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Late Antiquity

Constantine to Theodosius

Constantine's son, Constantius (337-361) continued the work of his father. By the end of his rule, the Goths were on the move in very significant numbers and were presenting a serious problem along the Danube border lands. They had been converted to Christianity during these years (Arian, not Orthodox), and they were seeking only their own lands within the Empire. They were granted this, but Roman officials exploited them and the Goths--that branch of them known as the Visigoths--rebelled under Emperor Valens.

In 378, a Visigoth army attacked regular Roman troops near Adrianople, north of Constantinople. The Emperor died on the battlefield and the Romans were soundly defeated. The Visigoths advanced to the gates of Constantinople, but the city was too strong for them and in any case they were not interested in sacking the capitol of the Empire. The Battle of Adrianople was significant in that the Romans were represented by the best troops the Empire had to offer, yet they were beaten badly. This did not bode well for the future; moreover, Adrianople turned out to be the first in a long series of battles and invasions that would become increasingly disruptive.

At first, though, things did not appear to be so grim. Valens was soon succeeded by Theodosius I (379-395), one of the strongest of the later Emperors, who drove the Visigoths back and then saw them settled around the Danube again. Theodosius also built a second set of walls around Constantinople (it had been a near thing with the Visigoths) and made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. For most of his reign, order was restored.

Rome had been through this scenario more than once in the past: a crisis would blow up and the Empire seemed on the brink of disaster. Along would come a strong emperor who put things to right again, and the Empire survived, seemingly immortal. But this time was different. This time, the crisis returned, worsened, and persisted. The year after Theodosius died, the Visigoths again invaded, and the Empire was in for some very difficult times.