zeno- Eastern Roman general, later emperor

*Cyriacus- Eastern Roman Palatini soldier (real character but unnamed, therefore I gave his name)

Genseric- King of the Vandals of North Africa

Odoacer- Commander of the Ostrogoth Foederati

Gundobad- Burgundian leader and Ricimer’s 2nd in command

Bilimer- Western Roman general

Aspar- Magister Militum of the East

Basiliscus- Eastern Roman commander

Julius Nepos- Eastern Roman general

Theodoric Strabo- Rogue Ostrogoth mercenary

Marcian- Son of Anthemius

Alypia- Daughter of Anthemius 

Ariadne- Daughter of Leo I

Daniel the Stylite- Eastern Roman prophet

Leo II- Eventual Eastern Roman emperor, son of Zeno 

Not to mention, the story’s lead character Emperor Procopius Anthemius has his own Instagram! Follow @the_anthemius

Character Images Below of Selected Characters from this Story

Background Guide: Western Roman characters (red, although Anthemius was a western emperor his yellow background is because he is from the east), Eastern Roman characters (yellow), Ostrogoths (green), Vandals (blue)


The Background (The Real History)       

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In 378, the Roman army faced a catastrophic defeat to the invading Gothic army at the Battle of Adrianople where the eastern Roman emperor Valens was killed and following this was a great crisis. Without an emperor, a young general, Theodosius the Younger was appointed as the east’s emperor based in Constantinople- the new capital of the Roman Empire founded by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 330- by the reigning western emperor Gratian and in 382, the crisis was solved when peace was settled with the Goths allowing them to settle in Roman lands so long as they provide military assistance for the Romans becoming a unit in the Roman army known as the Foederati as the Goths could no longer return to their homeland which had been taken over by the world’s enemy, the Huns. The following year, civil war broke out in the west when Magnus Maximus, a Roman general in Britain pulled out his troops there, marched into Gaul and usurped power after hunting down and killing Gratian. Magnus Maximus however wanted to share power with his friend, the eastern emperor Theodosius I but Theodosius disagreed as the west already had a legitimate emperor, Gratian’s younger half-brother Valentinian II so a civil war was fought between Theodosius and Magnus Maximus in which Theodosius won in 388 with the help of his new Gothic allies while Magnus Maximus was then executed.

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Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395)

Theodosius I as emperor had the legacy of not only settling the barbarian enemies of Rome into the empire but making Nicene Christianity the empire’s official religion as well thus marking a major turning point in history that had put an end to the centuries old Pagan traditions of Rome including the Vestal Virgins, several holidays, and the Olympic games. In 392, another civil war broke out when the western emperor Valentinian II killed himself when his protector general Arbogast turned against him proclaiming a scholar in Gaul named Eugenius as his puppet emperor but in 394 as Theodosius marched to the west again from Constantinople, he won a decisive victory against Arbogast and Eugenius at the Battle of Frigidus, again with the help of his Gothic allies, particularly a warrior named Alaric while Arbogast killed himself and Eugenius was executed. With Theodosius winning the civil war again, he ruled as the last emperor of a united empire west to east from Portugal to Syria and north to south from Britain to Egypt for only 4 months as he died in early 395 leaving the empire to his underage sons Arcadius and Honorius. The Roman Empire was now permanently split in half with the division in the Balkans down to Libya, with the older son, the 18-year-old Arcadius inheriting the richer eastern empire based in Constantinople while the younger 10-year-old Honorius inherited the weaker western half based in Milan which was to be a satellite state of Constantinople meaning the western emperor had to answer to the east which was his superior, though Honorius was under the regency of his father’s general, the brilliant and heroic Flavius Stilicho who despite being half-barbarian with a Vandal father was a true Roman at heart who would do anything he could to make sure Rome which was on the verge of collapsing would not fall.

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Flavius Stilicho, Magister Militum of the Western Roman Empire

Though the empire was divided east and west, they still had the same government system, same senate, and same military structure and one could go between east and west without being stopped. As the 5th century began, things were more or less much stable in the eastern empire despite the incompetence and uselessness of its emperor Arcadius as he had able generals and ministers but for the western half, disaster would soon enough come one after the other. First of all, in the east, the Gothic Foederati’s leader, Alaric a descendant of the Thervingi Gothic tribe that invaded the empire in 370s went rogue for being denied a promotion to Magister Militum or commanding general of the eastern legions as a reward for his victory at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 making him declare himself king of his own people, the Visigoths who would pillage through Greece and the Balkans. Instead of continuing reigning terror in the eastern empire, Alaric turned west to become their problem but never really succeeded at first but if it was not Alaric that troubled the west, it was a new Gothic invasion into Italy in 405 that troubled the west but in no time, Stilciho was able to crush this Gothic invasion. In the meantime, the western emperor Honorius chose the swamp city of Ravenna as his new capital for more protection but the true catastrophe though came on the last day of 406 when thousands of Germanic barbarian people including the Vandals, Suebi, and Alans crossed the frozen Rhine River into Gaul wherein the defense of the Roman border legions or Limitanei proved useless to control it so from here on, these barbarians were free to roam the empire or be incorporated as Foederati troops. Following the massive invasion of the Rhine, a low-ranking officer in Britain usurped power in 407 against Honorius declaring himself Emperor Constantine III pulling his troops out of Britain and taking Gaul and later Hispania as his own. Arcadius meanwhile died in 408 and was succeeded by his 7-year-old son Theodosius II as the eastern emperor under the regency of the city prefect Flavius Anthemius while the western empire’s regent general Stilicho was executed by Honorius’ orders being blamed for being the cause of the west’s defeats as well as being accused of trying to usurp power. The execution of Stilicho though only made things worse as Alaric began attacking Italy again and Honorius realizing he had no more support just decided to make the usurper in Gaul Constantine III his co-emperor.

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Alaric I, King of the Visigoths (r. 395-410)

The real death blow to Rome though came in 410 when Alaric and his rebellious Visigoth troops sacked Rome- which was although not the capital anymore but still considered highly valuable- while Honorius over in Ravenna did not even seem to care about it and worse, while Britain was already falling into disorder after the Roman legions pulled out, Honorius just decided to abandon Britain telling the people there it was no longer his problem and it was up to them to defend themselves. Before Alaric and his army could sail to Carthage across the Mediterranean and invade it, he died also in 410 shortly after his sack of Rome and was succeeded by his brother-in-law Athaulf who decided to head north instead and settle in Gaul wherein the Visigoths were transformed from a tribal state to a kingdom during his reign. In 411 meanwhile, the usurper Constantine III was deposed and executed by an army sent by Honorius who could no longer trust him, the Burgundians from Germania invaded Gaul settling there as Foederati in exchange for supporting a Roman usurper there who was defeated by Athaulf in 413 in Honorius’ name while at the same time parts of Hispania were given to the unruly Suebi and Alans that crossed the Rhine back in 406 to make them at least settle somewhere. Honorius eventually died in 423 and at his death, there was at least some stability in the empire as the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Franks in Gaul as well as the Suebi, and Alans in Hispania were at least settled as Foederati or allied states and not their own independent kingdoms which was however the case of the Vandals here in Southern Hispania at this point.

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Defeat of the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople, 378
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The Roman Empire permanently divided between east (Byzantium) and west, 395
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Constantinople, Byzantine imperial capital
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Battle of the Frigidus, 394- victory of Theodosius I and Gothic allies against Arbogast
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Barbarian tribes of the Vandals, Alans, and Suebi cross the frozen Rhine, 406
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Alaric I and his Visigoths sack Rome, 410

Over in the eastern empire, a short war was fought between the Eastern Romans and their traditional enemy, the Sassanid Persian Empire with not much conclusions but in the west with Honorius dead, there was a power vacuum so without a candidate to the throne, a nobleman of Ravenna named Joannes was elevated to the position of Augustus or literally the western emperor but lacked legitimacy as he was not recognized by the eastern emperor Theodosius II who instead backed his cousin, Honorius’ 6-year-old nephew Valentinian III as the western emperor.

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In 425, Joannes was defeated and killed by the forces of Valentinian III’s mother Galla Placidia, the sister of Honorius and Theodosius II’s barbarian general Aspar, though Joannes was already supported by the western empire’s best general, Flavius Aetius who went beyond the empire to get the support of the world’s enemy, the Huns but arrived too late to save Joannes, instead he sent his Hunnish mercenary army away and swore loyalty to Galla Placidia and Valentinian III.

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Western Roman emperor Valentinian III (r. 425-455)

In the following years, the Foederati Visigoths, Franks, Burgundians, Alans, and Suebi would go back and forth either being allies or enemies of Rome making Aetius, who was assigned as the Magister Militum of Gaul constantly have to keep these barbarian settlers under control in which he was successful at. In the meantime, Aetius built up his own faction or club consisting of Rome’s best military officers of the 5th century which included the likes of the Roman patrician Majorian, Aegidius of Gaul, Marcellinus of Illyria, Avitus of Gaul, and Flavius Ricimer, a son of the ruling families of the Suebi (father’s side) and Visigoths (mother’s side) who enlisted in the Western Roman army at a young age who in this story’s case did this having the intention to rise up the ranks to rule to empire and destroy it from within. Aetius meanwhile was not overall trusted by the west’s regent empress Galla Placidia who preferred the general Count Bonifacius more thus firing Aetius leading to a civil war between Aetius and Bonifacius in which Aetius lost in 432 despite Bonifacius being mortally wounded and dying from his wounds, though Aetius not accepting defeat travelled again beyond the empire’s borders to the Huns’ new homeland in the plains of Central Europe (Hungary) to get their help again which he was once again successful at and using the Huns to intimidate Galla Placidia, Aetius regained his position as the western empire’s Magister Militum. Aetius meanwhile being a hostage in the court of the Huns at a young age was educated in the fighting styles and culture of the Huns so when being a general of the western empire, Aetius used Hunnish mercenaries in his service which in one case he heavily relied on when fighting a war against the Burgundians in 436 wherein the Huns totally decimated the Burgundian people in Gaul.

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Flavius Aetius, Western Roman Magister Militum under Valentinian III

The Vandals on the other hand that had settled in Hispania led by their ruler Genseric joined forces with the Alans that settled in Hispania too and ended up crossing the Strait of Gibraltar invading Bonifacius’ territory which was North Africa after previously betraying Bonifacius who asked for their assistance against Aetius and in 439 took over its capital, Carthage founding the Vandal Kingdom there in 442 thus the Western Empire lost a valuable asset, which was Carthage’s wheat fields. Over in the eastern empire, the Huns finally arrived in Roman territory for the first time passing through the Danube into Thrace in 434- the same route the Goths passed back in the 370s as mentioned in the previous story- under their new ruler Attila, and again in 440, except the eastern emperor Theodosius II decided to keep Attila away by constantly paying him off bribes which were doubled each year and it was no problem as the eastern half he ruled was richer in resources compared to the west but by increasing his pay for Attila, this only made Attila’s army more powerful.

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Attila the Hun, ruler of the Huns (434-453)

In 447, Attila invaded the eastern empire again, won a major victory against the Eastern Romans in the Balkans, and attempted to besiege Constantinople in 448 but luckily, Constantinople ever since Theodosius II’s early reign was already protected by massive 3-layered walls built by his regent back then Flavius Anthemius, who in this case was a veteran of the Gothic War in the 370s as mentioned in the previous story and could already foresee that not only the Goths but the Huns would one day invade the empire which is why he decided to build this particular wall, the “Theodosian Walls” named after Theodosius II. Since the Huns’ army mostly consisted of cavalry, there was no way they could breach the walls, so Attila decided to leave for good as long as Theodosius II continued paying him off. At the same time in the west, the Suebi in Hispania renounced their status as Foederati subjects and declared themselves an independent kingdom while in Northern Gaul in 449, Aetius and Majorian repelled a Frankish invasion and made their king’s son Merovech their puppet ruler for their Frankish Foederati subjects.

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Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450)

Theodosius II meanwhile died in 450 after a horse-riding accident in a hunt and without having sons, his older sister Pulcheria married Marcian, a commander of the imperial guard force or Palatini who became the new emperor and as emperor, he reversed Theodosius II’s policy of paying off the Huns and decided to show aggression to Attila and his Huns instead. As for Attila, he had no reason for invading the western empire but when the emperor Valentinian III’s sister out of the blue decided on a marriage alliance with Attila, Attila demanded half of the western empire but when refused by Aetius, Attila declared war and invaded Gaul through the Rhine. In so little time, Aetius travelled across lands still under the western empire including Gaul, Hispania, Italy, and Illyria to recruit men which he was successful at and he had personally trained these recruits too at what would be like his dojo. Aetius too convinced the Visigoths of Gaul under their king Theodoric I who despite being a thorn for the empire all those years to join forces with the Romans as the Huns were a common enemy seeking to wipe out everyone in their path whether Roman or barbarian. Theodoric eventually agreed and joined forces with Aetius’ legions together with other barbarian Foederati allies including the Franks and Burgundians against Attila. In 451, the allied forces of the Romans, Visigoths, Franks, and Burgundians met with the forces of the Huns led by Attila with their subjugated Ostrogoth and other barbarian allies at the Battle of Chalons or the Catalaunian Plains which despite countless of casualties on both sides was a decisive victory for the Romans and their allies while Attila was defeated for the first time, and this battle would be remembered throughout the ages for it.

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Huns at the Battle of Chalons, 451

The alliance with Visigoths and other barbarians though only lasted very short and the Visigoth king Theodoric was killed in that battle, except he proved that he and the Visigoths were able to redeem themselves for their crimes against Rome such as Alaric’s sacking of Rome in 410, and true enough Theodoric was Alaric’s son. Attila meanwhile was still out there and constantly waiting for Attila to invade Gaul again, Aetius got word that Attila instead invaded Italy from the north in 452 razing the city of Aquileia to the ground, though some of its citizens at least managed to escape and establish a new community in the nearby lagoon. Before Attila could proceed further south to destroy Rome, the pope Leo I, a diplomatic genius met with Attila in person and successfully persuaded Attila to leave Italy. At the same time, the eastern emperor Marcian sent legions across the Danube to Attila’s base forcing Attila to retreat and defend it, thus the empire was spared from the Huns’ threat. Attila then died in 453 after heavy drinking and with his death, his Ostrogoth and other Germanic subjects rebelled later defeating and dispersing the Huns in 454 forcing them to flee back east to their original homeland in the Central Asian steppes.     

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The Theodosian Walls of Constantinople, built by Theodosius II’s protector Flavius Anthemius
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Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, Aetius’ forces vs Attila the Hun, 451
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Huns clash with the forces of the Romans and barbarian alliance at Chalons
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Pope Leo I prevents Attila from marching to Rome, 452

Thanks to the efforts of Aetius who knew the fighting style of the Huns in order to beat them and Pope Leo I who was a master of diplomacy, the western empire was saved from ultimate destruction, but not entirely as the damage caused by the Huns and all the barbarians that settled and invaded it was beyond repair. Aetius and his officers following their victory discussed strategies on how to restore the ruined western empire but one day in 454, Aetius while at a meeting with his top officers in Ravenna was assassinated in front of all of them by the emperor Valentinian III who grew paranoid of Aetius’ popularity being the hero of the war against the Huns. Valentinian III though was convinced by a senator named Petronius Maximus that he would soon be deposed by Aetius and believing this lie immediately, Valentinian III quickly used this as the right opportunity to backstab and kill Aetius. Valentinian III however would soon enough pay the price for killing the empire’s hero as he in fact did not kill his master but the empire’s savior. With Aetius dead, his officer Marcellinus rebelled taking the whole province of Illyria, his homeland for himself refusing to answer to the emperor and in early 455, Petronius himself had Valentinian III assassinated in Rome after Petronius who was denied being given Aetius’ position in which he wanted to take making him trick Aetius’ bodyguards to killing the emperor as a way to avenge their master.

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Petronius Maximus, Western emperor (r. 455)

Petronius Maximus then bribed the senate to have him declared emperor and for legitimacy, he married Valentinian’s wife Licinia Eudoxia, the daughter of the former eastern emperor Theodosius II while Valentinian III and Eudoxia’s daughter Eudocia was married to Petronius’ son and the other daughter Placidia was married to Petronius’ friend and fellow senator Anicius Olybrius, a patrician of Rome and though Petronius was made the western emperor, the eastern emperor Marcian did not approve of his rule, therefore Petronius was a usurper. Eudocia though was previously arranged to marry Huneric, son of the Vandal king Gaiseric and finding out the marriage was cancelled as Eudocia was instead married to Petronius’ son, Genseric used this as an excuse to set sail from Carthage and invade Rome. When hearing news that Genseric and his Vandal fleet were headed towards Italy, Petronius ordered the people to run for their lives and in the process, Petronius and his son were hacked by the mob while a few days later, Genseric and his Vandals arrived in Rome and sacked it for days although Pope Leo I again came into the picture and persuaded the Vandals to spare the people but still loot anything they could find. Genseric true enough agreed to Pope Leo’s terms but took the empress Licinia Eudoxia, both her daughters, and Olybrius as hostages to Carthage. The Vandals meanwhile ever since taking over Carthage in 439 as well as the Roman fleet, became masters of the sea and the toughest pirates of the Mediterranean even if just a few decades ago they were just a small Germanic tribe without any naval experience, and already being highly skilled sailors by 455, the Vandals at the same time as their attack on Rome took over the island of Sardinia west of Italy.

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Vandals arrive in Roman North Africa, 420s

Over in Gaul, Petronius after becoming emperor sent Avitus, a former veteran and diplomat of Aetius to the court of the Visigoth king there Theodoric II, son of Theodoric I to get his approval of Petronius as emperor, however with Petronius dead, Theodoric II instead proclaimed Avitus as western emperor who again was not recognized by Marican. In his short reign as the western emperor, Avitus was however not very popular though during his reign, the Visigoths of Gaul that supported his claim returned to Foederati status but in late 456, Avitus was deposed by Aetius’ veteran generals Majorian and Ricimer who made spares Avitus as he was their friend before and made him a bishop in Italy; though for the meantime there was no emperor in the west as neither of the generals accepted the position.

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Western Roman emperor Avitus (r. 455-456)

Ricimer being a full-blooded barbarian knew he could not be emperor but had all the skills needed to rule as one so to make himself be in power, he chose to have Majorian as his puppet, for Majorian as a Roman patrician was a likeable person. In early 457, the eastern emperor Marcian died and without any heir although shortly before his death, he considered his son-in-law Procopius Anthemius who was married to his daughter from a previous marriage to be his successor but Marcian died before naming Anthemius his successor. With Marcian dead and not naming an heir, Aspar who was basically his and before him Theodosius II’s puppet master general as well, who like Ricimer due to being of full barbarian blood and in Aspar’s case an Arian Christian could not be emperor, instead Aspar randomly chose his friend, the low-ranking officer of low birth the Thracian Leo Marcellus as his new puppet emperor as Aspar saw that Leo being more or less uneducated and already old- 55 at this time- could be easily be manipulated. As Leo I (ironically having the same title as his contemporary Pope Leo I) was proclaimed as the new eastern emperor, he immediately recognized Majorian as his western co-emperor thus making Majorian legitimate while Marcellinus over in Illyria together with his nephew Julius Nepos renounced their rebellion against the western empire and swore loyalty to Majorian who they could both trust.

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Western Roman emperor Majorian (r. 457-461)

Seeing that the western empire was left in ruin, Majorian launched an ambitious campaign to restore it, thus leaving Ricimer behind in Italy as its Magister Militum in charge of it while appointing his fellow officer and veteran of Aetius which was Aegidius as Magister Militum of Gaul while Majorian focused on passing new laws and reforms and campaigning against the unruly barbarian settlers in Gaul and Hispania. In 458, as the Vandals proceeded to conquer Corsica, the Visigoths broke free of their federate status and conquered Arles but were soon defeated by Majorian who returned them to federate status while in 459 the Burgundians took over Lyon but were beaten back by Majorian who took back the city as well. In 460, the Suebi broke free again in Hispania but Majorian quickly rushed there and easily beat them making them again return to federate status and after their defeat, Majorian had a large fleet built at the Mediterranean coast of Hispania intended to be used in taking back Carthage from the Vandals but the Vandal king Genseric knowing he could not face the might of Majorian in battle bribed disloyal western soldiers to betray Majorian and burn the fleet before it was even finished. The invasion thus never happened and Majorian was forced to conclude peace with the Vandals then afterwards returned to Italy wherein he discovered that Ricimer had betrayed him. While Majorian was away, Ricimer feared Majorian was growing to independent therefore making Ricimer lose his power so conspiring with the senators that opposed Majorian, Ricimer hatched his plot to depose and kill Majorian who Ricimer could see could now be easily deposed due to his losing popularity ever since his defeat to the Vandals and here in 461, when Majorian returned to Italy, he was arrested and tortured dying at age 40 after 5 days of extreme torture.

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Ricimer, Magister Militum of the Western empire since 456

Following Majorian’s death in 461, chaos began to reign in the western empire as in Eastern Gaul, the Alemanni tribes formed their own kingdom and later on in 462, the Visigoths again broke free and established their own kingdom consisting of Southern Gaul and most of Hispania while the Ostrogoths who were previously subjugated by the Huns invaded Western Roman Pannonia. The Vandal king Genseric meanwhile seeing a vacant western empire supported his friend Olybrius’ claim to the western throne as Olybrius had ties to the previous Theodosian Dynasty as he was married to Valentinian III’s daughter Placidia making Genseric somewhat related to Olybrius too as Genseric’s son was married to the other daughter of Valentinian III, though Ricimer as the one basically in control of the west did not agree with it since Olybrius would be Genseric’s puppet anyway so instead Ricimer chose Libius Severus, a weak-minded senator as his own puppet emperor as he was easy to manipulate, and true enough hardly anyone recognized Severus III’s reign including Leo I, Genseric, and the generals Marcellinus and Aegidius. Marcellinus again revolted after Majorian’s death in honor of his friend making Illyria once again independent and Aegidius did the same in Northern Gaul declaring it independent in rebellion against Ricimer for killing Majorian, however Aegidius took it even further by declaring the birth of his own kingdom in Northern Gaul known as the “Kingdom of Soissons” though he together with Marcellinus in Illyria still swore loyalty to Leo I who they still saw as the true emperor. Ruling his own kingdom, Aegidius at least managed to defeat the invading Visigoths that attacked Orleans though Lyon again this time permanently fell to the Burgundians, while in 465 Aegidius died passing his Kingdom of Soissons to his son Syagrius. Meanwhile, Severus III too died in 465 in this story’s case poisoned by Ricimer who felt he had no more use since Severus was not really recognized by anyone thus leaving the west in another power vacuum whereas in real history, Severus III possibly died from natural causes. Genseric again saw the death of Severus III as the right moment to put his claim on the western empire by again using Olybrius, who was in Constantinople at this time as his puppet though the eastern emperor Leo had his own plans, which was making his friend Procopius Anthemius the western emperor. Ricimer though was confused but this is what he had wanted anyway, the western empire broken apart to the point of being dissolved wherein Ricimer thought it would be best to just let the west slip out of control leaving most of it to fall under the now independent barbarians that had settled in it such as the Vandals, Burgundians, Visigoths, Suebi, Alemanni, and Alans while the eastern parts of it would cede to the eastern empire.

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Valentinian III kills Aetius, 454
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Genseric, King of the Vandals (r. 428-477)
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King Gaiseric and his Vandal army sack Rome, 455
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Western Roman Empire restored by Majorian (purple), Eastern Empire of Leo I (pink)
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Aegidius’ Kingdom of Soissons, Independent Roman state in Northern Gaul, founded in 461

The Reigns of Leo I and Anthemius           

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Procopius Anthemius was born in Constantinople in 420 during the reign of Theodosius II, and was from prominent families in both father’s and mother’s side. Anthemius was an only child and on his mother’s side was the grandson of the same general Flavius Anthemius, former regent of Theodosius II in his early reign and the architect of Constantinople’s massive walls who however disappeared from the scene in 415 while Procopius Anthemius’ father Procopius was also a general in the Eastern Roman army and a descendant of the usurping emperor Procopius (r. 365-366), the cousin of the last Constantinian Dynasty emperor Julian (r. 361-363) and the same one that rebelled against the eastern emperor Valens (r. 364-378) but was executed.

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Emperor Procopius Anthemius of the west (r. 467-472), born in Constantinople, 420

Since he came from the eastern empire and was a Greek in blood, Anthemius’ first language was Greek but still knew Latin very well too and at a young age, Anthemius was sent over from Constantinople to Alexandria in Egypt to be educated by one of the best scholars of the time, the Neoplatonist philosopher Proculus and among Anthemius’ classmates and friends he met in Alexandria included the same Marcellinus of Illyria who was in fact a devout Pagan. Anthemius though was still a Nicene Christian in faith but due to his education, he was also sympathetic to the Pagans and their beliefs which led many later to suspect Anthemius himself was a Pagan. Like the usual rich aristocrats of his time, Anthemius was no exception being a lover of food, wine, and sports such as the Persian influenced polo (Tzykanion in Greek) but was still a person of great intelligence including military knowledge which was one of his natural abilities, considering the men in both his mother’s and father’s side were generals, and in appearance Anthemius was short and stocky with thick wavy hair and a short beard.

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Tzykanion, Byzantine polo (from Byzantine Tales)

Since a young age, Anthemius too had some kind of ambition in wanting to rise up and becoming an emperor of either the eastern or western empire as he also saw that it was a possibility, especially since there was no law that a Roman emperor had to be succeeded by his son and knowing that the succession was never stable in both east and west, Anthemius knew he would have his chance one day to not only rule as emperor but bring stability by establishing a dynasty. In 453, the reigning emperor of the east here was Marcian- who back in 451 famously led the Council of Chalcedon that condemned the new heresy of the Monophysites, and here in 453, his wife Pulcheria, the sister of the late emperor Theodosius II died though Marcian before his marriage to Pulcheria when still an unknown soldier was already married to an unknown woman and exactly here in 453, Marcia Euphemia who was Marcian’s daughter with his first wife was married to the 33-year-old Anthemius. Following his marriage, Anthemius and Marcia had their daughter Alypia– who’s birthdate is not mentioned but here I would place it in late 453- but at the same time after his marriage, Anthemius was promoted by Marcian to the high ranking military position of Comes rei Militaris and sent to the Danube frontier up north which in the past years was heavily devastated by Attila’s invasions and Anthemius was put in charge of rebuilding the defenses as well as recruiting and stationing new Limitanei border guard legions there.

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Eastern Roman emperor Marcian (r. 450-457)

In 455, Anthemius and Marcia’s twin sons Anthemiolus and Marcian (named after his grandfather) were born, though it is not recorded when they were born or if they were twins, but in my case, I would place their birth at 455 and make them twins. Not to mention, also in 455 Anthemius served as consul in the eastern empire’s senate together with the western emperor Valentinian III who served as consul in the west, yet Valentinian III was also killed in this year by Petronius Maximus’ orders. The eastern emperor Marcian then died in early 457 from natural causes but before his death, Marican was about to name his son-in-law Anthemius as his successor but died before he could do it. Instead, to fill in the power vacuum in the east, Marcian’s powerful puppet master general, the barbarian Alan Aspar knowing he could not take the throne due to his barbarian blood and Arian Christian faith did as he did before when naming Marcian his puppet emperor in 450 with his friend, a random low-ranking officer Thracian named Leo Marcellus as his puppet emperor who Aspar believed could be easily manipulated the way Marcian was.

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Emperor Marcian at the Council of Chalcedon, 451

           

The new eastern emperor in 457 Leo I or Leo Marcellus meanwhile had a different backstory compared to that of his contender to the throne Anthemius who was an aristocrat and highly educated whereas Leo was a provincial of low birth and a native of Thrace though a Roman citizen although like Anthemius, Leo was also an only child. Nothing much is known about Leo’s early life except that he was born in 401 in Thrace and was of Thracian and Dacian origins and was a Nicene (or rather after 451 Chalcedonian) Orthodox Christian and since he came from the rural parts of the empire, he was hardly educated but possessed a good amount of commonsense. In appearance, Leo was tall with a big stature and had big curly hair and his primary language was Greek knowing very little of Latin making him the first primarily Greek speaking Roman emperor.

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Emperor Leo I (Leo Marcellus) of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 457-474)

At an early age, Leo joined the army in Constantinople but in all those years he was in the army, he never really rose up the ranks as he displayed very little ambition and only in his 50s did he become an officer with the rank of Comes though back in 450, Leo as just an ordinary soldier according to some legend- in which would be true in this story’s case- accidentally discovered a hidden spring in Constantinople that did create miracles and here Leo made a random blind man he encountered see again by dunking his head in the water. Leo however by the time he suddenly was appointed emperor by Aspar in 457 was already married to Verina, an Illyrian woman from somewhere in the Balkans and a daughter of a military officer who definitely showed more ambition than him and it was her that became more driven when Leo was emperor. The powerful eastern Magister Militum Aspar meanwhile despite unable to make himself emperor surely had his own ambitions in ruling the empire thinking Leo due to his old age and lack of ambition and education made Aspar think he could easily be manipulated as at the same, Aspar too saw that with his age, Leo would be nothing more but a placeholder who would die soon enough. Aspar had also thought that since Leo had no sons, rather only two daughters, Leo could marry off his older daughter Ariadne to Aspar’s son Patricius, therefore Aspar will have his way fully ruling the empire the moment his son becomes emperor.

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Relief depicting Aspar (left) and son Ardabur (right)

Now the reason why Aspar’s son could become emperor and not him was because his son had a Roman citizen mother which was Aspar’s unnamed wife while Aspar himself was of both Gothic and Alan origins. At the beginning of his reign, Leo was all fine being under the control of his puppet master Aspar but over time, Leo would start developing some kind of independent streak especially due to the advises given to him by his ambitious wife who believed Leo did not need Aspar around though Leo’s first acts only had to do with religious matter wherein he simply just agreed to continue his predecessor Marcian’s policies at the Council of Chalcedon despite Leo not knowing too much about religious policy. Leo’s first years as emperor happened while Majorian in the west- who like Leo also came to power in 457- was ambitiously restoring the ruined empire but in the east, Leo’s first years in power was rather uneventful except that in his early years ruling, he built a church over the miracle making spring he discovered years ago which attracted pilgrims later on. Not to mention though, Leo I’s coronation in 457 marked one milestone in the Eastern Roman Empire’s history as he was the first emperor to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople and not just in the traditional way of standing on a shield lifted by the soldiers. Now one proof of Leo’s lack of ambition in his early reign was seen when he did not bother to do anything with Anthemius who was a potential rival to his power as he had more connections to the previous emperor Marcian being his son-in-law, however Anthemius too did not bother much about the fact that Leo was the eastern emperor, as Anthemius knew he too had the chance of ruling the west. Anthemius now had also received a prophecy (which is in this case is fictional) from an odd hermit in Constantinople named Daniel the Stylite who lived above a column refusing to go down claiming it would help him more spiritually but also because he sought to imitate someone who lived this way as well which was the stylite hermit Symeon who in Syria who became famous for living this way almost his entire life.

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St. Daniel the Stylite on the column, Emperor Leo I (right)

Daniel told Anthemius by shouting from high above that it was evident that the west will slip into chaos especially with the barbarian Ricimer in control of it and barbarian tribes taking over large parts of it and so that the task was left to Anthemius to restore the west before it would be ultimately destroyed, in which Anthemius took this prophecy to heart. Other than Anthemius, the senator Anicius Olybrius of Rome who had been taken as a hostage to Vandal Carthage back in 455 came to Constantinople in around 459 and had also met with Daniel the Stylite who foretold to Olybrius that the Vandal king Genseric will release Olybrius’ wife Placidia as well as her mother Licinia Eudoxia and return them to Constantinople. In 461, the prophecy proved to be true as after the western emperor Majorian was killed by Ricimer’s orders, Genseric demanded that Olybrius be his puppet western emperor and in the process, he released both Licinia Eudoxia and Placidia to be with Olybrius in Constantinople thus Licinia Eudoxia returned once again to her birthplace, though Genseric still continued to pressure Italy by raiding its coasts with his fleet. As for Ricimer, he fought back by having the weak senator Severus III used as his puppet emperor but due to Severus’ lack of skill, he was not recognized by anyone else, not even by Leo I who at this point still showed a lack of ambition. Anthemius meanwhile despite being Leo’s rival was appointed as Magister Militum in the east and in 460 he led an army against and defeated the Ostrogoths that were raiding into Illyria.  

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The Life Giving Spring of Constantinople, discovered by Leo I; Leo I and Empress Verina (left)

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Leo I (from Thersites the Historian). 

          

In 465, two important events happened which was that Severus III died over in Italy beginning a 2-year power vacuum for the west and in Constantinople, a large fire broke out in the city arsenal along the Marmara Sea. First of all, with the western throne vacant, Genseric again pressured both Ricimer and Leo I to make Olybrius the western emperor again but both refused although here Ricimer felt that there was no more need for an emperor to run the western empire anymore as he could just manage things alone together with the guidance of Leo I and Aspar in the east but Genseric would not accept a vacant throne which he thought was something he could use as an opportunity in ruling the west. Now back to the great fire in Constantinople, it had such great intensity that it lasted for 3 days and the ones that happened to play an active part in rallying the people and fighting the fire were Aspar and Anthemius and not Leo who instead relocated across the northern harbor of the city or the Golden Horn as the Imperial Palace got a lot of damage from the fire. Aspar was then hailed as a hero by the people and so was Anthemius for putting down the fire and here was when Leo’s envy and mistrust for his puppet master Aspar began. Leo though knew he could not take down Aspar alone and immediately since Aspar was very powerful and had the entire army backing him so Leo’s solution was to create a new army consisting not anymore of Germanic barbarian men in which mostly made up Aspar’s army but instead an army of warlike natives of the Eastern Roman Empire coming from the mountainous wild region of Isauria in Southern Asia Minor, a people he had recently heard about. Now the Isaurians were a tough and warlike tribe and though they were Roman citizens within the empire, they still remained neither Hellenized nor Romanized as their location high up in the mountains made it impossible for them to adapt to it, rather they remained independent following their own tribal government system led by a war chief and did not dress up like Greeks or Romans but rather in more primitive clothing with messy hair and beards, but Leo could see they would be fierce and loyal warriors so he considered asking them to come over to Constantinople and join the army.

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Isaurian tribesmen

466 then was a major year for both eastern and western empires as here, the Huns although no longer led by Attila invaded the eastern empire for the 4th time but still never got anywhere as Anthemius beat them back before they could fully cross the Danube, while in the west a new Germanic tribe which was the Rugii invaded the Western Roman province of Noricum (today’s Austria) and settled there, while the west still had no emperor. It also happened in 466 that Genseric pressured Leo to make Olybrius the western emperor and to do this, Genseric sent his Vandal fleet all the way to Greece which was under the eastern empire to raid the Peloponnese. The Vandals continued sacking the western coast of Greece for months all the way to the spring of 467 and here Leo having enough of the Vandals decided to decline Genseric’s request and here fulfilled the prophecy of Anthemius making Anthemius the western emperor sending him over to Italy. Leo meanwhile had every reason to appoint Anthemius as his western co-emperor as first of all this was to get Anthemius who was still a potential rival of his far away but at least still not only keep him alive but make him still have some authority but other than that, Leo knew Anthemius was a capable general and having him as the western emperor could prove useful in finally defeating the menace of Genseric and his Vandals. Despite Anthemius and Leo being imperial rivals, they both grew to become close friends ever since Leo became emperor in 457 that Anthemius (well in this story’s case rather) was the one that introduced the sophisticated lifestyle to the unrefined and provincial Leo and thanks to Anthemius, Leo became more cultured and seen more and more as a real emperor despite retaining his tough provincial personality within. Now since Anthemius had helped Leo in many ways, Leo felt that he could not get rid of Anthemius even if he was a rival for having familial relations to the previous emperor so the best thing he could do was to make Anthemius fill in the power vacuum in the west as this could at least still make Anthemius an emperor and as for Anthemius he was fine with ruling the west as he wanted to at least rule the empire no matter what half anyway. Back in Constantinople in 467 as well, the Isaurian tribesmen had arrived led by their chief Tarasicodissa, a tough and impulsive warrior who met up with Leo and these tribesmen were soon enough incorporated to the army made as the emperor’s loyal bodyguards or Excubitors with Tarasicodissa made its commander and to make him integrate into Constantinople’s society, his name was forever changed to the Greek Zeno.

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Eastern Roman Excubitor (elite palace guard)

In addition, the 42-year-old Zeno was married to Leo’s 17-year-old daughter Ariadne who was previously arranged to marry Aspar’s son Patricius and this here was a major blow to Aspar who now felt Leo betrayed his word. The Isaurians then would start occupying the eastern empire’s army more and more though soon enough, the highly sophisticated people would start having no tolerance for these new Isaurian men in the city guard and army for their thuggish behavior especially since these Isaurian men lacking education looted homes and beat-up people as they pleased, though the rich people of the capital would soon start having these Isaurians as their bodyguards.  

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Great Fire of Constantinople, 465
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Location of Isauria in Asia Minor (red)

           

Before Anthemius arrived in Italy, Leo too had gotten the consent of Ricimer to appoint Anthemius as the western emperor though Ricimer only agreed to it if Anthemius was again to be his puppet but secretly Anthemius had his own intentions which Leo knew as well. Anthemius arrived in Italy with his old friend and fellow classmate back in Alexandria, the independent ruling Magister Militum of Illyria Marcellinus who upon Anthemius’ coming into power again renounced his rebellion against the western empire and swore loyalty to Anthemius since both were friends. Anthemius was then proclaimed the western emperor some 12 miles outside of Rome on April of 467 and in Constantinople, Anthemius’ coming into power was celebrated in public with a speech praising him as the man who will finally crush the Vandals. As the new western emperor, Anthemius remained in good terms with Leo I of the east and at the end of 467, Anthemius now getting well acquainted with Ricimer agreed to a marriage alliance between his daughter and eldest child Alypia and Ricimer, who had been single all his life. The wedding took place in Rome and was attended by all levels of society and present too was the Roman poet from Gaul Sidonius Apollinaris who could tell there was something off about the couple especially since Alypia was only 14 and her husband Ricimer was 49 and a barbarian.

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Sidonius Apollinaris, Western Roman poet (430-489)

True enough Alypia detested her marriage to Ricimer especially since he was way older than her and a barbarian, although Ricimer was in fact a sophisticated person but Alypia was only a young girl who wanted to be left alone. On the other hand, ever since Genseric had been raiding the Greek coast in late 466, Leo together with Anthemius and Marcellinus hatched a plan to finish what Majorian failed to do in 460 and construct a massive fleet in the Marmara Sea intended to sail to Carthage and finally punish the Vandal Kingdom for their sack of Rome in 455 and raiding the Greek coast by literally invading their kingdom. Also, taking back Carthage would again resume the grain supply for the west and stabilize their weakened economy once again whereas the east still had the rich grain source of Egypt. Leo knew that the Vandals were strong and skilled sailors but would be no match to a massive Roman fleet of 1,000 large ships and in 468, the fleet was fully constructed consisting of 1,000 ships with a total of 100,000 soldiers sent on this daring mission to take back Carthage and North Africa for the Roman Empire.

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Eastern Roman ship, 468

Before launching the mission, Leo now slowly putting Aspar aside did not appoint Aspar to lead it, instead Leo appointed his brother-in-law Basiliscus, Verina’s younger brother to be in full command of the fleet although behind Leo’s back, Aspar talked Basiliscus into betraying Leo by sabotaging the mission by any means possible. Basiliscus was first unsure why he had to do this but Aspar simply paid him off making Basiliscus agree to the plan while Aspar on the other hand did not care if the Vandals win, so long as Leo loses which is a sure way of putting the blame on Leo making the people turn on him as Aspar was feeling more and more that Leo was planning to get rid of him. Now the mission to retake Carthage was divided into 3 groups, first was Basiliscus who was to sail directly from Constantinople to Carthage, Heraclius who was stationed in the eastern provinces to sail to Libya and attack the Vandals by land, and Marcellinus with his western army who was to take back the islands of Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily that had just fallen to the Vandals while Anthemius was to remain in Italy to defend it in case the Vandals or other enemies invade it. Both Marcellinus and Heraclius succeeded in their tasks and Libya, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were retaken for the Romans but for Basiliscus on the other hand, things went the other way around.

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Vandals in North Africa

When the massive fleet of Basiliscus arrived in Cape Bon in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Carthage, he accepted a 5-day truce with envoys sent by Genseric when in fact Genseric proposed this to buy time for him to set up a trap. Basiliscus agreeing to Aspar’s terms on betraying Leo for money ordered the fleet to dock for 5 days and when the 5 days were over, Genseric’s trap was finally set as he launched hundreds of unmanned fireships to attack the Roman fleet and even worse, the winds were on the side of the Vandals’ fireships which at the end resulted in the complete destruction of half the fleet Leo worked so hard in building. Half of the fleet including Basiliscus fled the from the battle the moment the fireships destroyed the Roman ships but half of the Roman fleet remained despite the other half leaving and in charge of the remaining fleet was Basiliscus’ brave commander Joannes who made a heroic last stand against the Vandals jumping from ship to ship killing as many Vandals as he could but at the end, he saw that his ship was captured by the Vandals and not wanting to accept defeat, Joannes who was dressed in heavy armor jumped into the sea drowning himself to death shouting out loud that he “would never come under the hands of dogs” referring to the Vandals.

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Vandals on stolen Roman ships

Basiliscus meanwhile retreated back to Sicily to meet up with Marcellinus before heading back to Constantinople while Marcellinus was found in some shipyard in Sicily where Ricimer met up with him in person wherein he had Marcellinus assassinated by Ricimer’s own nephew and protégé, the Burgundian Gundobad who decapitated Marcellinus while Heraclius disappeared into the Libyan desert. With Marcellinus dead, his nephew Julius Nepos inherited command over Illyria but still stayed loyal to Anthemius while Basiliscus when returning to Constantinople wanted to avoid the wrath of the people and the emperor for causing their defeat by hiding inside the cathedral of the Hagia Sophia. Leo soon enough found Basiliscus hiding there and threatened to kill him but his wife and Basiliscus’ sister Verina convinced Leo to spare him, so instead Basiliscus was fired from command and sent to retirement in an insignificant town in Thrace. The whole expedition that Leo and Anthemius worked so hard on thus failed forcing Leo to conclude a humiliating peace with Genseric but both were still not yet over in their quest to punish the Vandals.

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Leo I constructs his fleet in Constantinople to invade Vandal North Africa, 468 (by Dovahhatty)
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Vandals destroy the Eastern Roman fleet at the Battle of Cape Bon, 468
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Genseric’s Fireships

With the North African campaign ruined, Anthemius turned to face the ongoing problems in Gaul in which the instability of Roman rule there caused the Visigoths’ new ambitious king Euric, the son of Theodoric I who died back in 451who came to power in 466 to exploit the weak Roman rule by expanding his territory although Northern Gaul or Soissons still remained under the Roman rule of Syagrius who however still remained independent even with Anthemius as emperor.

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King Euric of the Visigoths (r. 466-484)

Anthemius then decided to do all he could to save what was left of Roman Gaul even if he lacked an army especially since most together with the fleet were decimated at the Battle of Cape Bon against the Vandals the previous year so Anthemius turned to ask for the help of Syiagrus who agreed to it after receiving Anthemius’ letter despite not surrendering his kingdom back to the western empire. In the east, Leo I and Zeno’s bond grew stronger and seeing more potential in the Isaurian Zeno, Leo appointed him as Magister Militum in command of the armies in Thrace which again fueled Aspar’s anger and envy. In 469, Zeno was in command of several missions which were mostly successful including one to suppress a rebellion in his native land of Isauria but it also happened in this year too that when Zeno was in Thrace, Aspar sent an assassin to kill Zeno but Zeno quickly evaded the assassination attempt and killed the assassin himself and here he now knew Aspar was up to no good. Back in Constantinople, Leo and Aspar confronted each other over Aspar’s son Patricius’ elevation as Leo’s new junior emperor or Caesar though Leo angrily accepted Aspar’s offer which was to also marry Patricius to Leo’s younger daughter Leontia but when the people found out that Patricius was to be Leo’s heir, they rioted under the leadership of some monks as they could not accept an Arian Christian as their new emperor but Leo persuaded them saying Patricius will eventually become Orthodox which at least put down the riots. In the meantime, the Vandals in 469 took back Sardinia and Corsica while the Ostrogoths completely took over Roman Pannonia establishing their own kingdom there and in 470 back to Anthemius, he heard of a mysterious civilized king in Britain named Riothamus although Britain had long been abandoned by the Romans. Riothamus read Anthemius’ letter asking for assistance against the Visigoths and immediately crossed the channel from Britain to Gaul and with the help of Syagrius’ army and the Burgundians who were at this point Roman Foederati allies attacked the Visigoths and at first won a major victory and took back the city of Bourges from the Visigoths but when Riothamus pushed deep into Visigoth territory in Western Gaul, he was completely crushed by Euric’s army forcing Riothamus to flee east to Burgundian territory where he completely disappeared, never to be mentioned again.

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King Riothamus of the Britons

Anthemius meanwhile like all western emperors resided in Ravenna but soon enough, he started growing more and more unpopular more because the people he ruled over did not understand him and his lifestyle. The people of the western empire were more conservative and were not open to Anthemius’ liberal philosophy due to his education in Alexandria which made them suspect he was a Pagan but this was also due to Anthemius being Greek whereas the Western Romans did not trust the Greeks too much especially their more liberal way of thinking. It also happened in 470 that Anthemius mysteriously fell ill and many suspected his illness was due to sorcery and believing Anthemius was going to die, a senator in Ravenna named Romanus who was a close friend of Ricimer used Anthemius’ illness as an opportunity to usurp power, thus Romanus declared himself emperor and was actually backed by Ricimer who at this point started distrusting Anthemius feeling the same way he felt with Majorian before as again Ricimer saw that Anthemius was becoming too independent especially when taking matters into his own hands in the campaign against the Visigoths as well as seeing that Anthemius was planning to make his own dynasty using his sons. Anthemius eventually recovered and soon enough discovered Romanus’ treachery so he had Romanus executed which however further strained his relationship with Ricimer who seeing Romanus’ execution made him feel Anthemius was true enough out of control as this execution did not have any approval by Ricimer. Again, taking matters to his own hands, Anthemius launched a second attack on the Visigoths in Gaul led by his 16-year-old son Anthemiolus with 3 other Western Roman generals to assist and train him but the moment they crossed the Rhone River, Euric leading his army intercepted them killing Anthemiolus in battle and routing the generals making them pillage the Gallic countryside in a rampage and later disappear and become bandits there.

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Ravenna, capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402

Back in Ravenna, Anthemius and Ricimer grew more and more bitter with each other and this had to do a lot with the unhappy marriage between Alypia and Ricimer in which they constantly fought each other every day so Alypia complained to her father about Ricimer and when Anthemius confronted Ricimer about how Ricimer treated Alypia, Ricimer declared he and Anthemius were now enemies just as how Leo and Aspar did and not trusting each other anymore, Ricimer led his own army of 6,000 without even asking Anthemius again attempting to fight the Vandals of North Africa. Anthemius was of course enraged that Ricimer took matters to his own hands to attack the Vandals so Anthemius fought back by organizing mobs in Rome and Ravenna to fight Ricimer’s supporters in the streets which forced Ricimer to abandon his campaingns as he had to deal with the rebellious Anthemius first, however in late 471 the bishop of Pavia Epiphanius intervened and forced Anthemius and Ricimer to sign a one-year truce.

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The world of 472, Eastern Roman Empire (purple), Western Roman territories (dark pink)

The Battle of Rome, 472 (The Climax)          

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In the eastern empire, Zeno had been away from Constantinople for almost 2 years now and while he was gone, Aspar using the absence of Zeno again started increasing his influence over the now old Leo I, except this time Leo was more impatient with Aspar making him want Zeno to return. The 70-year-old Leo now was no longer the same man he was when he became emperor back in 457, no longer a relaxed and unambitious person but a strong emperor with an independent mind yet somewhat a bully who now wanted to not at all be a puppet but instead making his own decisions and policies such as forbidding any non-religious celebrations and even playing music on Sundays but his main objective was to establish a new dynasty making his son-in-law Zeno his successor. Now in 471, the 71-year-old Aspar now together with his older son Ardabur hatched a plot late at night to kill Leo although Leo one day was informed by the same stylite hermit Daniel that Aspar was up to conspiracy as Daniel had perfected the skill of reading people’s minds after years of meditation above his column- though this part is entirely fictional- and when hearing about this from Daniel, Leo thought it was now the right time to kill off Aspar and finally remove him from this world. Leo organized a plot together with his Isaurian bodyguards although not Zeno who was still away from Constantinople at this point but to hide his true intention, Leo invited Aspar and his sons Ardabur and Patricius for lunch at the newly renovated Imperial Palace that was damaged by the fire back in 465. Aspar thinking Leo was going to finally settle peace with him went to the palace with his sons and for lunch they were served a large variety of grilled meats and wine but when Aspar took his first bite, Leo ordered his new Isaurian Excubitor guards to corner him while one particular young Isaurian Excubitor named Cyriacus (made up in name for this story) strangled Aspar himself from behind, thus killing Aspar. Both of Aspar’s sons however tried to attack the Excubitors but with their large size, the Excubitors knocked them out while one of them killed Ardabur by decapitating him with his axe. Patricius meanwhile tried to escape but when ending up running deep into the palace, he was confronted by Leo’s daughter Ariadne who he was arranged to marry at the very beginning. Ariadne kicked Patricius to the ground, knocked him out and brought him before her father who sat still the whole time and Leo ordered that Ariadne finish him off, thus Ariadne grabbed a knife and slit Patricius’ throat killing him.

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Ariadne, daughter of Leo I and wife of Zeno, later empress

Meanwhile, in real history it was Leo I’s court eunuchs ordered by Zeno and Basiliscus who returned to his commanding position who although were not in Constantinople at this time that assassinated Aspar and Ardabur while Patricius was only wounded and expelled from Constantinople while Ariadne had no part in their murder as she was with her husband Zeno the whole time, though Ariadne was in fact actually a tough woman inheriting these traits from both her parents. Either way in reality and in this story’s case, Leo earned the nickname of “the butcher” for his murder of Aspar wherein some might think Leo did this as he was a cold-hearted tyrant but I would say Leo did this to save the eastern empire from falling under the control of the power-hungry barbarian Aspar. In this story’s case, Zeno and Basiliscus like in real history also remained somewhere outside Constantinople while in the capital, Leo promoted Cyriacus to become an officer and allowed Basiliscus to return to his position commanding the armies since Leo here only came to realize that the failed invasion of Vandal Carthage in 468 was in fact part of Aspar’s scheme wherein Basiliscus was just used. In the meantime, Leo felt that Genseric was up again to attacking the eastern empire and pressure him to once again make Olybrius, who was still in Constantinople at this time the western emperor replacing Anthemius but Leo still did not agree to it as Anthemius was still his most trusted friend in the west who despite his failures, Leo still believed still had the chance to restore order to the broken western half. Fearing that Genseric would declare war again, Leo after taking some time contemplating back in the same spring he discovered many years ago finally gave in and had Olybrius go over to Italy to be proclaimed emperor although Leo was actually only pretending to let this happen as deep inside he was actually planning to get rid of both Olybrius who he saw as a thorn on his side as the Vandal king Genseric kept pressuring Leo to make Olybrius his puppet western emperor and Ricimer who Leo felt was exercising his power too much over Anthemius and Leo now ruling independently with Aspar gone wanted Anthemius to do the same in getting rid of Ricimer. Leo here knew that Ricimer and Anthemius had been quarrelling with each other for a year now so in early 472, Leo pretended to send Olybrius over to Italy to mediate between Anthemius and Ricimer and once this was done, he was to go to Carthage to again settle peace with Genseric. This story now will go with the Byzantine historian John Malalas’ (491-578) version wherein Leo I sent Olybrius over to Italy to negotiate peace between Ricimer and Anthemius as already earlier on in 472, the conflict between them resumed to the point that Anthemius had to barricade himself in Rome which was put under siege by Ricimer. Olybrius then left Constantinople as well as his wife Placidia and daughter Anicia Juliana for a 3-week journey by sea to Ostia, the port of Rome and accompanying him was the Excubitor Cyriacus who was given a secret letter for Anthemius’ eyes only written by Leo which said:

I have removed Aspar and Ardabur from this world, so that no one who might oppose me would survive. But you also must kill your son-in-law Ricimer, lest there be anyone who might betray you. Moreover, I also have sent the patrician Olybrius to you; I wish you to kill him, so that you might reign, ruling rather than serving others. -Leo I          

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Illustration of Anicia Juliana, daughter of Olybrius

This letter now happens to be a very crucial piece as if it was actually read by Anthemius only, then the course of Western Roman history would have been very different as Anthemius could have had both Olybrius and Ricimer killed, therefore the west like the east would have been saved from the rule of a barbarian warlord. In real history however, the moment Olybrius arrived in Italy, a guard assigned by Ricimer to watch out for Olybrius’ arrival intercepted the letter the moment Olybrius arrived, showed the letter to Ricimer who panicked and made Olybrius his new emperor turning against Anthemius who held himself in Rome for the next 3 months until he lost the battle to Ricimer’s forces and was beheaded when found in the disguise of a beggar, thus Olybrius became Ricimer’s new puppet.

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Olybrius, Western emperor (r. 472)

Now in this story’s case, when Olybrius arrived at the harbor of Ostia, Cyriacus meanwhile hid the letter deep inside his armor wherein no one would notice it and when getting off the ship, they were met by Ricimer’s unknown guard who asked why a small task force of Eastern Romans arrived but Olybrius simply said they were there to assist Ricimer although Olybrius was still thinking he actually came to kill Anthemius and be made the new emperor. The guard then brought over Olybrius, Cyriacus, and their team of 15 other Excubitors to Ricimer who was just nearby still besieging Rome with only a few hundred men. Olybrius then met up with Ricimer who was at his camp outside Rome’s Aurelian Walls and here Olybrius talked Ricimer into another negotiation with Anthemius although Ricimer only agreed to it if Anthemius was to be finally killed if the negotiation failed, which Olybrius agreed to as well. Ricimer then ordered his soldiers mostly consisting of barbarian Foederati to lift the siege and together with Olybrius, Cyriacus, and the Excubitors they entered Rome to meet up with Anthemius who was hiding in a church in what is now St. Peter’s Basilica and it turned out Anthemius faked an illness so that he didn’t have to fight against Ricimer as the truth was that he was tired of all the fighting. Olybrius when meeting Anthemius spoke up saying that he intends to again settle peace again between both of them but Anthemius did not believe it knowing that Olybrius surely meant trouble. Cyriacus who joined them meanwhile remembered that Leo told him to show Anthemius the letter but he didn’t know that he was to show it in private, instead he reached his hand deep inside his shirt beneath his armor and pulled out the letter which he showed to Anthemius who then read it. Anthemius now learned that Leo killed Aspar and was being asked to do the same too by killing his overly ambitious puppet master Ricimer though at first Anthemius was hesitant but still did not tell anyone around him what the letter said but soon enough, he started hearing voices inside his head which included the voices of both Leo and Daniel the Stylite who reminded him that he was meant to save the west and be a great emperor but also being reminded of how Ricimer was abusive to his wife which was Anthemius’ daughter, Anthemius had enough thus he gave in to his anger by ripping the letter, throwing it right at Ricimer, and pulled out his sword immediately slashing Olybrius who fell to the ground and the moment Olybrius fell, Anthemius stabbed and killed him telling everyone else this was Leo’s message. Ricimer meanwhile could not believe what happened and now seeing for himself that Anthemius was totally out of control, Ricimer shouted to Anthemius “no mercy” beginning a one-on-one duel between Ricimer and Anthemius right inside old St. Peter’s Basilica. The duel went on for quite some time with the Excubitors including Cyriacus in attendance and it went on with no results to the point that both Anthemius and Ricimer bloodied each other with their blades, fists, and kicks though Ricimer managed to headbutt Anthemius with his helmet knocking Anthemius to the ground and with Anthemius down, Ricimer told Anthemius that he will suffer Majorian’s fate of being killed a slow way for refusing to be Ricimer’s puppet but Anthemius angrily answered back reminding Ricimer that he was a loyal soldier of Rome that served Aetius, the best general of their time therefore he had shamed Anthemius and all the work they’ve done for Rome but Ricimer here told Anthemius his true intention of actually destroying the empire from within by joining the army and getting promoted to let anarchy rule so that his people, the barbarian tribes will soon enough take over.

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Western Roman emperor Procopius Anthemius

Anthemius however managed to get up, disarm Ricimer and grab Ricimer’s sword using it to slash Ricimer helmet, and finally pinning Ricimer down to ground and slashing his face thus weakening him, but Ricimer still remained alive. With Ricimer down, Anthemius went to his seat to grab his scepter which he then used to continuously club Ricimer’s face to a pulp but before Ricimer could die from the beating, Anthemius’ son Marican, the twin of Anthemioulus and daughter and Ricimer’s wife Alypia came in convincing their father not kill Ricimer himself but to simply have him executed in an honorable way. Anthemius then gave up beating Ricimer and instead asked Cyriacus who gave him the letter to give Ricimer the killing blow. Cyriacus then pulled Ricimer up by his hair, pulled out his sword and decapitated the 54-year-old Ricimer after 3 blows. Now history is totally altered now that it was Ricimer beheaded at St. Peter’s rather than Anthemius and with Ricimer’s head chopped off, Cyriacus went up the Aurelian Walls of Rome and proclaimed to Ricimer’s men that their Magister Militum was dead showing them the severed head. However, the commanders of Ricimer’s army which was his Burgundian nephew Gundobadand the Ostrogoth warrior Odoacer, once a loyal officer of Attila the Hun took this the wrong way and angrily resumed fighting positions again resuming the Siege of Rome. Now in the 5th century, Rome was attacked 3 times first by Alaric and his Visigoths in 410, by Genseric and his Vandals in 455, and now in 472 by Ricimer’s men in a small civil war but this battle though was much smaller in real history but in this case, with Ricimer dead, his soldiers lost their mind and, in a frenzy, began attacking without thinking.

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Ricimer’s barbarian Foederati soldiers

Gundobad and Odoacer knew they could not besiege the walls themselves so Gundobad resorted to asking for Burgundian reinforcements from Gaul from his father Gondioc who ruled as its king. Cyriacus returned to Anthemius inside Rome telling him that Ricimer’s men lost control and began attacking again with full force and Anthemius was shocked especially since he did not have enough men, therefore he ordered that the civilians of Rome pick up whatever weapons they can and defend the city. Anthemius too sent a letter to the last remaining Western Roman general in Gaul, the Frankish-Roman Bilimer as well as the King of Soissons Syagrius and his own army to assist them. At the same time, he also thought of asking reinforcements again from the east; now even if the 472 Siege of Rome continued, at least the 52-year-old Anthemius now at least lived.

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Aurelian Walls, Rome
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Old St. Peter’s Basilica, Anthemius’ hiding place, 472

          

Back in Constantinople, following Olybrius’ departure for Italy, unrest broke out when supporters of Aspar rebelled avenging his death as it also did in real history. Aspar though despite being an Arian and of barbarian origin had happened to be popular among some especially those who served under him and one of them was an old commander who now went rogue named Count Ostrys who gathered a mob and stormed the Imperial Palace in which Leo was inside but Zeno and the Excubitors defeated the angry mob then dispersed them sending them away to Thrace. Count Ostrys then fled to the base of the now rogue Ostrogoth Foederati leader Theodoric Strabo who had lost one eye in battle before, somewhere in Thrace and together they joined forces against Leo to avenge Aspar unaware that there was this kind of war being fought in Italy. Theodoric Strabo meanwhile wanted to avenge Aspar since they were relatives as it turned out Theodoric Strabo’s sister was Aspar’s first wife and with Aspar dead, Strabo believed he could succeed him as Magister Militum so with Count Ostrys and their forces consisting of Ostrogoths and the same mob, they marched to Constantinople.

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Ostrogoth warrior of Theodoric Strabo

However, before they could reach the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople, they were met by the city’s armies including the Isaurian Excubitors led by the generals Zeno and Basiliscus who however did not trust each other much as the arrogant Basiliscus did not want to take orders from the Isaurian Zeno while Zeno felt that Basiliscus would just screw up again like he did at Cape Bon in 468 making them both as hot-headed military men come into brawls with each other in front of their troops. This event of Zeno and Basiliscus teaming up against Theodoric Strabo which was in 472 was actually real and this was something that actually happened but never saw happening considering that in 475 with Zeno now becoming emperor, Basiliscus revolted against him and took the throne. Though Zeno and Basiliscus distrusted each other, they still managed to end up working together when the Ostrogoth mercenaries and mob attacked them and they succeeded in defeating the army of Theodoric Strabo killing Ostrys too, although history does not mention whatever happened to Ostrys afterwards. As Strabo’s forces were defeated, Strabo agreed to surrender only if he was to receive Aspar’s properties, that his Goths were to be formally allowed to settle in Thrace, and if he were to be promoted to the Aspar’s position of Magister Militum so Zeno and Basiliscus went back to Constantinople to ask Leo for his approval of Strabo’s demands but Leo tired of having to deal with barbarians refused all of them except for making Strabo Magister Militum as long as he swore an oath of loyalty. Strabo then was unhappy that Leo refused his demands making him start a pillaging spree across Thrace making Leo put Basiliscus in charge of putting Strabo under control while Zeno was to be sent over to Italy as again Leo consulted Daniel the Stylite who could sense Anthemius was in danger therefore he needed help. In addition, Leo also had word sent to his other ally, the Magister Militum of Illyria Julius Nepos, the late Marcellinus’ nephew who was at this point residing in the old palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305) in Dalmatia. Zeno meanwhile set sail on again another almost 1-month journey by sea from Constantinople to Ostia this time with a larger army while Nepos was also headed that way except due to Dalmatia being closer to Rome, he would arrive quicker and here would be an entirely fictional story of Zeno coming to the west.

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Diocletian’s Palace in Dalmatia, base of governor Julius Nepos

           

The siege of Rome meanwhile was on-and-off for the next months though the people constantly defended it day and night but the attackers were soon enough getting tired and at the same time running out of spears and arrows. The Burgundian Gundobad seeing the reinforcements from his father not yet arriving thought of giving up the fight but his co-commander Odoacer answered back saying that they as Germanic barbarians should never give up which is a sign of weakness.

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Odoacer, Ostrogoth Foederati warrior

Now just as the attackers were about to give up, the Burgundian reinforcements sent by their king Gondioc finally made it outside Rome right in time to reinforce the attackers and now Anthemius inside was ever more terrified but the next day, the reinforcement Roman army from Gaul actually did arrive led by Bilimer except that they only numbered up to 800 men so Anthemius seeing it was still unsure if it was enough although his remaining children Marcian and Alypia told him that there was still hope. Zeno meanwhile was sailing with an army of 2,000 men from the east in what was left of Leo’s fleet which had survived the disastrous Battle of Cape Bon against the Vandals in 468 and luckily the winds were on their side, thus they were able to arrive in Italy in only 3 weeks now in July of 472, in which in real history was when the siege ended with Anthemius killed. Outside Rome on the other hand, the reinforcement army led by Bilimer proved to be no match to the Burgundians and in the fighting Odoacer on his horse charged directly at Bilimer killing him by knocking him off his horse and just like in real history, Bilimer did die in this battle. With Bilimer dead, Odoacer proclaimed that he was to take over Ricimer’s position as Magister Militum but Gundobad being furious fought back by punching Odoacer’s face as Gundobad claimed that he should be Ricimer’s successor as they were related with Gundobad being the son of Ricimer’s sister with Gondioc.

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Gundobad, Burgundian Foederati warrior and nephew of Ricimer

Odoacer meanwhile was in this story’s case an Ostrogoth warrior- though his ethnicity remains debated- that served under Attila Hun fighting the Romans, Burgundians, Franks, and Visigoths at the Battle of Chalons back in 451 but with Attila dying in 453, Odoacer had no more master serve making him a rogue but luckily in 470 while Anthemius was the western emperor, he met Ricimer becoming a commander of the western empire’s Foederati forces. Before both Odoacer and Gundobad began fighting each other in duel, they heard the horns of what was the legions led by Zeno coming from Ostia as well as the legions of Julius Nepos joining forces with Zeno heading their way. Odoacer then ordered their remaining men including the Burgundians to lift their siege of Rome and attack the legions of Zeno and Nepos that were headed towards them with their dragon banners waving in the air. Standing at the walls of Rome, Anthemius was relieved that Leo did indeed send some reinforcement making him decide to head out to battle himself with Cyriacus while the Eastern Roman Cataphract cavalry charged right into the Burgundian army. Soon enough, Zeno and Nepos’ infantry Comitatenses soldiers with their shields clashed directly on the Burgundian infantry and with their more superior spears they were able to crush the Burgundians routing a large number of them but it was not over yet as the large sized Odoacer headed towards Zeno who although was a big man was not as big as Odoacer who was around 6ft and 5 inches while Nepos headed towards Gundobad.

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Late Roman Comitatus (plural: Comitatenses) soldier in full armor

Odoacer with his large 2-handed sword and Zeno with a one-handed longsword or Spatha duelled each other in which Odoacer seemed to be having the upper hand while Zeno began fighting in fear but as Odoacer struck his sword towards Zeno, Zeno dodged the attack and stabbed Odoacer from behind making Odoacer fall to the ground. Odoacer was furious at is defeat saying out loud that he was destined to take over the western empire and attack the east but Zeno not wanting to hear anything anymore after being so tired from battle slashed Odoacer so hard that Odoacer was almost cut in half as Zeno’s sword cut Odoacer from his shoulder down to his hip, ironically the same way Odoacer was actually killed in 493 by the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great, who will be mentioned later. Nepos meanwhile struggled in his duel against Gundobad although luckily a spear thrown by one of Zeno’s cavalrymen threw Gundobad to the ground but Gundobad still got up and this time pinned Nepos to the ground though Nepos acted quick, grabbed his sword, and stabbed Gundobad in the eye killing him. Anthemius meanwhile joined up with Zeno’s cavalry and continued routing the rest of the Burgundians and Ricimer’s army.

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Late Roman Cataphract cavalry soldier

At the end of this day in July, the battle was over and Anthemius won it thanks to Zeno and Julius Nepos coming in time. The deaths of both Gundobad and Odoacer too would actually be useful in preventing the eventual fall of the west as Gundobad in reality took Ricimer’s place as Magister Militum following Ricimer’s death from natural causes later on in 472 which was the same time Olybrius died as well and just a year later Gundobad would abandon the empire in order to be king of the Burgundians as his father Gondioc died in 473 while Odoacer was the exact same person that abolished the western empire itself by deposing the last emperor in 476. Now with both barbarian warriors dead and Anthemius still alive, the western empire at least would still have a chance of surviving. In this battle, Anthemius proved that he did not only have the dream to restore the western empire but proved that he actually could as he helped win it and in the aftermath of the battle, Anthemius asked both his children to come out while he also congratulated and thanked both Zeno and Nepos for saving him at the last minute when he saw all hope was lost. Both Nepos and Zeno then told Anthemius that are happy to be his ally and as Anthemius’ children came out, Anthemius here at the moment announced to the surviving members of the eastern and western armies that he now does plan to establish a dynasty naming Marcian here his co-emperor and Caesar right at the moment while the Isaurian Cyriacus was named by Anthemius as his new Magister Militum in Italy taking Ricimer’s place.

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Coin of Emperor Anthemius

To further seal his alliance with Illyria’s Magister Militum Julius Nepos, Anthemius had Alypia marry Nepos although unlike Ricimer who Alypia detested for being a barbarian, she was better off with Julius Nepos despite him still being a lot older than her as he was 42 here and she was 19 but at least he was not a barbarian and would prove to be more respectful towards her, though in real history Nepos was instead here married to a niece of Leo I’s wife Verina. Zeno then returned to Constantinople following their victory while Nepos with Alypia returned to Diocletian’s Palace in Dalmatia while Anthemius returned back to the west’s capital Ravenna where his wife Marcia was all this time and with the conflict all over, even better news arrived when got back which was that the king of the independent Soissons Syagrius who did not make it to help Anthemius in battle due to having his own problems with the Visigoths renounced his rebellion and surrendered his kingdom back to the western empire despite it being cut off by land from Italy by the Visigoth and Burgundian Kingdoms of Gaul though Syagrius thought of surrendering to the empire as a way for him and Anthemius to help each other fight off the Burgundians and Visigoths since here Syagrius came to realize that Anthemius was indeed a capable ruler. In the east however, it was Zeno that now fully took Aspar’s place as Leo’s new Magister Militum and in 473, Theodoric Strabo after being defeated by Basiliscus finally surrendered to Leo I after running out of supplies when pillaging Thrace although only on the condition that Strabo was made Magister Militum of Thrace in which he was while Leo still had the headache of paying him an annual tribute of 2000 pounds of gold. Anthemius and Leo though would continue working together despite being apart from each other to continue fixing all the damage done in the past years as even though Anthemius was saved from being killed, the enemies such as the Visigoths, Burgundians, Suebi, Vandals, and now the Ostrogoths were still at large but the most important lesson both Eastern and Western Romans learned here- just as it was in the previous story set in the 4th century- was to cooperate with each other as they were still the same empire despite having different emperors.    

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Western Roman reinforcement Comitatenses legion of Bilimer
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Late Roman Comitatenses soldiers with their dragon banner

The Roman World, Post 472 and a Possible World War? (Conclusion)         

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In the case of real history, the capture and execution of Anthemius in 472 in many ways sped up the fall of the Western Empire 4 years later as its new emperor Olybrius was again a powerless puppet while also later on in 472, Ricimer died of natural causes and was succeeded in his position by his nephew Gundobad although Olybrius also died before 472 ended as well, again leaving no emperor in the west for the next few months until Gundobad elevated one of the Palatini Guard commanders in Ravenna named Glycerius as the new western emperor. Gundobad meanwhile had to leave Ravenna as also in 473, his father the Burgundian king Gondioc died making him have to return to the Burgundian Kingdom in Gaul and rule as its king leaving Glycerius alone.

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Glycerius, Western Roman emperor (r. 473-474)

With Anthemius dead however, the eastern emperor Leo I had another candidate for the western throne which was the same Julius Nepos in this story, the nephew of the late Magister Militum Marcellinus and a relative of Leo’s wife Verina as well and Leo did have some hopes again that Nepos would rule long and well in which Anthemius failed to do before him. Nepos arrived in Italy in 474 with his army from Illyria and Glycerius who was now powerless at this point surrendered to Nepos without a fight thus Glycerius was exiled to Nepos’ own base becoming the Bishop of Salona based in Diocletian’s old palace. Nepos’ reign though was somewhat successful in almost retaking Southern Gaul from the Visigoths but out of the blue in 475, his own Magister Militum Orestes, who had served Attila the Hun as his secretary before rebelled against and drove Nepos away from Ravenna sending him back across the Adriatic Sea to Dalmatia joining Glycerius.

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Julius Nepos, Western Roman emperor (r. 474-475)

Orestes though did not proclaim himself emperor, instead he named his 15-year-old son Romulus Augustus as his own puppet emperor which was more like Orestes’ way of exposing the humiliating state of the Western Roman Empire that anyone, including a young boy without much knowledge can become an emperor. Odoacer who previously served the deceased Ricimer though was still around and still a commander of the barbarian Foederati troops in Italy and with Orestes basically running the empire for his son, Odoacer demanded that Orestes give him a third of Italy but Orestes refused thus Odoacer rebelled. In August of 476, Orestes fled from Odoacer hiding himself in the city of Pavia though Odoacer’s men tracked him there forcing Orestes to flee again wherein he was captured and executed in Piacenza. The victorious Odoacer then marched into Ravenna on September 4, 476 and after a minor battle, he took over the city and peacefully deposed the 16-year-old Romulus Augustus rather than executing him as Romulus being a powerless puppet had no need to be executed.

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Odoacer dethrones Romulus Augustus, 476

Romulus instead was sent to live out the rest of his life in Southern Italy while Odoacer decided to abolish the western empire by no longer proclaiming himself emperor as he certainly could not due to his barbarian origin, so instead he proclaimed himself “King of Italy” refusing to take Romulus’ crown and imperial insignia which he instead sent to Constantinople in which at this point, the eastern emperor was already Zeno who succeeded Leo I. Zeno thus became the first emperor to rule the Roman empire alone with no more western co-emperor as he accepted the western emperor’s imperial insignia and acknowledged Odoacer only as King of Italy and nothing else, though both Zeno and Odoacer would remain in good terms. As emperor though, Zeno turned out to be very much unpopular not only because of his Isaurian ethnicity which made the more civilized Greek people of Constantinople see him as an outsider and barbarian but also because he allowed the west to fall but true enough, there was no need for the west to have an emperor anymore as over the years, their empire broke apart anyway. By the time Odoacer abolished the western empire in 476, the main empire itself basically just consisted of Italy and parts of today’s Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia although parts of Illyria still remained under Roman rule under Julius Nepos who still had a claim to the western throne and Northern Gaul still being the Kingdom of Soissons was still a Roman state though under Syagrius who was an independent ruler. In 480 however, Julius Nepos was assassinated and his death prompted Odoacer to annex all of Nepos’ territory in Illyria to his kingdom which he did though in Gaul, the Kingdom of Soissons lasted only until 486 when the Franks rose up under their king Clovis I wherein he defeated Syagrius in battle here and the defeated Syagrius surrended his entire kingdom to the Franks. As for Odoacer, he continued ruling his own Kingdom of Italy plus parts of Illyria until the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great persuaded by Zeno who was constantly troubled by invaded Italy in 488, though Odoacer proposed an alliance with Theodoric to rule Italy together but in 493, Theodoric had enough and murdered Odoacer himself, thus taking over Italy establishing his own Ostrogothic Kingdom.

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Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths kills Odoacer, 493

Now this is the real story of the fall of the Western Roman Empire which is rather a very humiliating end as it just ended in such an anti-climactic way wherein its last emperor simply surrendered to the warlord Odoacer who simply decided to abolish the empire as compared to the highly climactic and dramatic end of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire in 1453 wherein it fell with one big battle as the armies of the Ottomans besieged Constantinople wherein the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI dramatically died in battle. However, even if the Western Roman Empire fell, the Roman senate still remained in Ravenna under Odoacer and Theodoric the Great after him and though many may think that Roman civilization ended in 476, it did not as the eastern empire still stood strong even though political instability was so frequent in the reign of Zeno but at least by the time Zeno died in 491, the eastern empire finally not only stabilized but became more powerful than ever.          

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The Western Roman Empire (light blue) and its territories including independent Illyria and Soissons before September 4, 476
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The world after 476, Odoacer’s new kingdom in Italy (brown)
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Romulus Augustus, the last Western Roman emperor (r. 475-476)
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End of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus surrenders to Odoacer in Ravenna, 476
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Zeno in Constantinople receives the crown of the last western emperor Romulus Augustus, 476

Now if this story wherein Procopius Anthemius survived 472 with Ricimer and his allies Gundobad and Odoacer dead was the reality, then pretty much things would have been different in many ways for the Western Roman Empire at least though nothing spectacular too would happen at the same time. If Anthemius had lived beyond his actual death on July 11, 472, then he would have surely established his own dynasty first by naming his eldest surviving son Marcian his co-emperor and with a dynasty in place, there would surely be some stability for the already ruined west. After recovering from the battle of Rome in 472, Anthemius would settle down in Ravenna and begin planning his new campaigns to restore the empire picking up where Majorian left off at his death in 461 and in the meantime, Anthemius would train his son Marcian into becoming a capable emperor. With Ricimer still alive, there would have been no chance for Anthemius to make any of his sons emperors as Ricimer would only choose one candidate of his own that could be easily manipulated but with Ricimer dead, Anthemius was now free to act on his own as emperor but in this story’s case his major challenge was his son Marcian who he saw as not very responsible to be running the empire compared to his late son Anthemiolus who was previously killed in battle in 471 but here since all Anthemius had was Marcian, he had to take it to himself to train the rather irresponsible and pleasure loving Marcian into a strong ruler like him; although in this story like in real history too, Anthemius had two younger sons Flavius and Romulus but both were still way too young. With Anthemius still alive, the same unstable events in the next 4 years with Olybrius, Glycerius, Nepos, and finally Romulus Augustus becoming emperor one after other would surely not happen and with Odoacer dead as well, there would be no one to later cause trouble and topple over the western empire especially since no child ruler will be sitting on the throne in Ravenna. In this case, Anthemius’ successor Olybrius would already be dead and so would be Ricimer’s successor as the puppet master which was his nephew Gundobad and without Gundobad around in the empire, the Palatini commander Glycerius would have no chance at all in becoming emperor as Anthemius was still alive, therefore there would be no one to elevate him, instead Glycerius would remain as just a palace guard commander in Ravenna. Julius Nepos who in real history was named by Leo I as the new western emperor as a replacement for the deceased Anthemius making Nepos the last one to be recognized by the east, but in this case with Anthemius still alive, Nepos would remain in Illyria remaining a strong ally to both Anthemius and Leo I continuing where his uncle Marcellinus left off. Now without Nepos becoming emperor, what would be very much different is that Orestes his Magister Militum would in no way try to usurp power as he would not even be in the position of Magister Militum as Nepos not being made emperor still stayed as Magister Militum, therefore Orestes would still remain an officer of Nepos while Orestes’ son Romulus would in this case be totally insignificant.

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Orestes, Magister Militum and father of Romulus Augustus

In this story’s case however, I would come up with the possibility that Orestes by around 475 like in real history would now rebel against Nepos wanting to take over as Illyria’s Magister Militum but Nepos would soon enough find out about this and after finding out the whole truth that Orestes once served their ultimate enemy Attila the Hun before together with Odoacer- who would be in this case be damned in memory as an enemy of Rome- he would have Orestes executed and his son Romulus sent into exile in Southern Italy as what really happened after 476. As for Anthemius, his mission of restoring the empire would still be far from over as the Visigoths in Gaul still led by their troublesome king Euric were still at large and in this case, they would ally themselves with the Burgundians. For the Burgundian king Gondioc, the same would happen here in this story as it did in real history wherein he died in 473 but in reality with his death, his son Gundobad resigned as the western empire’s Magister Militum returning to Gaul to rule the Burgundians, though with Gundobad dead nothing would change much for the Burgundians as in reality not only Gundobad succeeded his father but his 3 other brothers Chilperic II, Godomar, and Godegisel and the only difference would be that the Burgundians would just have 3 different rulers instead of 4.

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Kingdom of the Burgundians seal

The death of Ricimer meanwhile would not contribute much except that Anthemius would be free from being under an ambitious puppet master who constantly gave him headachaes but this also meant that the west just like east after Aspar’s death in 471 was finally free from the reality that their emperor and empire was under the control of a barbarian warlord, but it was really killing off Odoacer in 472 that was the main factor of saving the west from falling 4 years earlier as Odoacer was the one that put an end to the western empire himself. In the following year (473), Anthemius with his new Magister Militum Cyriacus and now joining forces with Syagrius in Northern Gaul who surrendered back to the western empire would launch their ultimate campaign against the allied Visigoths and Burgundians with Anthemius having a more personal motivation for this campaigns which was to avenge the death of his son Anthemiolus 2 years earlier although the forces of the western empire would end up again having an inconclusive war against the Burgundians and Visigoths of Euric but soon enough the Western Romans would have the upper hand.

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Barbarian Kingdoms after 476

In the east meanwhile, the same events in real history would happen except that since Anthemius who was Leo’s ally was still power, Leo would here have no reason to appoint Anthemius as western emperor as what really happened but what would be the same is that in early 474, Leo I would meet his end and, in this story, like in reality, he would also die from fatal dysentery but at least he already named Zeno his successor. Leo I too after his death became venerated as an Orthodox saint, and the same will be said in this story. In real history however, Leo I named his grandson Leo II, the son of Zeno and Leo I’s daughter Ariadne as his heir but in this case it would be Zeno since Leo II was only 7 at this time, therefore it was totally unnecessary for him to be the Augustus of the east as he had literally no experience although in real history, Leo II immediately after becoming emperor already had his father Zeno become his co-emperor and it was Zeno that basically ruled for him as young Leo II could not even sign documents himself.

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Byzantine emperor Leo II (r. 474), son of Zeno and Ariadne

In this case however, Zeno instead would be the senior emperor himself but to secure his son’s legitimacy, Leo II would this time be made his father’s co-emperor and only Caesar, not Augustus and in Zeno’s coronation in early 474, Anthemius himself would travel from Ravenna back to Constantinople and attend it congratulating Zeno while Nepos will do the same as well coming over to Constantinople from his base in Dalmatia (Croatia). Again, another what if in history is if Leo II actually lived longer enough to rule as emperor himself as in reality Leo II did not last long dying 9 months after he became emperor in November of 474 due to an outbreak of some kind of epidemic in Constantinople and considering that the child mortality rate was very high back then even for imperial children, it was sure the 7-year-old Leo II would die but here in this story, the moment this plague broke out in Constantinople, Leo II’s parents would get him away from Constantinople to the Asian side as they could not afford to lose him as he is the one to continue Leo I’s bloodline being directly related. Now Zeno as the ruling emperor would do the same as he did in real history at the very start of his reign which was that he successfully concluded peace through envoys with the Vandal king Genseric who was in fact still alive but being in his 80s already here by late 474, Genseric did not have much energy anymore to plan new raids into Roman territory, instead he agreed to Zeno’s terms and would never pose a threat to at least the Eastern Roman Empire again though not to the west since in this story’s case, Olybrius’ murder made Genseric more furious with the western empire and Anthemius for killing Genseric’s intended puppet but again due to his age, Genseric would not have the energy to plan another massive campaign. As for Zeno, he like in real history would still be unpopular among the majority of Constantinople’s snobbish population due to him being an Isaurian and the people looking down on them still seeing them as the primitive thugs from the mountains of Asia Minor. With Zeno’s unpopularity, like in real history, in this story’s case he would also be overthrown in early 475 by no other than Basiliscus- who really hated Zeno ever since- coming out of the blue bribing the people to turn against Zeno and make him emperor, although Basiliscus’ revolt was more due to Zeno’s mother-in-law and Leo I’s wife Verina who since the start already hated him basically because she saw him as an outsider.

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Emperor Basiliscus of Byzantium (left, r. 475-476)

However, with Leo II still alive in this story, his uncle Basiliscus will still choose to spare him and keep him as co-emperor as Leo II was directly related to Leo I but Zeno would still be driven out of Constantinople with his Isaurian warriors and his wife Ariadne as well leaving their son behind as they flee to Isauria. The same events too would happen in this story that took place in Basiliscus’ short reign (475-476) which included another great fire in Constantinople and a massacre of the remaining Isaurians in the capital orchestrated by Basiliscus, however Basiliscus here just like in real history would turn out to be even more unpopular than Zeno as not only did he commit such a vile act in the massacre, but he was also a Monophysite and when Basiliscus sent the general Illus like in reality as well who was actually an Isaurian over to Asia Minor to hunt down Zeno, Illus being an Isaurian and also a friend of Zeno would do the same in real history defecting Zeno and together marching into Constantinople to dethrone Basiliscus. In this story’s case, Basiliscus when defeated would do the same as in real history by hiding once again in the Hagia Sophia but would eventually be found by Zeno though in real history, Zeno at least spared Basiliscus but banished him to Cappadocia with his wife and son where died the following year of starvation being locked up in a cistern.

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Emperor Zeno of Byzantium (r. 474-475/ 476-491)

In real history however, the moment Zeno returned to Constantinople to take back the throne was the same time he received envoys from Odoacer declaring that the western empire had already fallen but in this case with the west still around and Anthemius still as emperor, Zeno will choose to spare Basilscus as Zeno would need him again one day to assist Anthemius whenever he would be in danger. Basiliscus meanwhile would come to regret unnecessarily revolting against Zeno though both would still distrust each other to some extent but at least they soon start getting along more. Though Basiliscus had revolted, here he would tell Zeno to pardon him saying that his revolt was not so much his doing but Verina’s and Zeno now knowing his mother-in-law meant trouble, Zeno would banish her but his wife Ariadne would object as that was her mother but would eventually agree for Zeno to do it for the good of the empire. Now Zeno would still remain unpopular back in power as first, he was an Isaurian, second as emperor he was more of a thug than a gentleman compared to Leo I’s predecessors the Theodosian emperors Theodosius II and Marcian, and third was because Zeno sympathized with the Monophysite heretics of the east despite being Orthodox but this still made Constantinople’s mostly Orthodox people see him as enemy, but in this case due to the west not falling in 476, Zeno would not be as unpopular to the point that literally everyone sought to overthrow him as it was in real history as the fact that the west fell during his reign made him ever more unpopular causing political instability to reign that every week there was a riot in Constantinople. Zeno too would seek the advice of Daniel the Stylite who was actually alive after 476 and with Daniel’s guidance, Zeno would also possibly change his ways becoming more reasonable and not always wanting to pick a fight with everyone like he always did. In addition, with Anthemius’ son Marcian already in the west and named his father’s successor, he would not rebel against Zeno in 479 as he did in reality as Marcian being related to 2 emperors, Anthemius in the west and his maternal grandfather Marcian in the east, he felt that he had every reason to take the eastern throne but at the end his rebellion failed which forced Marcian to become a monk but here he would instead remain in the west as his father’s co-emperor. Not to mention in 479, a massive earthquake hit Constantinople causing heavy damage and, in this story, this would still happen as it was a natural event and although this did not do any harm to Zeno’s reputation, it was just one of the disasters that kept on multiplying during his reign. However, the important part here is that 476 had already passed and for the west it was just another normal year except for the conflict with the Visigoths in Gaul still continuing without much conclusion and what was Syagrius’ Kingdom of Soissons in Northern Gaul still disconnected from the main empire, except now back under the control of the western emperor who now was in no way a puppet.

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Eastern Roman (Byzantine Empire) under Zeno, 476
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Map of the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Basiliscus (from Thersites the Historian).

Watch this to learn more about Emperor Zeno (from Thersites the Historian).

Without the event of the west falling in 476 with Odoacer already dead since 472, the Western Roman Empire though being spared was still highly at risk as in this story’s case by 476, the Visigoths of Gaul had already moved south and taken over all of Roman Hispania since 472 while only the northwest corner of Hispania (today’s region of Galicia in Spain) was under the Kingdom of the Suebi ever since the early 5th century. Central Gaul meanwhile remained under the Burgundians and to the north of them was the smaller Alemanni Kingdom, and north of it was the now growing Frankish Kingdom (in today’s Belgium). Over in Illyria, Julius Nepos would still be in charge as its Magister Militum serving the western emperor Anthemius, now his father-in-law but the major problem for Nepos was his neighbor to the northeast, the new Ostrogoth Kingdom of Theodoric the Amal, better known as “the Great” who just became its king in 475, although at this point in 476 Theodoric would not yet pose a problem. The Vandal Kingdom that now took over almost the entire Northwest Africa based in Carthage- except for smaller territories in the dessert ruled independently by the native Moors ever since the area slipped out of Roman control in the 430s- would continue to live on though in 477 like in real history, the 87-year-old king Genseric after such a long and eventful life would finally die. Genseric meanwhile had seen all these crucial events take place throughout his entire lifetime being alive ever since the reign of Theodosius I (379-395) if you would believe it!

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Vandal Kingdom of North Africa seal

Genseric had been alive ever since his people crossed the Rhine into the Western Roman Empire in 406, he’d seen his people cross over from Gaul to Hispania and into North Africa, it was under him that his people took over Carthage and suddenly became a naval power, it was under him that his people attacked Rome in 475, and it was under him that they once again obliterated the Romans in battle in 468 and in the case of real history, Genseric even lived long enough to see the western empire over. The Vandals then had made themselves the story of 5th century going from a small woodland tribal state in Germany to becoming the feared naval power of the Mediterranean, all under the rule of their king Genseric. With Genseric dead, his son Huneric married to the former western emperor Valentinian III’s daughter Eudocia would now become the new Vandal king in 477 and would begin his reign continuing his father’s expansionist policies and shortly after becoming king, he would declare war on Anthemius’ western empire as well as the east, thus breaking his father’s peace agreement with Zeno. Now the eastern and western empires again learned the ultimate lesson which was to cooperate together and when the renewed war between the two empires and the Vandals would begin, which in this story’s case would be 479, both Zeno and Anthemius would imitate Leo I back in 468 by reconstructing the fleet they lost and this time even larger as both Zeno and Anthemius each construct 1,000 ships and together would launch an invasion on Vandal Carthage in 480 with 2,000 ships carrying a total of 200,000 men and in command of the western forces would be the Magister Militum Cyriacus and of the east would again be Basiliscus who now in this case made peace with Zeno agreeing to serve him for the good of the empire and this time, Basiliscus would not repeat the same mistake of agreeing to a fake truce with the Vandals, instead this time both fleets will battle their way till they reach Carthage by sea, although what would follow would be a prolonged naval siege of Carthage and here in 480 the great war would begin as the Vandal king Huneric would start looking for allies.

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Huneric, King of the Vandals (r. 477-484)

The Visigoths and Burgundians of Gaul still posing a threat to the western empire would again join forces not only with each other but with the Vandals finding a common cause in destroying Roman rule and establishing a “Barbarian Alliance” to rule Europe. In 481, the same event in real history would happen wherein the eastern emperor Zeno asked for assistance from the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Amal to help him defeat the same troublesome mercenary in Thrace Theodoric Strabo and the same events in real history would happen wherein Theodoric the Amal would fail to help Zeno and Theodoric Strabo would instead march to Constantinople but would die falling off his horse into a spear while his men would join forces with Theodoric the Amal, although a new enemy being the Nomadic Bulgar people would appear in Europe for the first time migrating from the steppes of Central Asia and before fighting against Theodoric Strabo, Zeno would ally with them but with their common enemy dead, the Bulgars will instead turn on Zeno and join forces too with Theodoric the Amal.

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Bulgar hordes

Now that the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Amal had joined forces with the Bulgars and Strabo’s men, he would also get word from the Visigoths, Burgundians, and Vandals asking to join him to form the barbarian alliance and from 481 onwards, Theodoric the Amal would form this “Barbarian Alliance” himself with him as its leader, thus the conflict had now escalated into what would be a “world war” almost 1,500 years before the actual First World War broke out in 1914, although if I would explain in detail how this war would be fought, this article would go on forever so its best I just summarize how I see this great war play out. This would be somewhat a world war because the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Burgundians, Alemanni, and the peasant insurgents of Gaul and Hispania known as the Bagaudae would join forces against the combined forces of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in which in 482, the Frankish Kingdom of Northern Gaul under their new king Clovis I would take sides with them and later on, the new Germanic tribe that settled north of Italy known as the Rugii would take sides with the Romans too as Foederati allies.

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Bagaudae insurgents of Gaul and Hispania

I would say that this great’s wars course would go first by the eastern and western forces both finally storming into Carthage in 482 finally retaking it forcing the Vandal king Huneric and his Vandals to flee deeper into North Africa and later back into Hispania. Anthemius meanwhile will focus on fighting the Visigoths in Gaul attacking from the east coming from Italy, while Syagrius while still in Soissons cut off from the main empire would attack from the north. In Illyria, Julius Nepos would have to focus now fighting the forces of his neighbor, the Ostrogoth Kingdom of Theodoric the Amal who will also be Zeno’s problem due to their proximity. Anthemius and Syagrius meanwhile would be in trouble battling the Visigoth forces of Euric as they joined forces with the large force of the Burgundians under their king Chilperic II and Godegisel as their other brother Godomar like in real history too died in around 476 as well as the Suebi of Hispania and the Bagaudae rebels of the hinterlands. Since the combined forces of the Visigoths and their allies were too large, both Anthemius and Syagrius here in 482 would ask for assistance from the Franks and though the Franks were Germanic barbarians too, they happened to be the most Romanized out of them while their king Clovis I was leaning towards converting to Orthodox-Catholic Christianity unlike all other barbarian kings who converted to Arian Christianity.

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Clovis I, King of the Franks (r. 481-511)

Gaul and Hispania would soon enough turn into a major warzone between 482 and 486 when the tide of war would change thanks to the Franks who would storm deep into Gaul although for the Visigoths, their kingdom was still at large extending all the way down to Southern Hispania though their King Euric like in real history would also die in 484 from natural causes and would be succeeded also by his son Alaric II. The war here would still continue when Alaric II would submit to Theodoric the Amal as his vassal thus making the Visigoths and Ostrogoths one kingdom and to counter the now growing power of Clovis I’s Franks, they would ask the Saxon pirates of the North Sea to join forces with them to attack the Romans and Franks in Gaul by sea although the Saxons would still be no match for the combined forces of the Romans and Franks. At the same time, the Huns would resume and continue posing as a threat for both the Eastern Romans at the Danube border and for the Sassanid Persian Empire attacking their northeast borders as in 484, their shah Peroz was killed in battle against the Hephthalites or “White Huns” and his successor Balash would have to continue fighting them and it would turn out that the eastern emperor Zeno who was his neighbor was also facing the enemy so both would join forces against the Huns and would easily drive them away by 485 but since Theodoric the Amal would continue posing a problem to Zeno in the Balkans, Zeno would even have some Sassanid forces cross over to Europe and help him against the Ostrogoths.

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Sassanid Empire flag

The Romans and Sassanids on the other hand had been enemies for the longest time but when finally joining forces in this fictitious war, both Romans and Sassanid Persians would find common ground especially since they were both highly civilized powers at a war against barbarians and although both Romans and Sassanids were so different culturally especially in religion with the Romans here being Christians and the Sassanids being Zoroastrian, they would soon enough realize the barbarians or the less civilized people was their common enemy. The final phase of the war would take place in 487 and here, the Franks already took over all of Gaul, destroying the Burgundian and Alemanni Kingdoms, and pushing the Visigoths all the way down to Hispania long before Clovis did it in real history as in reality it was only in 507 when Clovis conquered all of Gaul from the Visigoths. The Visigoths here still a vassal of the Ostrogoths would still be under Alaric II but in this part of the war in Hispania they would fight together with the Suebi and the exiled Vandals against the Romans and Franks and by 488, the Romans and Franks would come out victorious but still suffering many losses.

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Seal of the Visigoth Kingdom of Gaul and Hispania

It would then be in 489 when this world war would come to an end and here the Visigoths and their allies would be completely defeated in Hispania while in Illyria, Nepos with the forces of Zeno as well as the generals Illus and the now very old Basiliscus and their Sassanid and Rugii allies would fight the last battle, this time against the Ostrogoths of Theodoric the Amal. Since the Eastern Roman forces and their allies were more in number, they would end up victorious against Theodoric and the now defeated Theodoric would be brought over to Constantinople to be executed. With the great war now over, the defeated barbarian alliance would have to sign a humiliating peace treaty with both Zeno and Anthemius and with this treaty, all of Northern Gaul would fall under the rule of Clovis I’s Frankish kingdom who would now be a permanent ally to the Western Romans while the entire Hispania would completely return to the rule of the Western Roman Empire and so would North Africa while the Visigoths, Burgundians, Alemanni, Suebi, and Vandals following this treaty would all be banished back to Germania while the Bagaudae would end up becoming subjects to the Franks.

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Theodoric the Amal “the Great”, King of the Ostrogoths (r. 475-526)

In the east meanwhile, the Huns would no longer pose a problem and so would the Ostrogoths and with Theodoric the Amal executed, his kingdom in Pannonia would be taken back for the eastern empire while the Sassanids now being a permanent ally to the Eastern Romans would return to their empire and no longer pose a problem anymore. Theodoric’s execution would then change a lot for history, as in reality it was Theodoric who established his own Ostrogoth Kingdom in Italy in 493 and made it a dominant power. Anthemius on the other hand would finally die here in 489 at age 69 and would now be immediately succeeded by his son Marcian and in the east, Zeno like in real history would also die in 491 at age 66 and by the time of his death, despite facing so much devastation from the war that just happened would at least see some political stability in his empire due to rivals uniting to fight a common enemy. Zeno here would die no longer hated as he was during his reign for being an Isaurian as his victory in the war made the people now see him as a hero that saved them from ultimate destruction. Now since Leo II would be alive in this story’s case, he would succeed his father Zeno at age 24 and as Augustus, Leo II would prove to be somewhat a smart ruler despite his young age as living through the war helped shape him to be a stronger person but would still retain having a thuggish way of ruling inherited from his father Zeno and grandfather Leo I. With Leo II in this case living long enough to become emperor, there event in which Zeno’s wife Ariadne would marry the finance minister Anastasius Dicorus would not happen as in real history since Zeno died without any children as his only son with Ariadne Leo II died back in 474, Ariadne had to marry someone who would be their new emperor and the people demanded that they have an “Orthodox” and “Roman” emperor unlike Zeno who was not Hellenized nor Romanized being an Isaurian and sympathetic to the Monophysite heretics and true enough, the Eastern Romans in 491 did get an “Orthodox” and “Roman” emperor with Anastasius- who although was also sympathetic to the Monophysites- and unlike Leo I, Basiliscus, and Zeno who displayed violent and thuggish streaks when ruling, Anastasius made a difference being once again another cultured and reasonable emperor, although Anastasius was still not what the people wanted as he was in fact also sympathetic to the Monophysites, though his reign would be a story for another time.

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Anastasius I Dicorus, Eastern Roman emperor (r. 491-518)

In 491, with Leo II as the eastern emperor and Marcian as the western emperor, the geography of the known world would be that Italy together with Southern Gaul, all of Hispania, and North Africa would again be under the western empire, Northern Gaul under the Franks, Britain still remaining abandoned with the Romans or Franks never bothering to recover it as it had already been ravaged by the Saxons while the eastern empire would not really change its borders except adding Pannonia back after defeating the Ostrogoths while everything else including Egypt and Syria would still be under them. Now, the case of Leo II actually becoming emperor would do a lot of changes, and personally I would think that if Leo II lived long enough to become emperor, then Anastasius I would never come to power, therefore his successors Justin I and Justinian I the Great would never rule as well since it was Justin I, an imperial Excubitor bodyguard commander that was named as Anastasius I’s successor and Justinian as Justin’s nephew as his successor and with Leo II remaining in power, he would soon enough marry and have sons thus continuing the Leonid Dynasty but I would not go that far anymore explaining what more will happen during the fictional reigns of Leo II and Marcian as it would be too long put to put it short, it safe to say that both east and west will never reunite under one emperor as for the longest time, the east and west were already divided with their own emperors as the empire from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Syria had proved to be far too difficult for one emperor to manage especially since there were external enemies everywhere but even though there were two different empires with two different emperors, they would still definitely cooperate with each other as if they ruled one empire.  

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The Alignment of the Fictitious Great War between the Roman Alliance and the Barbarian Alliance with the characters and nations involved
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Eastern Roman legions in the fictitious “Great War”, 481-489
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The west (Italy, North Africa, and Southern Spain) regained by the Romans; Byzantium at its greatest extent in Justinian I’s reign, 555

And now, I’ve reached the very end of the 2nd chapter of my Byzantine history fan fiction series and I have to admit that when writing this, I didn’t know where this story would go as first I thought it would just be a very simple story focusing on the Battle of Rome in 472 wherein history would change if the emperor Anthemius was not executed, but as I was in the process of writing it, more and more ideas kept coming into my head especially since this era of the late 5th century was a very crucial time for Eastern Roman history as this was the time when the barbarian tribes that invaded the Roman Empire began forming into kingdoms that would later become medieval kingdoms such as France and a lot more. This article too was a long one because it was not just the story of one empire but two- western and eastern- and the story of two emperors, Anthemius and Leo I and the story as well of many characters from the Isaurian Zeno to the generals Aspar, Basiliscus, and Ricimer, to the Vandals of North Africa and the Visigoths of Gaul. Overall it was only when I completed it that I realized this story I wrote was again a full scale empire-wide action epic involving a large variety of characters like the previous one, yet I have to say that this one is in fact even more epic than the last one as chapter I only covered the Roman-Gothic War between 376 and 382 and was limited only to characters involved in it while this one had turned out to be one involving the story of 2 empires that were supposed to be one, the story of enemy kings, and not only epic battles but treachery, politics, family drama, and even a bit of the supernatural as with the case of the prophecies of Daniel the Stylite and the legend of Leo I’s discovery of Constantinople’s hidden spring which I only discovered last minute and decided to add it in as well. On the other hand, ever since I have been so fully passionate about Byzantium 2 years ago, the stories of these 5th century emperors like Leo I and Zeno fascinated me a lot but only recently did I discover Anthemius who at first thought was just a useless puppet emperor of the west but true enough he was one of if not the last competent Western Roman emperor who deserves more attention to and just recently I came to think that since Anthemius was still at it to restore the dying western empire but was killed off by Ricimer before he could achieve his dream, but if he weren’t then there would still some possibility that the western empire would still live on and now that wrote this alternate history, I just showed that if Anthemius killed Ricimer instead and continued ruling by establishing his own dynasty, then the western empire would still live on. However, I did not want to end this story with a happy-ever-after ending wherein Anthemius wins and rules at peace, so instead I decided to go with the possible scenario of an ultimate great war between the Eastern and Western Romans and their allies against an entire barbarian alliance if the west survived 476, which would already be like a world war more than a thousand years before both world wars happened, though I mentioned here that at the end the Romans thanks to support from the Franks would win the war and in this alternate reality, Anthemius’ western empire would take back most of Gaul and all of Hispania and North Africa that were previously lost while the east would still remain at the same level of power as it always did since the full division between east and west in 395. The very end of this story however remains unresolved but it is still clear that both eastern and western empires survived having their own emperors with Marcian in the west and Leo II in the east- and again having the young boy Leo II who died as a child survive to becoming the sole ruler is another twist I wanted to add here but still, the question is up to you readers, whether the east and west will remain two different empires for centuries or if the west would be dissolved and fully cede to the east? Now again, we go back to the question of 476 being what everyone calls the fall of the Roman Empire and whether it did or did not happen due to this event in 472 taking place, remember that the Roman Empire did not fall here because the east being the Byzantine Empire definitely survived. However, if the west did not fall in 476 and still lived on to the next century and even if the west was just Italy and Carthage remaining under Roman rule, then the well-known Roman reconquests of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th century would not have taken place but this would be a story for another time. Well, I hope this was a very interesting and intriguing fan fiction being the second part and up next in my Byzantine alternate history series, this story will not continue to next once as the next one will be on Justinian I’s reign (527-565) which in this story’s case would’ve not happened especially since the western empire still survived. The next article will explore many possibilities that could have happened in his reign yet never did and the what if there will be if Justinian actually managed to contain the plague, now would he be able to maintain the western parts of the empire he reconquered instead of the empire soon enough losing it after his death? Well, this is all for chapter II of Byzantine Alternate History, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller… thank you for your time!

Byzantine Alternate History Series: Chapter I- Roman Victory at the Gothic War (376-382)

Posted by Powee Celdran

Disclaimer: Although this is a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 4th century AD.

So intense was Valentinian’s wrath, he burst a blood vessel in his brain. His legacy would be that of the last strong western Augustus to rule an empire at peace, however the true catastrophe was yet to come.” -Dovahhatty, Unbiased History: Rome XVII- Imperial Wrath

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Welcome to the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! This article will be the first part of an article series I will be making this year featuring a scenario in Byzantine history and discussing an alternative outcome to it, basically a what if in Byzantine history. For this series, I will come up with 12 different what if stories in Byzantine history featuring one per century in its 1,100-year existence and I will start this series with the 4th century, the same century where the story of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire begins. To give you all an idea of what this new project of mine is, I am basically going to experiment on rewriting events in Byzantine history especially major turning points to see how different their history will turn out to be if a particular event went the opposite direction from what actually happened. In this 12-part series I will be writing some articles alone and others with other Byzantine history fans like myself, though for this one it will just be myself writing it. Take note here that each article in this series will be a stand-alone piece and will have no continuity with each other. This first of a 12-part series and will be featuring the Gothic War from 376-382 and the devastating defeat of the Eastern Roman army to the massive numbers of the invading Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 which resulted in the settlement of the Gothic tribes within Roman territory beginning the gradual collapse of the Western half of the Roman Empire ending with the fall of the west in 476 due to many more conflicts with the Goths and other barbarians following the defeat of 378. Now what if the story of the Gothic War went the other way around wherein the Romans of the combined Eastern and Western Empires at that time won and defeated the Goths? Will this literally change the course of history?

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Note: Since the story is set in the 4th century, Byzantine characters will be referred to as Romans not Byzantines.

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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD

In the long history of Rome, the Romans faced many defeats such as to the Parthian Persians at Carrhae in 53BC and to the Germanic Tribes at Teutoburg Forest in 9AD but these defeats were only shocking moments that weakened the strength and pride of their superior military power and not devastating enough to actually result in the downfall of the Roman civilization the way the Battle of Adrianople in 378 did. In real history, we know that in 375, Valentinian I, the last strong and great emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire died out of his own anger after negotiating with invading Germanic tribes and the following year after his death, Gothic hordes numbering up to 200,000 suddenly invaded the Roman border of the Danube River which was part of the eastern half of the Roman Empire ruled by Valentinian I’s younger brother Valens seeking for asylum within Roman territory as they were fleeing their homeland in Eastern Europe from a mysterious and deadly enemy that had the power to destroy civilization coming from the east, which were the Huns of Central Asia. The Gothic hordes of the Thervingi and Greuthungi tribes were granted asylum in the Eastern Roman Empire but their numbers proved too impossible for the Roman authorities to feed leading the Goths to rebel and for the empire to declare war on them eventually culminating in the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378 not so far away from the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital Constantinople wherein the Gothic army severely outnumbered the Roman army resulting in the death of the Eastern Roman emperor Valens in battle. Following Valens’ death and the Romans’ defeat, the Goths were free to roam around the empire raiding it until they were eventually subdued by the new eastern emperor Theodosius I, who however did not literally defeat the Goths and send them back to their homeland in the north but instead made a deal with them that had the Goths settled in the Roman Empire as federate subjects but eventually this plan would not work out too well as this settlement of the Goths into the Roman Empire allowed the Goths and later other barbarian settlers from beyond the empire the opportunity to rebel against Rome and establish their own independent kingdoms within the empire, thus leading to the collapse of at least the Western Roman Empire. On the other hand, sending the Goths back to their homeland in Eastern Europe was out of the question since the Huns have already been constantly making raids into it and the Goths had no such power to stand against them but if united with the Romans they would; and true enough the Goths that had settled in Roman Gaul becoming the Visigoths would actually one day join forces a century later in 451 when the Huns finally came to the point of invading the Western Roman Empire and with the combined forces of Romans and Goths, the Huns were weakened and eventually driven away. Though the Gothic War with Rome beginning 376 had some positive outcomes like when the Goths eventually joined forces with the Romans against the Huns of Attila defeating them in 451 but on the negative side, the settlement of the Goths in the empire after 382 caused the Western Roman Empire to slowly slip away to the control of the growing power of the Goths who would quickly transform from tribes to kingdoms such as that of the Visigoths and Ostrogoths.

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Flag of the Western (red) and Eastern (purple) Roman Empires combined
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Map of the Gothic War in the Balkans, 376-382
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Guide to the late Roman army’s structure (by Powee Celdran); this article contains a lot of terms of late Roman army units.

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Roman and Byzantine Armies Compared

Lesser Known and Would be Roman and Byzantine emperors (27BC-695AD)

The Fall of Western and Eastern Rome Compared

Gothic War Related Videos:

Unbiased History: Rome XVII- Imperial Wrath (Dovahhatty)

Battle of Adrianople 378- Roman-Gothic War Documentary (Kings and Generals).


What inspired me to do an article about the Gothic War out of all events in the 4th century was again my favorite Youtube channel on Roman history Dovahhatty in Episode XVII of his Unbiased History of Rome entitled Imperial Wrath wherein Valentinian I’s death caused by his own anger in 375 was shown and here Dovahhatty narrates saying that after Valentinian’s death, “the true catastrophe was yet to come”. This part here made me come to think that if Valentinian had survived, would this help in preventing this catastrophe? And so now I have come up with a story revolving this what if scenario. Now this article will be focused on the what if scenario wherein the Goths were defeated by the Romans in 378 at Adrianople and sent back to their homeland. It will also dive into other possible scenarios that could alter the course of history in the late 4th century such as if the western emperor Valentinian I lived after 375 and did not die out of his own anger, therefore he would be around to help his eastern co-emperor and brother Valens in the east the moment the Goths arrived in 376 whereas in real history, with Valentinian I dead, the west was passed on to his young son Gratian who still training to be a stronger emperor was late to send reinforcements to help his uncle in the east. Now if Valentinian I who was known to be a strong military emperor with a great anger towards the barbarian enemies of Rome was still alive to help Valens in the east against the Goths, would this result in the Roman Empire actually being spared from the large-scale threat of the Goths? On the story of this Gothic War however, there are not much primary sources from the era except for the Roman historian and former soldier Ammianus Marcellinus who writes about the conflict in detail but only from the Roman perspective. In this article, I will do my best not just to tell the story of this Gothic War from the Roman perspective of the co-emperors Valentinian I and Valens but also from the side of the Goths and their leaders Fritgern, Alatheus, and Saphrax and in addition, I will explore and experiment on possible scenarios in this conflict which would be that what if the Gothic forces of the Thervingi (later Visigoths) and Greuthungi (later Ostrogoths) were actually more united and had more of an objective rather than being just raiders looking for land and wealth and instead be fully committed to destroying Roman civilization, which means that the Goths would have to take a Roman hostage which would be no other than the future emperor Theodosius I in order for the Goths to be able to beat the Romans as they would need someone to help them understand Rome’s fighting techniques, therefore making Theodosius betray Rome and take the side of the Goths. This article too will include one fictional character fused into the historical setting of the Gothic War which will be a female Goth leader named Valdis and I would do the same as well in blending in a fictional character for the following parts of my series as this new series I am doing aside from being an alternate history series will also be a historical fan fiction wherein I would experiment by exploring on and playing around with the stories of some existing historical characters and adding in some fictional elements and events in history that could have happened but we’ve never seen happen which in this case would be Valentinian I and Valens joining forces in battle which could be vital in helping the Roman win against the Goths as another reason for the Roman defeat was because of the disunity between the eastern and western halves of their empire which came to see themselves as competitors wherein they were actually one empire despite each half having its own emperor. It will then end discussing the possible outcomes if the Romans won the Battle of Adrianople and how the empire would be different if the Gothic threat was dealt with. The 4th century in which this story is set in was a very crucial time for the Roman Empire being a time of religious debates and controversy as it saw Christianity rising while at the same time it faced barbarian invasions from the north and a chronic war with their mortal enemy, the Sassanid Empire in the east but since the main focus of this story will be about the Gothic War in the late 4th century, it will focus less on the happenings all over the empire, and rather more the subject of battles and warfare of this era and on this particular conflict.


The Leading Characters:

Valentinian I the Great- Western Roman emperor

Valens- Eastern Roman emperor and brother of Valentinian I   

Fritigern- Chieftain of the Thervingi Goths

Gratian- Western Roman co-emperor and son of Valentinian I  

Theodosius the Elder- WesternRoman general

Theodosius the Younger- Eastern Roman general and son of Theodosius the Elder

Athanaric- Rival Thervingi Goth chieftain of Fritigern

Alatheus- Co-Chieftain of the Greuthungi Goths

Saphrax- Co-Chieftain of the Greuthungi Goths

*Valdis- Greuthungi Goth leader (fictional character)

Alavivus- Thervingi Goth leader

Lupicinus- Eastern Roman general in Moesia

Maximus- 2nd in command to Lupicinus  

Valentinian II- Son of Valentinian I and future co-emperor

Justina- Western Roman empress, 2nd wife of Valentinian I

Flavius Merobaudes- Western Roman general  

Richomeres- Western Roman general

Sebastianus- Eastern Roman general

Profuturus- Eastern Roman general

Trajan- Eastern Roman general

Flavius Bauto- Western Roman commander

Arbogast- Western Roman Comitatus soldier

Flavius Stilicho- Western Roman Comitatus soldier  

Flavius Anthemius- Eastern Roman Comitatus soldier  

Sueridus- Thervingi Goth warrior

Colias- Thervingi Goth warrior  

*Genseric- Chieftain of the Quadi (real character but unnamed, therefore I gave his name) 

Character Images Below

Background Guide: Western Roman characters (red), Eastern Roman characters (yellow), Thervingi Goths (blue),


The Background (The Real History)

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In the 4th century, the Roman Empire despite coming out of a long period of crisis (the Crisis of the 3rd Century) still covered a vast amount of territory north to south from Britain to Egypt and west to east from Portugal to the Caucasus Mountains but with a territory so large, this meant that enemies would be attacking from all sides as in the east, the Roman Empire shared a border with a hostile neighbor, the Sassanid Persian Empire, to the north with several Germanic tribes including the Goths who at this time have been settling in Eastern Europe and have been long-time enemies with the Romans but far to the northeast, a mysterious and deadly power was expanding and coming closer and closer to the Roman Empire. This rapidly expanding power were the Huns, an unknown warlike race of people from deep within Central Asia that were expanding westwards into Europe displacing several people that settled there such as the Gothic tribes that settled in what is today’s Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland. The Roman Empire had not yet felt the presence of the Hunnish threat of the east, but instead they felt it in waves coming in the form of several invasions of barbarian Germanic tribes through the empire’s Rhine and Danube River borders. The 4th century was a crucial time of change for the Roman Empire as it was here when the Roman Empire was first divided into 4 quarters with their own emperors in what was known as the Tetrarchy which eventually led to a series of civil wars between the divisions until these civil wars were put to an end and the divisions united again as one empire by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 324.

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Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), founder of Constantinople

At the same time, it was also in Constantine I’s that Imperial Rome went through a very major transition which was the rise of the Christian religion which under Constantine I was now to be no longer outlawed but tolerated and practiced all over the empire and true enough it had grown so fast to become the dominant religion of the empire even though just some years earlier, Christians under the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius were severely persecuted. Constantine I also had the legacy of organizing the Council of Nicaea in 325 which established the official statement of beliefs for the Christian religion known as the Nicene Creed and in 330, Constantine I too rebuilt the port town of Byzantium in the narrow Bosporus Strait between Europe and Asia into the Roman Empire’s new capital renaming it Constantinople after himself as its name literally means “Constantine’s city” whereas Rome, the “Eternal City” ever since the second half of the 3rd century was no longer in use as the empire’s capital. Other than that, Constantine had also finalized the restructuring of the Roman army from entire legions consisting of thousands of men to more legions consisting of less men and in his lifetime fought many wars against both imperial rivals or foreign invaders and never lost any but no matter how great he was, he was not able to completely solve the division in the Christian Church that had been growing in his time and although he was able to establish the official creed for Christianity and declare the other division known as Arianism that opposed the creed as heresy, the Arian division of Christianity still thrived and it was only at his death in 337 that Constantine was actually baptized as a Christian and ironically by an Arian bishop, therefore making him be baptized as an Arian Christian. At Constantine I’s death, the Roman Empire was once again divided and this time into 3 among his 3 sons Constantine II the eldest taking the westernmost provinces of Gaul, Hispania, and Britain, the youngest one Constans I taking Italy, Illyria, Pannonia, and most of North Africa while the middle son and most able ruler of the 3, Constantius II took the entire eastern half of the empire which was based in Constantinople, the new capital. The 3 brothers would end up in conflict with each other and in 340, the eldest brother Constantine II who demanded the lands of his youngest brother Constans I as he was the eldest one invaded Italy but was killed in battle giving the majority of the empire to his youngest brother but in 350, Constans I’s army revolted and killed him leaving Constantius II who defeated the rebel army and became the sole ruler of the empire.

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Emperor Constantius II (r. 337-361)

Constantius II too happened to be an Arian Christian and the Arians though still believing in the Christian faith denied the divinity of Christ believing that the Father was more superior to the son while Nicene Christianity believed that both the Father and Son were God. However, it was not only in the Roman Empire where the Arian heresy was spreading among the people as at the same time as Constantine I and Constantius II ruled the empire, beyond the Danube borders in Eastern Europe, a Greek priest from Roman Asia Minor named Ulfilas who was taken as a captive by the Goths at a young age and raised as a Goth spread Arian Christianity among the Goths in the lands of Eastern Europe beyond the empire’s borders. In the process of converting the Goths to Arian Christianity, Ulfilas knowing the Goth’s language translated the Bible from Greek into it as well as developing the Gothic alphabet based on the Greek one and at some point later on, Ulfilas returned to the Roman Empire to be ordained as an Arian bishop by Eusebius of Nicomedia, the same Arian bishop that baptized Constantine I in 337. With Ulfilas as a bishop, Arian Christianity continued spreading among the Goths, but a large number of Goths still stuck to their old Pagan religion and a certain chieftain of the Thervingi Goths from today’s Romania named Athanaric who was a devout Pagan began persecuting his Christian subjects and here Ulfilas would flee from the Gothic lands and disappear from history never to be mentioned again.

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Map of the 1st Roman Tetrarchy,
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Map of the Roman Empire reunited under Constantine I, 337
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The Roman Empire divided among Constantine I’s sons Constantine II, Constans I, and Constantius II following Constantine I’s death, 337
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Map of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire
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Ulfilas spreads Arian Christianity among the Goths, 4th century

Back in the Roman Empire, during the reign of Constantius II (337-361), a young soldier named Valentinian (Flavius Valentinianus), a native of Roman Pannonia (today’s Croatia) rose up the ranks first in the imperial bodyguard unit of Constantius II in Constantinople and later in the Roman field army of the west where in 355 he served in the army of Constantius II’s western Caesar or junior emperor which was his cousin Julian, son of Constantine I’s half-brother Julius Constantius in defending the border of the Rhine River from the invading Germanic Alemanni tribes, however at some point in 355, Valentinian was falsely accused of being responsible for the Romans’ defeat to the Alemanni which resulted in him being dismissed from the army by the emperor Constantius himself. Now speaking of Valentinian’s background, he originated in the town of Cibalae in Southern Roman Pannonia born on July 3, 321 during the reign of Constantine I and Valentinian’s father was a Roman-Illyrian soldier of low birth named Gratian the Elder who rose up the ranks from a common soldier to a high-ranking officer under Constantine I and Constans I, the emperor of the middle portion of the empire then, and when climbing up the ranks earlier, Gratian was able to purchase an estate in Pannonia (today’s Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary) where his sons Valentinian and Valens (Flavius Valens)- born in 328- grew up and growing up, both Valentinian and Valens were educated not only in civil and military matters but in painting and sculpting as well but when growing up in Pannonia, it was Valentinian that was deeply bothered by how exposed their area was to barbarian invasions considering that the province of Pannonia was at the frontier of the Roman Empire along the Danube and due to his frustration towards the constant threat of barbarian invasions into Roman Pannonia, Valentinian decided to join the army at a young age in the late 330s in order to fight the barbarians that deeply bothered him and nothing would define Valentinian more than his anger towards barbarians which explains why he had such a hot and violent temper to whoever provoked him. Between 355 and 357, when Valentinian was dismissed from the army, he returned to Pannonia but this time retired to his new family estate in Sirmium (today’s Serbia) where he eventually married Marina Severa and in 359 when he was back in the army- this time serving as a cavalry commander of the elite imperial guard force of the Palatini in Gaul again under the Caesar Julian- Valentinian’s son Gratian named after Valentinian’s father was born. In 360, the Caesar Julian in Gaul who was popular with his troops was declared Augustus or senior emperor by his army in Lutetia (today’s Paris) in opposition to the reigning Augustus in the east Constantius II, thus signalling a declaration of civil war but in 361 before Constantius could meet Julian in battle, he died in Cilicia (Southern Asia Minor) of a sickness declaring his cousin Julian, his last male relative as his successor and following Constantius’ death, Julian was the sole ruler of the Roman Empire setting himself up in Constantinople as he had already marched east with Valentinian part of his army.

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Julian crowned Augustus in Paris, 360

Part of Julian’s Palatini or elite imperial guard force by the time he became the sole Augustus in 361 other than Valentinian was Valentinian’s younger brother Valens and another Roman-Illyrian named Jovian. Though the emperor Julian as a philosopher was a Pagan that renounced Christianity, making himself be known as “the Apostate”, he also tolerated Christians making sure no religion was favored over the other so to show this, both Jovian and Valentinian who were Nicene Christians were appointed to high military positions. Julian’s reign however lasted for less than 2 years as in 363, he led a large military campaign against the Sassanid Persian Empire in the east intended to defeat Persia and joining Julian was both Jovian and Valentinian in his elite forces though Julian split the army with his maternal cousin Procopius, but when Julian arrived at the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon, Procopius did not and when waiting for Procopius’ men to arrive, Julian’s army was ambushed by the Sassanids and having no time to put on his armor, Julian rode into battle and was suddenly and mysteriously impaled by a flying spear from a Persian soldier and mortally wounded, Julian died soon enough on June 26, 363.

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Death of Julian, 363

As Julian died suddenly in battle without naming an heir, the army being confused with no emperor in place decided to elect Jovian who was the imperial guard’s commander as their next emperor as being in his position made him the closest person to Julian. Procopius’ army though still did not arrive and Jovian feeling unready to continue the fight against the Sassanids chose to buy time and wait for Procopius to arrive and continue the war but Procopius never arrived so he was left with no choice but to agree to a humiliating peace with the Sassanid Persian emperor or Shah Shapur II who was a long-time enemy of Rome since Constantine I’s reign and this peace Jovian signed with Shapur demanded that the defeated Romans surrendered all the lands they conquered from the Sassanids in the past years back to the Sassanids, including all of Northern Mesopotamia and Southern Armenia in exchange for the Romans to return home unharmed.

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Shah Shapur II of the Sassanid Empire (r. 309-379)

Jovian agreed to surrender these lands but also successfully requested a condition for this agreement that all Christians in these areas taken back by the Sassanids would be allowed to return and when Jovian led the retreat back to the empire, this was the only time he met up with Procopius again and as for Shapur II, he honored the terms and allowed the Romans to return home even if he actually planned of killing every last man in the Roman army but the eastern border of Shapur’s massive empire was also threatened by the same Huns that threatened the Goths in the north and if Shapur continued the war against the Romans, he would not have enough men to send to the east to fight off the Huns.

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Emperor Jovian (r. 363-364)

Jovian though returning alive to the empire was highly mocked by the people of Antioch with offensive graffiti targeted at him for having no claim to the throne as a common soldier, though Jovian returned to the Christians their privileges taken away from them by Julian but Jovian too did not last long in power and after Antioch on the return trip to Constantinople, he appointed Valentinian to be in charge of a fort in Asia Minor and charged a commander of Frankish origin named Flavius Merobaudes with burying Julian’s body back at Constantinople but before making it back to Constantinople, Jovian died in his sleep in the town of Dadastana in Asia Minor in February of 364 of carbon monoxide poisoning as he slept in a room with newly painted walls with a lit brazier that released the walls’ toxic fumes suffocating him. With Jovian dead, the army again had to look for a replacement to fill in the power vacuum and being the nearest most competent general, Valentinian was elected by the army as the new emperor.

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Map of Julian’s Sassanid Campaign, 363
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Romans against Sassanid Persians in Julian’s campaign, 363 (by Amelianvs) 

When arriving back in Constantinople, Valentinian I at age 43 accepted the acclamation of emperor but knowing he could not rule the entire empire alone and to prevent further succession crisis, Valentinian one month later named his younger brother Valens who was 36 at that time and still in the imperial guard in Constantinople as his eastern co-Augustus- also so that Valens would not rebel one day for being left out- and it was already tradition at this time that the Roman Empire was to be divided ever since Emperor Diocletian’s division between east and west in 286. Although the west and east had different emperors with Valentinian and Valens respectively, no matter how much both halves would see each other as competitors, it was still one empire with the same armies and military structure and generals in the west could be assigned to provinces in the eastern half as well while people could still travel the whole empire without any restrictions.

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Coin of co-emperors Valentinian I (left) and Valens (right)

Though both brothers Valentinian and Valens were close to each other, they still had many difference most notably it was that the older brother Valentinian was a stronger military man who was impulsive by nature with a bad temper and believed that the barbarian enemies of Rome could not be reasoned with and therefore have to pay in blood while Valens was good and friendly in nature but at the same time tough though lacking the impulse his older brother had making him not quick to decide in a critical moment; other than that their biggest differences was that they were of the 2 rival branches of Christianity as Valentinian was a Nicene Christian and Valens was an Arian. When both brothers became co-emperors, this would be the last time they would see each other in person, at least for the meantime and in 365, Valentinian had already made Mediolanum (Milan)- as done usually by previous emperors- as his capital for the west where he ruled as the empire’s more senior emperor whereas Valens stayed in Constantinople, and just one year into power, Valens’ indecisive personality would already show and this happened also in 365 when the former emperor Julian’s maternal cousin Procopius who led the other division in the Persian campaign 2 years earlier came out of nowhere, rebelled against Valens, and declared himself emperor of the east taking over Constantinople itself with his claim of being the last relative of the Constantinian Dynasty but not in blood as he was only related to Julian, though Procopius also claimed that Julian before leading the campaign secretly named him his successor in case Julian died.

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Coin of the usurper emperor Procopius (r.

For Valens who was in Asia Minor at the time of Procopius’ rebellion, he took an entire year to crush Procopius’ rebellion as the first army he sent to Thrace was easily defeated by Procopius’ forces and Valens unsure of what to do sent a letter asking for help from his brother who thought of helping but word of the Alemanni Germanic tribes raiding the Rhine border in Gaul forced Valentinian to focus on his half of the empire first before helping his brother. Valentinian though did not arrive to help his brother in the east making Valens already come to the point of contemplating abdication and even suicide when the armies in Western Asia Minor supported Procopius but a year later (366), he was at least was able to defeat Procopius’ forces and order Procopius’ execution but what turned out to be worse than Procopius’ rebellion was that Procopius allied himself with the Goths beyond the Danube river, though the Goths did not arrive in time to help him, instead they came late and crossed the Danube border and pillaged their way through Thrace a year after Procopius’ death (367).

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Emperor Valens and the Gothic king Athanaric settle peace at the Danube, 369

Valens marched north from Constantinople and was able to push back the Gothic horde of 30,000 back to the Danube forcing the Goths led by their leader Ermanaric to surrender, although Valentinian in the west not trusting the Goths sent a letter to Valens telling him to not accept their surrender and declare war as Valentinian could see the Goths would become a bigger menace one day if they were not dealt with by war so Valens with his army crossed the Danube into Gothic territory, again beating the Goths and forcing them to flee further north. The conflict ended in 369 when Valens and the other Gothic leader which was the same Athanaric mentioned earlier signed a peace treaty in a boat in the middle of the Danube.

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Emperor Valentinian I the Great (center) with his Palatini legions (by Pavel Simak)

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The Roman Empire divided between Valentinian I in the west (purple) and Valens in the east (pink), 364

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Constantinople, new capital of the Roman Empire’s eastern half

As for Valentinian I in the west, he was busy doing what he did best, protecting the empire from barbarian invasions on all sides but the worst that was to happen for Valentinian was in Britain in 367 as the previous wars in the past years weakened Roman rule in Britain making Roman traitors there conspire with the Picts, Hibernians, Franks, and a new enemy being the Saxons of Germania to invade Britain on all sides and loot everything they find in exchange for sharing the looted wealth with the Roman traitors. Between 367 and 368, the Picts invaded Roman Britannia from the north (Scotland) when the traitors guarding Hadrian’s Wall were bribed by them, the Hibernians of Ireland invaded by sea from the west, and the Saxons and Franks invaded by sea from the east and by the time Valentinian was informed of the situation in Britain, the Romans had already almost lost all of the island but Valentinian would not let it happen so he sent his best general, Count Theodosius the Elder, a native of Roman Spain to retake Britain and joining Count Theodosius was his son, Theodosius the Younger who was training to be a general.

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Map of the Great Conspiracy barbarian invasion of Roman Britain, 367

After sailing from Gaul, Theodosius the Elder and his army arriving in Britain set themselves up in Londinium (London) and from there, Theodosius the Elder in one swift campaign was able to take back the whole island and drive away, arrest, and execute all the conspirators who planned to make Roman Britannia fall and once the conflict in Britain known as the “Great Conspiracy” was solved, Count Theodosius returned the wealth stolen by the raiders back to their owners and Northern Britannia was renamed Valentia in honor of Valentinian. Valentinian at this time was more in Trier than in he was in Milan as it was closer to his objective in fighting off barbarian raids in the Rhine border and in 368, Valentinian himself led an army into the heartland of Germania to battle the Alemanni wherein he was successful and to keep the Alemanni tribes away, he ordered Roman forts built across the Rhine in the Alemanni’s territory which of course angered the Alemanni people making them want to negotiate with Valentinian who refused which made them destroy the forts which in return made him even angrier. With the Alemanni attacking the Rhine border again, Valentinian sent word to the Alemanni’s mortal enemy, the Burgundians to attack the Alemanni but the Burgundians too asked for negotiations with Valentinian to give them land in exchange for helping him, but Valentinian again not wanting to negotiate with barbarians refused and so the Burgundians did not do as they were told, instead it was left to Theodosius the Elder to invade the lands of the Alemanni which he did passing through Raetia (Southwest Germany).

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4th century Roman Mediolanum (Milan), capital of the western empire

Meanwhile in 370, Valentinian’s wife the empress Marina Severa and mother of their son and heir Gratian who happened to be a bisexual woman was attracted to another woman who she had been acquainted with while at the baths in Milan, this woman was Justina, a relative of the late emperor Julian and Marina was greatly struck with her beauty that Marina asked her husband to make polygamy legal for him to marry Justina in order for Marina to be close to her. Polygamy was definitely illegal in the Roman Empire especially since Christianity now had a major role in the empire but soon enough Marina died and Valentinian married Justina as wished by Marina, and with Justina, Valentinian had another son named Valentinian II and after him 2 more daughters while Gratian as the imperial heir was mostly based in Trier the whole time. Though the threats to Valentinian’s western empire did not only come from the Germanic tribes as in 372, a Roman client Berber prince in Numidia (North Africa) named Firmus rebelled against the corrupt Roman governor there and responding to this, Valentinian sent Count Theodosius who was in Germania south to North Africa to deal with the rebellion and having experience in crushing revolts as he did in Britannia during the Great Conspiracy, Count Theodosius succeeded in North Africa by arresting the corrupt governor, defeating the rebellion, and executing Firmus.

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Sample Roman fort build across the Danube border

In 373, as Valentinian in the west and Valens in the east did the same in building forts beyond Roman borders, more Germanic tribes across the Danube including the Quadi were provoked to attack the empire and this time the Quadi allied with the Sarmatian hordes and raided into Roman Pannonia where the 2 Roman legions sent to quell the invasion failed to cooperate with each other making the Sarmatians rout them. In 374, to the south of Pannonia another Sarmatian horde with their Quadi allies broke through the eastern half’s Danube border into the province of Moesia (Serbia) but this invasion was quickly dealt with and repelled by the Dux general of the army there, Count Theodosius’ son Theodosius the Younger now a general but after such hard work in defending Moesia, Theodosius the Younger was displeased as he was not given any honors or credit by either Valentinian or Valens for his achievement. When hearing that the barbarian conflict shifted from the Rhine to the Danube, Valentinian set out from Trier to the Danube leaving Gratian in Trier and at this time appointed the same half-Frankish officer Merobaudes that buried Julian years ago to the rank of Magister Peditum or top commander of the infantry. In the Danube, Valentinian continued the war against the Quadi and Sarmatians but soon saw he had enough of war so he finally agreed for a peace negotiation meeting with the Quadi.

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Germanic Quadi tribe

On November 17, 375 the Quadi leaders led by a certain Genseric (not a fictional character but since he is unnamed, I gave him his name) met Valentinian at his camp in Brigetio (Hungary) along the Danube wherein it was agreed that the Quadi would be allowed to leave in peace if they supplied young recruits into the Roman army, however when the Quadi leaders met with Valentinian personally, the leaders told Valentinian the whole truth that they attacked the Danube all because they were provoked by the fortresses Valentinian had built but this negotiation with the Quadi only made Valentinian grow more and more angry especially since they were insulting him and knowing that Valentinian would not stop harassing them by putting military presence in their lands, the Quadi leaders told it straight to Valentinian’s face that they would refuse the terms of the treaty. The attitude of the Quadi however only fueled Valentinian’s anger more as for his whole life, he had had enough of the barbarians ever since growing in Pannonia, fighting wars with Julian against the barbarians, and constantly defending Rome from them in his reign. The Quadi and the Palatini bodyguards of Valentinian could see how intense Valentinian’s anger was that his face was turning red and was already coming so close to having a fatal seizure. Before this burst of anger could end his life by popping a blood vessel in his brain, his Palatini guards rushed to him and stopped him from exploding, therefore Valentinian fell to the ground almost unconscious and here is where the course of history is altered.

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Picts invade Roman Britain in the Great Conspiracy, 367
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Soldiers in a late Roman era fort

The Gothic War (The Fan Fiction Begins)

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In reality, what we know is that after getting so enraged after negotiating with the Quadi, Valentinian gave in to his anger and died after bursting a blood vessel in his brain but in this story, let’s say the Palatini guards came in time to stop him from giving in completely to his anger. Now after the Palatini came to his aid, Valentinian fell into the ground almost unconscious due to his fit of rage and the Quadi leaders including Genseric meanwhile who were still in the fort’s boardroom saw for themselves the full wrath of Valentinian which was enough to scare them to submission, therefore they finally agreed with the peace terms and decided to flee back to their homeland or suffer severe consequences. Valentinian luckily had a doctor with him in his camp at Brigetio who advised Valentinian to get some rest as that fit of anger almost killed him while in the next day, the Quadi leaders have left ordering their men to abandon their invasion and true enough the threat of the Quadi and their Sarmatian allies had vanished. As Valentinian used the next few weeks to rest and calm himself down in his own quarters at the fort by taking time to cool down by fishing and exploring the woods and not attending meetings with his commanders, his doctor also told him to save his rage for another time when it is most needed as at this point the whole empire, both east and west really depended on Valentinian as if he died, his son Gratian was too young and unprepared to rule effectively and Valens in the east could not be able to rule an empire alone. Valentinian then came to realize that he shouldn’t have gave in fully to his anger as he could sense that there would be more wars to come not just in his part of the empire but in Valens’ east and Valentinian knew that his younger brother was not tough enough the way he was to face a full scale war and if Valentinian was dead, Valens would be helpless.

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Gratian, son and co-emperor of Valentinian I

Now in reality, with Valentinian’s death in 375, this created something like a power vacuum in the west as Gratian though already an Augustus and not Caesar was not overall experienced due to his young age so the Magister Peditum Merobaudes exploited Valentinian I’s death to make himself in charge of the empire by making Valentinian’s 4-year-old son with Justina Valentinian II his puppet emperor as Merobaudes having Frankish barbarian blood could not be accepted as a Roman emperor, although despite Valentinian II being made Augustus, 16-year-old Gratian still maintained himself as the senior emperor of the west, but the most senior emperor of the whole empire here would Valens as he was the oldest of the 3. However, in this case with Valentinian I staying alive after his rage, he would still be the empire’s most senior emperor while Gratian who had been his father’s western co-Augustus still stayed as co-Augustus, except here since Valentinian II was still too young, he would not receive any imperial titles yet, instead Valentinian I would soon enough discover Merobaudes’ treachery in planning to make young Valentinian II his puppet emperor and in the process framing Count Theodosius in North Africa for treason as Merobaudes always envied him. In reality, after Valentinian I’s death, Merobaudes true enough framed Count Theodosius who he envied ordering the latter’s execution in early 376, thus this led to Count Theodosius’ son Theodosius the Younger fearing the same fate of his father to retire from military service in Moesia and return to his native Hispania to start a family but in this case with Valentinian I still alive, Valentinian would return to Trier to reunite with Gratian and here he would call Merobaudes to answer for his own treason in plotting against him and Gratian.

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Valentinian I and his pet bears (by Roman Emperors, Instagram)

Valentinian I did not respond well to treason and Merobaudes would be proven guilty and as a punishment, Merobaudes would be fed alive to Valentinian I’s pet bears named Golden Camel and Innocence as it was known that Valentinian in his reign executed traitors in the army and government by feeding them to his bears which were kept in Trier, and here the half-Frank Merobaudes would suffer that fate. Valentinian would then apologize to Count Theodosius for Merobaudes’ behavior and not only pardon Count Theodosius in North Africa but appoint Count Theodosius to the highest military position of the west or Magister Militum charged with being the protector of both Gratian and Valentinian II while in Moesia which was part of the eastern half of the empire, Theodosius the Younger would still remain there but without having much significance. Meanwhile in the eastern half of the empire by 376, its emperor Valens had at least succeeded in building a massive and highly effective aqueduct in the capital, Constantinople but had spent most of his reign engaged again in the age-old war with the Sassanid emperor Shapur II except not to invade the Sassanid Empire but over the disputed control of Armenia and Iberia (Georgia). When Valens was over in Antioch preparing for his campaign against the Sassanids, he received shocking news from the Danube border of the eastern empire which was that the Goths have arrived and were seeking asylum within the Roman Empire from the Huns, so Valens decided to conclude another treaty with Shapur II so that he could rush back to the Balkans to check on the situation there. 

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Byzantine illustration of Emperor Valens
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Valens’ Aqueduct, Constantinople

The threat of Goths meanwhile was nothing new to Rome as ever since the 3rd century crisis, the Goths have already been invading the Danube border of the Roman Empire and in one event in 251, the Roman emperor Decius when pushing away the Goths from the empire was killed in battle against them. Valens himself years earlier in 367 fought against the Goths who supported the usurper Procopius that Valens had defeated so Valens based on his experience in actually winning the war knew what the Goths were capable of and knew they did not pose too much of a threat, so when Valens received word of the Goths all amassed outside the Danube border requesting for asylum within the empire, Valens agreed to it thinking the Goths could be dispersed once inside the empire wherein they could enter and be integrated as Roman citizens, renounce their tribal leaders, and allow their young men to be recruited into the Roman army. However, this was not the case here as the numbers of Goths outside the border numbered up to 90,000 and included men, women, and children all trying to get away from the Huns.

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Goths from across the Danube travel into Roman lands, 376

The Goths though have already been amassed outside the Danube border town of Durostorum in Moesia long before Valens got word of it as Valens miles away, all the way in Antioch when he heard of this. Since Valens pulled out most of the troops mostly consisting of the best soldiers from the Balkans to Syria, the Danube border was undermanned and only protected by the less trained Limitanei army or border guards while the Goths outside the border requesting asylum in the empire did not just consist of a small band of warriors and families but almost the entire Thervingi tribe, which came from right across the Danube border in today’s Romania led by their new ruler Fritigern who demanded that they be let in because their homeland was under the threat of a new and unknown enemy that had the power to destroy civilization which were the Nomadic Huns. This mysterious race of people known as the Huns lived on their horses and destroyed everything in their path as a Nomadic Empire coming from deep within Central Asia and in the early 370s, a large horde of Huns arrived in the Steppes of Ukraine and defeated the Alani tribes that lived there and soon enough clashed with the tribe of the Greuthungi Goths who were from the area of today’s Ukraine along the Black Sea defeating them, and due to the Greuthungi Goths’ defeat, their leader Ermanaric, the same one who surrendered to Valens years ago killed himself and was succeeded by another ruler named Vithimiris who tried fighting back the Huns by hiring Hunnic mercenaries but was killed in battle earlier on in 376.

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Hunnish cavalry warrior

At the same time, the Roman vassal state of the Kingdom of Bosporus in the Crimea north of the Black Sea was lost as it fell to both the Huns and the Greuthungi. But for the Greuthungi, with Vithimiris died and his son Vithericus was too young to rule, he was under the regency of 2 of the toughest and most brutal Greuthungi warriors Alatheus and Saphrax who did not seem to trust each other at all times but the young ruler also had his aunt, his father’s younger sister Valdis, another fierce and vicious warrior as his regent and ironically just like the siblings Valentinian and Valens who’s names began with a “v”, the siblings Vithimiris and Valdis also shared a “v” for their first names. The leaders of the Greuthungi Alatheus and Saphrax led their tribe first south into the lands of the Thervingi ruled by Athanaric- who made peace with Valens earlier- however Athanaric over the years had also been engaged in wars against the Huns and his many defeats weakened his authority that a majority of his men deserted him in favor of 2 other warriors Fritigern and Alavivus. By the time the Greuthungi Goths settled in Thervingi lands, Fritigern and Alavivus who were also converts to Arian Christianity were already basically in charge of the tribe but since Athanaric was still alive, Fritigern did not want to risk a civil war and persecution by the Pagan Athanaric especially since it was a bad time to do that considering the expansion of the Huns, so Fritgern and his men had no choice but to seek asylum in the Roman Empire and their Greuthungi neighbors thought about the same thing too, however it was Fritigern, Alavivus, and the Thervingi that showed up first at the Danube border and Fritigern himself wrote to Valens who was in Antioch to grant him and his men entry into the empire. Now looking back to decades earlier, the Goths beyond Roman borders accepted Arian Christianity as their faith rather that Nicene Christianity because it was closer to their own Pagan beliefs wherein they could worship outdoors like they did with their old gods.

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Thervingi Goths migrate into Eastern Roman territory

As the Goths were amassed outside the Danube border, Valens among many other Romans felt like giving the Goths a chance as the Romans too heard rumors that Huns who came out of nowhere “uprooted and destroyed everything in their path like a whirlwind descending from high mountains”, so feeling some sympathy for the Goths given their current situation, Valens decided to grant them asylum sending orders to the young army commander in Moesia, the Dux Lupicinus and his 2nd in command Maximus to assist Fritigern and his Goths in crossing the Danube into the empire and providing them with food and land to settle in. When seeing the Goths, Lupicinus and Maximus were shocked to see their numbers as 90,000 crossed the Danube in small boats or tree turns in such a panic that a number of them even died drowning in the river due to their combined weight. The moment the Thervingi Goths were within the Eastern Roman Empire in Moesia (Bulgaria), their numbers proved to be too impossible for the Limitanei border troops to control and for Roman authorities to feed that the food supply ran out thus starving them, though Lupicinus and Maximus when having the option to disperse them across the empire chose to contain all of them in Moesia as it would pose a threat to the whole empire if they were to be dispersed. With the shortage of food, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus here mentioned that the situation was so severe that the Goths had to sell their children to Roman slave traders in return for rotten dog meat. The Dux Lupicinus meanwhile sent word to Valens who was still in Antioch that they had made a mistake in letting the Goths in as their numbers were far beyond control but just as Lupicinus sent this report to Valens, the situation grew even worse as now the Greuthungi Goths led by Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis were now the ones outside the Danube border this time.

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Late Roman Limitanei border guard soldier

Now Vithericus, the young ruler of the Greuthungi though was left behind in their lands to be raised by his mother. At this moment however, Lupicinus claiming he had orders from Valens refused to grant asylum to the Greuthungi realizing how the Thervingi were too difficult to manage. As for Fritigern who was feeling impatient, he broke out of his containment zone in Moesia attempting to take over some land to settle in and grow their own food but before doing it was caught by Lupicinus who secretly came up with a plot to capture both Fritigern and his tribal co-leader Alavivus by luring them into having a feast at the city of Marcianople in Moesia located near the Black Sea. With the absence of Lupicinus, Maximus, and their army at the border, the Greuthungi Goths that were being held there grew impatient and stormed into the border not knowing anything about their relationship with the Roman Empire and the agreement to be settled and integrated into the empire. Instead, the Greuthungi before making it to the Danube met up and allied with the same Quadi tribe and their leader Genseric that Valentinian I was at war and defeated a year earlier. The Greuthungi leaders Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis out of impatience slaughtered the Limitanei legions guarding the border, crossed the river again by stealing the small boats the legions had, and storming into the empire mercilessly plundering the villages they saw and slaughtering all its people. The Greuthungi Goths then raided their way through Moesia and while the Greuthungi were continuing their pillaging spree, Lupicinus and Maximus invited Fritigern, Alavivus, and their bodyguards to a feast in Marcianople but it was all a trap as when the Thervingi leaders arrived, Lupicinus hoping this would end the unrest had his soldiers massacre Fritigern’s bodyguards killing Alavivus too in the process. Fritigern however managed to escape with only a few surviving bodyguards back to his army of 7,000 which happened to be assembled in the hills outside Marcianople and when returning to his men, Fritigern told them that the Romans had betrayed them by setting up a trap which Alavivus was killed in and the Goths as people were known to have revenge easily when they are humiliated.

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Fritigern’s Gothic cavalry charge at the Romans outside Marcianople, 376

Hearing of Alavivus’ death, the Gothic army of Fritigern all demanded they attack Lupicinus and his forces and so the Goths under Fritigern proceeded to ravage the farms outside Marcianople burning everything they saw leaving Lupicinus and Maximus to confront the 7,000 Goths with their army of only 5,000 Limitanei troops which were not as effective and well trained as the mobile field army or Comitatenses in which most of them were with Valens in the east. Lupicinus’ Limitanei army however were no match to the vengeful Gothic warriors of Fritigern who in a fit of rage all charged at the Limitanei legions outside Marcianople easily shocking them. At the end, the Goths overpowered the Eastern Roman army making most of the barely experienced Limitanei legions flee back to the city and in the battle, Maximus was captured while Fritgern was able to interrogate Lupicinus asking him if Valens was secretly planning to betray them, instead Lupicinus with such fear in his heart told Fritigern that he was only following orders and demanded to be let go promising to give in to the Goths’ demands this time.

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Late Roman legionnaire’s weapons and equipment

Fritigern then told Lupicinus his own intention of actually making a kingdom of Goths within the Roman Empire and not fully believing Lupicinus’ word, Fritigern decided to spare him though breaking his arm and with such trauma and humiliation, Lupicinus galloped back to Marcianople in tears while Fritgern ordered his men to pick up the more superior weapons of the dead Roman legionnaires including spears, longswords, shields, bows, javelins, and darts which would be helpful in fighting the Romans later on. Fritigern took many prisoners among the Roman legions as well enslaving many of them in order to show his men the way to the rich villages and towns and in the next couple of weeks, the Thervingi Goths in an act of vengeance against the Romans for mistreating them burned everything in their path, stole all the wealth, and massacred even the newborn. 

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Goths settling in the Roman Empire mistreated by Roman authorities
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Greuthungi Goths cross the Danube and slaughter Roman legionnaires

In late 376, Valens still in Antioch got word from Moesia hearing the Goths under Fritigern now joined forces with their Greuthungi neighbors and were pillaging their way through Moesia heading towards Thrace and also that Lupicinus had been defeated getting his arm broken. Valens now had no choice but to declare war on Goths in order to contain them but he was not yet over in settling the conflict with the Sassanids so he sent his generals Trajan– named after the 2nd century emperor- and Profuturus with their legions west to the Balkans and contain the Goths. Over in Trier where Valentinian I was still alive, his son and co-emperor Gratian was first to get word from his uncle Valens that Thrace needs reinforcements from the west. Valentinian at this point was upset at his brother Valens for actually giving in to the Goths’ demands thus leading to such a large-scale catastrophe wherein Valentinian from the beginning being known to hate the barbarian enemies of Rome would have already not trusted the Goths and would immediately deny them entry when they camped outside the border.

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Emperor Valentinian I at his capital, Trier (by Pavel Simak)

Now being so displeased with Valens’ decision, Valentinian chose not to head east leading the army, instead he sent a small number of poorly armed and trained auxiliary troops and Limitanei legions from the Alps and Pannonia over to Thrace as a message for Valens to realize his mistake. Gratian however could somewhat see his uncle was going to be in trouble so he sent the half-Frankish general Richomeres to go east with a large army of the elite Palatini and Comitatenses legions. Now in early 377, before the eastern and western legions would meet each other in Moesia, Fritigern and his Thervingi tribesmen met up with the Greuthungi tribe setting up camp in the part of Thrace where the Danube meets the Black Sea and here Fritigern held a meeting with his now co-leaders Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis so to test the strength of his new allies, Fritigern asked Saphrax, one of the toughest warriors of the Greuthungi to challenge their new ally, the Quadi’s leader Genseric to a duel and in this sword duel, Saphrax was able to disarm and pin Genseric to the ground and with Genseric losing, Fritigern demanded Genseric leave their alliance for losing in a single duel as Fritigern did not tolerate weakness especially since he knew they would soon be at war with Romans who were much stronger and disciplined when it came to war. After Genseric angrily left the alliance’s camp feeling betrayed, Fritigern then asked Alatheus to prove his strength in killing Romans by asking him to kill their prisoner, Lupicinus’ co-commander Maximus in which Alatheus eagerly clubbed Maximus to death so brutally in front of the Goths in which even Fitigern was shocked seeing such brutality. Fritigern now at least knew he could count on his new Greuthungi Goth allies but he knew that in order to win against the Romans, he needed a Roman to take hostage willing to betray Rome and expose the weak points of the Romans to them. The western forces led by Richomeres meanwhile had arrived in Moesia and got into a few skirmishes with the Goths while the eastern legions led by Trajan and Profuturus also arrived Thrace with their Armenian allies as they headed north to Moesia and near the mouth of Danube, both eastern and western forces were able to meet up.

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4th century Roman Comitatus legionnaire (left) and auxiliary (right)

When both eastern and western Roman forces met up near the same city of Marcianople where the conflict began almost a year earlier, they were from there able to track the Goths to nearby the town of Ad Salices meaning “by the willows” where the Danube met the Black Sea where the combined Goths under Fritigern, Alatheus, and Saphrax were encamped and there they readied themselves creating a wagon fort known as a laager surrounding themselves with their own wagons. The combined forces of the Greuthungi and Thervingi Goths started feeling uncomfortable being held inside their wagon fort that both Alatheus and Valdis demanded that Fritigern allow them to leave and simply attack the Romans who they heard were approaching but Fritigern told them that they had to fight smart as one careless charge would make them lose. The Goths then spent the whole night inside behind their wagons which formed a circle and when the sun rose, they could see the Roman legions headed their way coming from the hills and seeing the Romans coming, Fritigern ordered his other fellow Thervingi warriors, Sueridus and Colias, his 2 other toughest men to charge at the Roman legions while Fritigern, Alatheus, Saphrax, and Valdis stayed behind the wagons.

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Medieval illustration of a Gothic “laager” or wagon fort

The battle started without any results except for both the Romans and Goths losing the same number of men over the next hours due to the javelins they threw at each other until the point when both forces’ shields clashed with each other. When nightfall came, both eastern and western Roman forces abandoned the battle seeing that they have lost so much men and the Goths did the same too, though both Sueridus and Colias survived and retreated back to the wagon fort. As for the Western Roman forces, the general Richomeres noticed that his men were already too weakened from the battle thus he abandoned the mission and retreated back west with what was left of his army while the eastern generals Profuturus and Trajan seeing that they could not do anything about the battle anymore retreated south. The Goths however stayed for one more week in their wagon fort as they were expecting the Romans to attack again but when learning of no new attack, Fritigern ordered the fort to be dismantled and that they disperse again across Moesia, thus the Romans though coming so close to containing the Goths failed to contain them again. As for Trajan and Profuturus, when heading south, they met up with Lupicinus who had now fully recovered and together had stationed soldiers and ordered the construction of blockades in the mountain passes of Thrace to prevent the Goths from reaching Constantinople. Fritigern then led his men west hoping to arrive in either Greece or Constantinople that way but were blocked by the new fortifications in the mountain passes where they got into several unsuccessful skirmishes with the Romans though as they travelled west, here a fictional scenario of a small army led by the same Dux of Moesia Theodosius the Younger, son of Count Theodosius happened wherein they clashed with the Goths with Theodosius wanting to score points for Rome as he did before in 374 when the Quadi and Sarmatians invaded Moesia.

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Fritigern, ruler of the Thervingi Goths on his horse

Theodosius’ forces however lost in battle to Fritigern and Theodosius himself was captured and chained while his army scattered. He was later brought to the Goths’ new camp while Fritigern still thinking of ways on how to defeat the Romans sent word to the Alans beyond the Danube to help them, also sending funds to pay for an army of Hunnish mercenaries. At the camp, Fritigern met with the 30-year-old Theodosius the Younger where Fritigern was convincing him to join the Goths, though Theodosius was at first not open to idea since he was loyal to Rome and wants to prove to his emperors Valentinian and Valens that he was worthy of being promoted to a higher rank in the army but Fritigern wanting a Roman on their side convinced Theodosius with lies that Valentinian could get rid of him one day if Theodosius would do something wrong as Fritigern knew this about Valentinian’s personality so Theodosius falling for this considered the option of joining Fritigern who also promised to make Theodosius the Goth’s puppet Roman emperor with all the imperial privileges if the Goths were to win.

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Roman legionnaires at the Battle of Ad Salices against the Goths, 377

Meanwhile, in late 377 Valens finally marched out of Antioch after taking care of a few local disputes including a small rebellion there gathering almost all the forces in the east stationed at the border of Armenia to join him in their march west to face the Goths while in Gaul, Richomeres returned reporting to Valentinian of their defeat to the Goths at Ad Salices. Valentinian as usual was angered hearing of this defeat but hearing from Richomeres that the Goths possessed a large number of men and that their strength was underestimated, Valentinian agreed that it was time to help his brother in the east despite Valentinian growing more and more displeased with Valens’ incompetence and also to the fact that Valens was an Arian Christian making him a heretic but since a bigger threat was coming and this threat came from Germanic barbarians that Valentinian was extremely angered at, he decided it was finally time after 13 years since coming into power to help his brother. With Valentinian still in Trier, his general Count Theodosius unaware that his son joined the Goths told Valentinian that if he marches east then the Rhine would be unprotected making the Alemanni invade Gaul again so Valentinian entrusted Count Theodosius with 3 western legions to stay in the Rhine border and together with Gratian defend it against a possible Alemanni threat all while Valentinian’s younger son was in Milan at this time under the care of his mother Justina.

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Sample Germanic Alemanni warrior and weapons

Now in real history, with Valentinian I dead by the time the Goths were invading Thrace, Gratian who was now the western senior emperor was already sending a reinforcement army east to help Valens but the Alemanni true enough did invade the Rhine which made Gratian have to focus on defending it first thus delaying them from meeting up with Valens, however in this case with Valentinian I still alive, he would be able to manage the army better by splitting it in half with one division sent to guard the Rhine and the other one which included Palatini legions to join him in their march east. Now as both western and eastern Roman legions were regrouping again, the Goths now with their Hunnish and Alan allies under Fritigern were able to break through the Roman blockades in the Haemus and Rhodope Mountains and were able to get deep into Thrace already so close to Constantinople but stopping them was the city of Deultum (in today’s Bulgaria) along the Black Sea which was heavily guarded by an Eastern Roman army. Fritigern knowing that there was no way to take over the city since they had no siege weapons assembled his camp in a swamp some kilometers away from the city and by this point Theodosius the Younger was already with the Goths but still unsure whether he would loyally serve Fritigern or not as the Goths Alatheus and Saphrax openly distrusted him for being a Roman. As Theodosius thought of whether to betray Rome or not, the tough female Greuthungi Valdis who was brave enough to fight only wearing a band of cloth across her chest and a fur cloak entered his tent and again convinced Theodosius that the Goths will surely beat the Romans and with Roman authority gone, Theodosius would have any no more purpose at such a young age and with Fritigern, he would have a future. Valdis then told Theodosius that Fritigern needs him in their next mission which was to find a way to steal the siege weapons of Deultum and only a Roman which is Theodosius could be able to help them sneak into the city and here Theodosius agreed to help.

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A late Roman Onager (catapult)

As for Valens now in 378, he had already arrived in Constantinople where he was met by massive rioting due to him being an Arian and not being around when the Goths invaded but since Valens had no time to deal with the riots especially since the Goths were coming so close, he soon enough left Constantinople to meet up with his generals in a town nearby where Trajan, Profuturus, and Lupicinus met up with him as well as another general named Sebastianus who had arrived from Illyria and here when Valens heard of Trajan letting his men lose to the Goths at Ad Salices, he had Trajan demoted and sent to quell the unrest in Constantinople replacing him with Sebastianus who was made Magister Militum.

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Eastern Roman Magister Militum

Lupicinus here told Valens exactly what the Goths were up to which was that they did plan to actually make a kingdom of their own in Roman territory which now justified for Valens a reason to fight them in battle so Valens first sent Sebastianus to head north and wipe out the Gothic raiding bands that were reported to have been raiding through Thrace. Now in real history, Lupicinus after his defeat to Fritigern back in 376 disappeared from history but in this case to expand more on his character, he was asked by Valens to join him against the Goths as Lupicinus facing the Goths’ full power earlier on knew what to expect, meanwhile the same Quadi leader Genseric and his men also met up with Valens this exact moment now fully swearing loyalty to Rome after being betrayed by Fritigern for showing weakness, and Valens desperate for a larger army accepted Genseric and his Quadi warriors as allied troops better known as Foederati. To the north, the general Sebastianus with a small force was able to defeat all the raiding Gothic hordes near the city of Adrianople and due to their defeats, the surviving Goths headed back to Fritigern to tell him to proceed to Adrianople as the Valens had come to reinforce it. Over in the coastal city of Deultum along the Black Sea here is another fictional scenario wherein a team of only 6 consisting of the Greuthungi leaders Alatheus, Saphrax, Valdis with the Thervingi leaders Sueridus and Colias and their hostage Theodosius the Younger broke into the city at midnight as Theodosius who had been to Deultum before knew of a way in wherein he led them through bypassing the city’s garrison and once they were in, Theodosius showed them the storage room of the siege engines where they had Sueridus and Colias guard the door while Alatheus, Saphrax, Valdis, and Theodosius went inside to steal the siege weapons including ballistae and onagers, however when coming in they realized they did not bring any tools to dismantle the weapons so Alatheus angrily slapped Saphrax for making them fail the mission so the 5 Goths escaped the city using the same passage they entered leaving Theodosius alone inside.

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Late Roman Ballista

However, when the sun rose, Theodosius came out of the city’s main gate with the entire city’s garrison though not betraying the Goths, instead he bribed them to join the Goths and surrender the city and even more, he was able to acquire the siege weapons with the help of the local garrison. Back in the camp, Fritigern was pleased hearing that Theodosius helped them take siege weapons they so needed so he called for just Alatheus, Saphrax, Valdis, and Theodosius to personally meet with him wherein he told them that alliances are indeed important and that they were now to head to Adrianople as Fritigern heard that Valens was going to reinforce it. Fritigern however told them that they must head over to Adrianople as he heard Valens was sending an army there and that Valentinian from the west was soon to arrive. Again, in real history, the forces of Gratian would take months to arrive and help Valens in the east especially since the Alemanni invaded Gaul making Gratian have to focus his attention there but in this case Gratian with Count Theodosius would be there in Gaul to fully focus on the Alemanni which had just invaded while Valentinian I was already heading east with Richomeres. Valens meanwhile had been waiting for Valentinian to arrive for 2 months now and this whole time, the thought of Sebastianus scoring victories would make Valens feel like a loser so feeling confident to attack the Goths to score points and gain to respect of the people in Constantinople even before Valentinian could arrive, Valens ordered all his men including his commanders Profuturus, Lupicinus, and Genseric to depart their base near Constantinople for Adrianople on the morning of August 7, 378, although both Sebastianus and Richomeres met up with Valens here and Richomeres gave word to Valens that Valentinian was very near so Valens did not have to charge into battle yet.

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Training process of the late Roman army (by Amelianvs)
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Fritigern and his Goths ride through Thrace, 378

The Battle of Adrianople (The Climax)

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Before Valens and his army arrived outside Adrianople, Fritigern and all his allies arrived ahead setting themselves up in one of hills near the city of Adrianople where they did the same as before building a circular fort using their wagons placing their tents inside it and again with their women and children brought with them too. Valens meanwhile on the night of August 8, before reaching the area of Adrianople received an envoy from Fritigern which was an Arian priest who addressed that the Goths only wanted some land in the Roman Empire, and Valens hearing the truth from Lupicinus before knew certainly that Fritigern was lying but Valens did not think of attacking yet because he still knew Valentinian would arrive soon enough. Valens and his generals then held a war council to decide whether to attack immediately or wait for Valentinian but Sebastianus told Valens to just attack believing Valentinian might have had other places to go in his long march and if they attack, Valens who had never gotten much credit in his life will finally get it while Richomeres on the other hand told Valens to simply wait since it was about time the Romans showed unity against a common enemy. Valens and his men then did not sleep the entire night as they were waiting for either a surprise attack from the Goths or for Valentinian and reinforcements to arrive and during the night Valens contemplated his whole reign and was deciding if he should listen to Sebastianus and attack since it could gain Valens some credit as for his whole reign he felt as if he lived in the shadow of his older brother and had never achieved much and now was his chance.

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Layout of a late Roman Castra (army camp)

Just as everyone remained awake all night, a young Roman-Egyptian Comitatus soldier in the eastern army named Flavius Anthemius under the command of Profuturus saw an army of legionnaires marching to their camp and Anthemius immediately sent word to Valens at his tent that the full western army finally arrived with Valentinian at the lead. Once the western legions arrived in Valens’ camp, Valentinian proceeded to Valens’ tent and the brothers would see each other again in person after 14 full years as the last time both had seen each other was in Constantinople back in 364 when both were made co-emperors and now, they were finally reunited for the moment they were both needed most to fight together as Eastern and Western Romans united. Valens was filled with joy seeing his older brother again but Valentinian slapped Valens’ face when seeing him as a way to scold Valens for his incompetence especially in committing a terrible mistake in trusting the Goths and letting them into the empire thus leading to a devastating war. Valens told Valentinian that he admitted he was wrong but Valentinian was still not happy with Valens’ answer though Richomeres told both co-emperors to stop arguing with each other like children as they cannot do something this stupid in such a critical time when the Goths are already coming so close to them. In the middle of the Valentinian and Valens’ argument, the same Quadi leader Genseric saw Valentinian again despite from afar and thought of deserting remembering the trauma in him caused by seeing Valentinian’s rage but Lupicinus stood up and told everyone that this kind of disunity among the Romans is what the Goths want to exploit and that the threat of the Goths was no joke and was deadlier than all the enemies both Valentinian and Valens had faced in their lifetime, therefore they must unite for something deadlier is coming for both east and west. Valentinian then apologized to Genseric for his anger burst 3 years ago and told Valens that he was now settled and had agreed that he and Valens will lead the legions themselves. As the sun rose, the eastern and western legions departed the camp with the columns of eastern legions on the right with Valens in front of them next to his generals Lupicinus, Sebastianus, and Profuturus with their Palatini, Comitatenses, Limitanei legions and cavalry including Roman Cataphracts behind while at the center were the Quadi Foederati troops led by Genseric and on the left were the columns of the western legions led by Valentinian I in front with Richomeres and behind them too were the west’s Palatini, Comitatenses, and Limitanei legions and cavalry as well.

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Late Roman Comitatus soldier in full armor

The combined eastern and western legions despite getting no sleep the whole night before marched from their camp several kilometers away from Adrianople for 8 long hours in the heat of summer through rough terrain and at 2pm they caught sight of Fritigern’s wagon fort above a hill and when seeing the camp, the eastern and western cavalry units rode forward to flank both sides of their emperors and legions. Fritigern however wanted all his forces to attack at once so to buy time he planned a fake peace negotiation again with the emperors, again sending the same priest to negotiate with Valens which Valens was about to agree to it but Valentinian soon enough rode to Valens demanding him to refuse it as he knew it would be a trap so Valens took the letter, ripped it, and threw it back at the priest who then returned to Fritigern’s camp, but soon enough he returned the next hour telling them that Fritigern wants to meet with them in person and Richomeres feeling like giving up agreed to surrender himself as a hostage to the Goths but Valentinian told him to shut up and shouted right at the priest telling him that they have had enough and did not march all the way there to settle for peace. The Roman legions meanwhile were all impatient and tired as they marched for 8 hours under the hot sun with such heavy armor making them extremely sweaty and dehydrated but both Valentinian and Valens told them to put that all aside and focus although out of nowhere- just like in the real story of this battle- a division in the eastern army consisting of Iberian archers from Georgia grew impatient and without orders from both co-emperors they charged up the hill to Fritigern’s camp wherein they were ambushed by a unit of Fritigern’s Thervingi Goths. Shortly after this division carelessly charged, a large army of the Greuthungi Goth cavalry with their Hunnish and Alan allies led by both Alatheus and Saphrax appeared and were charging downhill at the Romans, first breaking and routing the Iberian archers. As the division of Alatheus and Saphrax with their Huns and Alans charged from the north, the division of Greuthungi Goth cavalry together with the Thervingi warriors Sueridus and Colias and Valdis leading them charged from the east, thus beginning the battle.

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Emperor Valens riding to battle, 378
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378, Battle of Adrianople war map

As the battle fully broke out, the first of the Goths to charge at the Romans included the cavalry of Alatheus and Saphrax with their Hunnish and Alan cavalry and at this moment, the Romans saw for once how deadly and swift the Huns were as they charged with great speed at their formations constantly firing arrows as they rode but what was more terrifying to the Romans was that the Huns unleashed their lassos in which they managed to take down several of the weaker Roman Limitanei legions using them. To combat the Goth, Alan, and Hun cavalry, the western Roman cavalry including the heavily armored Cataphracts led by the half-Frankish officer Flavius Bauto charged at them in wedge formations to break through the spinning circular formation of the Huns while in the lower ground, the Western Roman Comitatenses infantry without orders from a commander but from 2 young soldiers in their ranks, the half-Frankish Arbogast and half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho told all the infantry to form a shield wall or a version of the old Testudo formation except to remain still on the ground without moving, and at least they were able to resist the incoming waves of the Greuthungi Gothic infantry with it.

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Hun attacks a late Roman legionnaire

In the east side of the battle, Richomeres charged to confront Valdis and the other half of the Goths’ cavalry where Richomeres charged straight at it killing many Goths in the process. However as Richomeres charged at the center of Valdis’ division, Sueridus and Colias were able to break through the sides charging at the Eastern Roman infantry but again, the eastern legions including the young Anthemius and their commanders Sebastianus and Profuturus formed the same shield wall resisting the Goths’ charge and killing many although soon enough it looked like both eastern and western Romans forces were going to be encircled by the Goths and their allies as the division of Alatheus and Saphrax already charged on one side and the division of Valdis from the other side and ahead of them, Fritigern from his camp saw that the Romans were already trapped on both sides so he sent his Thervingi infantry using stolen Roman spears and shields to charge at the Roman infantry as if in phalanx formation. The first to charge at the Goths’ advancing phalanx though was not a Roman infantry division but the Foederati Quadi troops led by Genseric who were able to fight off and break the Goth’s formation but were soon outnumbered and Genseric himself was killed in the attack, thus routing the Quadi. On the north side of the battle, Alatheus killed many Romans in his path and was headed to Lupicinus, however Lupicinus who here was in command of the eastern Palatini legions used them to block off the attack of Alatheus while Saphrax and his cavalry charged at and broke the shield wall of the Comitatenses unit of Stilicho and Abrogast forcing both of them to flee to the Western Palatini legions. Both Valentinian and Valens meanwhile retreated to the back of the battle seeing that they were true enough almost surrounded and the battle was coming to no conclusions so far so Valentinian ordered that the Western Palatini cavalry return to him and the Eastern Palatini cavalry to Valens and form into columns to break through the Goths so that they could reach Fritigern’s camp as attacking it could distract the Goths.

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Late Roman Cataphract cavalry soldier

Meanwhile, the Goths still had more surprises and this time, Fritigern ordered their stolen Roman siege engines to be rolled out and from the hill, 8 stolen ballistae fired bolts scattering the Roman infantry. Seeing the ballistae and onagers firing at them from above, Sebastianus who was fighting off the Alan cavalry this time ordered the Eastern Roman archers to aim for the siege engines and to his shock, Sebastianus saw that the ones manning the siege engines were the Roman legionnaires that had betrayed Rome. Valdis on the other side of the battlefield was thrown off her horse by a javelin hitting her horse thrown by one of Richomeres’ men while Richomeres was pushed off his horse by a Goth he killed afterwards thus leading to a one-on-one duel between Richomeres who only had his longsword or Spatha and Valdis who had a Gothic axe and a stolen a Roman Spatha making it her own weapon. The Huns on the other hand encircled several units of the Western and Eastern Roman infantry and in the attack against the Hunnish cavalry, the eastern general Profuturus was killed although the Huns’ battle formation was broken by Bauto and his cavalry which headed straight for the Goths at the same time as Valentinian and Valens with their Palatini cavalry charged in full speed to Fritigern’s camp and in the process scattering the Gothic forces and once above the hill, the Palatini cavalry slaughtered the Roman traitors and took over the siege engines now turning the tide of battle as they fired missiles at the Goths. Valens now was to lead the attack on the remaining Goths in their wagon fort while Valentinian was headed to Fritigern’s tent to confront him.

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Roman Comitatenses legions defend themselves against the Goths

In the battlefield, Saphrax was able to wipe out 3 Roman Comitatenses and 4 Limitanei units with the help of the Huns while Sebastianus himself confronted Saphrax in a duel but due to Saphrax’s intense speed in combat, Sebastianus was slashed in his legs and when falling on the ground was killed as Saphrax decapitated him with his axe. Alatheus meanwhile could see at the same time that the Goths were close to losing except for the Gothic infantry with Colias and Sueridus leading them being able to completely surround the Palatini legions led by Lupicinus, and Alatheus was now feeling conflicted whether to defect to the Romans fearing for his life or to continue fighting for his people. Alatheus now came to realize that there was no need to fight and destroy Rome as at this point he knew the Romans would give them the promise of a civilized life in exchange for the Goths submitting to them and now seeing all the glory he could have when serving Rome, Alatheus had a change of heart and he himself with the Alan cavalry under him charged directly at Sueridus and Colias who were killed by spears thrown by the Alan cavalry, afterwards Alatheus freed the surrounded Palatini legions and Lupicinus who Alatheus then went up to telling him that now they should fight together.

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Alan cavalry warrior

Lupicinus was first unsure of how to react, but when the Huns came his way, Alatheus and his Alan cavalry immediately assisted him in counter attacking the Huns and when the Huns ran out of arrows to fire, they deserted the battlefield. The western legions meanwhile were close to being completely crushed by the remaining Goth infantry and cavalry led by Saphrax with Stilicho and Arbogast close to death but soon enough Stilicho who was knocked down on the ground and being constantly being kicked in the chest by Saphrax gained the upper hand, pulled down Saphrax’s legs and stabbed him right in the chest with his sword while Arbogast did the same thus killing Saphrax while Bauto’s cavalry charged and routed Saphrax’s Goths. As night fell, both Greuthungi and Thervingi Goths seeing their leaders Saphrax, Sueridus, and Colias dead and Alatheus defecting, they all began deserting the battlefield. Back to Richomeres, he too gained the upper hand and was able to disarm and injure Valdis but before Richomeres could kill her, Alatheus, Lupicinus, Stilicho, Arbogast, Bauto, and Anthemius showed up urging Richomeres to leave her alone since with the Goths defeated, Valdis would be useless and she could even be a possible candidate for Roman citizenship while her status in Gothic society could make her a perfect wife for a Roman Patrician. Valdis however refused the offer given to her by Lupicinus and instead went up to Alatheus telling him he is a traitor and will pay in blood but Lupicinus said, Alatheus is now a loyal citizen of Rome who can have the power to punish her, though without saying a thing, Valdis left never to return again.  

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The Hunnish lasso
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Goths charge at the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople, 378
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Late Roman legions form a shield wall
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Roman legionnaires weakened by the Goths, Battle of Adrianople (by Giuseppe Rava)
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Last stand of the Eastern and Western Romans before their eventual (fictional) victory at the Battle of Adrianople

As the battle was nearing its end below the hill with the sun setting, Valentinian made it into Fritigern’s camp killing Fritigern’s bodyguards himself with his sword while Valens and his cavalry looted and burned the tents of the Goths as well as the wagons surrounding the camp killing the Gothic women and children that were kept in the camp as well since nothing could be done about them. Inside Fritigern’s tent, Valentinian to his horror saw Theodosius the Younger now fully a Goth in heart in full Gothic attire practicing with his sword as Fritigern observed him though Fritigern went up to Valentinian himself saying that the young Theodosius already saw that the Roman Empire would fall. Theodosius then spoke directly to Valentinian telling him to listen to Fritigern as Theodosius here could now truly see he was right for siding with the Fritigern’s Gothic coalition since Theodosius came to realize that the Roman Empire was broken and so divided especially because of the religious division between the Arian and Nicene Christians and only with the rule of the Goths would Rome rise up again united and be rebuilt under new leadership. Valentinian shocked seeing what Theodosius had become told him that Fritigern was poisoning his mind and to think about his own actions especially since Theodosius betraying Rome would make his father, the most loyal Roman general Count Theodosius very ashamed of him but the young Theodosius still did not listen saying his father too was weak and all he has done for Rome with his father was useless. Seeing Theodosius’ betrayal fuelled Valentinian’s rage once more but instead of choosing to attack Theodosius who he still saw as a fellow Roman, Valentinian charged straight at Fritigern with his sword though Fritigern blocked his attack with his sword and both were engaged in a vicious sword duel inside Fritigern’s tent which looked as luxurious as a Roman emperor’s tent could be.

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Sample design of Fritigern’s tent

In their duel, Valentinian managed to kick Fritigern who was much heavier with his armor to the ground and disarm him but Fritigern too kicked Valentinian’s arm disarming him too as Theodosius watched the rulers duel. With both disarmed, Fritigern and Valentinian fought with their fists until Valentinian was able to pin Fritigern to the ground wherein with such anger he punched Fritigern’s face countless times until Theodosius dragged Valentinian out of it to protect Fritigern. Valentinian who however only met the young Theodosius once in 367 in Trier before the British campaign told him that Fritigern cannot be trusted and will kill Theodosius the moment he will get his way through him but Theodosius told Valentinian that the Roman imperial government itself cannot be trusted as all this time when Theodosius scored victories for Rome, he was not for once given credit and with Fritigern he will gain more credit than ever and with so much rage Theodosius proceeded to attack Valentinian with his sword but Valentinian not wanting to fight back still seeing some hope in Theodosius stood still and blocked all of Theodosius’ attacks with his sword that he had just picked up from the ground. Valentinian continued telling Theodosius to come back to the side of the Romans and see for himself what his father will think of his actions but Theodosius continued his attacks until managing to slash Valentinian’s face and out of defense, Valentinian pushed Theodosius to a brazier knocking him out, though this also made the flames spread and start burning the tent’s walls. As the tent started burning, Valentinian checked on the knocked-out Theodosius if he was still alive but Fritigern was able to get back on his feet and push Valentinian to the ground wherein Fritigern kicked Valentinian several times. As Valentinian was weakened, Fritigern proceeded to choke him and with Valentinian close to death, the Eastern and Western Palatini legions tore down the burning tent’s walls surrounding the them while Valens after wiping out most of the camp rushed to Fritigern and kicked him saving Valentinian. Valens then angrily told Fritigern he deserves death for betraying his word and pillaging the countryside of Thrace and Moesia but Fritigern laughed seeing Valens himself willing to fight him off as Fritigern did not believe it knowing Valens unlike his older brother was weakling and based on his indecisiveness in the war that started 2 years ago would surely have no guts to fight back but Valens here saw for himself his great mistake in trusting the Goths so he attacked Fritigern too with his sword.

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4th century Palatini Imperial Guardsman (by Giuseppe Rava)

Valentinian got up and both he and his younger brother Valens dueled Fritigern with their swords until both managed to disarm Fritigern again. As the cloth walls of the tent burned away and its fires were put down by the Palatini legions, both Valentinian and Valens finally fighting together as one proceeded to savagely beat Fritigern’s face to the point that his beard was soaked in his own blood. Fritigern then grew exhausted from all the fighting and fell to his knees but as fell, a reinforcement of his bodyguard units from the battlefield rushed up to the camp surrounding Valentinian, Valens, and their Palatini legions. Fritigern told the brothers to surrender but Valentinian clearly refused and deep inside his head he could see not just all the battles he fought his entire life against Germanic barbarians but instead he was able to glimpse all the way back to the 1st century AD seeing all the wars Rome fought against any Germanic barbarian tribes whether Goths, Franks, Cherusci, Quadi, Vandals, or Alemanni and how much destruction they have brought to the empire which made Valentinian once again explode in anger. With such anger, Valentinian’s strength grew and just by slashing his sword, he killed a large number of Fritigern’s bodyguards while the surviving ones horrified seeing Valentinian’s anger fled in fear but before Valentinian could kill Fritigern himself, he fell to the ground as a blood vessel in his brain popped.

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Wrath of Valentinian I (by Dovahhatty)

Fritigern too was shocked seeing the full wrath of Valentinian while Theodosius woke up after being knocked out and rushed to Fritigern while Valens went to check on his brother and Valentinian who fell to the ground told Valens that he has done his part and Rome is saved and that now it is up to both Valens and Gratian to ensure the empire will thrive again and due to suffering a burst blood vessel in his brain, Valentinian stopped breathing and died at age 57 but at least this time being able to spare the empire from a massive Gothic invasion. Fritigern then told Valens that he gave up due to seeing Valentinian’s anger which showed him this kind of frightening situation could happen if you messed with Rome. Valens then offered Theodosius again the chance to return to the side of the Romans as he could continue growing his career and be just as great of a general like his father Count Theodosius but the young Theodosius told Valens to get lost as he already has a future with Fritigern and the Goths so Fritigern then told Theodosius they are going back to the land of the Goths across the Danube saying that the war isn’t over yet. As both Fritigern and Theodosius the Younger left the scene, Valens had the Palatini troops picked up and placed Valentinian’s body in a cart headed for Constantinople where he will be buried, then Valens returned to the bottom of the hill to check on his men.

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Romans (fictionally) defeat the Goths at Adrianople

It was now late at night when Valens himself inspected the aftermath of the battlefield seeing that despite their victory against the Goths, it was a pyrrhic victory as 2/3 of the Roman army was lost but at least the Goths losing their leadership had fled and if not for Alatheus and the Alans defecting to the Romans, the Romans would have surely lost like in real history. In this case, the Romans were able to at least win despite losing more than half of their army and suffering from dehydration due to the heat because they did not lose to fear unlike in reality and here as well, Valentinian who was alive to be in this battle inspired such courage in his men to not give up. Richomeres and the young Stilicho who survived the battle went up to Valens asking what happened to Valentinian though Valens said that his older brother sadly passed but his sacrifice will not be forgotten for his anger was able to spare Rome from the devastating consequences of the Gothic War. Valens then told his men to all rest and set up camp right at the battlefield as in the next day, both eastern and western troops would return to Constantinople with their loot and Gothic prisoners wherein in a few weeks, they would celebrate a triumph when Gratian who is now the west’s new senior Augustus would arrive.

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Valens (fictionally) survives the Battle of Adrianople with his legions behind

3 weeks later, unlike in real history where Valens died in battle by either being shot by an arrow or being burned inside a farmhouse and the Goths continuing their pillaging through Thrace wherein they failed to besiege both Adrianople and Constantinople, a large triumph was celebrated in Constantinople’s main street or Mese for the surviving heroes of the battle of Adrianople following the burial of Valentinian I at the Church of the Holy Apostles, the newly built burial site for the emperors since Constantine I. In this triumph, Valens was now no longer unpopular as he was before but now celebrated as the hero of Adrianople while behind him both surviving eastern and western legions followed with their Gothic prisoners of war.

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Empress Albia Dominica, wife of Valens

The triumphal procession ended at Constantinople’s Hippodrome where Valens stood in a platform together with his wife Empress Albia Dominica and his now western co-Augustus, his now 19-year-old nephew Gratian who just arrived after just successfully defeating the Alemanni invasion of the Rhine with Count Theodosius coming east alone to congratulate the heroic soldiers and commanders particularly Richomeres, Lupicinus, Bauto, Stilicho, Arbogast, Anthemius, and their new Gothic ally Alatheus who were all called to come up to the platform together with the general Trajan who had remained in Constantinople all this time. Gratian who was also victorious in his own battles at the west then made his speech saying that with his father gone, he will do all his best in being a strong emperor like his father now that he was already an adult while Valens in his speech said that the struggles in the Gothic War taught them that it was their disunity that almost made them lose and that now east and west despite being ruled by different emperors must always cooperate with each other at all times, then Valens announced that when he dies as he had no sons ever since his only son died back in 370 at only age 4, the eastern half of the empire will be inherited by Gratian’s younger half-brother Valentinian II. Once the speeches were over, Gratian was fully acclaimed as the west’s new senior Augustus so the western legions that were in the Hippodrome pulled out a large circular shield where Gratian stood on as soldiers including Stilicho and Arbogast lifted him acclaiming him as their new emperor while cheers were once again heard from everywhere. 

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Church of the Holy Apostles, burial site of the Byzantine emperors

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Hippodrome and the Imperial District of Constantinople


Roman Victory and the Aftermath of the Gothic War (Conclusion)

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          In real history, the Romans could have actually beaten the Gothic army of Fritigern and his allies if Valens did not make the stupid decision of attacking the Goths without waiting for western reinforcements which means they could have worked together to overcome the Goths but instead Valens wanting to gain the credit he so wanted thought he could defeat the Goths himself but the end, it meant the end for Valens. The Battle of Adrianople in reality resulted in the deaths of not only Valens but 35 of his senior officers and 2/3 of the Roman army dead and what caused their defeat was not so much of lacking troops and strength because of the heat but losing to fear as when they arrived at the battlefield, they were overwhelmed by the Goths that encircled them forcing many of the Roman soldiers to flee in fear instead of standing up against the Goths.

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Historical death of Valens at the Battle of Adrianople

Now in this story, the result of the battle was the same with 2/3 of the Roman army- both eastern and western combined- lost but what would be different here in this case compared to the historical version is that since Valentinian I was still alive and present at the battle, being an able and charismatic general to his troops, he was able to inspire them to stand up and not lose to fear even if it would mean dying in battle as they would all die to protect their empire but also what would cause victory for the Romans in this case despite suffering so much casualties was that their army was larger in number consisting of the full force of eastern and western legions and not to mention the fact that the Goth commander Alatheus and his Alan cavalry defected to the Romans. At the end however, Valentinian I too died in this alternate version and again due to his own anger resulting in a burst blood vessel in his brain as how it happened in his real death in 375 but at least his death and the intensity of his anger that caused it was frightening enough to scare Fritigern away and never return as this incident of Valentinian’s death happened right in front of Fritigern. Now in this case with Fritigern escaping the battlefield out of fear together with his new loyal Roman ally Theodosius, his Greuthungi commander Saphrax dying in battle, Valdis disappearing, and Alatheus defecting to the Romans, the outcome in real history wherein Fritigern and his Goths were free to pillage their way through Thrace while Alatheus and Saphrax would raid all the way into Illyria and Pannonia would not happen, instead the Romans seeing how close they were to losing would take this as a lesson to strengthen their defenses in the Balkans where the Goths had invaded and also due to realizing that their division almost caused them their defeat, the Romans would take this experience as a lesson that both eastern and western empires should cooperate more with each other. Now back to the historical version of the Battle of Adrianople and its aftermath, following the Goths’ victory and death of Valens, they were invigorated to pillage everything in their path though due to lacking siege weapons were unable to besiege the city of Adrianople and later Constantinople. Following the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the Goths attempted to besiege the eastern capital of Constantinople but were crushed in small battle against the army of the city wherein the city’s defense was supervised by Valens’ wife Empress Albia Dominica and also in this small battle, the defending Roman army had Arab mercenaries with them which proved effective in defeating the Goths and it was even said that one Arab soldier slit a Goth’s throat and suck his blood out which caused so much fear in Goths that they fled though still continued pillaging through the Balkans. The situation with the Goths however was partially dealt with Theodosius the Younger himself who in reality instead of betraying Rome and siding with the Goths was recalled to Moesia from his retirement in Spain in late 378 wherein he actually campaigned successfully against the Goths. It was though only in early 379 when Gratian finally arrived in the east after defeating the Alemanni- particularly Lentienses- invaders but knowing he could not rule both east and west alone due to his young age and due to the fact that the threat of the Alemanni in the Rhine was not over yet, Gratian appointed Theodosius who was the nearest most capable general around to be his eastern co-emperor based in Constantinople trusting him since Theodosius was the son of Gratian’s father’s most trusted general Count Theodosius.

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Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395)

Now in real history, since Theodosius I became emperor of the east, he moved his new wife Aelia Flaccilla and infant son Arcadius to Constantinople from Spain while Theodosius set up Thessalonica as his military base in the second phase of the war against the Goths which were still devastating the Balkans. The second phase of the Gothic War from 379 to 382 began out terribly as Theodosius decided to attack the Goths using retired army veterans, inexperienced recruits that were forced into the army despite them mutilating their hands to be spared, and hired Gothic mercenaries and this only resulted in most of the army deserting and the Gothic mercenaries defecting Fritigern who they were actually loyal to. In Pannonia meanwhile, the Gothic threat was ended by the Western Roman army led by the generals sent by Gratian which were the same Arbogast and Bauto who were mentioned here in the battle and after being driven out of Pannonia, the Goths were now successfully pushed back to Thrace by the summer of 381. The Gothic War then finally ended in 382 when Theodosius decided to just make peace with them since he knew there could be no military victory against the Goths and by 382, the Gothic leaders Fritigern, Alatheus, and Saphrax were no longer mentioned again, and it is unclear on what dates they died. Another incident that happened before the war ended was that in 381, Fritigern’s rival Thervingi ruler Athanaric was exiled by his own tribesmen making him seek refuge in the Roman Empire wherein Athanaric unexpectedly came to Constantinople making a deal with Theodosius that made Athanaric’s Gothic army be settled into the eastern empire as federate troops while Athanaric after seeing the impressiveness of Constantinople as the imperial city, came to realize that there was no more reason to have war with the Romans which perhaps made him choose to settle peace with Theodosius and shortly after, Athanaric died in Constantinople sometime in 381 and was given a funeral with full honors by Theodosius. Basically what happened after 382 was that Theodosius did the same as he did with Athanaric’s men a year earlier which meant that the remaining Goths he signed peace with were allowed to settle within the Roman Empire though under their own leaders but were at least successfully made into Foederati or allied troops to the Roman army and this peace agreement with the Goths turned out to be successful, at least until Theodosius I’s death in 395. These new Gothic Foederati troops in the Roman army became of use when Theodosius fought civil wars first against the usurper Magnus Maximus of Britannia between 383 and 388 and against the usurper Eugenius and the now traitor general Arbogast between 392 and 394. The Goths including their future ruler Alaric I then played a major role in helping Theodosius win a decisive victory over Arbogast and Eugenius at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 .

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Alaric I, King of the Visigoths (r. 395-410)

The devastating part however only came after Theodosius’ death in 395 when Alaric rose to power and declared himself king thus making his men independent from Roman rule despite him being given the title of Magister Militum later on. The real consequence of the Romans’ defeat at Adrianople in 378 and the conclusion of the war that allowed Goths to settle in the empire was truly evident in the event that Alaric and his Goths suddenly sacked Rome in 410 which marked the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire as after this, the Goths were again free to roam pillage the west until they eventually settled in Gaul and later in Spain, breaking away from the Western Empire and forming their own kingdom.

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Battle of the Frigidus, 394- victory of Theodosius I and Gothic allies against Arbogast (by Amelianvs)

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Alaric I and his Visigoths sack Rome, 410

          Now in the case of this alternate story wherein the Romans won the Battle of Adrianople, there would be no ongoing Gothic threat in the Balkans, therefore no need for the new western Augustus Gratian to appoint Theodosius the Younger as his eastern co-emperor especially since in this case Valens would still be alive and Theodosius too won’t be around to either be appointed as co-emperor or try to take the throne since he had joined the Goths and with their defeat, he fled with them back to the Gothic homeland. With the Romans victorious against the Goths in 378, Valens as the most senior emperor of the whole empire would come to realize his mistake especially in attempting to fight the Goths alone wherein he could have gotten killed as he did in real history if not for Valentinian coming to his aid. Here Valens would see that he should have learned to not make his insecurities of feeling that he has not gotten any credit to get the best of him because eventually he did defeat the Goths and gained credit for it, therefore he also learned that he needed to be patient as the time will come for him to earn the praise of his people that used to despise him before. Now because the Eastern Romans won with the help of the west, Valens too would learn that working together as Romans is definitely important especially if the threat comes from outside, which was here the case with the Goths and that one division or particularly the emperor of one division of the empire shouldn’t think he should compete with the other especially since they were still one empire after all except divided with co-emperors. Now after 378, Valens would continue ruling the east as the most senior emperor of the empire as he is the oldest of the emperors and now also a respected figure and military hero while in the west Gratian would rule as his uncle’s western co-Augustus and since the war with both the Goths and the invading Alemanni in the Rhine was over, Gratian would use the time to practice becoming a strong ruler the way his late father was. Since Valentinian I was dead, Gratian would now be on his own to run the west and due to his experience in actually defending the Rhine, he would already have what it takes to manage a complex and war-torn empire and all these experiences of his in these hard times would sure enough shape Gratian into a wise and not only a tough emperor.

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Emperor Valentinian II, son of Valentinian I

Meanwhile, following Valentinian I’s death in 378, his younger 7-year-old son Valentinian II here would now be made not only a Caesar of Gratian but his co-Augustus of the west though due to his young age, he would still be under the regency of his mother Empress Justina while Count Theodosius the actual protector of Valentinian II would eventually retire from military service and return to his native Spain after 378 due to his old age as by this time he could already be in his late 60s or early 70s but his sudden retirement would also be because of the sadness he felt after discovering his son who he always thought would be a loyal soldier to Rome betrayed Rome and joined the Goths and worse even becoming a top general of the Goths. Since Count Theodosius retired from his military service in the west, he would be replaced as the new Magister Militum by Richomeres who would definitely be a loyal general to both Gratian and Valentinian II while Bauto who survived the battle would be the west’s cavalry general or Magister Equitum while both young soldiers Stilicho and Arbogast would quickly rise up the ranks to becoming both Magister Peditum or infantry generals of the west due to their valor shown in the Battle of Adrianople. The Greuthungi Goth leader Alatheus meanwhile after swearing his loyalty to Rome would be given land in Pannonia and command of his Alan cavalry as the empire’s new barbarian federate troops in the scenario of a future war against possibly the Goths, Franks, Sassanids, or even the Huns as the Battle of Adrianople also showed the Romans that they need barbarian allies who know the fighting styles of the barbarians in order to fight the barbarians and since Alatheus was inspired by how orderly and sophisticated the world of the Romans was and not chaotic like the world of the Goths where he came from, he would surely become a loyal commander to Rome despite being a Goth. In the east, the general Trajan who Valens demoted before the Battle of Adrianople would turn out to do his job well as Constantinople’s city prefect charged with keeping order and building up the imperial city to something even greater than that of Rome while Lupicinus who has survived the battle and gained more military knowledge from it would end up becoming the east’s Magister Militum. The character of Flavius Anthemius meanwhile who was mentioned here was true enough the same Anthemius who later became the city prefect of Constantinople that built the famous and massive Theodosian Walls in the 410s and just like in real history, Anthemius here would become Constantinople’s city prefect and in the future would built the same 3-layered walls we know of except since there would be no Emperor Theodosius II that the walls was named after due to Theodosius II’s grandfather Theodosius I betraying Rome, these walls would maybe be called the “Anthemian Walls” after Anthemius which would do the same as in real history in protecting Constantinople for more than a thousand years to come. Back to Valens, since he survived that battle in 378, he would most probably die by around 395- the same year Theodosius I died in real history- and since Valens had no sons , he will sure enough be succeeded by his nephew Valentinian II as the new eastern Augustus and now both Gratian and his younger brother would rule as western and eastern co-emperors the way Valentinian I and Valens did before them and since Gratian who would definitely be married by this time would most possibly have a son so there would be no succession problems.

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The Theodosian (aka. Anthemian) Walls of Constantinople 

          The biggest change in this story now happens to be that Theodosius I better known as “Theodosius the Great” would not become eastern emperor in 379 and this would surely change a lot of things. Without Theodosius I for one, the Goths would not be settled into the empire under their own leaders but this too would not happen since they were already defeated back in 378, though the even more pivotal changes that would happen if Theodosius would not be emperor would surely be that Nicene Christianity would not be made into the empire’s official religion being made superior among all others, thus all religious beliefs whether Christian (Arian or Nicene) or Pagan would still be tolerated in the empire under Gratian and Valentinian II, therefore no persecutions of Pagans, no destruction of ancient temples and traditions, and no banning of the Olympics games as what happened in the reign of Theodosius I.

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Emperor Theodosius I the Great

With Theodosius I not around too, there would also be no reason for his old friend Magnus Maximus in Britannia to start a civil war against Gratian in 383 as he did this in hopes of being Theodosius’ co-emperor, also there would be no civil war against the usurper Eugenius in 392 as Valentinian II would sure enough grow up to be a capable ruler and not a puppet as he was when Theodosius I was emperor in reality meaning Valentinian II would not be betrayed due to his weak leadership making the army led by Arbogast be in favor of Eugenius, though Arbogast would still possibly have his own imperial ambitions but since either Gratian or Valentinian II would turn out to be strong rulers, they would soon enough discover Arbogast’s treachery and have him executed. Lastly, without Theodosius around in the empire at this point and since in this story Theodosius had not retired to Hispania as his father was not executed, Theodosius here would have not been married to Aelia Flaccilla, therefore his sons and later the incompetent emperors Arcadius and Honorius would not be even born meaning there would be no need to permanently divide the empire between east and west as what happened in reality with the death of Theodosius I. Now since I have mentioned Theodosius betraying Rome and after 378 fully becoming one of the Goths by joining Fritigern in returning to the Goths’ homeland across the Danube, there could be many different possibilities on what could happen to him. Since the Goths had lost, Fritigern would have to think of ways of survival especially since the Goths would again have to face the threat of the Huns and now they would stand no chance especially after being beaten back by the Romans so Fritigern would have no choice but to ally himself with his old nemesis Athanaric and both be co-rulers of the Thervingi Goths in order to stand up against the Huns or even plan another invasion of the Roman Empire. As for Theodosius, he would not only become Fritigern’s and later both his and Athanaric’s top general but would also be adopted as Fritigern’s son and successor and in all those years, Theodosius living that hard life in the land of the Goths as opposed to the easier life he lived before in the Roman Empire would be shaped into a ruthless killer for the Goths that would be brainwashed to hate Rome making him kill Romans himself with such brutality like no other. As for the female Greuthungi leader Valdis who fled the Battle of Adrianople after her defeat to Richomeres, she would return to her homeland and Greuthungi tribe north of the Black Sea to now be the sole regent of her nephew Vithericus as Alatheus defected to the Romans and Saphrax died in battle. What could happen here is that Fritigern wanting a stronger and unified Gothic nation would fully unite his Thervingi tribe with the Greuthungi by marrying Theodosius to Valdis and since Fritigern due to old age and Athanaric as well would die some time sooner, the most possible new ruler of united Goths would be both Theodosius and Valdis together while Vithericus would might as well be poisoned to death to stop him as a threat to both rulers and due to Theodosius as a Roman having the knowledge of their more superior battle tactics, the Goths would sure enough learn Roman tactics and prove to be an even deadlier enemy to the Romans when they would come to invade the empire again. The most possible scenario for the Goths to strike again and this time with Theodosius both leading them as their ruler and the candidate for the imperial throne with the backing of the Goths would be the death of Valens in 395 and since Theodosius being last in the Roman Empire in 378 would most possibly never have heard that Gratian’s half-brother Valentinian II existed, so he would use the death of Valens and the vacancy of the throne in the west as an excuse to invade the empire and install himself as emperor, therefore being emperor of both Goths and Romans.

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The Roman Empire divided between east (purple) given to Arcadius and west (red) given to Honorius at Theodosius I’s death in 395 (in reality)

          What could possibly happen here is that Theodosius with Valdis could gather a full force of a new Gothic army plus new Hunnish allies, with a new sidekick being the young Alaric, and a Roman ally which is Theodosius’ fellow Spaniard Magnus Maximus who at the time was based in Britannia to wage a deadly empire-wide war against Gratian and Valentinian II but since Gratian and Valentinian II learned that they should act as one in such challenging times, they would command the full force of the Roman army to battle the forces of the Goths and Huns in an epic battle worth talking about thousands of years later.

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Deadly Hunnish cavalry

In this epic battle that is to come, it is either the united forces of both Western and Eastern Romans plus their new Frankish, Gothic, and Alemanni Federate armies defeat the full force of the Goths and Huns and finally have Theodosius tried and executed for treason or Theodosius wins and now rules a super-empire covering the entire Europe that would turn the tide of history subjugating the Romans under barbarian Gothic rule with Theodosius I as the “Emperor of the Goths and Romans” or another outcome could be that after Theodosius defeats both Gratian and Valentinian II, he would see his own mistakes in the past, abandon his Goths by sending them away together with Valdis, and come back to his senses becoming a true Roman once again and now with both Gratian and Valentinian II defeated and killed, Theodosius would end up becoming once again an emperor of a united Roman Empire but what would happen after would be unknown as it could be either that his half-Gothic children with Valdis could succeed him or he could marry again and sure enough establish a stable dynasty that would continue to preserve the rich legacy of Rome. Personally, I would go with the possible outcome of Theodosius taking control of the Roman Empire absorbing it into his new Gothic-Roman Empire which would totally change the course of European history since this could lead to a new Roman Empire reborn that would be under new Gothic leadership but retaining its old Roman values, systems, literature, science and technology though with this new empire coming into existence, there would be no reason for the Byzantine Empire to exist as Western Rome would not fall and true enough this new and even more powerful empire spanning north to south from the Baltic Sea to Egypt and west to east from Portugal to Syria and all the way to the Volga River in Russia could  become a world power strong enough with such a massive army of Romans and Goths to face the deadliest threats to known to man such as the Huns and Sassanids which they could surely easily defeat. Well, it is up for you viewers to decide what kind of outcome goes best with this alternate story if the Romans beat the Goths at Adrianople and if the Goths and Romans go to war again.     

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Map of the Hypothetical Gothic-Roman Empire of Theodosius I

          And now I have now reached the end of the first chapter of my Byzantine history fan fiction series and though this is only first one, it may seem very long but this particularly because the Battle of Adrianople was one event in Roman history with such a great variety of characters and true enough had such great consequences for the future of Rome as less than a hundred years after this battle, the Western Roman Empire came to an end in 476 leaving only the eastern half surviving as the Byzantine Empire. The defeat of the Romans at Adrianople led to the Goths being settled into the empire under their own leaders in order to settle peace with them wherein at the first the Goths were loyal allies to Rome until the death of Theodosius I in 395 and the rise of the new Visigoth king Alaric I which led to the sack of Rome in 410 and the establishment of the Visigoth Kingdom in Gaul and Spain in the 5th century. The victory of the Goths in 378 and their invasion of the Roman Empire too led to the Thervingi Goths becoming the Visigoths who would settle in the empire wherein this would lead them to establishing what would be later on the ancestor state of medieval Spain and the Greuthungi Goths eventually settling in the empire as well wherein a century later they would invade Italy and form the Ostrogoth Kingdom. In real history, the aftermath of the Goths’ victory at the Battle of Adrianople did have a lot of negative outcomes for the Roman Empire, especially the west since it led to the formation of new independent kingdoms like the Visigoth Kingdom of Gaul that would further weaken Roman authority in the west though the victory of the Goths in 378 and their settlement into the empire also had positive outcomes and the most notable one being that the Visigoth Kingdom in Gaul founded by Alaric’s successors would one day redeem themselves by allying with the Western Romans in 451 when the Huns led by Atilla finally invaded Roman territory as here the Visigoths under their king Theodoric I fought side by side with the Roman general Flavius Aetius at the Battle of Chalons in Gaul which was possibly 10 times even more epic that the Battle of Adrianople in 378 with even more casualties on both sides but at the end, thanks to the support of the Visigoths, the Western Roman Empire was spared from the deadly threat of Atilla and his Huns although since the Western Empire was already weakened by too much wars and barbarian invasions as well as 2 sackings of Rome first by the Visigoths (410) and the Vandals (455), the empire was eventually only left with Italy thus leading to the fall of the Western Empire in 476. Now in this case, if the Romans were able to manage to defeat the Goths in Adrianople, the fall of Rome- at least the Western Empire- would still be inevitable as the sooner or later the Huns, even possibly led by Attila could invade both eastern and western empires but since both halves learned to fight as one after almost losing to the Goths in 378, they could possibly manage to defeat the Huns and their new Gothic allies that they have subjugated the moment their invasion comes in the 5th century. Now before I end, I would then say that the Battle of Adrianople with a Roman victory would not do much in changing the course of Roman history, as the empire was bound to fall anyway ever since the Crisis of the 3rd Century though most possibly only the west which was more threatened by barbarian invasions would be the one to fall as the east becoming the Byzantine Empire would most definitely have more chances of survival as their empire included many rich cities and richer lands. On the other hand, unless the rare possibility of Theodosius betraying Rome and becoming a Gothic ruler would actually happen, this would true enough change the course of history like no other way especially if he were to rule both Romans and Goths together thus establishing an empire more powerful than any other in its time. Now for the 4th century, this topic of an alternate outcome to the Battle of Adrianople and the Gothic War with a Roman victory only came to my mind lately and after being inspired by Dovahhatty’s episode XVII Imperial Wrath, I just thought for myself that if Valentinian did not die from his own anger in 375, he could have been there to help his brother Valens eliminate the Gothic threat that just came into the empire the year after Valentinian’s death and since Valentinian was known to be a better military emperor than Valens, his skill would help the Romans defeat the Goths. Also, this team-up between Valentinian and Valens had also for me turned out to be one of the topics I have always wanted to do for a fan fiction ever since after again watching Dovahhatty’s video in his Unbiased History of Rome series. On the other hand, I also wanted to add a plot twist to this story which was Theodosius being seduced by Fritigern to joining the Goths and the Gothic leader Alatheus defecting to Rome and for these plot twists, I was inspired by the storyline of season 3 of Cobra Kai (spoiler alert!) when the character of Robby turned bad and joined Cobra Kai just as Theodosius did in this story and Hawk in season 3 redeemed himself just as Alatheus did here. Personally, I think Theodosius is a very interesting and controversial figure who is the kind of Byzantine emperor I’d like to experiment on as in reality he is someone who should have not been in power as his actions as emperor helped indirectly cause more division that weakened the Roman Empire, for instance allowing the Goths to settle in the empire, so I would see that he would be better off joining the Goths so I did just that when writing this story. Well, I hope this was a very interesting and very complex fan fiction considering it is my first in this series. Now in this Byzantine fan fiction series I am making, I just have to say here that the stories will not be connected with each other and up next, the second chapter of my series will be focused on another possible what if scenario in the 5th century set in year 472 if the Western Roman emperor Anthemius was not assassinated and instead he assassinated his evil puppet master Ricimer if he received the secret letter from the Byzantine or his eastern co-emperor Leo I, now could this other outcome of the story alter the course of history by slowing down the fall of Western Rome wherein it would live even beyond 476? Well, this all for chapter I of Byzantine Alternate history, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveler… thank you for your time!  

Roman and Byzantine Empire Comparison Series- Part1: The Army

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE! BUT ENJOY! 

Next Article on the comparison series: Imperial Systems

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Welcome back to another Byzantium Blogger article! The last 2 articles under special edition articles have been focused on the current COVID-19 pandemic issue of the present day relating it to the pandemics of the Roman and Byzantine world in the first article and the second one being about the issue of self-isolation of worldwide quarantine which also relates to stories from the Roman and Byzantine Empire of people who had also gone through the same thing including some holy men who chose to isolate themselves above columns their entire lives. Now for this article I am back to one of specialities in wiring, which is military history and the usual subject matter of elements in Byzantine history and this one will be the first in a 3 part series of the Roman-Byzantine Empires comparison, a topic I have always wanted to cover. However it would be too long to do a full article on comparing everything between Roman and Byzantine societies so instead I have broken it up into 3 articles wherein the first, which is this one, will focus mainly on the similarities and differences between the Roman army and their successor the Byzantine army, the second will be on the similarities and differences between the Roman and Byzantine imperial systems, and the third and last will be about the cultural similarities and differences between the 2 empires. So basically, the two empires to be featured here- the Roman and Byzantine Empires- are basically the same, the latter being the successor to the former and the empire that succeeded as the eastern half of the old Roman Empire when the west was lost. However since the Byzantine Empire continued the Roman Empire for about a thousand years, there was a huge difference in the life of the Roman Empire of antiquity and the Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages though both in common were still the same empire having the same imperial system, the emperor as the head, while the biggest difference of course was the territorial extent while the previous Roman Empire controlled a much vast empire spanning 3 continents while its successor had a much downsized empire which over the years either gained or lost territory but never had as much as its predecessor had. The one element the Roman Empire and its predecessor the Roman Republic had strongly succeeded in and is well known for is its invincible army, which was the machine that helped Rome become the powerful empire it was. Over the centuries, the Romans have developed new tactics and military reforms to improve the army and by the 4th century when the Roman Empire gave birth to its eventual successor, the Byzantine Empire, this empire inherited Rome’s military structure among many things but over the centuries that Byzantium had existed, they too had made reforms that continued changing the structure of the Roman army including completely changing the army units, fighting styles, weapons, siege engines, and equipment. The long history of the Roman army from the old Roman Empire to the Byzantine Empire shows a story of adaptability to the fighting styles of their enemies in order to counter them as over the centuries of the existence of the Roman Empire all the way from the days of the Republic in the 5th century BC to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, war was constant and over so many centuries the Romans fought a diverse range of enemies from the Carthaginians to the Germanic tribes, from the Persians to the Turks and because of fighting so many wars, they not only learned the battle strategies of their enemy but took in and manufactured their own equipment and weapons based on that of their enemy. This article will cover the changes of the formations and units of the Roman army from the time of the Roman Republic to the rise of the empire in the 1st century BC to the rise of the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century with the capital moved to Constantinople and to the Byzantine era after that where the military structure underwent many new changes as the empire downsized. Also the article will go through points in history that changed the army structure which were mainly the notable reforms in Roman history such as the Marian Reforms of 107BC that laid the foundations of the Roman legions, then the reforms of during the reign of the first Roman emperor Augustus (27BC-14AD) that began the structure of the imperial army, then the reforms in the 3rd century that downsized the once powerful Roman legions into a more mobile army that would be the army that the Byzantine Empire inherited in which its structure would change by downsizing of the empire in the 7th century and from the on this would continue to be the Byzantine army structure for the next centuries until the last years of the empire when the army was no longer powerful or relevant whereas instead mercenary armies were more reliable. Of course since the Roman Empire’s borders had grown larger it meant that its army needed to expand and create legions having up to a thousand soldiers but with borders too large to defend, the army meanwhile had to be simplified and in the Byzantine era with shrinking borders and constant threats of invasions from the Arabs in the east and south and the Bulgars in the north, the army again needed to change this time to be localized to respond to threats much quicker, this system the Byzantines developed for their army to respond quickly to threats would be the Theme System of smaller military zones all over the empire evolving from the Roman provincial system in which provinces were equivalent to entire modern day countries. Aside from talking about the serious matters like the military governing systems of the empire, this article will go through more fun and interesting pieces of information such as the different kinds of Roman and Byzantine soldier units including Roman and Byzantine special forces and special guard units, armor, helmets, weapons, equipment, standards, generals, and army lifestyle as well as siege engines. Overall the Roman imperial army was a successful but was still one with a very complicated and detailed structure with so many roles and positions that may have not been so necessary while its successor, the Byzantine army was a much simplified version of the Roman army in its glory days, although this doesn’t mean that the Byzantine army was less successful. The Roman army may have been powerful and massive in number but their successor the Byzantine army despite being less in number were just as innovative as the Romans yet had more sophisticated weapons and wider variety of fighting styles, weapons, and unites while having more sophisticated siege weapons too like Greek Fire, an ancient flamethrower, it’s just that the Byzantine army and its power happens to be overlooked compared to the power of its predecessor’s army. Well, as you are all most probably still under lockdown, here is an interesting read to pass the time especially for those who want to know how different the Roman and Byzantine armies were. However, the article will only be limited to the Roman and Byzantine armies and not their navies while most of my information is not as complete as I am just putting the basics of the Roman and Byzantine armies based on videos I watched from Kings and Generals and Eastern Roman History, but anyway enjoy reading it as this is mostly all just basic facts.

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The Roman Empire at its height, 117

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Map of the Byzantine Empire in 3 different periods (largest extent in 555, 2nd peak in 1025, and final years in 1360)

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Evolution from Roman to Byzantine legionnaire

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Evolution of Roman infantry units, 753BC-1453AD

Note: This article almost all Roman and Byzantine army related and not so much on stories from these empires. Maybe not the kind of article for a light read. 

Also thanks to Foojer for the illustrations of the soldiers.

Related Articles (and Army Articles) from The Byzantium Blogger:

Thoughts on Quarantine and Isolation with Roman and Byzantine Related Stories- COVID-19 Related 

Story of 3 Plagues Across Centuries- COVID-19 Related

The Sieges of Constantinople

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

A Guide to the Themes of the Byzantine Empire

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part1

Foreign Lands and People According to the Byzantines Part2

Byzantine Science and Technology

The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Byzantine Military Figures and History

Byzantine Siege Weapons and Naval Warfare

Warfare of the Romans

10 Greatest Special Forces in History

Watch this to see a time-lapse of the evolution of the Roman infantry soldiers (from Foojer).

Watch this to see a time-lapse of the evolution of the Byzantine infantry (from Foojer).

 

Part I. Army Structure and Reforms

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First of all, the early history of Rome is shrouded in mystery as Roman only began recording their history in the 3rd century BC, so it’s unclear whether Rome was first ruled by kings until 509BC but the traditional founding date of Rome is April 21,753BC while 509BC was the founding date of the republic. In Rome’s early days, the city-state was at war with their neighbors, the other Italian kingdoms and city states including the Etruscans, which had influenced the fighting styles of the early Romans. The Etruscans and the early Romans had used a style of fighting similar to that of the ancient Greeks using the phalanx formation with soldiers dressed in light armor and bronze helmets holding long spears. The early Roman army though had conquered most of Italy and fought off the Gauls, afterwards developing the legion system for their armies which they recruited among the people of Italy that the early Romans conquered. From the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC, the Roman army used a simple battle structure known as the Manipular Structure also known as the “Polybian Army”, as the structure was recorded by the Greek historian Polybius (208-125BC). The Manipular Structure of the Roman army was said to have originated from the Samnites, a neighboring Italic people the early Romans fought yet had adopted their battle formations while its name comes from the word maniples meaning “handfuls” as the formation consisted of many soldiers armed with different types of weapons. The manipular formation was quite simple being almost all infantry units consisting of 3 lines of infantry soldiers known as the Triplex Acies divided into several blocks with loose spaces between each lines and blocks to give soldiers more space to move as they fight as these units fought in a checkerboard quincunx formation. There were 120 soldiers in each block or maniple and were equipped differently having different armor and weapon sets, which will be discussed later, although the one element the early Roman army had that made it stand out was that it was standardized with soldiers wearing uniform armor, helmets, and tunics, and even weapons similar to the hoplite armies of Ancient Greece, except the early soldiers of Rome had to provide their own weapons and armor which is why there was a difference in the weapon and armor types of the units, though Rome’s enemies at that time like the Carthaginians had a small professional army which were basically the officers with uniform equipment and armor while the rest of Carthage’s army was a multinational force of mercenaries from Numidia, Iberia, Greece, and Gaul all using their own weapons and armor, however this article is focused on the evolution of the Roman army and not the Carthaginian. The early manipular Roman army though was successful in the war against Carthage (The Punic Wars) as well as the conquest of Greece ending in 146BC with Rome victorious fully defeating the empire of Carthage as well as the Macedonian kingdom and Greek city-states and making itself a Mediterranean power. Despite powerful war machines such as the elephants of Carthage and phalanx of the Greeks, the Roman manipular army was able to succeed in overcoming both but this early formation of the Roman army did not last as Rome’s territory expanded more and their enemies like the fierce warlike Gauls of France Germanic tribes across the Rhine and Danube Rivers in Europe, the Seleucid Empire Greeks in the Middle East with their heavy Cataphract cavalry, and the Numidians of North Africa were powerful enemies, which meant the Roman army had to restructure itself and form an army as powerful as their enemies as well. In the days of the republic, the consuls or 2 leaders of the senate were also responsible to lead the army as generals and in 107BC, the Roman consul and general Gaius Marius (157-86BC) stepped in to reform the Roman army eventually forming the prototype of the imperial Roman legion system which increased the number of soldiers. Before Marius, the Roman army’s recruitment was limited and soldiers had to provide their own equipment but with Marius’ reforms to increase the number of soldiers, not only those who could afford but the masses could join the army as under the reforms, the state would now provide weapons and armor for the soldiers manufactured in central armies or Fabricae making the Roman army a professional one with uniform weapons and armor. The biggest change the consul Marius did with the army was creating transforming the old Maniple system into the Cohort system, which would then be the system used for the legions of the Roman Empire, and compared to the original maniple system, the cohort had a larger number of soldiers going from the 120 men the maniple had to 600 men which made up 1 cohort, while the cohort was divided into 6 centuries which at first had 80 men serving as the Roman legionnaires commanded by an officer called a centurion while the remaining 20 men would be reserve troops or non-combatants which served as the back-end of the army having roles such as military servants or engineers operating the siege engines. Also part of the Marian Reforms, each century which consisted of 80 men charged into battle throwing their primary weapons or pila or javelins and when charging at the enemy would group closer and form the Testudo or “tortoise” formation where all 80 men cover themselves up in shields, except at the back. Now if a single cohort already had 600 men, an entire legion had sometimes up to 10 cohorts having sometimes 6,000 men, though with this much soldiers, a legion would be already be the army in charge of defending one or more Roman provinces. In a Roman legion, the main forces would be the legionnaires divided into cohorts and subdivided into centuries, though an entire legion was not only made up of these organized units, as the Roman legion developed by Marius also included auxiliary units consisting of non-Roman citizens forming the reserve archer and light infantry units as well as cavalry units. In the legion, the most sacred symbol was the eagle (Aquila) and if it was lost, the legion was disbanded.

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Army units of the Carthaginian Army during the Punic Wars

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Structure of the Roman Legion Cohort System formed in Marius’ Reforms

Watch this to learn more about the early structure of the Roman Republican army (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this learn more about the Roman Maniuplar legion of the Republic (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the Marian Reforms and the start of the legions (from Kings and Generals).

 

In the decades following the military reforms of Gaius Marius, the Roman legions proved to be effective but this had also become a time of endless civil war in the Roman Republic where each faction commanded legions that fought against each other. Other than fighting civil wars, the army now having the legion structure introduced by Marius was effective in defeating the army of the Greek Seleucid Empire in 63BC as well as in conquering Gaul during Caesar’s campaigns, although the legions were not all that effective as in 53BC the Roman army suffered a heavy defeat to the new Persian Parthian Empire at Carrhae beginning the centuries long conflict between Rome and the Persians. In 31BC, all the civil wars in the Roman Republic came to an end after Octavian defeated his rival Mark Antony at the naval Battle of Actium and after coming out victorious, Octavian inherited all of Rome’s armies consisting of 60 legions. In 27BC, Octavian became Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (27BC-14AD) and becoming emperor he kept the same legion structure introduced by Marius but further broke it down from 60 to 28 legions in order to balance the number of soldiers per legion, though later on in Augustus’ reign following the defeat of the Roman army to the Germanic Tribes at Teutoburg Forest (9AD) with the loss of 3 entire legions, the Roman army was decreased to 25 legions and would remain with this number for about the next 300 years. Under Augustus and his successors, the emperors of Rome the legion system would remain the same except for some additional command positions, new units, and improved weaponry and armor sets (which will be discussed later), but also under Rome’s imperial system, the command of an entire legion of more than a thousand men was assigned to a general known as the Legatus Legionis or Legate who usually came from the Roman patrician class and was a senator who had gained military experience over the years, sometimes the legate was also a member of the imperial family; in the first ruling family of Rome, Tiberius before becoming emperor was a legate in charge of several legions while another imperial family member, Germanicus had commanded 8 legions throughout his military career. The legate was then in charge of thousands of soldiers including legionnaires and auxiliaries, then under the legate were the 6 junior commanders called Tribunus Laticlavius or military tribune, under them was already the basic division of the army or centuries commanded by a centurion while the cohort which consisted of 6 centuries was commanded by a senior centurion called the Primus Pilus, who had more military experience than the other centurions, while on the other hand auxiliary units such as cavalry formations were commanded by a lesser commander such as Decurion which commanded a small unit of 10 cavalry soldiers. In a legion, there were at the most up to 107 cohorts, divided into 6 centuries, while the most basic unit was a contubernium made up of 10 soldiers who shared the same tent at a camp. Under the empire, each of the 25 legions was given a number and a title (e.g. Legio V Macedonica or Legio II Augusta) and was assigned to specifics regions of the empire, primarily at the empire’s borders to protect them in case war broke out but if reinforcement was needed in another part of the empire, sometimes an entire legions was needed to travel that far to help another legion in trouble. Now an entire legion had more than enough manpower than you can think which made one legion enough to go to war, however sometimes that wasn’t the case as some of Rome’s enemies like the Parthians deployed double or more than the number of the Roman legion and would use elephants in battle, an ancient war machine equivalent to a tank. Unlike other armies of their time, the Roman army did not all fight as one, rather they were divided into several division or legions as the empire’s borders were too large and different kinds of enemies lived beyond its borders so armies were needed to be stationed in each part of the empire to deal with external threats. Because of the empire’s increasing borders, the legions at first moved very quickly building temporary camps as they continued their campaigns but during the reign of the emperor Claudius I (41-54AD), the empire reached the point of no longer rapidly expanding after Roman conquest of Britain in 43AD, therefore legionnaires were to be permanently stationed in not just wooden army camps but permanent stone army fortresses known as a Castra which were not only a garrison but were like a town having taverns, workshops, baths, training yards, and a villa for the commander. Although even when permanently settled in forts, legions would still send out cohorts or centuries of soldiers to further conquer regions or to suppress revolts or do scouting missions on what the conquered land has. Many of these Roman army fortresses like those in the newly conquered provinces of Britain and Germania were built from scratch but those in conquered provinces that had existing empire before like Syria and Egypt were built on existing structures which were also fortresses used by the previous empires there. Many of these fortresses would later evolve into towns and into cities, in fact some cities in England, Germany, and Central Europe originated as Roman army fortresses. Since the legions were permanently stationed in fortresses, sometimes their children were even born and had grown up there to later serve in the legions. Also since the legions were stationed in the remote borders of the empire, legionnaires were recruited locally from the provinces, and those who were Roman citizens would be recruited as the main fighting force or legionnaires while those who were barbarians or non-citizens but inhabitants of the Roman Empire were to be recruited as the auxiliary forces, although after serving for 25 years- the amount of time the legionnaires serve in the army- the auxiliaries would be given Roman citizenship as they retire. With recruitments done locally, the Roman army was a multi-national force of different ethnicities where there would be either Germanic barbarians, North Africans, Italians, Greeks, or Middle Easterners serving in the army, although despite their different ethnicities, the standardized armor, helmets, and weapons gave a single identity to the Roman army unlike the Carthaginian army of the past which allowed soldiers of different ethnicities to dress up in their traditional gear. Although in the Roman army, those who were citizens had uniform arms and equipment while the non-citizens serving as auxiliaries at first were armed with their own traditional weapons such as battle-axes if they were Celtic or Germanic tribes but serving in the Roman army, they were given a standard Roman armor and helmets while the language of the army was Latin. The Auxiliary army basically served as the support force for the legionnaires and were recruited among foreign people and even from soldiers of client kings under Rome. Auxiliary soldiers were needed in specialized positions in battle these foreigners were skilled at more than the Romans; these included Syrians specializing in archery, Gauls and Germanic people specializing in cavalry, and people from the Balearic Islands in Spain specializing as slingers. In 117AD, after the death of Emperor Trajan, the Roman Empire was at its height after the conquest of Dacia (modern day Romania) spanning from north to south from Britain to Egypt, west to west from Portugal to Iraq and at this time the legion system too was at its most efficient, but due to larger borders, more legions were created. On the other hand, due to extremely large borders, the Roman army had to be very active in constantly defending the borders with enemies everywhere which turned the Roman army from an offensive force to a defensive one and because of this, the Roman army had to be reformed again in the turbulent years of the 3rd century, this time to be downsized into a more mobile army.

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Map of the Roman Republic after Julius Caesar’s death in 44BC

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Summary of the structure of an Imperial Roman Legion

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Flags and symbols of different Roman Imperial legions

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Height of the Roman Empire in 117, after the Dacian Wars

Watch this to learn more about the military reforms of Augustus (from Kings and Generals).

 

The 3rd century became a chaotic time of the Roman Empire still in the period of the Principate, which began with Augustus in 27BC which led to changes not only in the army structure but in the imperial system as well which in 284 the Principate evolved into the Dominate System under Emperor Diocletian in which the emperor was given more ultimate power as way to solve the chaos in the empire. First of all, in the 3rd century one of the biggest turning points was when the emperor Caracalla issued Roman citizenship to all freeborn inhabitants of the empire and the several changes of emperor in which many of them were army officials proclaimed emperor by the army after deposing a previous emperor as a result of everyone becoming citizens, and due to this the command structure of the Roman army change wherein the legate or commander of a legion who was of senatorial rank was changed to someone of more military experience in order to gain more trust from the soldiers, thus in around 260, the legions were then no longer commanded by a senatorial legate but by a military officer or Prefect who was promoted to that position from the rank of the Primus Pilus or senior centurion. 260 was also a major turning point year for the Roman army as their defeat to the new Sassanid Empire of Persia and the capture of the emperor Valerian by the Persians proved the Roman legions were no longer invincible. The legions itself were broken down in number from more than 5,000 men to about 2,000+ as well as into smaller and less compact formations while foot soldiers- now called Pedes– became more flexible in armor and arms in order to move quicker as external threats grew more common. As a response to external threats and military failures against the Persians, Rome studied and adopted the battle tactics of their 2 major enemies the Gothic Germanic tribes of Central and Eastern Europe and the Parthian Persians in the east as well making arms and armor similar to that of their enemy as the best solution to fight the enemy was to learn their tactics and adapt to them. It was mostly the reforms of the emperor Gallienus (r. 253-268) that changed the legionary structure of the Roman army from a heavy infantry force to an army emphasizing more on cavalry units and in these reforms, the heavier Cathaphract cavalry based on the Parthian Cataphracts was introduced to the Roman army known in Latin as the Catafractarii. The biggest changes in the army however was the change of weapons and armor to a much heavier equipment in order to give the soldiers more protection as the number of soldiers grew smaller, thus ending the Cohort and Auxiliary system. At this point also, more barbarians from Europe such as Pannonians, Illyrians, and Goths were also recruited into the Roman army due to shortage of manpower, eventually these foreigners would later rise up the ranks and even become Roman emperors, such men of foreign origins who became emperors through military career were Claudius II, Diocletian, and Constantine the Great’s father Constantius I who were Illyrians and later emperors like Valentinian I and Valens who were Pannonians. Also due to the shortage of a citizen army and large numbers of barbarian immigrants coming in frequently, the Romans had also gone as far as recruiting loyal barbarians from beyond the borders in Europe such as Goths to fight in their army usually as cavalry units in their own armor and weapon types except under the command of a Roman commander, these units became known as the Foederati or “federated troops” and later on they would rise up the ranks and become influential generals; these included the general Flavius Aetius in the Western Empire and Aspar in the Eastern Empire both in the 5th century who were barbarian Gothic Foederati but gained influence over the imperial court. The reforms of the Roman army were later finalized by the military emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305) and by Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), another military emperor and founder of the Byzantine Empire who moved the imperial capital to Constantinople in 330. First of all, Diocletian not only moved the capital out of Rome but divided the empire into 2 parts in 285, he further divided it into 4 parts in 293 creating the system known as the Tetrarchy which had 1 emperor per each division to make governing the massive Roman Empire more efficient, then the provinces of the whole Roman Empire were cut down to smaller areas called a Diocese forming almost 100 provinces to further secure every part of the empire also due to the lack of troops. Constantine the Great would later end the failed experiment of the Tetrarchy system and unite the empire again with Constantinople as its capital, though it wouldn’t be united for long and in 395 after the death of Emperor Theodosius I, the empire was formally divided between east and west, the east becoming the Byzantine Empire ruled from Constantinople and the west with Milan at first as its capital before moving to Ravenna in 402, thought the west would not last long and fall in 476 with the east still surviving. The east though in its continued existence kept the same new provincial structure of Diocletian and Constantine I. As part of Diocletian’s provincial reforms, the administrative command would fully be separated from army command so the provincial governor became a separate position with the title of Vicarii and the general in command of the legion became known as the Dux, where the title “duke” is based on; the late Roman dux commanded sometimes more than a legion of different provinces thus using the a title like Dux per Gallia Belgica meaning the commander of the armies in Gaul and Belgica, then a military position higher than the dux was the Magister Militum or “master of the army”. The rank of duke would continue to be used later on by the Byzantines as the title for general while in the last centuries the term Megas Doux would be used for the grand admiral of the navy. Now during the reign of Constantine, the first structure of the Byzantine army was formed as well which would be divided into 2 major groups, the first being the Limitanei, troops garrisoned in the borders of the Roman Empire or limes and second was the mobile army or heavy infantry in charge of the offensive known as the Comitatenses. Basically, the Comitatenses were the new version of the Roman special forces or legionnaires of before except these units also consisted of cavalry while the auxiliaries evolved into the Limitanei, although the Limitanei too would sometimes accompany the Comitatenses in campaigns while another unit known as the Ripenses also served as a other auxiliary unit in charge of guarding the frontiers, this time the river borders. Another addition Constantine I added to the Roman army was the Scholae Palatinae units or imperial guards, which replaced the Praetorian Guards of the Roman Principate, and then there was also the guard troops assigned to watch the capital, and the Bucellarii or general’s bodyguards. The early Byzantine Empire as well as the Western Roman Empire after 395 till the fall of the west in 476 would use the same structure of the late Roman army consisting of the Limitanei and Comitatenses units, the heavy Cataphract and Clibanarii cavalry units, the barbarian Foederati units, the elite Scholae Palatinae and Bucellarii units, and the command under the Dux and Magister Militum. Though the unit types had changed, the late Roman army (early Byzantine army) still retained the system of the legions where armies were stationed in different parts of the empire and would have to march if they were called to battle. During the height of the Byzantine Empire under Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565), the same structure of the army since Constantine I was used except that during Justinian’s conquests of North Africa and Italy known as the Renovatio Imperii, the Byzantine army used allied mercenaries such as Huns, Herules, and Goths to fight for them, and also a new unit of the Excubitors or the heavily armed personal guards of the emperors founded in 460 by the Eastern Roman emperor Leo I, though this unit was mostly ceremonial. The same army structure since Constantine I in the 4th century which would used by Justinian I in the 6th would be in use up to the 7th century during the final war between the Romans and Persians (this time the Sassanid Empire) from 602-628 which was ended by Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641). After Heraclius’ death, the Byzantine Empire would be forever shrunken after the new and swift spreading enemies, the Arabs would forever take away Egypt and Syria from the Byzantines, thus the army would be needed to reform again to make the fight against the Arabs more efficient.

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Map of the 1st Roman Tetrarchy under Diocletian, 293

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Roman legionnaires of the late 3rd century in the new battle formation

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Units of the late Roman army

Watch this to learn more about the 3rd century Roman army (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the changes of the Roman army by Diocletian and Constantine I (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the structure of the Late Roman/ Early Byzantine army (from Epimetheus).

 

The Byzantines coming after the Romans though may have had a whole lot different system for their army but had still kept the major defining element of the Roman army, which was it being a professional army as unlike other kingdoms in their day which only recruited soldiers in time for war, the Byzantines kept a standing army at all times to respond to threats they were unsure when it could happen. By the 7th century, the Byzantine Empire had lost a lot of territory including the natural borders of the Danube River in the north which were overrun by invading Slavic tribes and the deserts in Syria and Egypt which were overrun by the new enemy, the Muslim Arabs suddenly exploding into power from the Arabian Peninsula in search of lands to conquer and spread the religion of Islam. The Christian Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) took a heavy blow with the loss of the rich provinces of Egypt and Syria leading many of its inhabitants to Anatolia, the heartland of the empire and the empire itself had to reform its structure and the army as well to create a more efficient army system that will respond quicker to invasions. With a downsized empire and downsized army as well, the Byzantine emperors following Heraclius beginning with his grandson Constans II (r. 641-668) first introduced the new “Theme” System where the smaller provinces or dioceses in the late Roman and early Byzantine Empire once had at first introduced by Diocletian and Constantine I were even further reduced to smaller military controlled provinces called Themes, the first 5 military regions or Themes were formed in the Anatolian Peninsula or Asia Minor which were the Armeniac, Anatolic, Opsician, Thracesian, Carabisiani Themes, the first 4 being army Themes and the 5th being a naval theme. These Byzantine Themes were controlled by a general called Strategos in Greek who now served both as the general in command of his legion now reorganized into what is called a Thema in Greek and also served as the governor of the province or Theme controlling civilian matters. In an article I made before, I have described in detail how the Byzantine Themes worked and all the many Themes or military provinces all over the Byzantine Empire that were built over time. In that previous article from last October 2019, I have covered the topic on how the many Themes formed primarily being formed from the larger original Themes. The Byzantine emperors of next centuries including Leo III (r. 717-741), Constantine V (r. 741-775), Theophilos (r. 829-842), Basil I (r. 867-886), Leo VI (r. 886-912), Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), and Basil II (r. 976-1025) further added new Themes to the empire as result of limiting the command power of a strategos to avoid military rebellion or as a result of the expansion of the Byzantine Empire particularly after coming out victorious in campaigns against the Arabs in the east and Bulgars in the north. A Byzantine Theme operated similarly to a Roman province except the general in command of the army served as the governor too and responded to the emperor in Constantinople, but sometimes these generals could challenge the emperor with their military power and would succeed in taking over the empire. In these Themes, it was somewhat like the medieval Feudal System of Western Europe too except soldiers did not own the land but were recruited locally from the farmers and people of the Theme had to provide for the soldiers of their Theme. By 1025, after the death of Emperor Basil II, Byzantium was again at another extent of its territory, though not as large as in the time of Justinian I in the 6th century, though under Basil II the empire spanned north to south from Ukraine to Syria, west to east from Southern Italy to Armenia and from end to end, military Themes were made, so as far as Italy and Armenia there were Byzantine Themes. There is not much record though on how much troops a Theme had but from 902-936 during the years of Byzantine prosperity under the Macedonian Dynasty a Theme had up to 9,600 soldiers per Thema (the Byzantine equivalent of a legion) commanded by the Strategos, which was more than that of one Roman legion and under the main army or Thema were 4 divisions called Tourma each consisting of 2,400 men commanded by a Tourmarches, then the Tourma consisted of 6 smaller divisions called Droungoi each consisting of 400 men commanded by a Droungarios, under the Droungos were the basic units of the Byzantine army called a Bandon in which 2 made up a Droungos; each Bandon then had 200 men commanded by a Komes, the Byzantine equivalent of a Roman centurion while the Bandon was equivalent to a Roman century except with more men and under a Bandon was the group of 100 men called a Kentarchia commanded by an Kentarches, the Byzantine equivalent of a centurion and this division was further divided into 10 Kontoubernia which had 10 men each that shared the same tent equivalent of the Roman contubernium. The complete 9,600 men was the average whole army per Theme in the 10th century while at that time the largest Theme had a total of 15,000 soldiers but the soldiers per Theme were deployed in smaller numbers when needed to reinforce other Themes, which meant probably 2 Tourma or 3 Droungoi were usually sent to deal with an unexpected raid of the enemy like the Arabs. However when emperors launched large-scale campaigns against enemies such as Nikephoros I’s campaign against the Bulgars in 811 or Basil II’s campaigns against the Bulgars in the early 11th century, the armies of several Themes were needed to be deployed. The Thematic army of Byzantium however compared to the Roman army of the past relied more heavily on cavalry than infantry units as their enemies too relied more on heavy cavalry which is why the Byzantines put a lot of emphasis on their heavy cavalry units or Cataphracts which then became the elite offensive force of the empire and were the main forces of each Theme’s army the same way the legionnaire was the main force of a Roman legion. When in battle, the Catpahract cavalry usually stood in front or flanking the infantry on both sides and arranged themselves in a wedge formation while the imperial guards or Tagmata protecting the general or emperor stood behind. Overall, the Byzantine Theme system proved to be effective especially since armies were recruited locally and were not far apart form each other so when one Theme was in danger, the emperor or the Strategos commanding a Theme could automatically send his army to help the other Theme in danger instead of having a legion march across the empire the way the Romans did before. The Byzantines of the 9th century under Emperor Theophilos had developed the communication system of lighting beacons above high mountain tops or towers that were equidistant to each other to warn another Theme that they are under attack to call for reinforcements; these beacons too went through a straight line from the eastern border of the empire in the Taurus Mountains of Asia Minor to Constantinople itself.  The Byzantine in the middle period or second age which was the age of the Themes from the 7th to 12th centuries had also developed new elite forces such as the Tagmata or the reserve forces which were an addition to the imperial bodyguard or Excubitors assigned to guarding the emperor and Constantinople but also to accompany the Thematic army in battle; the Tagmata units numbered as much as 42,000 men and each Tagma had 4,000 troops commanded by a general called a Domestikos. By the late 10th century, another elite force was added to the Byzantine imperial army, the Varangian Guard made up of Scandinavian and Russian mercenaries and later Anglo-Saxons, which would be more of a professional bodyguard unit serving to protect the emperor than an army of mercenaries. If the numbers of soldiers in the Byzantine army weren’t enough, Byzantines always got allies to fight for them usually by paying them off, most of them being the enemies of their enemies such as the Cumans who were enemies of the Pechenegs, also an enemy of Byzantium, thus the allies that would fight for the Byzantine emperor joining Byzantine forces in battle would be called Symachoi. The power of the Byzantine Theme army was at its peak from the 10th to 11th centuries when Byzantines expanded their power and fought on the offensive and not on the defensive, however this did not last long enough as in 1071, the Byzantines faced a heavy defeat to another new enemy, the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in eastern Asia Minor and following this defeat, the Seljuks quickly took over Byzantine territory in Asia Minor putting an end to Themes that had existed there, this battle also brought an end to the power and glory days of the Byzantine Cataphracts. The Byzantine Empire would again go through another short-lived period of glory under the Komnenos emperors Alexios I (1081-1118), John II (1118-1143), and Manuel I (1143-1180) and would reclaim territory back from the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor but still failed to stop the Seljuks and with a decrease of soldiers, the army of the 12th century became more reliant on mercenaries. The dynasty that succeeded the Komnenos, the Angelos beginning 1185 brought in a period of decline of the once powerful Byzantine armies by neglecting it due to the lack of funds of the empire and this decision proved worse when the Byzantine Empire had temporarily ended in 1204 when Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade army bringing an end to the Theme System and Varangian Guards as well. For the next 57 years the Byzantine regrouped their army and ruled their own empire from the city of Nicaea in Asia Minor until recapturing Constantinople in 1261. In less than 200 years from 1261, the Byzantine Empire would disappear though in those years would be ruled by the same dynasty, the Palaiologos but under them due to lack of funds and shrinking borders, the army was again neglected and very few troops were professional Byzantine forces, mostly the elite forces consisting of the commanders from the nobility while the other only native Byzantine army units were the elite palace guards called Tzakones coming from the Greek region of Laconia; the Palaiologos emperors then relied more on foreign mercenary armies and knights such as the Catalans, Serbs, Bulgarians, and Italians. In 1453, the Byzantine Empire had come to end with Constantinople finally falling to the new empire of the Ottoman Turks whereas the defending Byzantines only had 7,000 men in which most were foreign mercenaries while the Ottomans had about 100,000 troops. The Byzantines had almost the same legionary structure as the Romans except simplified and instead of Latin, the names of the units and command language were Greek.

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Map of the original 7th century Themes in Constans II’s reign