Frithugairns at Adrianople

Wed 27 June 2018

In my undergraduate Early Medieval Europe class at university, one of the assignments was a fictional source document. I wrote a piece of a fictional Visigothic epic about the Battle of Adrianople that had been preserved in a Spanish monastery.

Frithugairns at Adrianople


This fragment of the Frithugairns at Adrianople is known from a maunscript that was found in the library of the monastery of San Millán de Suso in Northern Spain, a monastery that dates back to the Visigothic period.

The epic poem describes the Battle of Adrianople in 378 CE. After the Huns destoryed the Ostrogothic kingdom to the east, the Visigoths petitioned Rome to allow them across the Danube. The petition was granted, but Roman officials subjected the immigrant Goths to heavy taxes and forced them to buy food at outrageous prices. The final result was the clash between the Visigoths under Frithugairns (also known as Fritigern) and the Emperor Valens outside the city of Adrianople, which ended in a decisive victory for the Goths, who were later ceded territory in the Western Empire.1

The epic was presumably copied down by a Visigothic monk sometime after the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism under King Reccared in 589 CE.2

After that, the manuscript seems to have been copied at least once be someone unfamiliar with the Visigothic alphabet (the alphabet fell out of use not long after the conversion of Reccared). The later scribe did an excellent job of copying the letters, and in most cases the original word was recoverable even when a letter was unclear.

The largest problem of this kind is the scribe's conflation of the Gothic letters kusma (K) and raida (R)3:

Gothic letter kusmaGothic letter raida

The letters urus (U) and pairthra (P) were also conflated, but those letters are less frequently interchangeable than K and R in making a sensible word.

The manuscript has been damaged; some unknown number of pages are missing from the beginning of the codex. Additionally, on one of the remaining pages, the left edge is too damaged to read for a number of lines.

The poem is written in an alliterative, accentual verse form common to Germanic poetry of the first millenium. Each lines consists of two distinct parts with a pause in between. Within each half line there are two words with heavy stress. It is these heavy words which generally alliterate with each other, within the half-line, and across the pause. The number of unstressed syllables is not constrained.


...Treacherous feathers flew from the Romans4

The conflict was joined, the crows cried joyfully.

Now men would fall or fight boldly for glory.

Hard came the Road-farers Rome's mighty armies.

Hardy, the Vesi5 half their number.

Eager warriors strove mightily To bring their spears into battle.

Iron through the air flew feathered arrows, and sharp spears

Clattering on bright shields Or bringing swift death to men.

Prince Frithugairns rallied them saying, "Our people are here.

Our wives and our children. Two wolves close behind us:

Bitter hunger and the fell Hun-King, now howl at our doors6.

The Eagle now presses us, the army of Romans.

We offered them peace, they offended hospitality.

Here we must stand steadfast and unflinching

Under the gaze of the Guardian now to grasp victory

Or be vanquished completely, and be Vesi no more.

Fight bravely in battle. your boasts now remember

We must fight off the Road-men hold fast at the wagons7

Till the warriors of Witheric return from the raiding.8

Then that war-chief joined the fight fierce were his blows.

A legion-man pressed him long spears were put aside

Frithugairns' sword was faster: it flashed and fell.

The enemy's segments9 well armored his breast

Still the war-chief hewed the Roman his helm was split.

Young Reikamunths, Nanthagais' son, hearth-companion to the king

His mail guarded him from blows, he returned them with strength

Was felled by flung javelins, His rings failed him.

In death's bed he rests. His ring-giver revenged him.

By Frithugairns, son of Frithumunths, many deeds were done

And by the warriors of the Thervingi, on that day none fled the Romans.

Then came the horses the fierce host under Athala10

Safrac, too, led that war-band Withimer's last companions

King of the Grevingi, the Bright Goths of the Dawn.

Not from cowardice Did those two outlive their king:

He was slain by the Huns but he saved his child.

The warriors of Withimer fought free with the child.

Young Witheric to be raised, the son of King Withimer

To lead his people to prosperity renewed.

For this the Grevingi11 did, grudging, leave their king.

That was past now eight winters, when Attila drove them out.

Many battles they fought since in the name of the boy-king

And no man can mark them as cowards shrinking from war-cries.

Now their horseman arrived to fight with their allies

They came like a river Roaring against the enemy.

They dashed them apart. Dread struck the Romans.

12... Romans lay broken felled by bright spears.

... pushed forward over-running the foe

... ...son veteran of many battles

... rimmed linden turned Roman swords.

... sword flashed reflecting Heaven's sun.

... of Romans shrank from that fire.

... fated Road-men Assailed by sharp terror

... did not desert their king that one led them in cowardice

The emperor called Valens Valentine's brother, the betrayer.

He was felled as he fled his standard was chopped.

The Eagle had fallen the Romans fled faster.

Many did not leave that slaughter-field their army was shrunken.

The black-cloaked birds and their brothers in grey,

All those seeking carrion had their fill of corpses that day.


Note 1: Hollister, p. 41

Note 2: Hollister, p. 73

Note 3: Ager

Note 4: Ammianus Marcellinus

Note 5: "Vesi" is also recorded as a name for the Visiogths in other sources, particularly from the 4th and 5th centuries. (Wikipedia)

Note 6: This is a demonstration of the problems caused by the scribe's confusion of kusma and raida. The word is probably dauram, "doors (dat. pl.)", but it could be daukam, which might mean "houses, dwellings", connected to the attested ga-daukans, "tenant, lodger, (co-houser)". (Turnstall)

Note 7: The Visigoths fortified their camp by ringing it with chariots or wagons (wagns), the translation is ambiguous, and other sources are inconsistent. (Turnstall, Ammianus, Wikipedia)

Note 8: Ammianus tells us that the Gothic cavalry returned almost as soon as the battle was joined, Fritigern engaged Valens in several rounds of delaying negotiation. (Ammianus Marcellinus)

Note 9: Armor, specifically the Roman legionnaires' armor of made of iron plates, called lorica segmentata.

Note 10: Called "Alatheus" in most other sources. Athala is Gothic for "noble", and is a reasonable Gothic name. It is unclear which is a more accurate name. Alatheus might be a latinization used by Ammianus Marcellinus and picked up by later writers. Or the epic might have misrecorded the name, conflating it with the Gothic word.

Note 11: Grevingi is an early name for the Ostrogoths. It had fallen out of common usage by this time, but was still used in poetry.

Note 12: This is the beginning of the damaged section.


Ager, Simon. "Gothic Alphabet", in "Omniglot: A Guide to Writing Systems". Accessed 2004.10.18:

Ammianus Marcellinus. "The Battle of Hadrianopolis.", from The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus During the Reigns of The Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens, trans. C.D. Yonge. Selected by Paul Halsall, Fordham University. Accessed 2004.10.18:

Beck, Sanderson. "Valentinian, Valens, Gratian, and Theodosius", from Roman Power and Christian Conflict 285-395. Accessed 2004.10.21:

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, trans. The Anglo-Saxon World, An Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Gibbon, Edward. "Volume 2, Chapter XXVI: The Progress of the Huns", from History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Hollister, C. Warren, and Judith M. Bennet. Medieval Europe: a Short History. 9th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Turnstall, Peter. "English-Gothic Dictionary", vers. 1.7. Accessed 2004.10.18:

Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia. "Visigoths". Accessed 2004.10.21: