Battle of Adrianople

Battle of Adrianople
Battle of Adrianople

On August 9, 378 c.e., the Eastern Roman army under the command of Emperor Valens attacked a Gothic army (made up of Visigoths and Ostrogoths) that had camped near the town of Adrianople (also called Hadrianoplis) and was routed. The battle is often considered the beginning of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century.

During the 370s c.e. there was a movement of peoples from Mongolia into eastern Europe. Called the Huns, they were driven from Mongolia by the Chinese. From 372 to 376 the Huns drove the Goths westward, first from the region of the Volga and Don Rivers and then the Dnieper River.

This pushed the Goths into the Danube River area and into the Eastern Roman Empire. Seeking refuge from the Huns, Emperor Valens gave the Goths permission to settle in the empire as long as they agreed to serve in the Roman army.

The Romans agreed to provide the Goths with supplies. Greedy and corrupt Roman officials tried to use the situation to their advantage by either selling supplies to the Goths that should have been free or not giving them the supplies at all.

During a conference between the Visigoth leadership and Roman authorities in 377, the Romans attacked the Visigoth leaders. Some of the leaders escaped and joined with the Ostrogoths and began raiding Roman settlements in Thrace.

Throughout July and August of 378 the Romans gained the upper hand and rounded up the Gothic forces. The majority of the Goths were finally brought to bay near the town of Adrianople. The Western and Eastern emperors had agreed to work together to deal with the Goths.

Gothic Cavalry return from foraging to attack the rear of the Roman army of Emperor Valens
Gothic Cavalry return from foraging to attack the rear of the Roman army of Emperor Valens

Western emperor Gratian with his army was on his way to join Valens when Valens decided to attack the Goths without Gratian and his army. Moving from Adrianople against the Gothic wagon camp on August 9, Valens’s attack began before his infantry had finished deploying.

As the Roman cavalry charged the camp, the Gothic cavalry, having been recalled from their raids on the surrounding countryside, returned and charged the Roman cavalry and routed it from the battlefield. The combined force of Gothic infantry and cavalry then turned on the Roman infantry and slaughtered it. The Goths killed two-thirds of the Roman army, including the emperor.

It took the new emperor, Theodosius I, until 383 to gain the upper hand. Theodosius was able to drive many of the Goths back north of the Danube River, while others were allowed to settle in Roman territory as Roman citizens.

In the short term this ended the problems with the Goths but set the stage for problems for the Western Roman Empire. With the peace the Eastern Roman Empire gained a source of soldiers for its army. These soldiers would eventually rebel and march against Rome.

In 401 the Gothic leader Alaric led a Goth-Roman army on an invasion of Italy. The invasion was turned back in 402, and Alaric finally agreed to stop hostilities in 403. The peace only lasted until 409, when Alaric invaded Italy again and eventually captured and sacked Rome on August 24, 410 c.e.


Aeneas at the court of Latinus

Virgil’s Aeneid is arguably the most influential and celebrated work of Latin literature. Written in the epic meter, dactylic hexameter, the Aeneid follows the journey of Aeneas, son of Venus, after the fall of Troy. According to an ancient mythical tradition, Aeneas fled the burning city and landed in Italy, where he established a line of descendants who would become the Roman people.

Virgil (70–19 b.c.e.) draws on the works of numerous authors, such as Lucretius, Ennius, Apollonius of Rhodes, and, especially, Homer. Virgil consistently adopts Homeric style and diction (a good example of this is the first line of the poem: “I sing of arms and a man ...”).

He also re-creates entire scenes from the Iliad and the Odyssey. Books 1 to 6 of the Aeneid show such close parallels to the Homeric epics that they are often called the “Virgilian Odyssey.”

Books 7 to 12, meanwhile, closely echo the Iliad. Virgil’s use of Homeric elements goes beyond mere imitation. Virgil often places Aeneas in situations identical to those of Odysseus or Achilles, allowing Aeneas’s response to those situations to differentiate him from (and sometimes surpass) his Homeric counterparts.

Virgil constructs his epic in relation to the Roman people and their cultural ideals. He defines Aeneas by the ethical quality of piety, a concept of particular importance for Rome at the time of the Aeneid’s composition. The Aeneid also contains several etiological stories of interest to the Roman people, most notably that of Dido and the origin of the strife between the Romans and the Carthaginians.

The Dido episode is one of the most famous vignettes of the Aeneid. Dido, the queen of Carthage—also known by her Phoenician name, Elyssa—aids Aeneas and his shipwrecked Trojans in Book 1. Through Venus’s intervention, Dido falls desperately in love with Aeneas and wants him and his men to remain in Carthage.

But a message from Jove reminds Aeneas that his fated land is in Italy. Immediately, he orders his men to depart. Dido is heartbroken over Aeneas’s leaving: She builds a pyre out of Aeneas’s gifts and commits suicide on it, prophesying the coming of Hannibal before she dies. When Aeneas descends to the Underworld in Book 4, Dido’s shade refuses to speak with him.

Dido’s character shows a great deal of complexity. She appears first as an amalgam of Alcinous and Arete as she hospitably receives her Trojan guests but soon becomes a Medea figure, well acquainted with magic and arcane knowledge.

Aeneid and the sibyl
Aeneid and the sibyl

Dido is a sympathetic character throughout the epic, though much of how Virgil describes her would have brought to the Roman reader’s mind the Egyptian queen Cleopatra (associated with Mark Antony and the civil war).

Interpretations of the Aeneid are numerous and far from unanimous. The Aeneid’s composition coincides with the end of the civil wars and the beginning of Augustus’s regime. Virgil ostensibly endorses the new princeps by referring to him as the man who will usher in another golden age.

Yet several elements of the epic might suggest that Virgil did not wholeheartedly support Augustus. Much of the debate centers on the war in Italy that occupies the second half of the epic, in which some scholars see a reference to the Battle of Perusia in 41 b.c.e., an event Augustus would have preferred to forget.

Scholars also point to the end of the Aeneid, where Aeneas kills Turnus as he pleads for his life, as unambiguously criticizing the new leadership. This anti-Augustan view of the Aeneid has, however, met with opposition.

Many scholars find more evidence of the Iliad than of Augustus’s campaign in the latter half of the Aeneid. Others suggest that in killing Turnus, Aeneas acted appropriately for his cultural circumstances.

The Aeneid has also been proposed to represent, not Virgil’s view of Augustus, but rather the condition of the Roman people. Virgil seems to offer conflicting evidence for his perspective on Augustan Rome and may intentionally leave the matter ambiguous so that the reader may decide for him- or herself.

The Aeneid was highly anticipated even before publication and has since enjoyed immense popularity. Quintilian regarded Virgil as nearly equal to Homer and credits him with having the more difficult task. Latin epic writers after Virgil looked to the Aeneid as their model. Statius even acknowledges that his epic, the The baid, cannot surpass that of Virgil.

The Aeneid became a standard school text of the ancient world and was a critical part of a good education. Virgil, however, considered the work unfinished. At the time of his death he famously called for the Aeneid to be burned rather than published. Augustus saved the Aeneid from the flames and ordered its publication.

Aeschylus - Greek Playwright

Aeschylus - Greek Playwright
Aeschylus - Greek Playwright

The son of a wealthy family in sixth century b.c.e. Attica, Aeschylus was a tragedian at a time when Greek theater was still developing from its beginnings as a form of elaborate dance.

In contrast to the first dramas, performed in honor of Dionysus and under the influence of copious amounts of wine, Aeschylus’s work emphasized natural law and punishment at the hands of the gods, by examining the role of his characters in a larger world.

His participation as a soldier in the Battle of marathon in 490 b.c.e., when the invading Persians were successfully repelled by vastly outnumbered Greek forces, probably informed his approach. The Persians told the story of the battle and was first performed 18 years later.

Of Aeschylus’s 70-some plays, only seven survive. They are the earliest known Greek tragedies, as he is one of only three tragedians (with Euripides and Sophocles) whose works have survived to the modern era. Seven against Thebes is another battle narrative, concerning that of “the Seven” mythic heroes against Thebes in the aftermath of the death of the sons of Oedipus.

The Suppliants is a simpler story about the daughters of Danaus fleeing a forced marriage, while the Oresteia is a trilogy of plays about the house of Atreus, starting with the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan War.

The Oresteia has had enduring appeal in the modern world: 20th-century playwright Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra was based on it, substituting the Civil War for the Trojan War in the backstory of O’Neill’s trilogy.

Composers Richard Strauss and Sergey Taneyev each based operas on the Oresteia, and many more writers and artists have found compelling the idea of the Furies who in Aeschylus’s trilogy bring down the wrath of the gods upon Orestes for having killed his mother.

In a sense the Oresteia is not just the earliest surviving trilogy of Greek plays. It is also one of the earliest horror stories, with the Furies tracking Orestes by following the scent of his mother Clytemnestra’s blood, and the play’s emphasis on the idea, so resonant in horror literature and ghost stories, of the supernatural exacting horrible justice on transgressors.

Legend claims that Aeschylus met his death under the strangest of circumstances, when a passing eagle dropped a turtle on his head.



A slave in ancient Greece in the sixth century b.c.e., Aesop was the creator or popularizer of the genre of fables that bear his name. Little about him is known: More than half a dozen places have claimed him as a native son, and although Herodotus records that he was killed by citizens of Delphi, he gives no indication of motive.

Aesop’s fables were brief stories, appropriate for children and structured around a simple moral lesson. Most of them featured anthropomorphized animals—animals who spoke and acted like humans, often motivated by some exaggerated human characteristic.

Unlike the animal tales of many mythic traditions—the Coyote stories of North America, for instance—Aesop’s animals did not represent spiritual or divine beings, nor did they explain the nature of the world. They were comparable instead to modern children’s literature and cartoons, though with an educational bent.

The fables remain some of the best-known stories in the Western world, often lending themselves to proverbs. Some of the most famous include The Fox and the Grapes, from which the idiom sour grapes is derived, to refer to something that, like the grapes the fox cannot reach, is assumed to be not worth the trouble.

The Tortoise and the Hare, which concludes that “slow and steady wins the race” and has been adapted to a number of media, including a Disney cartoon; The Ant and the Grasshopper, the latter of which suffers through a harsh winter he had not prepared for as the ant did; and perhaps most evocatively, The Scorpion and the Frog.

In this tale a scorpion asks a frog to carry him across the river, and when the frog refuses out of fear of being stung, the scorpion brushes the concern aside, pointing out that should he sting the frog, both will die as the scorpion drowns. Nonetheless, the frog’s fear proves warranted—when the scorpion stings him partway across the river, he reminds the frog that such behavior is plainly the nature of a scorpion.

African City-states

African City-states
African City-states

The emergence of African city-states began in North Africa with ancient Egypt and then later the formation of the Carthaginian empire. These civilizations are both heavily documented by written accounts, as are the other North African kingdoms of Numidia and Mauretania.

However, apart from surviving second- hand accounts from early travelers from Egypt or Carthage, knowledge of city-states in the rest of Africa relies entirely on archaeological evidence. Carthage ruled the area around its capital through direct rule, and the remainder of its areas through client kings such as those of Numidia.

The Numidians throwing their support behind the Romans at the Battle of Zama in 202 b.c.e. saw the defeat of the Carthaginians, setting the scene for the destruction of Carthage itself in 146 b.c.e. Numidia had a brief period of independence before it too fell under Roman control.

The most well-known African city-states outside North Africa are thought to have emerged in modern-day Sudan and Ethiopia, with many settlements near the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, and ancient megaliths were found in southern Ethiopia.

Gradually two city-states, those of Meroë (900 b.c.e.–400 c.e.) and Axum (100–1000 c.e.), emerged, both transformed from powerful cities to significant kingdoms controlling large tracts of land, relying heavily on the early use of iron.

The use of bronze and iron in war are also clearly shown by the location of some of these settlements. The remains of many ancient villages and small townships have been found in Sudan, which show that protection from attack was considerably more important than access to fertile arable land.

The other area that seems to have seen the emergence of city-states in the ancient period was in sub-Saharan West Africa. The finding of large numbers of objects and artifacts at Nok in modern-day Nigeria, which flourished from 500 b.c.e., has demonstrated the existence of a wealthy trading city on the Jos Plateau.

It seems likely that there would have been other settlements and small city-states in the region, with people from that area believed to have started migrating along the western coast of modern-day Gabon, Congo, and Angola, and also inland to Lake Victoria.

The major African city-state emerging toward the end of this period was Great Zimbabwe. Its stone buildings, undoubtedly replacing earlier wooden ones, provide evidence of what the society in the area had developed into by the 11th century c.e.

African Religious Traditions

African Religious Traditions
African Religious Traditions

Little contemporary written material has survived about religious traditions in ancient Africa, except in inscriptions by the ancient Egyptians about their beliefs and in accounts by Herodotus when he described the religions and folklore of North Africa.

The Egyptian beliefs involved gods and the monarchs as descendants of these deities and their representatives on earth. Many of the Egyptian gods have different forms, with some like Horus and Isis being well known, and changes in weather, climate, and the well-being of the country reflecting the relative power of particular contending deities.

Briefly during the eighteenth Dynasty, the pharaoh Akhenaten (14th century b.c.e.) tried to establish monotheism with the worship of the sun god Aten. The move eroded the power of the priests devoted to the sun-god Amun-Ra, who struck back.

After establishing a new capital at Tel el Amarna, the pharaoh died under mysterious circumstances and the old religion was restored and continued until the Ptolemies took over Egypt in the fourth century b.c.e., which saw the introduction of Greek gods, and later Roman gods when Egypt became a part of the Roman Empire.

Although these concepts started in Egypt, similar ideas, almost certainly emanating from Egypt, can be found in Nubia and elsewhere. At Meroë in modern-day Sudan, there is evidence of worship of gods similar to the Egyptians’. It also seems likely that similar ideas flourished for many centuries at Kush and Axum, the latter, in modern-day Ethiopia, influenced by south Arabia and introducing into Africa some deities from there.

In Carthage many beliefs followed those of the Phoenicians. The deity Moloch was also said to be satisfied only by human sacrifice, with some historians suggesting that one of Hannibal’s own brothers was sacrificed, as a child, to Moloch.

Modern historians suggest that the Romans exaggerated the bloodthirsty nature of the worship of the Carthaginian deity Moloch in order to better justify their war against Carthage and that the large numbers of infant bodies found by archaeologists in a burial ground near Carthage may have been from disease rather than mass human sacrifice of small children.

The kingdoms of Numidia and Mauretania to the west of Carthage would have been partially influenced by Carthaginian ideas but later came to adopt Roman religious practices, both becoming parts of the Roman Empire.

Much can be surmised about religious practices in sub-Saharan Africa during this period from the statuary found in places such as Nok, in modern-day northern Nigeria. Their carved stone statues of deities have survived, showing possible similarities with some Mediterranean concepts of Mother Earth. However, it seems more likely that ancestor worship was the most significant element of traditional African religion, as it undoubtedly was for many other early societies.

Human figurines, as the hundreds of carved peoples of soapstone from Esie in southwest Nigeria and the brass heads from Ife are thought to represent ancestors, chiefs, or other actual people. At Jenné-jeno and some other nearby sites, the bones of relatives were sometimes interred within houses or burial buildings. As Islam came into the area, this dramatically changed the religious beliefs of the area.

Islam led to the building of many mosques, with cemeteries located in the grounds of these mosques or on the outskirts of cities. The graves of holy men became revered and places of pilgrimage and veneration. In some places Islam adapted to some of the local customs, but in other areas, such as Saharan Africa, it totally changed the nature of religious tradition.

In some parts of West Africa there was a clash between the fundamental concepts of Islam and tribal customs, but in most areas ancestor worship was replaced by filial respect for ancestors.