College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


Benjamin Thomas Esswein


Roman, Byzantine, Huns, Frontier, Danube, Strategy




The imperial Roman advance to and entrenchment along the Danube from the times of Augustus to Aurelian, mirrored by the slow development of various Germanic peoples beyond the 1,700-mile river’s northern bank, set the stage for a series of climactic engagements between the late Roman Empire and their various barbarous neighbors along what had quickly become the Empire’s most important and unstable frontier. The immigration and settlement of Goths from the Pontic Steppe, fleeing the Huns as they emerged from Central Asia, within the Roman Balkans undermined the Danube frontier, eviscerated the Eastern Roman field army, and enabled Alaric’s role as a destabilizing free radical between the estranged imperial Roman courts at Rome and Constantinople from 395 to 410. At the same time, the Huns, colliding with the Roman frontiers on the Middle and Lower Danube, began to amass on the Pannonian and Romanian Plains, and exerted a steadily increasing pressure on the Roman frontier. After having buckled several times, particularly in Roman Pannonia on the increasingly isolated Middle Danube, from the 410s to the 430s, Attila led two major invasions of the Eastern Roman Empire in 441-442 and 447. Recognizing the importance of the Danube frontier to safeguarding imperial security, Attila forced the Eastern Romans to completely abandon the Middle and Lower Danube, evacuating all military posts and major populations at least a five-days march south of the river, thereby destroying the Roman Danube frontier as the weakening Empire advanced into late fifth century.

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