Battle of Abrittus

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Part of the Roman-Germanic wars
Part of the Crisis of the Third Century

The Battle of Abritus,[1] also known as the Battle of Forum Terebronii,[2] occurred in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior (modern Razgrad, Bulgaria) probably in July, 251, between the Roman Empire and a federation of Scythian tribesmen under the Goth king Cniva. The Romans were soundly defeated, and Roman emperors Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus were both killed during battle. They became the first Roman emperors killed in a battle with a foreign enemy.

The battle typically marks the starting of a period of increased military and political instability in the Roman Empire, although the symptoms of the crisis had already appeared in the preceding decades.



Soon after Decius ascended to the throne in 249, barbarian tribes invaded the Roman provinces of Dacia, Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior. Two factors had contributed to growing unrest in the area north of Danube. First, Decius' predecessor Philip the Arab had refused to continue payments, initiated by Emperor Maximinus Thrax in 238, of annual subsidies to the aggressive tribes of the region.[3] Second and more important, there were continuous movements of new peoples since the time of Emperor Severus Alexander.[4] Decius may also have taken with him troops from the Danube frontier, in order to depose Philip in 249. The resultant military vacuum would inevitably attract invaders.[5]

The course of events is not clear. It seems that in 250 the Carpi invaded Dacia, eastern Moesia Superior and western Moesia Inferior.[6] At the same time, a tribal coalition under Cniva crossed the Roman frontier, probably advancing in two columns. Whether these were consisted only of Goths is rather unlikely so the name "Scythians" by which the Greek sources called them (a geographical definition) seems more appropriate.[7] It is quite possible that other people of Germanic and Sarmatian origin (like Bastarnae, Taifals and Hasdingian Vandals), perhaps Roman deserters as well, had joined the invaders.[8] However, the name of the king is indeed Gothic and probably genuine.[9]

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