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Fritigern or Fritigernus[1] (died ca. 380) was a Thervingian Gothic chieftain whose decisive victory at Adrianople during the Gothic War (376-382) led to favourable terms for the Goths when peace was made with Gratian and Theodosius I in 382.

Conflicts against Athanaric

Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Zosimus refer to conflicts between Fritigern and Athanaric.[2][3][4] Ammianus Marcellinus and Philostorgius do not record such conflicts.

According to Socrates, Fritigern and Athanaric were rival leaders of the (Therving) Goths. As this rivalry grew into warfare, Athanaric gained the advantage, and Fritigern asked for Roman aid. The Emperor Valens and the Thracian field army intervened, Valens and Fritigern defeated Athanaric, and Fritigern converted to Christianity, following the same teachings as Valens followed.[5] Sozomen follows Socrates' account.[6]

According to Zosimus, Athanaric (Athomaricus) was the king of the Goths (Scythians). Sometime after their victory at Adrianople, and after the accession of Theodosius, Fritigern, Alatheus, and Saphrax moved north of the Danube and defeated Athanaric, before returning south of the Danube.[7]

The earliest sources that mention Fritigern originate from the period in which Valens, emperor of the Roman Empire, attacked the Thervingi (367-369) and from the period in which the Huns raided the Thervingi (ca. 376). In this period a civil war may have broken out between Fritigern and Athanaric, a prominent Therving ruler. Before or during this civil war, Fritigern converted to ("Arian") Christianity. Nevertheless, Athanaric seems to have won this war. This is deduced by historians from the fact that Athanaric would later lead the Thervingi in battle against the Huns in 376.[citation needed]

The Danube Crossing

The Thervingi however were not able to keep the Huns at bay, and were under increasing pressure from the Huns who had already conquered their kinsmen, the Greuthungi. While Fritigern asked Valens to allow the Thervingi to cross the northern Roman border and settle in Moesia or Thracia, with the Danube River and Roman frontier forts protecting them from the Huns, (thus this was a form of asylum), Athanaric and many of his followers retreated to Caucaland (probably Transylvania). Valens agreed to permit Fritigern's followers to enter the empire. In return, they would be subject to military service, but would be treated the same as other Roman subjects. As it turned out, neither happened.

During the fall of 376, the Romans helped Alavivus and Fritigern's people cross the Danube and settle in the province of Moesia. In 377,[citation needed] a famine hit the areas settled by the Thervingi, and their appeals for help went unanswered. In fact, the Roman governors of the area, Lupicinus and Maximus, treated them badly. They sold them food only at extremely high prices, which forced many Goths to sell their children as slaves. Also they invited several Therving leaders to a feast, in which they killed and took some Therving leaders hostage. Alavivus most likely remained a hostage, but Fritigern was able to escape and he became leader of the Thervingi. Soon he declared war on the Roman Empire.

War against Valens

Fritigern led his people into battle (the Gothic War (376-382)). After a battle in 376 Lupicinus' troops were completely defeated, which meant that the total Roman territorial defense in the region vanished. As a consequence the Thervingi soon held sway over much of the neighboring, richer province of Thracia. The crisis continued into 378, and on August 9 of that year, Fritigern avenged his kinsmen's defeat[Clarification needed] of 109 years before at the Battle of Naissus[Clarification needed] by handing Rome its worst military defeat in centuries, at the Battle of Adrianople (378). Fritigern's victory soon led to the Thervings gaining control of much of the Balkan peninsula. Although his army lacked the siege instruments needed to take the Roman capital of Constantinople, they did raid Greece, leaving only small areas of the country unravaged,[citation needed] including the city of Athens.

Fritigern continued to battle the Romans with mixed success for at least two years after his great victory.


  1. Latinized form, possibly from Gothic *Frithugairns ("desiring peace").
  2. Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 4, chapter 33.
  3. Sozomen, Church History, book 6, chapter 37.
  4. Zosimus, Historia Nova, book 4.
  5. Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 4, chapter 33.
  6. Sozomen, Church History, book 6, chapter 37.
  7. Zosimus, Historia Nova, book 4.

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