Different Movements of the Huns and the Alternate Fall of Rome
A while back, while browsing some of the older threads, looking for alternate ideas for the fall of Rome, I came upon this thread, started by Hermanubis. I was inspired by the map, and after seeking his permission, decided to create a timeline (in paragraph form) for it, although with several slight changes. Of these, the most important is the slight shifting of borders in the east, and the preservation of the entire Western Roman Empire in the west. As I am not yet finished, this portion of the timeline only depicts the events ranging from just before the Point of Divergence to the creation of the new Vandal state in Egypt. Enjoy:
Original Map Created by Hermanubis:
Point of Divergence: Different Movements of the Huns: Anno Domini CCCLXXXI (A.D. 381)
The mounting power of the Huns beginning in A.D. 370, brought many tribes, most notably the Ostrogoths, under their suzerainty, and forced others, such as the Visigoths and Vandals, to flee southwards into the Roman Empire for protection. The Visigoths, under their leader, Fritigern, petitioned the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens to be allowed to settle to the south of the Danube, a border impassable (as of yet) to the Huns of A.D. 376. The Visigoths were mistreated; however, and facing death by starvation as their only alternative, they embarked upon a campaign of plunder and looting, during which they defeated a large Eastern Roman army at Andrianople (killing the Emperor Valens) in A.D. 378. Following this battle, they were able to roam throughout the east at will and devastated Greece and the Balkans.
By A.D. 381, the destruction wrought by the Visigoths had become intolerable to the Emperors of Rome and so a large army was dispatched by the Western Empire, headed by the Emperor Gratian, to forever end the barbarian’s transgression. Upon nearing Greece, however, word of a new attack, a major Hunnic breakthrough across the Danube, reached the Emperor’s ears and so it was that the Western Army was rerouted to counter this new, deadly threat. The Huns and their vassals had crossed the river and were marching upon the fertile fields and rich trading cities of Italy, plundering all that lay in their path. In the feverish battle that followed, the Western Army, formerly destined for the Balkans, was successful in defeating the Hunnic invasion, however, both sides suffered heavy losses and in the case of the Empire, the loss of a leader as well. The Emperor Gratian had died in a cavalry charge led by the Huns. Consequently, the Visigoths were neither defeated nor appeased and so the Eastern Emperor could do little but watch as they surged throughout the Eastern European provinces, spreading chaos and destruction. The West was too badly shaken by the death of Gratian to be of any assistance; Valentinian II, a boy of ten, had inherited sovereignty of the entire Western Empire, and a power struggle for control of the throne quickly ensued. Darkness was everywhere spreading.
In the years following Gratian’s defeat of the Huns, both halves of the Empire were rendered unstable. In the east, the Visigoths slowly began to settle amongst the people they had formerly terrorized, establishing their new kingdom in the southern half of the Praetorian Prefecture of Illyricum, with its capital at Athens. Unable to destroy the new barbarian kingdom, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius I granted the Visigoths the status of foederati and invited the Vandals, a tribe formerly inhabiting the region of Pannonia, to settle northern Thracia and Macedonia, hoping they would serve as a counterweight to the troublesome Visigoths. The Vandals, under pressure from Hunnic attacks, quickly acquiesced, and moved southwards along with their allies, the Sarmatian Alans and the Germanic Suebians, where they too were granted foederati status. In the west, revolt had flared up almost immediately following the death of the Emperor Gratian and the ascension of Valentinian II as sole Emperor of the west. Magnus Maximus, a Spaniard serving in Britain was proclaimed Emperor by his troops and attempted, unsuccessfully, to oust Valentinian II from power. The revolt was of little threat to the Empire, however, upon reaching Gaul, the usurper was defeated and pursued by Flavius Bauto, magister militum of the west, and upon capture, was promptly executed. In the following years, the Empire once again became fairly stable and a false sense of peace descended upon the realm. Justina, mother and regent of Valentinian II, died in A.D. 388, but was little missed by either the court or the people, in the former case due to her unscrupulous manipulations of the young Emperor, and in the latter, due to her fanatical Arianism. Her death was of major consequence to the Western Empire, however, for Valentinian’s lifelong idleness had ill prepared him for the task of governing an empire, and as he lacked the ability of his more talented predecessors, his ministers soon took over the administration of the west. Both halves of the empire were revealing the ominous signs of decay.
Valentinian II died in obscurity in A.D. 402, having achieved little during his unremarkable nineteen year reign and leaving behind only a single illegitimate daughter. His death, however, left Theodosius in control of both halves of a reunited Empire, which the latter proceeded to govern will skill and competence for the remaining years of his life. The Roman Emperor Theodosius I the Great died on September 4th A.D. 405, after an enlightened reign lasting a total of 26 years, and by September 5th, the final decline of the east had begun. During his long reign, Theodosius had restored to the Eastern Empire much of the stability and strength it had enjoyed before the disastrous battle of Andrianople and with the exception of the two barbarian states occupying the European provinces, the map had changed little as well. In the last year of his sovereignty, the Emperor had designated that both of his sons, Arcadius and Honorius, would succeed him, the former becoming Emperor of the East and the latter Emperor of the West, with the intelligent, high-ranking general, Flavius Stilicho, appointed as their protector and magister militum. From the very beginning, however, the noteworthy abilities of Stilicho were hindered in the east by the actions of Constantinople’s manifold ambitious and corrupt ministers. It was well known that Arcadius was a weakling and it was not the designs of the court members to let Stilicho gain control of the entire Empire. This fracturing of control meant that Stilicho was confined mostly to the west and that, in the approaching hour of its greatest need, the Eastern Empire was deprived of its best general. Therefore, during the especially cold winter of A.D. 407, when the Danube had frozen solid and the Huns marched across it to ravage the lands to the south, the Eastern Empire was nearly defenseless. War had returned to the Balkans.
The Hunnic invasion came as a complete surprise to both the Eastern Empire and the barbarian Visigoths and Vandals, although, in retrospect, the awesome wealth of the east made it an excellent target for the gold hungry Huns. Several of the cunning Constantinopolitan courtiers had previously been plotting to destabilize and subvert the Visigoths and had secured the assent of the weak-willed Emperor Arcadius, however, the army being prepared for the task was instead, out of necessity, diverted towards protecting the Empire’s vital European cities; Constantinople, Thessalonica, Andrianople, Philippopolis, Sardica, Beroea, Ratiaria, Novae, Marcianopolis and Tomi, all of which soon came under attack. The huge Hunnic force, led by King Mundzuk, consisting of the Huns as well as their vassals and numbering well over 200,000 men, began to plunder its way through Thracia and Illyricum, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. Consequently, the smaller, but better trained and equipped army of the Eastern Empire sallied forth to Marcianopolis to halt the Huns before their drive towards Constantinople at the end of October, A.D. 408, but due largely to the lack of coordination and experience of the commanders, it suffered a calamitous defeat. The remnants were driven southwards as the Huns continued their march towards Constantinople, however, a complete catastrophe was avoided with the arrival of aid from the West, which cut into the Hunnish flank and forced a retreat from the capital city. The two great armies clashed at Andrianople, but this second great battle, perhaps due to the generalship of Flavius Stilicho, was not a defeat for the Romans, although both sides suffered heavy losses. In the aftermath of this significant battle, the Huns continued to proceed southwestwards (although at a much slower and uncertain rate), ravaging everything in their path, with Stilicho cautiously following, and for the second time in a century, much to the horror of the region’s inhabitants, the Balkans were desolated by a barbarian force. All the while, the Eastern court remained safe in Constantinople, and the majority of the populace unharmed in Asia. This, however, was about to change.
Unexpectedly interrupting their southwesterly trek, the Huns abruptly turned northwards, heading back towards the Danube. Bypassing Thessalonica, they instead marched upon the Vandal kingdom in the spring of A.D. 409 and ravaged the cities of Naissus, Viminacium and Belgrade before besieging the Vandal capital at Sirmium. After a siege of two months, Sirmium fell to the Huns, marking the final erosion of the Empire’s traditional borders in the east. As they swarmed into the city, the Huns massacred the inhabitants and drove the Vandals southwards towards Constantinople. The brilliant capital city, however, was nearly defenseless in the aftermath of the overwhelming defeat by the Huns at Marcianopolis and though Stilicho attempted to rally his men into a fast paced march towards the city, by the beginning of A.D. 410 a force of almost 100,000 Vandals had arrived at the walls of the Eastern Empire’s capital. A sack ensued, and nearly all forms of movable wealth and thousands of prisoners were carted off eastwards across the Bosphorus and into Anatolia. The Emperor Arcadius, who had attempted to flee by donning a peasant’s outfit, was discovered and executed by a member of the Imperial Guard, who was himself killed in the resulting palace power struggle. Upon Stilicho’s arrival, the general discovered the Eastern capital in chaos, authority delegated to incompetent and inexperienced military leaders, and after writing to Honorius for instructions (Arcadius had left no heir), proceeded to restore order within the city. No sooner had the populace quieted; however, than news arrived that Thessalonica had fallen to the Huns who were even now marching upon Philippopolis. Stilicho rushed to attempt to save the city, but arrived too late and was able to win only a minor victory upon troops emerging engorged by the sacking. His army dwindling and the Huns showing no sign of slackening, Stilicho began the long retreat towards Constantinople, bravely harassing the large Hunnic army all the way.
Anno Domini CDX (A.D. 410)
By the autumn of A.D. 412, after having pillaged the majority of the countryside, the huge Hunnic force had arrived at the Eastern capital. Stilicho retreated behind the Theodosian Walls, built by Theodosius I in response to the Visigothic penetration of Greece, and proceeded to rally the populace into a peasant militia. Nevertheless, Constantinople’s crowded harbor was filled with fleeing peoples seeking to escape across the Bosphorus where, presumably, they would be safe. The siege lasted for over two years, during which Constantinople was supplied by sea, however, in A.D. 414; one of the gates was opened by a traitor and the Huns quickly moved into the breach, battered down the gates in the now secondary Walls of Constantine, and swept through the city, looting and burning. Stilicho, who had been recalled to the West to destroy a Germanic invasion, was not present and so the Eastern capital was lost to the Huns. Following this last victory, it appeared the Huns might at last be satisfied, as they consolidated their large empire and attempted further unsuccessful expansions into the domains of the Franks, Burgundians and Western Romans (which were countered by Stilicho in the Battle of Metz in A.D. 418). The real reason for the halting of the attack, however, may have been more out of necessity than a true desire to quell their vigorous spirit, disease had broken out and the supply of food to the army, always patchy, had finally given out. Then too several Hunnic vassals, including the Ostrogoths, had proven rebellious to Hunnic control. Meanwhile, whilst the dual between the Romans and Huns was reaching its climax, the Vandals in Anatolia had proceeded to ravage the landscape, sacking many important towns and villages and holding important figures for ransom. Gradually, however, these transgressions were eased as the Vandals slowly settled down along the southern coast and developed a thriving, if short-lived civilization. The chaos was not ended, however, as the Isaurians of the Anatolian highlands, the unconquered and barely subdued natives, sensing weakness, began launching a series of large scale raids upon Roman settlements. The east lay in ruins.
Anno Domini CDXV (A.D. 415)
While power in the east was beginning to crumble, the west was enjoying a new period of relative stability under the Emperor Honorius. Though uninterested and weak-willed himself, Honorius was dominated throughout his reign by Stilicho, who was the real power behind the throne. Largely through manipulation, Stilicho was able to effectively set the Empire’s policy in the west, reorganization the decadent economy. Then too, it was likely Stilicho who organized the shifting of the capital from Milan back to the ancient city of Rome. In A.D. 408, shortly before his departure to the east, Stilicho arranged a marriage between Honorius and the daughter of Valentinian II, who was by now a girl of startling beauty. Following the Hunnic invasion, which occurred later that year, Honorius dispatched Stilicho to the east in response to a plea by his brother (most likely written by a minister). There, the general would remain for six years, campaigning, in the end unsuccessfully, against the fearsome Huns, although the blame for his perhaps inevitable failure must not be attributed solely to Stilicho. Harassed by insufficient men and funds, he was subjected to the mercy of jealous ministers seeking to usurp his power over the Western Emperor during his absence. Then too, Honorius seems to have taken little interest in the matter, preferring instead to enjoy the luxury of feasting, dancing and bathing in his fine palace on the Palatine. Only when Stilicho was needed most, when the Huns had begun to mass upon the Rhine in the spring of A.D. 418, did Honorius restore Stilicho to his former position and just in time, for the general was able to win a crushing victory over the Huns, forever confining them to the east. Perhaps had Stilicho been given free reign over both halves of the Empire and unlimited troops and funds, he could have managed to save the east as well as the west. Alas, such was not to be.
Following the capture of Constantinople by the Huns, the remnants of the Eastern Empire’s administration, including the new Emperor, Anthemius (the former Praetorian Prefect), fled to Nicomedia where the new capital was built. This shift led to the ousting of the Vandals from southern Anatolia and a fifteen year migration, generally known as “The Long March,” which would end only with their arrival in Egypt. Immediately upon their arrival in Nicomedia, Anthemius and his ministers began plotting to recover Constantinople, launching several failed attacks and one successful one during the period of A.D. 416 – A.D. 422. Considered a minor nuisance by the Huns (who were by now preoccupied with the Western Romans led, once again, by Stilicho, this last attack prompted a significant counterattack and would later lead to the final dismemberment of the Eastern Empire. To protect their flanks, the Huns besieged Constantinople, by now nothing more than an empty shell, captured the city and then crossed the Bosphorus. The Romans were defeated in several key battles and the Huns occupied and plundered much of Anatolia, securing their new conquests. Nicomedia was quickly overwhelmed by the Huns, who took the city by force. Anthemius heroically rallied what was left of the Eastern Army and even secured the loyalty of the Isaurians, creating a stunning resistance, but this overwhelmed by the barbarian Huns, and the Emperor fell while leading a charge. With his death and the destruction of much of its administration, the throne of the Eastern Empire was left vacant, and it is this date of A.D. 426 that traditionally marks the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages.
Anno Domini CDXXVI (A.D. 426)
In the aftermath of the abrupt collapse of the Eastern Empire, a series of Roman successor states emerged; in Ephesus, in Trebizond, in Antioch, in Jerusalem and in Alexandria, but gradually, one by one, these fell; to the Huns, to local warlords and to the Persians. The Roman Empire had enjoyed a period of tolerance and peace with the Sassanid Empire under the rule of the enlightened king, Yazdegerd I, however, during the reign of his son and successor, Bahram V, the twin evils of intolerance and war returned. Encouraged and disturbed by the abrupt collapse of the Eastern Empire in A.D. 426, the Sassanid Persians invaded the Holy Land, which had devolved into an assortment of minor princedoms controlled by generals and pretenders, and drove the Vandals, who had by now arrived near Jerusalem, further southwards and into Egypt. The Sassanid king then bathed in the glory of restoring to Persia the Mediterranean frontiers of antiquity. Later he embarked upon an unsuccessful campaign to Antioch, where he was unable to breach the walls of the great city and so returned to Ctesiphon, leaving the conduct of war to his generals and ruling over an empire vastly greater than the one he had inherited. In A.D. 427, Stilicho was dispatched to Egypt, to secure the province from the control of its unreliable governor and return it to the Empire. The campaign was successful and Stilicho returned to Rome in triumph, however, he died two years later and so the province, under the rule of a less talented general, fell to the Vandals in A.D. 430. The Vandals found an Egypt, like much of the rest of the shattered Eastern Empire, torn by religious schism and political upheaval and so were easily able to conquer the province and establish a new kingdom at Alexandria. Under the enlightened rule of their king, Gunderic, Latin was made the official language and with the restoration of the theaters and arenas, the great dramas and shows of old were reborn.
The fall of the Eastern Empire in A.D. 426, like the rape of Constantinople by the Vandals in A.D. 410, came as a huge and very unwelcome surprise to the Western Empire. Though itself moderately strong and secure, both through its own military power as well as through alliances with such tribes as the Franks and Burgundians, the fall of the east sent waves of panic rippling through the west. First and foremost, the east contained the richest and most developed provinces and the west by comparison was little more than a backwards hinterland. Then too, the fall of half of the empire was not a matter to be taken lightly. Time continued to pass by, however, and it soon became apparent that the day to day life of each citizen would not be greatly affected. When Honorius died in the winter of A.D. 429, having already been predeceased by Flavius Stilicho, it may have been assumed that a melancholy air would have descended upon the Empire. This, however, was not the case, for though the new Emperor, named Theodosius after his grandfather, might have been expected to be of a similar mold as Honorius and Valentinian II, he was not. Bright and inquisitive from an early age, he had grown into an excellent young man, and a fine Caesar. Therefore, upon his father’s death, he ascended the throne and immediately set about reforming an Empire troubled by years of invasion, civil strife and corruption. Just as the eternal flame still burned in the Temple of Vesta, so too the light of Rome was not entirely put out.
Anno Domini CDXXX (A.D. 430)
To Be Continued...
To Be Continued...