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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. III:
The Ecclesiastical History, Dialogues, and Letters of Theodoret.: Of the expedition of Valens against the Goths and how he paid the penalty of his impiety.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXXII.—Of the expedition of Valens against the Goths and how he paid the penalty of his impiety.

Valens, however, spurned these excellent counsellors, and sent out his troops to join battle while he himself sat waiting in a hamlet for the victory. His troops could not stand against the barbarians’ charge, turned tail and were slain one after another as they fled, the Romans fleeing at full speed and the barbarians chasing them with all their might. When Valens heard of the defeat he strove to conceal himself in the village where he lay, but when the barbarians came up they set the place on fire and together with it burnt the enemy of piety. p. 131 Thus in this present life Valens paid the penalty of his errors. 807



“On the 9th August, 378, a day long and fatally memorable in the annals of the empire, the legions of Valens moved forth from their entrenched camp under the walls of Hadrianople, and after a march of eight miles under the hot sun of August came in sight of the barbarian vanguard, behind which stretched the circling line of the waggons that guarded the Gothic host. The soldiers of the empire, hot, thirsty, wearied out with hours of waiting under the blaze of an August sun, and only half understanding that the negotiations were ended and the battle begun, fought at a terrible disadvantage but fought not ill. The infantry on the left wing seem even to have pushed back their enemies and penetrated to the Gothic waggons. But they were for some reason not covered as usual by a force of cavalry and they were jammed into a too narrow space of ground where they could not use their spears with effect, yet presented a terribly easy mark to the Gothic arrows. They fell in dense masses as they had stood. Then the whole weight of the enemy’s attack was directed against the centre and right. When the evening began to close in, the utterly routed Roman soldiers were rushing in disorderly flight from the fatal field. The night, dark and moonless, may have protected some, but more met their death rushing blindly over a rugged and unknown country.

“Meanwhile Valens had sought shelter with a little knot of soldiers (the two regiments of “Lancearii and Mattiarii”), who still remained unmoved amidst the surging sea of ruin. When their ranks too were broken, and when some of his bravest officers had fallen around him, he joined the common soldiers in their headlong flight. Struck by a Gothic arrow he fell to the ground, but was carried off by some of the eunuchs and life-guardsmen who still accompanied him, to a peasant’s cottage hard by. The Goths, ignorant of his rank, but eager to strip the gaily-clothed guardsmen, surrounded the cottage and attempted in vain to burst in the doors. Then mounting to the roof they tried to smoke out the imprisoned inmates, but succeeding beyond their desires, set fire to the cottage, and emperor, eunuchs, and life-guardsmen perished in the flames. Only one of the body-guard escaped, who climbed out through one of the blazing windows and fell into the hands of the barbarians. He told them when it was too late what a prize they had missed in their cruel eagerness, nothing less than the emperor of Rome.

Ecclesiastical historians for generations delighted to point the moral of the story of Valens, that he who had seduced the whole Gothic nation into the heresy of Arius, and thus caused them to suffer the punishment of everlasting fire, was himself by those very Goths burned alive on the terrible 9th of August. Thomas Hodgkin—“The Dynasty of Theodosius,” page 97.

Next: How the Goths became tainted by the Arian error.

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