Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bulgaria marks 1,000th anniversary of Samuel of Bulgaria’s death

Tsar Samuel
Enemy of the Roman Empire

(Radio Bulgaria)  -  In 2014, this country marks 1,000 years since the tragic death of Samuel of Bulgaria, who couldn’t bear the sight of his blinded warriors after the Battle of Kleidion and most likely suffered a fatal heart attack as a result.

Radio Bulgaria has already framed the anniversary and the forthcoming commemorating events, but Samuel’s life appears to have been so colorful and full of dramatic turnabouts that a mini-series of articles devoted to it would be more than justifiable.

For instance, on 14 June 987 Samuel ordered the execution of… Aaron, his own brother! However, some prehistory here proves that he had a good reason to do that.

In the late 10th century, both Bulgaria and Byzantium had entangled themselves in a war with Prince Sviatoslav, the ruler of Kievan Rus’. The relations between the two neighboring empires were tense as well, especially after the death of the Byzantine Princess Maria Lakapina, who had been married to the Bulgarian Tsar Peter I. The latter was forced to send his two sons – Boris and Roman, as honorary hostages to Constantinople, in order to maintain the peace. However, Petar I also died of a heart attack after a defeat by Prince Sviatoslav in 969 /or 970/.

Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes took his chance and invaded the eastern parts of the Bulgarian Empire, kicking the Russians out at the same time. Everyone would say that it was the end of the First Bulgarian Empire, as the two heirs of the throne remained in Constantinople’s golden cage, but there was that Cometopuli dynasty to the West…

The remains of the Basilica of Agios Achillios in Lake Prespa,
where Samuil's grave was found.

Samuel was the fourth and youngest son of Comita (count) Nikola - a Bulgarian nobleman from the Cometopuli dynasty, who might have been the count of Sredets (the ancient name of today’s capital Sofia), though other sources say he was a regional count somewhere in the region of what’s today Macedonia. Samuel’s mother was Ripsima of Armenia. His Armenian roots are also suggested by his hooked nose, as examined and reconstructed by contemporary Bulgarian anthropologists. A plaster copy of his skull and mandible were provided by the Greek government as early as 1974-76.

In the period 970 – 971, the four brothers with the biblical names – Samuel, David, Moses and Aaron rebelled against John I Tzimiskes. The chronology of the events that followed is not clear due to contradicting sources, but it is sure that after 971 Samuel and his three brothers were de facto the rulers of the Western Bulgarian lands. Despite being the most distinguished of the four, Samuel would refuse to overthrow the legislative power of Tsar Boris, still held a hostage in Constantinople. This however wouldn’t be an obstacle to his intentions to oppose Byzantium in every possible way and after the death of John I Tzimiskes in 976 the opportunity emerged.

The first two contradictory deaths in the legend of Samuel occurred during the assault, launched along the whole border by the Comitopuli brothers back then. Only within a few weeks after the start of the campaign David was slaughtered by Vlach vagrants near the town of Prespa – the official version, but historical sources claim his death was actually quite mysterious… At the same time Moses was fatally injured by some stone, accidentally thrown from behind the walls of the besieged Serres. There are historians, who would blame Samuel for both fatal endings, due to his lust for power. At the same time no historical source has confirmed that version so far and the fact that Samuel had refused to take the place of the legal tsar through all those years comes only to confirm his innocence…
Basil II defeats Samuel's army (top);
The death of Tsar Samuel (bottom)

One way or another, a fateful event that followed would decide his destiny: somewhere around 978 the two heirs of the Bulgarian throne returned from Constantinople within quite vague circumstances. An escape, however, would be a very reliable version, as they were both dressed like Greeks – a fact that would turn into a fatal misfortune. A Bulgarian border police officer mistakenly took Boris for an enemy due to his clothing and killed him. The only thing, which saved Roman’s life, was his frantic screaming in Bulgarian.

Despite being turned into eunuch in Constantinople before that, the new tsar was warmly welcomed and inaugurated by Samuel. At the same time Roman was aware of his weakness and de facto he let his talented top general rule the country.

Unfortunately, the first danger that the new ruler had to cope with was… his own brother. The new Byzantine Emperor Basil II had decided to bribe Aaron, who was at that time in charge of the lands, situated most closely to Thrace, by offering him a marriage with his sister. Aaron wanted to stop the war with Byzantium and to unseat his brother, so he accepted. However, the woman, sent from Constantinople and accompanied by the Sebastian Bishop, had nothing to do with the emperor’s sister.

As Aaron immediately found out about the deceit, he ordered the burning of the bishop, historical sources say… When Basil II heard about the balefire, he gathered a huge army and besieged Sredets in the course of 20 days, but unsuccessfully. Upon his return, he was ambushed in the Gate of Trajan mountain pass on his way back to Philippopolis by the united forces of Aaron and Samuel, who inflicted such a defeat to the Greek army that Basil’s life was hanging by the thread and he escaped miraculously with few of his men.

The fact that Samuel helped his brother for the greater good wouldn’t mean forgiveness for his betrayal. Less than a year after the great victory on 17 August 986 Samuel ordered the slaughtering of the entire Aaron’s family and the execution of the latter… The new Bulgarian Cain had no time to lose, as he was about to continue his 40-year-long battle with the one who would be later remembered as the Bulgar-slayer…

First Bulgarian Empire
Samuel was the Tsar (Emperor) of the First Bulgarian Empire from 997 to 6 October 1014. From 977 to 997, he was a general under Roman I of Bulgaria, the second surviving son of Emperor Peter I of Bulgaria, and co-ruled with him, as Roman bestowed upon him the command of the army and the effective royal authority.
As Samuel struggled to preserve his country's independence from the Byzantine Empire, his rule was characterized by constant warfare against the Byzantines and their equally ambitious ruler Basil II.
The Battle of Kleidion. Despite the desperate resistance the Byzantines overwhelmed the Bulgarian army and captured around 14,000 soldiers, according to some sources even 15,000 Basil II immediately sent forces under his favourite commander Theophylactus Botaniates to pursue the surviving Bulgarians, but the Byzantines were defeated in an ambush by Gavril Radomir, who personally killed Botaniates.
After the Battle of Kleidion, on the order of Basil II the captured Bulgarian soldiers were blinded; one of every 100 men was left one-eyed so as to lead the rest home. The blinded soldiers were sent back to Samuel who reportedly had a heart attack upon seeing them. He died two days later, on 15 October 1014. This savagery gave the Byzantine emperor his byname Boulgaroktonos ("Bulgar-slayer"). Some historians theorize it was the death of his favourite commander that infuriated Basil II to blind the captured soldiers.

(Samuel of Bulgaria)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Battle of Adrianople - The Roman Legion Dies

The Death of the Roman Legion
Only 17 years after the battle the Eastern Empire
made its permanent break from Rome.

Sometimes one has to wonder what the point is of border "fortifications". 

The Romans spent mountains of money to "secure" their borders on the Rhine and Danube Rivers.  But this expensive line of fortifications acted more like a sieve than a wall.  For centuries enemies of every kind appeared to pour through in one long endless parade, often with little to no fear of defending Roman armies.

That brings us to the Gothic invasions and the Battle of Adrianople (9 August 378), sometimes known as the Battle of Hadrianopolis.  The battle was fought between a Roman army led by the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens and Gothic rebels led by Fritigern.
Eastern Emperor Valens

The Goth Invasion

The first incursion of the Roman Empire that can be attributed to Goths is the sack of Histria in 238. Several such raids followed in subsequent decades, in particular the Battle of Abrittus in 251, led by Cniva, in which the Roman Emperor Decius was killed.

At the time, there were at least two groups of Goths: the Thervingi and the Greuthungi. Goths were subsequently heavily recruited into the Roman Army to fight in the Roman-Persian Wars.

Over and over again massive waves of invading peoples pushed into the Empire from beyond the Danube looking for land, wealth and security. . . . usually looking for the wealth of the Romans.

By 376 AD, displaced by the invasions of the Huns, the Goths, led by Alavivus and Fritigern, asked to be allowed to settle in the Roman Empire. Hoping that they would become farmers and soldiers, the Emperor Valens allowed them to establish themselves in the Empire as allies (foederati).

As the Goths undertook the crossing, Valens's mobile forces were tied down in the east, on the Persian frontier and in Isauria. This meant that only limitanei units were present to oversee the Goths' settlement. The small number of imperial troops present prevented the Romans from stopping a Danube crossing by a group of Goths and later by Huns and Alans. What started out as a controlled resettlement mushroomed into a massive influx.

The situation grew worse. The Roman generals present began abusing the Visigoths under their charge, they revolted in early 377 and defeated the Roman units in Thrace outside of Marcianople.

After joining forces with the Ostrogoths and eventually the Huns and Alans, the combined barbarian group marched widely before facing an advance force of imperial soldiers sent from both east and west. In a battle at Ad Salices, the Goths were once again victorious, winning free run of Thrace.

By 378, Valens himself was able to march west from his eastern base in Antioch. He withdrew all but a skeletal force — some of them Goths — from the east and moved west, reaching Constantinople by 30 May, 378.

Meanwhile, Valens' councilors, Comes Richomeres, and his generals Frigerid, Sebastian, and Victor cautioned Valens and tried to persuade him to wait for Gratian's arrival with his victorious legionaries from Gaul, something that Gratian himself strenuously advocated.

What happened next is an example of hubris, the impact of which was to be felt for years to come. Valens, jealous of his nephew Gratian's success, decided he wanted this victory for himself.


Opposing Forces

From ancient times to today all sides have exaggerated the numbers of troops involved.  This makes it tricky at best to get proper battle estimates.

Eastern Romans  -  The once great Legions had at one time numbered about 5,000 men. By this period their full strength was far less, and probably no more than 1,000 or so. Most operations were small in scale, and even emperors often led armies numbering no more than a few thousand men.

The fourth-century Roman army specialized in low-level warfare. Pitched battles were rare. They fought instead mainly as the barbarians fought, using speed, surprise attacks, and ambush. Roman troops proved adept at this type of fighting, aided by their training, discipline, clear command structure, and well-organized logistical support.

Valens' army may have included troops from any of three Roman field armies: the Army of Thrace, based in the eastern Balkans, but which may have sustained heavy losses in 376–377, the 1st Army in the Emperor's Presence, and the 2nd Army in the Emperor's Presence, both based at Constantinople in peacetime but committed to the Persian frontier in 376 and sent west in 377–378.

Valens' army was composed of veterans and men accustomed to war. It comprised seven legions — among which were the Legio I Maximiana and imperial auxiliaries — of 700 to 1000 men each. The cavalry was composed of mounted archers (sagittarii) and Scholae (the imperial guard). However, these did not represent the strong point of the army and would flee on the arrival of the Gothic cavalry.

There were also squadrons of Arab cavalry, but they were more suited to skirmishes than to pitched battle.

The historian Warren Treadgold estimates that, by 395, the Army of Thrace had 24,500 soldiers, while the 1st and 2nd Armies in Emperor's Presence had 21,000 each. However, all three armies include units either formed (several units of Theodosiani among them) or redeployed (various legions in Thrace) after Adrianople. Moreover, troops were needed to protect Marcianopolis and other threatened cities, so it is unlikely that all three armies fought together.

On the low end of estimates Roman troops in the battle might have been 15,000 men, 10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry.  The high end might be in 30,000 to 40,000 range.

The Gothic invasion was a major priority for both the Western and Eastern Empires as both Emperors were bringing armies to the Balkans to beat down the threat.

Under these circumstances the low end estimate of 15,000 is absurd.  The Emperor himself would not be marching into a major battle with a small force.

In combining units from the eastern front and the field armies in the Balkans and Constantinople an army of 30,000 to 40,000 men would not be an unreasonable number.

These  Scandinavian  warriors  are  almost  identical  with  their  Gothic  relatives  because  of  their  unity  of  culture.  The  weaponry  of  the  Scandinavians/Vikings  was  in  fact  originated  from  the  arms  and  armor  of  their  Germanic  kinsmen  in  the  main  European  continent , especially  from  those  of  the  Eastern  Teutonic  tribes.
(Periklis Deligiannis)

The Goths  -  The Gothic armies were mostly infantry with some cavalry, however; in the battle of Adrianople the large force of Gothic cavalry was 5,000 strong. 

The Goths and Vandals were predominantly cavalry-oriented armies although, as the Battle of Adrianople illustrates, they could also field redoubtable infantry.

There is little direct evidence for Gothic military equipment. There is more evidence for Vandal, Roman, and West Germanic military equipment, which provides the base for inferences about Gothic military equipment.

Generally speaking there was little difference between well-armed Germanic and Roman soldiers, furthermore many Germanic soldiers served in the Roman forces. The Roman army was better able to equip its soldiers than the Germanic armies.

Late Roman representational evidence, including propaganda monuments, gravestones, tombs, and the Exodus fresco, often shows Late Roman soldiers with one or two spears; one tombstone shows a soldier with five shorter javelins.Archaeological evidence, from Roman burials and Scandinavian bog-deposits, shows similar spearheads.

Goth warriors 4th Century
Cavalry mainly took the form of heavy, close combat cavalry backed up by light scouts and horse archers. For a Gothic or Vandal nobleman the most common form of armour was a mail shirt, often reaching down to the knees, and an iron or steel helmet, often in a Roman Ridge helm style. Some of the wealthiest warriors may have a worn a lamellar cuirass over mail, and splinted greaves and vambraces on the forearms and forelegs.

Army Size

Numbers are wildly thrown around that range from as low as 12,000 to 100,000 Goth warriors.  Both extreme ends are ridiculous. 

In no way would a small army of 12,000 Goths be so dangerous that both Emperors would drop everything and rush to the Balkans.  The extreme of high numbers of Goths is simply the traditional over counting of an enemy for some domestic political purpose.

There were probably two main Gothic armies south of the Danube. Fritigern led one army, largely recruited from the Therving exiles, while Alatheus and Saphrax led another army, largely recruited from the Greuthung exiles.

Fritigern brought most if not all of his fighters to the battle, and appears to have been the force the Romans first encountered. Alatheus and Saphrax brought most of their cavalry, and possibly some of their infantry, to the battlefield late. These infantry were indicated as being an Alan battalion.

The Barbarian invasions were literally migrations of entire peoples and tribes.  This would result in what I call the de-Latinization of the Balkans as every new wave of invaders replaced the old Roman population.  So it is possible that the entire Gothic and related peoples below the Danube could have run up to 100,000.

In a major campaign the Goths would have gathered all possible males of military age to face down the Romans.  That might have resulted in a field army or armies totaling perhaps 30,000 warriors or more.  Certainly a force of that size would have commanded the attention of both Emperors.

The Battle

The battle took place about 8 miles north of Adrianople in the Roman province of Thracia.  Though fought between the Goths and the Eastern Roman Empire,  the battle is often considered the start of the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century.

The Western Emperor Gratian had sent much of his army to Pannonia when the Lentienses attacked across the Rhine. Gratian recalled his army and defeated the Lentienses near Argentaria (in modern France).

After this campaign, Gratian, with part of his field army, went east by boat; the rest of his field army went east overland. The former group arrived at Sirmium in Pannonia and at the Camp of Mars (a fort near the Iron Gates), 400 kilometers from Adrianople, where some Alans attacked them. Gratian's group withdrew to Pannonia shortly thereafter.

Western Emperor Gratian

Valens left Antioch for Constantinople, and arrived on the 30th of May. He appointed Sebastianus, newly arrived from Italy, to reorganize the Roman armies already in Thrace. Sebastianus picked 2,000 of his legionaries and marched towards Adrianople. They ambushed some small Gothic detachments. Fritigern assembled the Gothic forces at Nicopolis and Beroe to deal with this Roman threat

As at Ad Salices, the tribesmen had formed their wagons into a large circle with their families and possessions protected within, and the warriors forming a line outside, facing the approaching enemy.

The Romans began to deploy, the head of the column wheeling to the right and marching to where they would take position as the far right flank of the line. Cavalry and light infantry covered the deployment. The Goths began chanting as they tried to encourage themselves and intimidate their enemy. Others lit bush fires in the dry scrub and grass. The wind took the smoke toward the Romans, which was unpleasant, but more important, made it hard for them to see much of the Gothic position. Fritigern was expecting reinforcements, mainly from the Greuthungi (including a strong force of cavalry), and the smoke would conceal their approach.

The Gothic chieftain needed time to let these men arrive, but that does not mean that he was wholly insincere when he sent a delegation to parley with Valens. Fritigern had little to gain and a lot to lose by fighting the emperor. Negotiation was still his aim, although adding more warriors to his force would strengthen his hand.

Valens refused to receive the first delegation, since the men were of low status. However, when the Goths sent a second proposal and asked for a senior Roman to go over to them as a hostage for the safety of their own party, the emperor's staff got as far as choosing a man for the job. Valens may also have been playing for time, for his army was still moving into position, and yet he too would have been willing to end things with negotiation, especially since the Goths were much more numerous than he had expected. A bloodless victory was as prestigious as a battlefield success, and avoided Roman losses.
Roman Cavalry
(Roman Empire.net)

Whatever the intentions of the leaders, some of their followers proved more aggressive. When two armies were formed up so close to each other, things were bound to be tense. Suddenly two Roman cavalry units on the right wing launched an attack, without orders. The Goths soon chased them away, but the fighting quickly provoked the rest of the Roman line to attack, and it drove forward, reaching the laager at some points.

Yet not everyone had been in position. The rear of the column was destined to make up the left of the Roman formation, but these men were only just arriving on the field. The rear of a long column is usually the most aggravating place to be on a long march. Soldiers there wait longest when there is any delay, and then must rush to catch up. Hurried on by their officers, these Roman regiments arrived tired and not yet ready for the general advance.

The account by historian Barry Jacobsen is a good one.  He writes that the Gothic position was upon a low hill, behind a barrier of wagons, defending their camp. The Romans deployed in the plain below them. The Roman foot held the center, the cavalry divided on both wings.

Throughout the hot summer day, the Romans stood deployed under the baking sun; while the Fritigern stretched out peace negotiations. No doubt the Gothic leader hesitated to engage in a trial of arms against the elite “Army in the Presence”. Just as importantly, they were stalling for time to allow their cavalry to return; which were away foraging.

Late in the day, a skirmish broke out between the Roman leftwing cavalry and the Goths opposite them. Losing patience, Valens ordered a general attack.

Standing in ranks all day under a blazing sun, wearing helmet, carrying a 12 pound shield, and in some cases wearing metal body armor will sap the strength of the best conditioned soldiers. Pushing uphill, the already tired Roman forces were sluggish. Even so, progress was being made and the wagonberg was overrun in some places when suddenly, returning to the field, the Gothic cavalry fell upon the flanking Roman horse!

In a cavalry fight, impetus and momentum are of the highest importance. One moment the Roman horse had been mere spectators, holding the flanks and watching their infantry assaulting the wagonberg. The next, they were caught  “flat-footed”, as charging Gothic horsemen smashed into their formations! After a brief and desperate struggle, the Roman squadrons gave way, routing from the field.

Goth Hill
Looking south over the battlefield from the hill where the Gothic
wagonberg was located. This is the view the Goths would have
had from their camp of Valens’ army deployed on the plain; and
gives a good impression of how difficult a “slog” up this hill,
under fire from Gothic bows and javelins, the tired Roman infantry
would have had that hot sumer afternoon.

Deprived of their cavalry and the flank protection it afforded, the Roman attack on the wagonberg faltered. Roman soldiers, looking over their shoulders, could see and hear the furious melee on their flanks. And though clouds of choking dust no doubt obscured the details, it must have been apparent that their cavalry was fleeing the field.

The victorious Gothic cavalry now wheeled inward, attacking the flanks and rear of the Roman infantry. At that moment, the Gothic foot sallied from the camp, attacking the Romans from the front. Valens and his men now found themselves surrounded and assailed from every direction.

Ammianus Marcellinus, himself a soldier, provided a vivid description of what followed:

Dust rose in such clouds as to hide the sky, which rang with fearful shouts. In consequence it was impossible to see the enemy’s missiles in flight and dodge (them; all found their mark and dealt death on every side. The barbarians poured on in huge columns, trampling down horse and men and crushing our ranks so as to make orderly retreat impossible…

In the blinding, choking dust that covered the battlefield, all cohesion and tactical control was lost. Attacked from all sides, the Roman lines crumbled inward. Reports tell how soldiers were pressed together so closely that many could not raise their arms from their sides.

In the scene of total confusion, the infantry, worn out by toil and danger, had no strength left to form a plan. Most had their spears shattered in the constant collisions… The ground was so drenched in blood that they slipped and fell… some perished at the hands of their own comrades… The sun, which was high in the sky scorched the Romans, who were weak from hunger, parched with thirst, and weighted down by the burden of their armor. Finally our line gave way under the overpowering pressure of the barbarians, and as a last resort our men took to their heels in general rout.”

Some of the elite units held their ground, making a last stand. Foremost of these were two of the  Palatine Legions (elite legions that served in the Emperor’s own field force), the Lanciarii Seniors and the Matiarii.  The Lanciari were the senior legion of the Roman army, and they showed their quality that day. When all others lost their heads, they kept theirs. Valens took refuge in this island amidst the storm. He ordered the reserves brought up; but though comprised of elite cohorts of Auxilia Palatina,  these too had fled the field. The officers sent to fetch them followed suit, deserting their emperor.

Accounts differ as to Valens fate. One tale has him struck dead amidst these stalwart last defenders.  Another, though, states that he was struck by a Gothic javelin or arrow; and was carried to a nearby farmhouse. There, his bodyguards held the Goths off for a time; till the house was set afire; killing all but one, who jumped free of the blaze and was taken prisoner (later relating the Emperor’s fate). That Valens’ body was never recovered lends credibility to this account.

The battle ended with the coming of darkness, allowing some survivors to fight their way out.  On the battlefield, the Emperor and the cream of the Eastern Roman Army lay dead.

Roman Infantry
The blue clothed soldier with the square shields are the Roman legionaries.
The less heavily armed soldier with the lighter, green, oval shields
in the foreground are non-Roman auxiliary troops; in this
case Batavian infantrymen.
The spooky wolf’s head protruding over all at the back of the picture is the
animal skin decoration of the vexillarius, the standard bearer of the unit.


Some two-thirds of the Roman army died. Ammianus compared the disaster to the battle of Cannae in August 216 bc, a devastating battle in which Hannibal had slaughtered some 50,000 Roman and Italian soldiers and captured another 20,000. Valens's force was smaller and very different from the citizen volunteers who had marched to battle the Carthaginians. Nonetheless, Adrianople was a dreadful Roman defeat.

Thirty-five Roman tribunes—officers elected by the people who commanded regiments or were staff officers—also died in the battle. It is possible that they suffered a higher rate of loss than the two-thirds casualties suffered by the rest of the army. Since Valens himself apparently died, casualties among his headquarters may well have been extremely high.

According to the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a third of the Roman army succeeded in retreating.

The Roman defeat was a great victory for the Goths. Yet strategically, Fritigern and his people had gained very little, for they needed to negotiate with an emperor, not kill one and destroy a Roman army. In victory, the Goths launched an attack on the city of Adrianople, hoping to capture the supplies Valens had brought to support his army, but there were enough soldiers still within the city to easily repulse the Goths.  Also, Ammianus refers to a great number of retreating Roman soldiers who had not been let into the city and who fought the besieging Goths below the walls.

Rome's response to its loss at first verged on panic. Local authorities disarmed and massacred parties of Goths throughout the eastern empire, even some serving loyally in the Roman army. For Gratian, it was more important to ensure a smooth transition of power than to focus on dealing with Fritigern. Early in 379, he appointed a man named Flavius Theodosius as eastern emperor, to replace Valens.

The two men proved able to work together, and the new emperor showed considerable talent as an organizer. He raised new troops, and reinforced the laws against draft dodging. It took time to train the recruits, and so he reverted to the earlier strategy of harassing the Goths whenever possible. After a while, Theodosius grew bolder and attacked a larger concentration. His father had been a distinguished general, but the son proved less talented and the enemy cut up his column.

Still, the Romans won the war slowly and gradually, with no more major battles. Instead, they raided and ambushed isolated groups of Goths, tried to keep control of the important mountain passes and gradually hemmed the migrants into a smaller and smaller area.

They were also keen to accept surrenders. Several groups capitulated to Gratian. He removed them, giving them land in Italy. By the end of 382, all of the Goths within the empire had surrendered.

The Death of the Roman Legion

The long-term implications of the battle of Adrianople have often been debated and re-debated.

One major idea is that the battle represented a turning point in military history, with heavy cavalry triumphing over Roman infantry and ushering in the age of the Medieval knight. This idea is mostly coming from historians who have a Western European knighthood frame of reference, and it is wrong. 

Eastern Roman cavalry did not become knights.  The cavalry arm of the army simply grew (evolved) because of the mobility of the enemies the Empire faced.

Roman cavalry slowly copied their Persian enemies and became cataphracts or armored horse archers.  The 5th-century Notitia Dignitatum mentions a specialist unit of clibanarii known as the Equites Sagittarii Clibanarii - evidently a unit of heavily armored horse archers based on the heavy cavalry of contemporary Persian armies.

The cataphracts were both fearsome and disciplined. Both man and horse were heavily armored, the riders equipped with lances, bows and maces. These troops were slow compared to other cavalry, but their effect on the battlefield, particularly under good generals like Belisarius or the Emperor Nikephoros II, was devastating.

I would say that Adrianople killed the old style Legion as a primary force in the east.  As the older Eastern Legions were destroyed or badly mangled they were not replaced or they merged with new units under new names. 

Units did survive Adrianople.  For example Legio I Maximiana is mentioned as still under Thracian command at the beginning of the 5th century, and was in Philae (Egypt, south of Aswan), under the dux Thebaidos.

What was left of Legion units were used more and more to man strongpoints in wars that increasingly became defensive in nature.

Despite a number of reforms, the Legion system did manage to survive the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and was continued in the Eastern Empire until around 7th century. At that time reforms begun by Emperor Heraclius to counter the increasing need for soldiers around the Empire resulted in the Theme system.

Despite this, the Eastern Roman/Byzantine armies continued to be influenced by the earlier Roman legions, and were maintained with similar level of discipline, strategic prowess, and organization.

(fordham.edu)      (Gothic War)      (Gothic warfare)      (Late Roman army)

(Valens)      (Goths)      (deadliestblogpage)      (militaryhistoryonline)

(historynet)      (roman-empire.net)      (Adrianople)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Roman Fortress of Ammaedara (Haidra) - Defending Roman Africa

The Fortress of Ammaedara
Protecting Byzantine Carthage from Desert Raiders

Roman Africa

The land acquired for the Roman provinces of North Africa was taken from the Republic of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War (149 BC to 146 BC) was the third and last of the Punic Wars.

The third war was a much smaller engagement than the two previous Punic Wars and primarily consisted of a single main action, the Battle of Carthage, but resulted in the complete destruction of the city of Carthage, the annexation of all remaining Carthaginian territory by Rome, and the death or enslavement of thousands of Carthaginians. The Third Punic War ended Carthage's independent existence
The Legio III Augusta was defending
North Africa.

The new provinces included the ancient city of Carthage as well as Hadrumetum, capital of Byzacena, Hippo Regius. The province was established by the Roman Republic in 146 BC.

Rome established its first African colony, Africa Proconsularis or Africa Vetus (Old Africa), governed by a proconsul, in the most fertile part of what was formerly Carthaginian territory. Utica was formed as the administrative capital.

It is certain that from 30 BCE on, the Legio III Augusta was permanently in Africa, although it was not always stationed in the same camp. An inscription from 14 CE informs us that the soldiers had to build a road from Tacapsa to their winter quarters, which may at this stage have been at Theveste.
Although Africa was usually a tranquil part of the Roman Empire, III Augusta saw action in 17-24, when it fought against Tacfarinas, who had organized several Numidian and Mauretanian tribes in an anti-Roman coalition.

The African provinces were amongst the wealthiest regions in the Empire (rivaled only by Egypt, Syria and Italy itself) and as a consequence people from all over the Empire migrated into the Roman Africa Province, most importantly veterans in early retirement who settled in Africa on farming plots promised for their military service. One historian estimated that under Hadrian nearly 1/3 of the eastern Numidia population was descended from Roman veterans

The region remained a part of the Roman Empire until the Germanic migrations of the 5th century.

Click map to enlarge
The Roman colonization of Northern Africa
Colonization consisted first in a protectorate, then in a direct administration (40-430), divided into four provinces : Africa Proconsularis (Tunisia, East Constantine region, and the Tripolitan region), Numidia (the greater part of the Constantine region), Mauretania Caesariensis (the Algiers and Oran regions) and, from the name of Tingis (Tangier), Mauretania Tingitana. 

The Vandal Kingdom

Roman rule in Africa was interrupted by the invasion of the Vandals from Spain.
The Vandals migrated to Africa in search of safety; they had been attacked by a Roman army in 422 and had failed to seal a treaty with them. Advancing eastwards along the coast, the Vandals laid siege to the walled city of Hippo Regius in 430. 

After 14 months, hunger and the inevitable diseases were ravaging both the city inhabitants and the Vandals outside the city walls, with the city eventually falling to the Vandals, who made it their first capital.

Peace was made between the Romans and the Vandals in 435 through a treaty giving the Vandals control of coastal Numidia and parts of Mauretania. King Geiseric chose to break the treaty in 439 when he invaded the province of Africa Proconsularis and laid siege to Carthage.

The city was captured without a fight; the Vandals entered the city while most of the inhabitants were attending the races at the hippodrome. Genseric made it his capital, and styled himself the King of the Vandals and Alans. Conquering Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Malta and the Balearic Islands, he built his kingdom into a powerful state.

The Western Empire under Valentinian III secured peace with the Vandals in 442. Under the treaty the Vandals gained Byzacena, Tripolitania, part of Numidia, and confirmed their control of Proconsular Africa.

Eastern Roman Troops

Eastern Roman Africa (533 AD to 709 AD)

Roman rule was restored when the Vandal Kingdom came crashing down in the Invasion of North Africa by Belisarius under the Eastern Emperor Justinian.

After the victories at Ad Decimum and Tricamarum Roman rule in Africa was restored in 533 AD and the Vandal people killed, used as soldiers or enslaved.

The Late Roman administrative system, as established by Diocletian, provided for a clear distinction between civil and military offices, primarily to lessen the possibility of rebellion by over-powerful provincial governors.
Under Justinian I, the process was partially reversed for provinces which were judged to be especially vulnerable or in internal disorder.

Capitalizing upon this precedent and taking it one step further, the emperor Maurice sometime between 585 and 590 created the office of exarch, which combined the supreme civil authority of a praetorian prefect and the military authority of a magister militum, and enjoyed considerable autonomy from Constantinople.

Two exarchates were established, one in Italy, with seat at Ravenna (hence known as the Exarchate of Ravenna), and one in Africa, based at Carthage and including all imperial possessions in the Western Mediterranean. The first African exarch was the patricius Gennadius.

North Africa was an important economic and military addition to the Empire.  The provinces provided grain shipments, tax revenue and soldiers.

During the successful revolt of the exarch of Carthage Heraclius in 608, the Amazigh comprised a large portion of the fleet that transported Heraclius to Constantinople.

Roman rule continued until the final conquest by invading Muslim Arab armies in 709AD.

Byzantine Fortress of Ammaedara

Fortress Ammaedara

The Byzantine fortress was built about 550AD on the orders of the Emperor Justinian.

The fortress was one of many defensive strongpoints built by the Romans looking to protect the more valuable coastal zone, cities and agriculture against raids and armies coming from the Sahara Desert or invasion by the Moors.

Originally the Legio III Augusta was stationed in Africa.  No trace has been found of their camp.  It is suspected that the Fortress Ammaedara may have been built on the site of the legion's camp.  The only evidence of this is circumstantial.  It comes maily from the headstones of the legion discovered in the military cemetery east of the city.

The fortress is said to be the largest of its kind in North Africa. The original measures were 200 metres by 100 metres, and with walls as high as 10 metres. Parts of this still stand.

Inside the fortress are a chapel and a church.

One of the earliest Roman settlements in North Africa, Haidra in Tunisia contains the remains of the Roman city of Ammaedara. Well off the beaten track, Haidra – also called Hydrah – attracts few tourists and even the archaeological excavations have been few and far between.

Founded in the first century AD, Ammaedara was originally a legionary outpost, used by the Third Legion Augusta during their campaign against the rebellious Numidian leader Tacfarinas – a deserter from the Roman auxiliaries who led his people in an uprising against Rome during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.

After the defeat of the rebellion, Ammaedara was settled by veterans from the campaign and grew into a thriving Roman city. Indeed, remains of the cemetery of the 3rd legion have been identified on outskirts of the site.

It is unclear as to whether a pre-Roman settlement existed at Haidra. Though the foundations of a Punic temple to Ba'al-Hamon were found near the site, there is little additional evidence of a major settlement.

The Romans ruled the region until the Vandal invasions of the 5th century AD and the ruins of Haidra contain evidence of the period of Vandal rule as well as the subsequent Byzantine period which followed after Justinian’s successful re-conquest.

Today Haïdra contains a number of interesting ruins dating from the various periods in the city’s history. The fortress acted as a defensive stronghold for the newly conquered Byzantine lands.

Dating to around the same period is the Church of Melleus which is in a reasonable state of preservation with a number of surviving columns and interesting inscriptions from the 6th and 7th centuries on the paving stones. Evidence of the Vandal period survives in the form of the Vandal Chapel - dating to the reigns of King Thrasamund and King Hilderic in the early 6th century AD.

The Fall of Ammaedara

There is no record of major military actions involving Ammaedara.  This is not surprising considering its purpose was mostly to discourage fairly minor raiding parties coming in from the deserts or the Moorish lands to the west.

But an inland fort looking south and west would have been cut off as Arab armies marched overland from Egypt to invade Carthage in the late 600s.  Any troops stationed there could have either been withdrawn to defend Carthage itself or they would have surrendered to the Muslims having been cut off from help.

The ancient Roman city of Ammaedara was abandoned and the area renamed Haidra in Arabic.  Even today it remains basically a rural crossroads with only 3,000 people.

La Citadelle Byzantine d'Ammaedara


Remains of the Byzantine Fortress

The south side of the Byzantine Fort. These
walls were easily 20-25 feet high.

Underground Baths

Underground Baths

The structure called "Vandal chapel" has paving stones with
crude inscriptions of 6th century Vandal kings. The chapel
by itself is small and uninteresting, but it is one of very
few remains from this period. 

The Basilica of the Martyrs stands alone to the extreme east at Haïdra.
Its layout can be made out, and the apse is in fair condition.

This is one of the numerous gravestones inside the church.
The majority are in Latin, but there are also several in Ancient Greek.

(Vandal Kingdom)      (Exarchate of Africa)      (Africa - Roman province)

(crc-internet.org)      (isaactunisia)      (looklex.com/tunisia/haidra)     

(looklex.com)      (historvius)      (ammaedarahaidra)     

(Haidra)      (panoramio)      (paris-sorbonne.fr)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mamure Castle - Defending the Coast of Anatolia

Mamure Castle is over 1500 years old and ranks among the best-preserved Medieval Castles on the Mediterranean coast. It is an authentic medieval fortification with styles from different conquering armies; the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Karamanids and Ottomans.

The castle has perfect location for defense as it is dominating visually the surrounding landscape and the sea.

The original castle was built by the Roman Empire in the third or fourth centuries for the defense of the coastline from pirates.  The Eastern Empire repaired and continued to use the castle up through the era of the Crusades.  The castle would have been used by the Roman military for about 800 years.

During the extensive Byzantine period major wars would have taken place all around the castle.  Over the centuries there would have been land invasions by the Persian Empire, Crusaders as well as multiple land and sea attacks by Arab forces. 

But there is no record of any major military actions against the fort or to what degree the Romans stationed troops at the site.

The current castle was built by the rulers of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia on the foundations of the Roman-Byzantine original structure.  There is no way to tell what the original Roman fort looked like, but it may have looked much like it does now.

 When Alaattin Keykubat I of Seljuk Turks captured the ruins of the castle in 1221, he built a larger castle using elements of the earlier fortifications. Later, it was controlled by the Karamanid dynasty (who ruled a Turkish state in Anatolia).

Although the exact date is uncertain, according to an inscription by İbrahim II of Karaman in 1450, the castle was captured during Mahmut's reign (1300–1311). The castle was renamed as Mamure (prosperous) after repairs by Mahmut. In 1469, the castle was annexed by the Ottoman Empire.

It was subsequently repaired in the 15th, 16th and 18th centuries and a part of the castle was used as a caravanserai.

The Castle

The castle, covering an area of 23.500 m2, is one of the biggest and well-protected castles of Anatolia.

Although the exact construction date of the castle is uncertain, it is believed to have been built by the Romans either in the 3rd or the 4th century, due to the excavations conducted in 1988 by the Directorate of Anamur Museum.

These excavations revealed archaeological remains that have mosaic floor covering which belong to a Late Roman city (3rd-4th c. A.D.) called “Ryg Monai”, a city not prominent in that period. On the other hand, it is also known as the outer protective castle of Anemurium City.  The ancient city itself was abandoned around 650 when Arab attacks made the coast unsafe.

The castle is surrounded by a moat on the land side. The road on the rampart connects the 39 towers (4 of them are bigger than the others) and a lot of battlements to each other. There are 3 main yards within the castle; west, east and the south, which are separated from each other by high walls. In the yard at the west there is an outer castle, a small complex of a single minaret mosque, the ruins of a hamam (Turkish bath), a fountain, warehouses and cisterns.

In the east, there is an inner courtyard which has 7 bastions in different shapes on the high wall constituting its northwest border. The bastions on the north-eastern part of it have been ruined together with the wall. In the yard at the south; there is an inner citadel built over the rocks, the main watch tower which has the best view with 22 meters height inside the biggest bastion, 5 more watch towers and ruins of a light house.

The single minaret mosque which represents the characteristics of the 16th century Ottoman architecture was built by the Karamanids. The historic mosque is still functioning and has been renovated. The hamam which is located on the north of the Castle is also believed to have been built by the Karamanids. The entrance part of the hamam has been demolished but other parts are still intact.

Castle wall and moat.

(whc.unesco.org)      (www.castles.nl)      (Mamure Castle)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Danube Limes - Protecting the Roman Balkans

Reconstruction of a Limes tower in Germany.

The First Line of Defense - The Limes

A limes was a border defence or delimiting system that marked the boundaries of the Roman Empire.

The Latin noun limes had a number of different meanings: a path or balk delimiting fields, a boundary line or marker, any road or path, any channel, such as a stream channel, or any distinction or difference. In Latin, the plural form of limes is limites.

The word limes was utilized by Latin writers to denote a marked or fortified frontier. This sense has been adapted and extended by modern historians concerned with the frontiers of the Roman Empire: e.g. Hadrian's Wall in the north of England is sometimes styled the Limes Britannicus, the frontier of the Roman province of Arabia facing the desert is called the Limes Arabicus, and so forth.

It would be a misunderstanding that there ever was one limes system of defense. There was a difference between the solid limes of Britain ("Hadrian's Wall"), and the more open system of forts in Syria. Still, there are some similarities. 

The most important one is the easiest to ignore: the grand strategy of the empire was, on the whole, defensive. The Sahara, Euphrates, Danube, and Rhine were natural frontiers, and it was exceptional when the Romans launched new campaigns of conquest. If territory was added, it was to shorten the frontier, or to improve a vulnerable part of the frontier. The exception that proves the rule is Trajan's conquest of Dacia.

The basic principle of defense was deterrence: wherever the enemy attacked, he would always find a professional, heavily armed Roman force that often outnumbered him. Except for the desert frontier, the limes usually consisted of a clear line where the enemy had to stay away from (e.g., Hadrian's Wall or the river Danube).

However, sometimes the line was attacked. The soldiers in the watchtowers signaled the invasion to the nearby forts. The watchtowers themselves were lost, but the invaders would immediately have to face with Roman forces from nearby forts.

Almost always, this was sufficient to deal with the situation. If the attackers were able to reach and loot a city, they would be massacred on their way home. The final act of every attempt to attack the empire was Roman retaliation against the native population.

A combination of force and diplomacy was used to control the border. 

Photo: Danube Limes Project

Think of the word "Porous"
The Danube Limes was not a solid wall defending the Empire's frontier.  Rather it a was a series of fortified cities, small forts and watchtowers.  The Limes was porous with assorted invading Slavs, Huns or Avars pouring through on raids dedicated to looting or conquest.  In theory the Roman/Byzantine strongpoints would slow down invaders allowing for troops stationed close by to push the enemy back over the border. 

The Danube Limes

The frontier of the Roman Empire, from the Danube to the Black Sea, played a crucial role in making and breaking emperors and protecting Roman society along its course.

Along the Danube from Bavaria to the Black Sea there is a frontier system with fortresses and fortlets built by the Roman army such as Carnuntum (Austria), Aquincum (Budapest, Hungary), Viminacium (near Belgrade, Serbia) or Novae (Svistov, Bulgaria). Together with hundreds of watchtowers and large urban settlements they are part of an impressive military machine.

The river itself was the most dominant element of the frontier system, used as a demarcation line against the Barbarian world to the north and as a fortified transport corridor.

The forts, situated mostly on the right side of the river, acted as check-points to control traffic in and out of the empire. Their ruins, above and below ground, visible or non-visible, are often in remarkable shape and well integrated in the landscape.

Some of the early Limes defenses were built in the early Empire period.

The fall of the Western Empire impacted the ability to man the Danube Limes to a degree.  But the Eastern Empire still needed to defend their Balkan borders from invading tribes.

In the east the original Roman Limes system would slowly melt away.  It would be replaced by an Eastern Roman line of fortified towns and strongpoints.

The Byzantines struggled for centuries to maintain anything like a recognizable Balkan border.  Invading tribes from Central Asia were constantly pouring over the Danube River and conquering Roman territory all the way down into Greece and up to the walls of Constantinople itself.

The Byzantines sometimes saw their strongpoints fall almost as fast as they could be built.  A truly permanent Limes system was rare.  But a system of fortifications of one kind or another was used through 1204.

The Limes Fortress of Novae
The legionary fortress in Novae (modern Bulgaria) on the Danube River. The fortress, the same as other military bases, was surrounded by the civilian settlement (canabae) which constituted with its camp a specific settlement structure. Topography and planning of settlements of this kind is not well-recognized, since only a few have been excavated so far, mainly in the western part of the Empire.

Fortress of Novae
The Roman military fortress at Novae was established in AD 45 (46) by Legio VIII Augusta. The Legio I Italica was stationed there in AD 69 and until the second quarter of the 5th century AD Novae was its main camp. Up until now within the camp have been investigated the headquarters of the legion, one of the residences of the senior officers – the tribunes, the military hospital and the legion’s thermae, upon which the episcopal complex was erected in the second quarter of the 5th century AD.
In the late 5th and 6th centuries Novae was a bishopric. The cathedral and neighbouring buildings were built west of the former legionary headquarters. The last period of prosperity was during the reign of Justinian (527-565) when the defensive walls were rebuilt and reinforced. The town existed until the early 7th century AD, when it was destroyed by the attacks of Avars and Slavs.

Roman Limes:
Frontier line of the Roman Empire in the Iron Gate area

By Vladimir Kondić
Former director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.  Below are a few excerpts from the much longer article that apply to the Byzantine period.

Although it is very probable that Valentinian and Valens undertook reconstruction work on a larger scale because of the Gothic threat, the archaeologically most noticeable phase is the period of horrible destruction and fire immediately following the battle of Harianople. But, basic fortification elements like walls, gates, and lowers remained almost unchanged.

In the following period, under new conditions, when units of foederati protected the frontier, all the ruins were filled in and levelled, making a platform where the limitanei built the wattle and daub homes which are so evident at Pontes and Diana. This period in the history of the frontier lasted until the middle of the fifth century. Thanks to the fortunate discovery of five solidi (the latest an issue of 443) of Theodosius II we know the exact termination date of the Iron Gate Roman limes.

The Huns’ invasion from the direction of Niš (Naissus) caused such destruction that Procopius correctly described the situation as disastrous. Fortifications were razed to the ground, and at Diana the south wall with its gate and the fourth-century porticoed building were destroyed. Thick layers of burnt rubble, building debris and ash covered most of the fortress and mark the end of the five centuries of its existence. Other fortresses suffered a similar fate. This period was the terminal phase of the restored, late Roman limes and the northern frontier of the empire. The final renaissance of the Danubian limes occurred under Justinian I.

The significant testimony of Procopius concerning the renovation and reinforcement of the Danubian frontier has been confirmed in its entirety by our recent archaeological research.

Procopius paid considerable attention to construction work on the Iron Gate frontier (limes) and provided at times rather detailed information about the former Roman frontier. The sequence in which he comments on the fortifications in those sectors which have been investigated make it possible to identify the Roman and early Byzantine toponyms for some sites whose ancient names were not known previously (e.g. Kantabaza, Smyrna, Campsa).

Furthermore, excavations in the Iron Gate gorge have demonstrated that Justinian’s builders in the early Byzantine period entirely retained the disposition of fortifications from the former Roman frontier. Some elements of the earlier Roman castella were altered, most likely because of the requirements of a new defensive strategy, and at locations which were in greater danger because of their topographic circumstances completely new fortifications were constructed. Now it is possible with complete certainty to reconstruct the composition of the Justinianic limes on this part of the Danube.

The fortresses can be divided typographically into the following groups:
  1. Renovated Roman auxiliary and other minor forts.
  2. Renovated late Roman burgus – forts (from the Diocletian and Constantine periods).
  3. New early Byzantine forts built around renovated late Roman burgus-forts.
  4. Completely new early Byzantine forts.
After the Huns’ invasion in 443 AD damages to the forts were not repaired until the early sixth century, which for this sector of the Danubian limes is the only period devoid of any traces of activity. Then in the early Byzantine period all the auxiliary bases on the limes were renovated. The former Roman forts for the most part were renovated on the basis of their original plans. The most frequent alterations which can be observed are the closing-off of gates. These were either walled up or replaced by large rectangular or circular towers. Usually the corner towers were completely rebuilt.

At the fortress Diana (early Byzantine Zanes) at the southeast corner a new tower was built in a horseshoe-shape with an apsidal termination, and two fortification walls were joined together in a point to form a type of bastion. The southern wall and gate, which had been razed to their foundations by the Huns, were rebuilt in exactly the same plan as before and the gate remained the only one in use. In the interior of the fortress, without any type of regular disposition, buildings of wood, earth and courses of poorly joined stones were erected.

At Novae (early Byzantine Nobas) the former Roman south gate was completely closed-off and new circular towers were built in place of the earlier east and west gates. All the towers in this fortress were built afresh, with circular plans. The situation is similar at other forts. Everywhere fortification walls were significantly reinforced, most often from the inside. At the former Roman quadriburgium Campsa, the alterations were somewhat more radical. The south gate was closed-off and two new U-shaped towers were added there. Additionally, all of the auxiliary bases contained solidly built, single-nave churches.

Reconstruction of a Limes strongpoint.

The second category of renovation was the least complicated. The Diocletian-Constantine period castella received reinforced fortification walls (cc. one meter thick), and new entrances without towers, features not previously present in these complexes, were constructed. Certainly the most interesting form of renovation consisted of the erection of completely new and characteristically early Byzantine fortification walls around the former burgi. In these situations the renovated burgi functioned as watch towers.

Two outstanding fortifications of this type are Glamija and Donje Butorke. The latter has a more complex plan, with piers on two of the towers and one rectangular tower with an apsidal termination. This type of fortification recalls in a certain sense an inaccurate statement of Procopius (De Aedificiis, 4.1) in which he states that Pincum, Cuppae, and Noveae were formerly only Roman towers around which Justinian caused buildings to be erected and to which he granted municipal status after their defenses were strengthened. As mentioned above, during the Roman period civilian settlements of a type which did not exist in Justinian’s time developed around the auxiliary bases. Could it be that Procopius in his exaggeration of credit to the emperor actually had in mind the construction of new fortresses around earlier Roman towers?

Finally, the last group consists of purely Justinianic castella which were completely new constructions. Up to date six of these have been discovered on the Iron Gate section of the limes. Saldum (Kantabaza) in plan is an irregular rectangular with three circular towers and a single elongated one with an apsidal termination. The fort at Bosman is the only complex with a triangular plan on this part of the Danube and is skillfully into the restricted space between the mountain range and the river. The eastern fortification wall, located right on the river, was laid out in a convex line so that high water levels on the river would not be able to damage it seriously.

The fort at Hajdučka Vodenica was constructed on the site of an earlier tower which was not renovated in the sixth century. It is situated high on the river bank, and from each and of its northwest perimeter wall extends a fortification wall with a tower at its end to protect a small river harbour. The forts at Milutinovac and at the mouth of the Slatinska river are very similar in both construction and size (55 x 55 m.). They are defended by circular towers with square foundations on defensive walls which are turned toward the river and form the foundation for an upper-level entrance.

In almost all of the fortresses of Justinian time one layer of ash and destruction debris can be observed which can be dated to 580 AD when a forceful Slavic incursion on this part of the Danube was recorded. However, the fortresses themselves did not experience such significant destruction that they could not be once again renovated after the passage of that crisis. However, even this strong system of fortifications could not withstand a disastrous attack by combined forces of Slavs and Avars in 596 AD, and it was then that the Justinianic limes was definitively destroyed.

Full article

Castra Capidava, Romania
During the 2nd and 3rd century AD a Roman fort was built in the area, later overbuilt by a Late Roman fort, which lasted from the 4th to the 6th century AD.  The fort functioned as a guard of the Danube River and ford. At the banks of the Danube a massive harbour wall, 2.50 m thick and 60 m long, was found.
The fortified settlement played an important role in the Roman defensive system belonging to the series of camps and fortifications raised during the reign of Emperor Trajan, in the early 2nd century, as part of the measures to organize the Danubian limes. Capidava being part of the Limes Moesiae.  Destroyed by Goths in the 3rd century, the fortifications were rebuilt in the next century. 
Sources between the 4th to 6th centuries talk about cavalry units.  The fort was abandoned in 559 after the invasion of the Cutriguri.  the city was rebuilt by the Byzantines in the 10th century.  In the spring of 1036, an invasion of the Pechenegs devastated large parts of the region, destroying the forts at Capidava and Dervent and burning the settlement in Dinogeţia.

Fortress of Viminacium
Viminacium, in modern Serbia, was a major city and military camp and the capital of Moesia Superior.  The city dates back to the 1st century AD, and at its peak it is believed to have had 40,000 inhabitants, making it one of the biggest cities of that time. It lies on the Roman road Via Militaris.
Viminacium was devastated by Huns in the 5th century, but was later rebuilt by Justinian. It was completely destroyed with the arrival of Slavs in the 6th century. Today, the archaeological site occupies a total of 450 hectares (1,100 acres), and contains remains of temples, streets, squares, amphitheaters, palaces, hippodromes and Roman baths.

Roman Balkans in the 6th century.
Click to enlarge.

The Eastern Romans faced invasion by an endless series
of tribes pouring in from Central Asia.

(Borders of the Roman Empire)      (livius.org)      (Limes)

(castrumandquonset)      (provinces.uw.edu)      (icpdr.org)

(danube-cooperation.com)      (latvany-terkep.hu)      (danube-limes)

(danubelimesbrand.org)      (bnr.bg/en)      (historyfiles.co.uk)