Aegidius – Commanding general of the Roman forces in Gaul under the emperor Majorian in the early 460s. Revolted on his murder, at which point Aegidius’s command became the basis of an independent fiefdom on and behind the Rhine frontier, which preserved its independence until it was conquered by the Frankish king Clovis in the mid 480s.
Aetius – Commanding general, Patrician, and eminence grise in control of the western Empire between 433 and his assassination by Valentinian III in 454. Saw the need to draw on outside, Hunnic, power to control the immigrant groups who had forced their way into the western Empire in the period 405–8. Enjoyed considerable short-term military success, but his strategy was undermined by Attila’s aggression in the 440s and his political position by the collapse of the Hunnic Empire subsequent to Attila’s death.
Akatziri – Nomadic group occupying land north of the Black Sea and brought under Attila’s hegemony in the later 440s. Their political structure consisted of a series of ranked kings and was probably similar to that of the Huns prior to the revolution which produced the dynasty of Rua and Attila.
Alamanni – Confederation of Germanic-speaking groups occupying land opposite the upper Rhine frontier region of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Several kings always ruled simultaneously among them, each with their own cantons, and passed on their power by hereditary succession, but each political generation also threw up a non-hereditary, pre-eminent over-king.
Alans – Collective name for groups of Iranian-speaking nomads occupying land north of the Black Sea and east of the River Don in the fourth century. In the crisis generated by the Huns, some were quickly conquered and remained part of the Hunnic Empire until after the death of Attila. Others fled west into Roman territory and became part of the western Empire’s military establishment. One large group participated in the Rhine crossing of 406, and, after heavy defeats in the late 410s, attached themselves to the Vandal–Alan confederation, which moved to North Africa and seized Carthage in 439.
Alaric – (Visi-)Gothic king (395–411). Leader, in 395, of a revolt of the Gothic Tervingi and Greuthungi who had crossed into the Empire in 376 and made the treaty of 382 with the emperor Theodosius I. Created a new Visigothic supergroup by definitively uniting these groups with a third, the survivors of Radagaisus’ attack on Italy in 405/6. Also brought his Goths out of the Balkans and into the west in search of a political accommodation with the Roman state. Died after sacking Rome in 410, but before a lasting settlement was reached.
Alatheus – Leader, along with Saphrax, of the Gothic Greuthungi who crossed the Danube in 376. Disappeared, probably dead, by the time the treaty of 382 was made.
Ammianus Marcellinus – Late Roman historian, the surviving portion of whose work covers the period 354–78. Key source for the workings of the later Roman Empire and the onset of the Hunnic crisis up to the battle of Hadrianople in 378.
Anthemius – East Roman general who dealt with the fallout from the collapse of Attila’s empire and then western emperor (467–72). Under his auspices the last attempt to retake North Africa from the Vandals and put new life into the western Empire was launched in 468. When it failed, the last threads of Empire quickly unravelled.
Arcadius – East Roman emperor (395–408). Son of Theodosius I who reigned rather than ruled. Alaric eventually failed to come to an accommodation with those running the eastern Empire on his behalf, and moved on to Italy.
Arminius (Hermann the German) – Chieftain of the Germanic-speaking Cherusci of the northern Rhine frontier region, who organized the temporary confederation which destroyed Varus’ Roman army at the battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. Mistakenly seen as an early German nationalist.
Aspar – East Roman general responsible for putting Valentinian III on the western throne and for forcing Geiseric to make a first treaty with the west Roman state in 437. From 457, he became a considerable power behind the throne in Constantinople after the death of the eastern emperor Marcian.
Athanaric – Leader (‘judge’) of the Gothic Tervingi occupying land in Moldavia and Wallachia in the mid-fourth century. Successfully fended off the eastern emperor Valens’ attempt (367–9) to assert total domination over his territory, negotiating a less burdensome treaty than that imposed by Constantine in 332. Lost the confidence of his followers in 376, when they refused to implement the measures he advised for dealing with the crisis generated by the Huns (see also Fritigern).
Athaulf – Visigothic ruler (411–15). Brother-in-law and heir of Alaric. Moved the Visigoths on from Italy to southern Gaul, where he adopted various stratagems, including marriage to Galla Placidia, sister of the western emperor Honorius, to force the Empire into a political settlement advantageous to his Goths. Over-ambitious in his assessment of what he could extract, and hence eventually assassinated when resentment built up at food shortages generated by Roman blockade.
Attalus, Priscus – Roman senator and usurper of the western Empire set up twice by Visigothic leaders: Alaric in Italy in 409/10 and Athaulf in Gaul in 413/14.
Attila – Ruler of the Huns (c.440–53). Inheriting pre-eminent power over the Huns and their subject peoples from his uncle Rua, he at first ruled with his brother Bleda. Responsible for switching the Huns to a policy of outright aggression towards the Roman Empire, launching massive attacks on the east in 441/2 and 447 and on the west in 451 and 452. Eliminated his brother in 445, and received the east Roman embassy which included the historian Priscus in 448/9. Hunnic Empire collapsed after his death (seeDengizich).
Augustus – First Roman emperor (27BC–AD14). Granted his title by senatorial decree in 27BC, he was Julius Caesar’s heir who, on the latter’s murder in 44BC, quickly gathered the reins of power into his hands (between 44 and 27BC he is conventionally known by his own name: Octavian).
Ausonius – Teacher of rhetoric at the university of Bordeaux, who became tutor to the young emperor Gratian in the 360s, and then, particularly under Gratian’s rule from 375, rose to political pre-eminence at court. A correspondent of Symmachus and author of theMosella, which was in part an answer to the attitude the latter had adopted to the Rhine frontier region during the period he spent there in 369/70.
Bigelis – Gothic leader of one group of former Hunnic subjects who invaded the east Roman Balkans in the mid-460s as the Hunnic Empire collapsed to extinction.
Bleda – see Attila.
Boniface – Commanding general in charge of Roman forces in North Africa at the time of Geiseric’s invasion. Mistakenly accused in later sources of inviting the Vandals across the Mediterranean from Spain. He competed also with Aetius for control of the young western emperor Valentinian III after 425. Killed in battle against Aetius in Italy in 433.
Burgundians – Germanic-speaking group occupying lands east of the Alamanni in the fourth century. In the aftermath of the Rhine crossing of 406, moved west into territories right on the Rhine around Mainz, Speyer and Worms (by 411). Mauled by the Huns, on Aetius’ orders, in the mid-430s and immediately resettled around lake Geneva. After the death of Aetius, they expanded the region under their control south into the Rhone valley, creating one of the successor kingdoms to the western Roman Empire. A second-rank power compared with the Visigoths, Franks and Ostrogoths.
Carpi – Dacian-speaking group beyond Roman control occupying land around the Carpathian Mountains in the third century. Many displaced into the Roman Empire and others conquered by the rise of Gothic power in the region in the later third and early fourth centuries.
Cassiodorus – Roman senator and highly ranked administrator of Ostrogothic kings of Italy between 522/3 and 540. Wrote a Gothic history, which is indirectly our major source on the collapse of the Hunnic Empire (see also Jordanes).
Celti, Celts – Collective name for a series of groups speaking related languages who in the last centuries BC dominated northern Italy, Gaul and the British Isles, together with much of the Iberian Peninsula and central Europe. Many were incorporated into the expanding Roman Empire, not least because the relatively developed economy of such groups offered a reasonable return on the costs of conquest.
Childeric – Leader of one group of Salian Franks as the western Empire unravelled to extinction. Operated west of the Rhine as well as in traditional Frankish territories east of the river and, by his death in 482, was in control of the old Roman province of Belgica II centred on Tournai. Possibly pre-eminent over other Frankish leaders, but Frankish unification was really achieved by his son (see Clovis).
Chnodomarius – Pre-eminent over-king of the Alamanni in the 350s, with a personal retinue of 300 warriors. His power was extinguished in the defeat he suffered at the hands of the emperor Julian at the battle of Strasbourg in 357.
Clovis – King of the Salian Franks (482–511). Created the Frankish kingdom in the aftermath of Roman collapse. At his death, it covered all of what is now France except its Mediterranean coast, together with Belgium and substantial territories east of the Rhine. The new kingdom was created by victories over the remnants of the Roman army of the Rhine (see Aegidius), Bretons, Alamanni, Thuringians and Visigoths, and by a process of centralization which saw Clovis eliminate a series of other Frankish warband leaders, uniting their followers in each case to his own.
Constantine I – Roman emperor (306–37). Emerged victorious from the wars which destroyed the Tetrarchy (see Diocletian) to rule the entire Empire from 324, though he shared power with his sons. Pacified the Rhine and Danube frontier regions, imposed considerable Roman domination on groups such as the Tervingi (see Athanaric). Brought to completion many of the military and administrative reforms which allowed the Empire to cope with the rise of Persia to superpower status, and started the process which saw Christianity become a key cultural component of the late Roman world.
Constantine III – Usurper (406–11), who quickly spread his power from Britain throughout Gaul and even into the fringes of Spain and Italy. Attracted support by offering a coherent response to the Rhine invaders of 406, and even threatened to supplant the emperor Honorius, before falling victim to the imperial recovery generated by Flavius Constantius.
Constantine VII Porphyryogenitus – Byzantine emperor (911–57). A figurehead who used his spare time to bring to fruition a project to save Byzantium’s classical heritage by excerpting, in over fifty volumes, the works of ancient authors under a variety of headings. Few survive, but his Excerpts concerning Embassies took many extracts from the history of Priscus; these are crucial to our knowledge of Attila and the Huns.
Constantius II – Roman emperor (337–61). Considered by Ammianus Marcellinus the perfect ceremonial emperor, he struggled to find ways to share power even though his reign showed that one man could not deal with everything from the Rhine to Mesopotamia. Moved Christianization substantially forward.
Constantius, Flavius – West Roman general who reconstructed the western Empire in the chaos generated by the crisis of 405–8. Defeated usurpers in 411 and 413, brought the Visigoths to heel (by 416), and then campaigned effectively with them against the Rhine invaders in Spain (416–18). Made himself dominant at court, marrying Galla Placidia, sister of the emperor Honorius. Briefly emperor himself in 421, he died the same year without winning recognition from Constantinople.
Dengizich – Son of Attila and ruler of part of the Huns between 453 and his own death in 469. Presided over the collapse of his father’s empire as the subject peoples threw off Hunnic domination, and eventually tried to carve out a new fiefdom for himself south of the Danube on east Roman soil. He was defeated and killed.
Diocletian – Roman emperor (285–307). Responsible for many of the reforms, especially financial, which allowed the Empire to sustain the larger army it required to reassert parity against Sasanian Persia. Also experimented with a power-sharing arrangement of two senior and two junior emperors: the Tetrarchy. This worked in his own lifetime but generated nearly 20 years of civil war afterwards.
Edeco – Leading henchman of Attila, who reinvented himself to become king of the Sciri when the latter reasserted their independence after the Hun’s death. He became king through marriage and was either of Thuringian or Hunnic ancestry (or both). He was killed when the Ostrogoths destroyed Scirian independence in the 460s. Earlier, and unknown to Priscus in whose company he travelled home, the east Romans had attempted to suborn him, while on an embassy to Constantinople, to assassinate Attila.
Ellac – Son of Attila and ruler of part of the Huns after his father’s death in 453, he was killed at the battle of the Nedao (454?), after which his father’s largely Germanic subject peoples started to reassert their independence.
Eudocia – Elder daughter of the emperor Valentinian III. Betrothed to Huneric, eldest son of the Vandal king Geiseric, as part of the latter’s treaty with Aetius in 442. She was eventually married to him after 455, when she was taken to Carthage on the Vandal sack of Rome.
Eunapius – Late Roman historian of the fourth and early fifth centuries, whose text survives partly in fragments and partly through its re-use by the sixth-century historian Zosimus.
Euric – King of the Visigoths (466–84). He murdered his brother Theoderic II to seize power, adopting the new policy of seeking to establish a Visigothic kingdom entirely independent of any surviving western Roman Empire. After the defeat of the 468 Vandal expedition, he launched wide-ranging campaigns which, by 476, had extended his realm as far as the Loire and Arles, in Gaul, and to the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula.
Franks – Collective name for Germanic-speaking groups occupying land opposite the lower Rhine frontier region of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Clearly composed of several smaller groups, some of whom (such as the Bructeri) seem to have had a continuous history running back to the first century. The Franks figure little in the history of Ammianus, so it is unclear whether they had a confederative political structure like the contemporary Alamanni. Real political unity was generated among them only in the late fifth century after the collapse of the Roman Empire (see Clovis).
Fritigern – Ruler of those Tervingi who came to the Danube in 376 requesting asylum from the Huns within the Roman Empire. Later tried to win recognition as ruler of all the Goths – Tervingi and Greuthungi – who had entered the Empire in 376, but, although victorious at Hadrianople, did not survive the war to participate in the peacemaking of 382.
Galla Placidia – Sister of the emperor Honorius, she was captured by Alaric in the Gothic sack of Rome in 410. She later married Alaric’s successor Athaulf, the marriage being part of his strategy for inserting himself (and his Gothic followers) into the heart of the Empire. She was eventually returned to her brother after her husband’s and a son’s deaths, marrying Flavius Constantius in turn. After his death, her energies focused on safeguarding the interests of their son, Valentinian III. She played a key role in persuading Theodosius II to put the young Valentinian on the western throne in 425 and then attempted to balance the influence at court of her competing generals. This eventually failed when Aetius made himself pre-eminent in the west from 433.
Geiseric – King of the Vandal–Alan coalition (428–79). Came to power in Spain, but quickly decided that North Africa offered his followers greater security. Crossing to Tangier in May 429, he led his followers west. After much fighting, a first treaty settled them in Mauretania and Numidia in 437. In September 439, he stormed Carthage and eventually extracted recognition of his conquest of the richest North African provinces in a second treaty of 442. Sacked Rome in 455 after the usurpation of Petronius Maximus threatened the proposed marriage between his son Huneric and Eudocia. Survived two major expeditions to reconquer his kingdom for the western Empire in 461 and 468, and able subsequently to negotiate a definitive peace settlement with Constantinople in 473.
Gepids – Germanic-speaking subject people of Attila’s Hunnic empire. Initiated by their revolt and victory at the battle of the Nedao the process which led to Hunnic collapse. Emerged from the wars of the 450s and 460s with a kingdom in Transylvania and the eastern, especially north-eastern part of the Great Hungarian Plain.
Germani – Collective name for a series of groups speaking related languages who in the last centuries BC dominated much of north-central Europe between the Rhine and the Vistula, and the Carpathians and the Baltic. Largely not incorporated into the expanding Roman Empire around the birth of Christ because of the relatively undeveloped economy prevalent among them. First four centuries AD saw profound transformations in their socioeconomic and political structures, together with a massive expansion in population numbers.
Goths – Germanic-speaking group first encountered in northern Poland in the first century AD. In the later second and third centuries, any original political unity fragmented, and Goths in a number of separate groups were involved in migratory activity towards the north Black Sea region (modern Ukraine and Moldavia). There, they built a number of new kingdoms (see Tervingi and Greuthungi), which were themselves destroyed in the turmoil generated by the rise of Hunnic power at the end of the fourth century. Various previously separate Gothic groups then came together to create two new and much larger supergroups in the fifth century (see Ostrogoths and Visigoths).
Gratian – West Roman emperor (375–83). Son of the emperor Valentinian I, he became responsible for the overall direction of the campaign against the Goths after the death of his uncle Valens at Hadrianople in 378. This included raising Theodosius I to the purple, and subduing the Goths after the latter’s defeat in the summer of 380.
Gregory, bishop of Tours – Late-sixth-century historian of the Frankish kingdom. His work contains unique information about the reign of Clovis and important extracts from the lost work of a fifth-century Roman historian, Renatus Frigiderus, who was well informed about the era of Aetius.
Greuthungi – Either (in my view more likely) a collective name for a series of independent Gothic kingdoms established in what is now the Ukraine, east of the river Dniester, before 375, or the name of one huge Gothic Empire stretching from the Dniester to the Don which fragmented in the face of Hunnic aggression. One group of Greuthungi came to the Danube in 376 under the leadership of Alatheus and Saphrax. They participated in the battle of Hadrianople and probably also in the peace treaty of 382. Eventually they formed part of Alaric’s new Gothic supergroup, the Visigoths. A further group of Greuthungi came to the Danube in 386, but were heavily defeated, the survivors being resettled in Asia Minor. It is unclear whether or not both these groups of Greuthungi had formed part of the same political unit before the arrival of the Huns.
Gundobad – King of the Burgundians (473/4–516). Pursued a Roman military career under Ricimer in Italy, before returning to the Rhone valley to claim a share (along with three brothers) of the emerging Burgundian successor kingdom as the western Empire finally unravelled.
Hasding Vandals – One of two Vandal groups who, to escape the insecurity generated in central Europe by the rise of Hunnic power, forced their way over the Rhine at the end of 406. The ruling Hasding dynasty then provided leadership for a new coalition comprising these Vandals and survivors of the Siling Vandals and Alans mauled by Visigothic–Roman forces in Spain between 416 and 418. Before the Hunnic crisis they had inhabited territories north of the Carpathian mountains, but had moved to the Upper Danube region opposite Roman possessions in Raetia (modern Switzerland) by 402.
Heraclianus – General commanding Roman forces in North Africa in c.410. Opponent of Stilicho, but loyal to Honorius. Provided funds to sustain the emperor in his darkest hours, then invaded Italy in 413, either to seize imperial power himself or to check the growing influence of Flavius Constantius. Defeated, and then assassinated on his return to Carthage.
Hernac – Son of Attila and ruler of part of the Huns after 453. Presided over the collapse of his father’s empire as the subject peoples threw off Hunnic domination, and eventually tried to obtain a new fiefdom for himself south of the Danube on east-Roman soil. Unlike his brother Dengizich, he eventually came to terms and he and his followers were settled in the Dobrudja.
Heruli – Germanic-speaking group originally from north central Europe, some of whom migrated to regions north of the Black Sea in company with Goths and others in the third century. They became Hunnic subjects and moved west of the Carpathians to the Great Hungarian Plain under Attila’s auspices. Re-established an independent kingdom in the wars of the 450s and 460s.
Honoria, Iulia Grata – Daughter of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius. Famous for offering herself in marriage to Attila the Hun as an escape route from a messy affair.
Honorius – Western Roman emperor (395–423). Came to the throne as a six-year-old boy and never managed to grasp the reins of power personally. His reign was dominated by two strong men – Stilicho (395–408) and Flavius Constantius (411–21) – whose eras were interspersed with and followed by some very bloody manoeuvring at court. The great crisis of 405–8 unfolded in his reign and generated a series of usurpations, notably that of Constantine III, which in c.409/10 threatened to overthrow him entirely. He had no children.
Huneric – Son of Geiseric and king of the Vandal–Alan coalition (474–84). Betrothed to Valentinian’s daughter Eudocia under the treaty of 442, he lived as a hostage at Valentinian’s court for a period in the 440s.
Huns – Nomadic steppe group, whose linguistic and cultural affiliations remain unclear. Power grew from c.350 in the region north-east of the Black Sea, generating an initial crisis in the largely Gothic-dominated world of the Ukraine in 375/6. Most Huns remained north of the Black Sea, however, until c.410 when they shifted westwards again to the Great Hungarian Plain. Here they built an Empire: first, on the basis of conquering subject groups, second, on extracting and recycling wealth from the Roman world and, third, by centralizing the workings of political power among themselves. After the death of Attila in 453, the process went into reverse and independent Hunnic power was extinguished within twenty years as subject peoples reasserted their independence.
Hydatius – Spanish bishop and chronicler. Our main source for events in the peninsula from the arrival of the Rhine invaders down to the 460s.
Jordanes – Historian of the Goths working in Constantinople in c.550. Claims to have followed closely the lost Gothic history of Cassiodorus, which I broadly believe but which has generated great historiographical argument. Main historical value lies in his account of events in Attila’s time and afterwards, for some of which he drew on the history of Priscus.
Jovian – Roman emperor (363–4). Succeeded Julian and forced to surrender large tracts of strategic territory to rescue Julian’s trapped army. Died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Jovinus – Usurper in Gaul (411–13). Regime generated in the Rhine region originally with Burgundian and Visigothic support. Fatally undermined when Flavius Constantius attracted away the Visigoths.
Julian – Roman emperor (355–63), at first subordinate Caesar to the Augustus, his cousin Constantius II, then sole Augustus from 361. Highly successful at the battle of Strasbourg and afterwards in reining in the power of the Alamannic confederation under Chnodomarius. Declared his previously hidden pagan affiliations on seizing power, then launched a massive invasion of Persia which ended with his own death and strategic defeat (see Jovian).
Justinian I – East Roman emperor (527–68). Famous for launching wars of conquest in the western Mediterranean which destroyed the Vandal and Ostrogothic kingdoms in North Africa and Italy respectively, and seized a stretch of territory along the southern Hispanic coastline. Constructed many buildings, notably the church of Hagia Sophia which still stands in Istanbul.
Leo I – East Roman emperor (457–74). Tried to sustain the western Empire by identifying plausible regimes in the chaos which followed the murders of Aetius and Valentinian III, and above all by negotiating with Ricimer on behalf of Anthemius and providing a huge armada for the expedition against the Vandals of 468.
Libanius – Greek Rhetor established at Antioch, and associate of Themistius. His huge letter collection provides great insight into the values and inner workings of the late Roman elite.
Libius Severus – Italian senator and western emperor (462–6). Puppet eventually installed by Ricimer after his execution of Majorian. Never recognized in Constantinople and died at a suspiciously convenient moment allowing the negotiations which brought Anthemius to the west.
Lombards – Germanic-speaking group of the Middle Elbe region. May have acknowledged the power of Attila in his pomp, but did not form part of the Huns’ core of conquered subject peoples.
Macrianus – Pre-eminent over-king of the Alamanni in the late 360s and early 370s. Valentinian I tried to eliminate him but eventually legitimized his position in 374, when he needed to be absent from the Rhine to deal with trouble in the Middle Danube region.
Majorian – West Roman emperor (458–61). Commander, with Ricimer, of the Roman army of Italy after the death of Aetius. Helped destroy the regime of Avitus in 457 and then, after an interregnum, was elected emperor. Eventually recognized in Constantinople, Majorian pulled much of the surviving western Empire back together and, anticipating Anthemius’ strategy, tried to revive it by reconquering North Africa from the Vandal–Alan coalition. When the expedition failed, Ricimer removed and executed him.
Marcellinus, count – Commander of (west) Roman field forces in Illyricum from the mid-450s, effectively just Dalmatia since Pannonia to the north had been annexed by the Huns. Originally appointed by Majorian, he switched his allegiance to Constantinople on the latter’s execution. Later backed the regime of Anthemius and provided forces for the 468 expedition to North Africa. He was assassinated in Sicily in the aftermath of its failure, but his fiefdom passed to his nephew Julius Nepos.
Marcian – East Roman emperor (450–7). High-ranking soldier who came to power after the death of Theodosius II by marrying Theodosius’ sister Pulcheria. Provided substantial assistance to Aetius in 451 as he tried to fend off Attila’s attack on Italy.
Merobaudes – Poet and soldier of the mid-fifth century. Born in Spain and classically educated, though descended from a Frank who had risen through the ranks in the late-fourth century to become a Roman general. A close associate of Aetius, the surviving fragments of his poetry offer valuable insight into the policies and self-presentation of the regime of Aetius, for whom Merobaudes worked as a spin-doctor as well as an active soldier.
Nepos, Julius – West Roman emperor (474–5). Nephew and successor of count Marcellinus, his power was likewise based on the surviving Roman armed forces of Dalmatia. Briefly west Roman emperor, he was driven out by Orestes. Returned to Dalmatia where he was eventually assassinated in 480.
Octavian – see Augustus.
Odovacar – ‘King’ in Italy (476–93). Son of Attila’s henchman Edeco, he was a prince of the Sciri forced into exile after the Ostrogoths destroyed his father’s Middle Danubian kingdom in the wars which followed the death of Attila. Eventually came to Italy, where he organized a coup d’etat using the last Roman army of Italy, itself substantially composed of refugees from the post-Attilan conflicts. He won their support by distributing landed assets to them in lieu of back pay. Deposed but didn’t kill the last western emperor, Romulus, and reigned as ‘king’ afterwards, formally acknowledging the sovereignty of the eastern emperor in Constantinople. Eventually deposed and killed himself by Theoderic the Amal.
Olympiodorus of Thebes – East Roman historian and diplomat of the early-fifth century. Photius preserves only a brief summary of his work, but Zosimus copied out large portions of it dealing with events from c.405–10. A well-informed and intelligent contemporary, Olympiodorus is the source of most of what we know of the diplomatic and military tangles which generated Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410.
Olympius – Senior western politician who organized the coup d’etat which ousted Stilicho in 408. Advocated a policy of hostility towards Alaric, but lacked the military power to make it work. Ousted himself when his policies failed, he was eventually clubbed to death in the emperor Honorius’ presence.
Onegesius – Most senior of the notables at the court of Attila the Hun, whose good offices the east Roman embassy, which included Priscus, was ostensibly seeking to use to secure their ends.
Orestes – Originally a Pannonian landowner, he was employed by Attila the Hun as an ambassador to Constantinople. After the collapse of the Hunnic Empire he made his way to Italy, becoming, with his brother Paul, highly influential after the death of Ricimer and return to Burgundy of Gundobad. They organized the opposition which led Nepos to retreat to Dalmatia in 475 and proclaimed Orestes’ son Romulus emperor. Both were executed by Odovacar in late summer 476.
Ostrogoths – A second Gothic supergroup created in the fifth century around the Amal dynasty, particularly the persons of Valamer and his nephew Theoderic the Amal. Valamer united a series of independent Gothic warbands probably after Attila’s death in the 450s; his nephew added to this initial powerbase (probably itself numbering c.10,000 warriors), another force of similar size in the Roman Balkans in c.484. It was this combined force Theoderic led to Italy in 489, and which had put him in power there by 493. Like the Visigoths, it has been traditional to suppose that the Ostrogoths – equated with the fourth-century Greuthungi – already existed as a political unit before the arrival of the Huns north of the Black Sea in the fourth century, but this is mistaken.
Petronius Maximus – Italian senator and usurper (455). Prompted Valentinian III to assassinate Aetius in 454 and then plotted to kill the emperor and seize the purple. Killed in Vandal sack of Rome.
Photius – Ninth-century Byzantine bibliophile and (briefly) Patriarch of Constantinople. His extensive description of his massive library (the Bibliotheca) is an important source of information about many of the texts on which our knowledge of the late-Roman world is based.
Priscus – East Roman historian of the mid-fifth century. Famous for his account of an embassy to Attila the Hun, most of which survives in the Excerpta of Constantine VII Porphyryogenitus, and source of much of what we know about mid-fifth-century events.
Quadi – Germanic-speaking tribe occupying land on the north-western fringes of the Great Hungarian Plain in the Roman period. Contributed manpower to the Suevi who crossed the Rhine in company with the Vandals and Alans in 406.
Radagaisus – Gothic king. Invaded Italy with a huge force in 405/6. Zosimus’ account would suggest that he led an entirely multiracial force, but all the other sources call him a Goth and Zosimus otherwise lacks an account of the thoroughly multiracial Rhine crossing of 406, which suggests that he has confused two separate invasions. Stilicho eventually defeated him, drafting many of his better troops into the Roman army. Radagaisus was executed outside Florence.
Renatus Frigiderus – see in Gregory, bishop of Tours.
Ricimer – Patrician and Roman general of mixed, and very grand, barbarian ancestry (he was, among other things, the grandson of the Visigothic king Vallia). Rose to high military command in Italy after Aetius’ death, and then to pre-eminent political authority as kingmaker from the early 460s after his execution of Majorian. He has sometimes been accused of adopting policies harmful to the interests of the west Roman state, but, as well as certainly looking after his own interests, he also put his weight behind the regime of Anthemius with its project of reconquering North Africa. Everything suggests he was a later fifth-century version of Stilicho, desperately trying to keep the western Empire afloat in a situation which demanded political compromise with at least some of the new immigrant powers occupying its territories. Died in 473.
Romulus ‘Augustulus’ – Last Roman emperor of the west (475–6). See Orestes and Odovacar.
Rua (or Ruga) – Hunnic king of the 420s(?) and the 430s. Probably a key figure in the creation of the new system of centralized monarchical power among the Huns, which replaced an older one of multiple, ranked kings. This had still existed in 411, but had disappeared entirely by c.440, when he passed on power to his nephews Attila and Bleda. Rua also mounted at least one punishing raid on the eastern Empire to extract booty and tribute: monies which may have been what enabled him to centralize authority around himself.
Rugi – Germanic-speaking group to be found in the first century by the shores of the Baltic. Some at least participated in the expansion towards the Black Sea associated with the Goths in the third century. Their descendants were then caught up in the Hunnic Empire which shifted them west to the Middle Danube region. After Attila’s death, they re-established an independent kingdom north of the Danube on the fringes of Noricum, where they are encountered in the Life of Severinus.
Saphrax – see Alatheus.
Sarmatians – Iranian-speaking, originally nomadic group, who conquered territories north of the Black Sea around the birth of Christ. Some stayed east of the Carpathians, others eventually moved west of it to the Great Hungarian Plain where they became long-standing Roman clients into the fourth century, before being conquered in turn by the Huns.
Sarus – Roman general and Gothic noble. Sarus’ brother Sergeric organized the coup d’etat which led to the Visigothic king Athaulf’s assassination, and then briefly became king before himself being killed. Sarus is found in the service of Stilicho and Honorius either side of 410 AD, and is noted for his implacable hostility to Alaric and his brother-in-law Athaulf. My suspicion is that Sarus, like a number of other Gothic nobles turned Roman generals, was a possible candidate for the leadership of the new Visigothic supergroup whom Alaric defeated, and who subsequently pursued a career in Roman service instead.
Saxons – A collective name for a number of Germanic-speaking groups occupying land to the east of the Franks in the fourth century. Whether the Saxons had any functioning confederative political identity, like the Alamanni, or whether the collective was merely a term of convenience is unknown.
Sciri – Germanic-speaking group who probably emerged in some way from the Germanic expansion to the Black Sea region associated with the Goths in the third century. At least two separate groups of Sciri were then conquered by the Huns. One formed part of Uldin’s following in 408/9, before being settled on Roman soil after his defeat, a second briefly re-established an independent kingdom in the Middle Danube from the wreck of the Hunnic Empire under Edeco, before being destroyed by the Ostrogoths in the 460s. Edeco’s son Odovacar and other refugees then fled to still-Roman Italy.
Sergeric – see Sarus.
Severinus – Saint in Noricum c.460–80. Mysterious holy man from the east whose Life, penned by Eugippius, provides a series of fascinating vignettes of the end of Empire in an out-of-the-way Roman frontier province as its central authorities ran out of cash.
Shapur I – Sasanian ruler of Persia (240–72). Continued the work of his father Ardashir in turning the Near East into a superpower capable of rivalling Roman imperial power. This allowed him to win decisive victories over three Roman emperors, not least Valerian whom he captured and then later had skinned. The Sasanian revolution generated a huge strategic crisis for the Roman state which it took two political generations to overcome (see Diocletian).
Sidonius Apollinaris – Gallic landowner, poet and letter writer whose works document the last generation of the western Roman Empire in southern Gaul. His letters show his peers reacting variously to imperial collapse, and his panegyrics for a series of emperors (Avitus, Majorian and Anthemius) give us precious insight into the policies and self-presentation of these regimes.
Siling Vandals – One of two Vandal groups who, to escape the insecurity generated in central Europe by the rise of Hunnic power, forced their way over the Rhine at the end of 406. Before the Hunnic crisis they had inhabited territories north of the Carpathian mountains, but had moved to the Upper Danube region opposite Roman possessions in what is now Switzerland by 402. The Silings suffered heavily in the joint Romano-Visigothic campaigns organized by Flavius Constantius after 416, which led to the capture of their king Fredibald. The survivors threw in their lot with the Hasding dynasty.
Stilicho – General in charge of the western Empire between 395 and 408. The second-generation offspring of a Roman general of Vandal origins, he rose at court in the east and took control of the west on the sudden death of the emperor Theodosius I, ruling in the name of his young son Honorius. He first attempted to unite east and west, but had abandoned that ambition by c.400, after which he had to concentrate on holding on to power in the face of two separate Gothic attacks on Italy: Alaric in 401/2 and Radagaisus in 405/6. He weathered these storms, but could find no answer to the disruption caused by the Rhine crossing of 406 and the usurpations it generated in response in Britain and Gaul (see Constantine III). Lost the confidence of Honorius, when Alaric returned to the fringes of Italy in 407/8, and was overthrown by a coup d’etat organized by Olympius. Preferred to accept deposition and death rather than fight for his survival.
Suevi – Collective term for Germanic-speaking groups of north-west corner of the Great Hungarian Plain. Long-standing Roman clients, some participated in the Rhine crossing of 406 and eventually established themselves in north-western Spain. The remainder stayed in their old haunts and were conquered by the Huns, briefly re-establishing their independence in the late 450s. They were composed of a number of smaller entities such as the Quadi who, before 406, do not seem to have functioned as a confederative group. Both those who left, and those who remained, erected more unified political structures in the fifth century.
Symmachus, Quintus Aurelius – Roman senator and author of an extensive collection of extant letters, together with a number of much less well-preserved speeches. His life and writings offer us huge insight into the attitudes and lifestyles of the late Romans of Rome.
Tervingi – Name of the fourth-century Gothic grouping settled closest to Rome’s Lower Danube frontier in Moldavia and Wallachia. One of the entities which emerged from third-century Gothic expansion into the Black Sea region, it was a confederation of kings ruled by a ‘judge’, whose power seems to have been passed by hereditary right through one family. As Roman clients, they sought as best they could to alleviate the terms the Empire imposed upon them (see Athanaric). The confederation splintered in the face of Hunnic pressure, and the majority eventually became part of the new Visigothic supergroup (see Fritigern and Alaric).
Themistius – East Roman philosopher and spin-doctor. Served a succession of east Roman emperors from the mid-350s to the mid-380s. His speeches were designed to sell imperial policy, particularly to the Senate of Constantinople, and contain a huge amount of information illustrating the evolution of policies towards the Goths in the reigns of the emperors Valens and Theodosius I.
Theoderic the Amal – Completed the work of his uncle Valamer, uniting the force of Goths he inherited from him to another of approximately the same size to create the new Ostrogothic supergroup. He led this force to Italy in 489, defeated Odovacar and established himself as king in Italy, reigning there from 493 to 526.
Theoderic I – King of the Visigoths (418–51). Succeeded Vallia; eventually killed in the battle of the Catalaunian Plains against Attila’s Hunnic hordes.
Theoderic II – King of the Visigoths (453–66). Sponsored the regime of Avitus, and was generally happy to expand Visigothic interests while supporting the continued existence of a west Roman state. Murdered and supplanted by his brother Euric, who envisaged a Visigothic future independent of any lingering Roman state.
Theodosius I – Roman emperor (379–95). Selected originally by Gratian as a non-dynastic successor for the emperor Valens in the east to take charge of the war against the Goths after Hadrianople. Failed in that charge, but successfully established himself in Constantinople and spread his control over the entire Empire, defeating two would-be western usurpers, Maximus and Eugenius. Used the Goths settled under the treaty of 382 in these wars and spent much of his reign managing the relationship between them and the Roman state. Also associated with the final moves of the Roman state towards Christianization, spawning aggressively anti-pagan legislation and the destruction of temples.
Theodosius II – Roman emperor (408–50). Grandson of Theodosius I, he inherited power from his father Arcadius as a minor and never personally wielded the reins of power. Considerable aid was lent to the west in his reign, particularly to Honorius in c.410, in putting Valentinian III on the throne in 425 and in sending Aspar to Africa in the 430s. His later years were caught up in dealing with the menace of Attila. During his reign The Theodosian Code was also brought to completion (438).
Theophanes – Bureaucrat in Egypt in c.320. The Theophanes Archive offers huge insight into the cumbersome operations of late-Roman governmental technology.
Thuringians – Germanic-speaking group of the late-Roman period who gave their name to modern German Thuringia. May have come partly under the sway of Attila, and were one of the groups defeated by Clovis as he created the Frankish kingdom.
Treveri – Germanic-speaking group conquered originally by Caesar and source of the revolt which destroyed the force of Cotta in 54 BC. Later followed an archetypal path towards Romanization which saw Treveran grandees turned Roman citizens competing with each other to endow their new capital city – Trier – with Roman public buildings and to construct Roman-style country residences (villas).
Uldin – Hunnic leader of the first decade of the fifth century. Shadowy figure who built up his power north of the Danube by incorporating subject groups such as the Sciri, while operating as a Roman ally, lending aid to Stilicho in his defeat of Radagaisus. Then invaded east-Roman territory where he suffered total defeat. Its ease suggests that he was not a precursor of Attila in terms of controlling a large body of united Huns; most Huns were still established much further to the east at this point.
Ulfilas – Apostle of the Goths. Born to a community of Roman prisoners among the Gothic Tervingi in the early-fourth century. When Christianity became a factor in Gotho–Roman diplomacy, he was first ordained bishop to, but shortly after expelled from, the territory of the Tervingi. Creating a written form of the Gothic language, he continued to translate the Bible after his expulsion, and played an influential role in Christian doctrinal disputes of the mid-fourth century.
Valamer – Ostrogothic leader. Began the process which generated a second Gothic supergroup, the Ostrogoths, by uniting a series of Gothic warbands who had been incorporated into Attila’s Hunnic Empire. This created a powerbase of sufficient size for him to establish an independent Gothic kingdom as that Empire collapsed, and to extract moderate subsidies from the east-Roman state. Killed in the Middle Danubian wars of the 460s, after which his nephew Theoderic the Amal continued to increase the military power of the new group.
Valens – East Roman emperor (364–78). Chosen by his brother Valentinian I, his reign was marked by struggles against usurpers, the Gothic Tervingi under Athanaric and the Persians. Its greatest crisis unfolded in 376 when, under the impact of Hunnic aggression, Gothic Tervingi and Greuthungi came to the Danube. Valens died in battle against them two years later at Hadrianople.
Valentinian I – West Roman emperor (364–75). Received the senatorial embassy led by Symmachus which brought crown gold north to Trier in 369. Also struggled to uncover the truth about complaints of misgovernment in North Africa, involving the city of Lepcis Magna. Famous for being tough on barbarians, and even died of apoplexy brought on by Sarmatian and Quadi ambassadors who didn’t show sufficient humility. This didn’t stop him from reaching a compromise accommodation with the Alamannic over-king Macrianus, when the situation required it.
Valentinian III – West Roman emperor (425–55). Son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius, he became emperor at the age of six thanks to an east Roman expeditionary force sent by Theodosius II. Remained a largely ceremonial emperor, who never wielded effective power; for most of his reign, this was in the hands of Aetius. Valentinian did rouse himself to assassinate Aetius in 454, when the latter had become disposable thanks to the death of Attila, but even then he did not really run the Empire. He was assassinated himself the next year.
Vallia – Visigothic king (415–18). Power eventually passed to him in the political chaos generated by the defeat of Athaulf’s overly ambitious vision of the Visigoths’ role in the western Empire. He negotiated the deal with Flavius Constantius, whereby the Visigoths would be settled in Aquitaine in return for fighting with the Romans against the Vandals, Alans and Suevi who had crossed the Rhine in 406 and were now established in Spain. Its full implementation, after his death, was left to the unrelated Theoderic I. Through a daughter, he was the grandfather of Ricimer.
Varus, P. Quinctilius – Roman general and politician. Famous for the total defeat of his army (three legions plus auxiliaries, maybe 20,000 men altogether) at the hands of the coalition created by Arminius in AD 9 at the battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Varus himself committed suicide.
Venantius Fortunatus – Latin poet. Classically trained in Italy, he found great favour among both Frankish and Roman aristocrats at the courts of a series of late-sixth-century Frankish kings in Gaul. His success shows that respect for classical literary values survived in Gaul, even though the classical education system had disappeared.
Visigoths – First of the new Gothic supergroups of the fifth century. Created by Alaric (395) during whose reign was achieved the definitive unification, among others, of the Tervingi and Greuthungi of 376 and the survivors of Radagaisus’ attack on Italy (405/6). Under a succession of leaders, the new supergroup was eventually settled in the Garonne valley in Aquitaine in 418, from which core it expanded its power, particularly under Theoderic II and Euric after 450, to evolve from allied settlement to independent kingdom, as the central structures of the west Roman state ran out of tax revenues.
Zeno – East Roman emperor (474–91). An Isaurian general, he rose to power through marriage into the imperial family. Defeated the usurper Basiliscus (474–6) after a long struggle, and presided over the eastern response to the embassies sent by Odovacar which marked the death knell of the western empire. His later years saw Theoderic the Amal unite the new Ostrogothic supergroup on east Roman territory, and he negotiated its departure for Italy in 488/9.
Zosimus – Sixth-century east-Roman historian. Important source for the fourth and early fifth centuries because he made extensive use of the contemporary histories of Eunapius and Olympiodorus.