The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle That Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire

by Alessandro Barbero

Hardcover, 2007



Call number




Walker & Company (2007), Hardcover, 192 pages


On August 9, 378 AD, at Adrianople in the Roman province of Thrace (now western Turkey), the Roman Empire began to fall. Two years earlier, an unforeseen flood of refugees from the East Germanic tribe known as the Goths had arrived at the Empire's eastern border, seeking admittance. Though usually successful in dealing with barbarian groups, in this instance the Roman authorities failed. Gradually coalesced into an army led by Fritigern, the barbarian horde inflicted on Emperor Valens the most disastrous defeat suffered by the Roman army since Hannibal's victory at Cannae almost 600 years earlier. The Empire did not actually fall for another century, but some believe this battle signaled nothing less than the end of the ancient world and the start of the Middle Ages. With impeccable scholarship and narrative flair, renowned historian Alessandro Barbero places the battle in its historical context, chronicling the changes in the Roman Empire, west and east, the cultural dynamics at its borders, and the extraordinary administrative challenge in holding it together. Vividly recreating the events leading to the clash, he brings alive leaders and common soldiers alike, comparing the military tactics and weaponry of the barbarians with those of the disciplined Roman army as the battle unfolded on that epic afternoon. Narrating one of the turning points in world history, The Day of the Barbarians is military history at its very best.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The story of the Gothic War and the famous Battle of Adrianople has often been re-constructed, for example by Gibbon (1776) and more recently by Peter Heather The Fall of the Roman Empire (2005) and Michael Kulikowski Rome's Gothic Wars (2006) - what makes this account special is not any new
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over-arching theory, but simply a well researched, reliable and very well told story - if writing history is a type of literature, this is literature at its best. Barbero has the ability to fire the imagination and make it all real - he can take a single sentence from Ammianus Marcellinus (the primary source for the events) and draw in other related material to fill in the details to make a book-length retelling where others have a chapter or two. As Steven Coats said, reviewing in the New York Times (April 29, 2007), this is an "elegant and pleasurable little account - what a joy it is to read about the ancient world in digestible portions." This is clearly a book for the general reader, but Barbero is a medieval scholar, it contains supporting footnotes (which are worthwhile) and references to further reading. I never tire of reading about this story, it brings together so many elements of the ancient and medieval worlds, it was one of the pivotal moments in world history and also one of the most dramatic.

With all the praise above and stars, a couple things about what the book is not: 1) this is a short book, 147 pages of actual text, the rest is footnotes 2) it is not for specialists or experts - Barbero does not go into too much chronological or geographic detail - it is not a definitive scientific study 3) the question if Adrianople was the dividing line between the Ancient and Medieval world is thankfully relegated to the Preface and last two pages, a "hook" I suppose. The books real value is in the skillful narration of events, and understanding the process of the 'barbarization' of the Roman Empire.
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LibraryThing member nesum
Barbero has presented one of the most important battles in history (and one rather unknown in modern society) in a thorough, yet easily read and understood way. His approach is quite narrative and interesting.

If you have any interest in Ancient Rome, I fully recommend this volume. The Battle at
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Adrianople represented the beginning of the end for Rome as a barbarian army massacred a Roman one, and in so doing, killed Emperor Valens on the field of battle. Surely this was a great step toward the eventual sacking of Rome not long after.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
I do not know who to attribute the excellent writing style to, since it was translated from the Italian, either it belongs to the author, or the translator, or to a combination of the two but the work is a readily accessible volume for an easily overlooked yet significant battle, Adrianople, which
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the author contends is crucial for understanding the beginning of the medieval era.
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LibraryThing member Clarencex
Short and sweet. This book is an excellent companion read to Gore Vidal's novel, "Julian."
LibraryThing member JGolomb
Historians love to identify "notably rare moments" in history - symbolic dates that mark the end of one era and the beginning of another, states author Alessandro Barbero. World War II had its D-Day. Napoleon had his Waterloo. Was the Battle of Adrianople that notably rare moment in Roman history?
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"The Day of the Barbarians - The Battle that Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire" is a tightly written, 146-page review of a key moment in ancient Roman history, but Barbero argues that it's not that "rare moment" that lends itself to such dramatic interpretations.

The Romans were soundly beaten by a barbarian army on August 9, 378. It was a turning point in Roman history, but according to Barbero much less of an earth-shattering, all-or-nothing moment in time as other key battles in history. Barbero's emphasis is that the Battle at Adrianople was a key point in time for the Empire more due to the context surrounding the event, rather than the event itself.

What ultimately became an invasion, started slowly and steadily over time as immigration. Barbero writes, "Before the battle of Adrianople, the barbarian invasions had already begun." Barbero reminds us that the "Roman Empire already was a multiethnic crucible of languages, races, and religions, and it was perfectly capable of absorbing massive immigration without becoming destabilized."

In autumn of 376, barbarians massed along the northern shores of the Danube. They wanted to cross into the Empire because a new threat was looming in the West - the Huns were moving closer and their violent and deadly reputation preceded them.

As citizens of the empire grew increasingly resistant to military enlistment, the Empire looked to fill out its ranks from the outside. Barbero writes that "the barbarians were increasingly seen as...abundant, low-cost manpower...a potential resource that should not be wasted"

So Valens ordered his troops to help the barbarians across the Danube. Except there were too many of them, and despite a reputation for superlative logistics, the Roman army wasn't prepared. Ultimately, the starving and horribly uncomfortable barbarians revolted.

In the face of these challenges, Fritigern, a Gothic tribal chief, had been able to centralize enough cross-tribal power to lead thousands of barbarians on a two year war within the Empire's own boundaries.

Near the walls of Adrianople on the morning of August 9, 378 Valens' armies had finally rallied and moved to face the barbarians whose own armies were positioned on a nearby hilltop. As the battle began, numerous barbarian cavalry, who had been foraging away from their camps, emerged amid the hills near the battle. This became a key moment, in a key battle, at a key point in Roman history. The Roman army was overwhelmed and surrounded by too many riders. Their fate was sealed.

"Day of the Barbarians" is a very readable, enjoyable and engaging book. I'm not an academic and I felt that it had the right mix of historical background, research and most importantly to me, narrative. The book also has its requisite descriptions and analysis of strategic army movements and lively battle scenes. It may not be academic enough for the hardcore scholar, however this is a terrific book for insights into an instrumental period in Roman history.
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LibraryThing member jztemple
This is a rather short book, but covers the subject, the battle of Adrianople pretty well, including the events that instigated the initial fighting and the effect it had on the Roman empire afterward. Not really technical details about the fighters or their equipment, but does an excellent job
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explaining why the battle happened and why it was so significant.
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LibraryThing member THARVEYME
Clearly written. Makes a confusing dull era exciting and understandable. Battle of Adrianople 376 AD


Original publication date


Physical description

192 p.; 8.3 inches


0802715710 / 9780802715715
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