By Dr Jon Coulston
Last updated 2011-02-17
Stilicho and the rise of the foederati
During the fourth century, Germany across the Rhine and Upper Danube became a prime source of army recruitment, notably to the elite units of the emperor's comitatus. However, huge losses sustained in the late fourth century, notably at the Battle of Hadrianopolis (378 AD), forced the eastern government of the emperor Theodosius (ruled 379 - 395 AD) and his successors to rely increasingly on barbarian warbands brought wholesale and still under the command of their native leaders into the Roman army.
This is reflected archaeologically across the northern provinces by the occurrence of cemeteries containing a barbarian rite of burial with military equipment, the latter being manufactured and supplied by the Roman state. In the fifth century, some of the Germanic war leaders became so dominant that emperors bestowed the highest titles on them and left military command almost entirely in their hands.
One such leader was the Vandal general Stilicho, who effectively ruled the western Roman empire (395 - 408 AD) on behalf of Theodosius's son, Honorius. He fought off the Goth Alaric, but lost influence when other barbarians overran the Rhine and Danube provinces. After Stilicho was executed, Honorius was powerless against Alaric who sacked Rome in 410 AD.
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