Battle of Naissus

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Naissus
partof=the Roman-Gothic Wars of the 3rd century AD
Part of the Roman-Germanic wars

date= 268 or 269
place=Naissus (Niš in present-day Serbia)
result=Roman victory
combatant1=Roman Empire
combatant2=Gothic tribes coalition
commander1=Claudius II
casualties2=allegedly 50,000

The Battle of Naissus (268 or 269 AD) was the defeat of a Gothic coalition by the Roman Empire under Emperor Gallienus (or Claudius II) near Naissus (Niš in present-day Serbia). The events around the invasion and the battle are an important part of the history of the Crisis of the Third Century.

The result was a great Roman victory which, combined with the effective pursuit of the invaders in the aftermath of the battle and the energetic efforts of the Emperor Aurelian, largely removed the threat from Germanic tribes in the Balkan frontier for the following decades.


As is often the case in the history of the Roman Empire in the troubled 3rd century, it is very difficult to reconstruct the course of events around the battle of Naissus. Surviving accounts of the period, including Zosimus' "New History", Zonaras' "Epitome of the Histories", George Syncellus' "Selection of Chronography", and the "Augustan History", rely principally on the lost history of the Athenian Dexippus. The text of Dexippus has survived only indirectly, through quotations in the fourth-century "Augustan History" and extracts in ninth-century Byzantine compilations. [David S. Potter, p.232–233] Despite his importance for the period, Dexippus has been declared a "poor" source by the modern historian David S. Potter. [David S. Potter, p.232–234] To make matters worse, the works making use of Dexippus (and likely another unknown contemporary source) provide an almost radically different interpretation of events. [John Bray, p.283, David S. Potter, p.641–642, n.4.] The imperial propaganda in the age of Constantine's dynasty added more confusion by attributing all the calamities to the reign of Gallienus to avoid blemishing the memory of Claudius (supposed ancestor of the dynasty). [David S. Potter, p.266]

As a consequence, controversy still exists on the number of invasions and the order of events and on which reign those events must be attributed. [John Bray, p.279. Also David S. Potter, p.263] Therefore, there is a dispute over who was the Emperor and head of the army at the time of the battle. In 1939, Andreas Alföldi, preferring the single invasion theory, suggested that Gallienus was the only one responsible for defeating the barbarian invasions, including the victory at Naissus. ["The Cambridge Ancient History", vol 12, chapter 6, p.165–231, Cambridge University Press, 1939] His view had been broadly accepted since then, but modern scholarship usually attributes the final victory to Claudius II. [John Bray, p.284–285, Pat Southern, p.109. Also see Alaric Watson, p.215, David S. Potter, p.266, H. Wolfram, p.54] The single invasion theory has been also rejected in favour of the two separate invasions. The narrative below follows the latter view but the reader must be warned that the evidence is too confused for an entirely safe reconstruction. [John Bray, p.286–288, Alaric Watson, p.216]


, with the aid of the Dalmatian cavalry. Reported barbarian casualties were 3,000 men. Subsequently, the Heruli leader Naulobatus came to terms with the Romans.G. Syncellus, p.717]

In the past, the battle on the Nessos was identified as the Battle of Naissus, but modern scholarship has rejected this view. On the contrary, there is a theory that the victory at Nessos was so decisive that Claudius' efforts against the Goths (including the battle of Naissus) were no more than a mopping-up operation. [T. Forgiarini, "A propos de Claude II: Les invasion gothiques de 269–270 et le role de l' empereur", in "Les empereurs illyriens", Frezouls et Jouffroy, p.81–86. (as cited in D. Potter, p.642). This view is in agreement with A. Alfoldi] After his victory, Gallienus left Marcianus in place and hastily left for Italy, intending to suppress the revolt of his cavalry officer Aureolus. [Zosimus, 1.40] After Gallienus was assassinated outside Milan in the summer of 268 in a plot led by high officers in his army, Claudius was proclaimed emperor and headed to Rome to establish his rule. Claudius' immediate concerns were with the Alamanni, who had invaded Raetia and Italy. After he defeated them in the Battle of Lake Benacus, he was finally able to take care of the invasions in the Balkan provinces. [John Bray, p.290]

In the meantime, the second and larger sea-borne invasion had started. An enormous coalition of "Scythians", actually consisting of Goths (Greuthungi and Tervingi), Gepids and Peucini, led again by the Heruli, assembled at the mouth of river Tyras (Dniester). [The "Historia Augusta" mentions Scythians, Greuthungi, Tervingi, Gepids, Peucini, Celts and Heruli. Zosimus names Scythians, Heruli, Peucini and Goths.] The "Augustan History" and Zosimus claim a total number of 2,000–6,000 ships and 325,000 men. ["Scriptores Historiae Augustae", "Vita Divi Claudii", 6.4] This is probably a gross exaggeration but remains indicative of the scale of the invasion. After failing to storm some towns on the coasts of the western Black Sea and the Danube (Tommi, Marcianopolis), the invaders attacked Byzantium and Chrysopolis. Part of their fleet was wrecked, either because of the Gothic inexperience in sailing through the violent currents of the Propontis [Zosimus, 1.42] or because it was defeated by the Roman navy. Then they entered Aegean Sea and a detachment ravaged the Aegean islands as far as Crete and Rhodes. While their main force was close to take the cities of Thessalonica and Cassandreia using siege machinery, it retreated to the Balkan interior at the news that the emperor was advancing. On their way, they plundered Doberus (Paionia ?) and Pelagonia.

The Battle

The Goths were engaged near Naissus by a Roman army advancing from the north. The battle most likely took place in 269, and was fiercely contested. Large numbers on both sides were killed but, at the critical point, the Romans tricked the Goths into an ambuscade by a pretended flight. Some 50,000 Goths were allegedly killed.Zosimus, 1.43] It seems that Aurelian was in charge of all Roman cavalry during Claudius' reign, making it possible that he participated in the battle.


A large number of Goths managed to escape towards Macedonia, initially defending themselves behind their laager. Soon, many of them and their pack animals, distressed as they were by the harassment of the Roman cavalry and the lack of provisions, died of hunger. The Roman army methodically pursued and surrounded the survivors at Mount Haemus where an epidemic affected the entrapped Goths. [Zosimus, 1.45] After an bloody but inconclusive battle, they escaped but were pursued again until they surrendered. Prisoners were admitted to the army or given land to cultivate and become coloni. The members of the pirate fleet, after the failed attacks on Crete and Rhodes, retreated and many of them suffered a similar end. [John Bray, p.282. See Zosimus, 1.46] However the disease also affected the pursuing Romans and the emperor as well, who died from it in 270. [G. Syncellus, p.720]

The psychological impact of this victory was so strong that Claudius became known to posterity as Claudius II "Gothicus" ("conqueror of the Goths"). However devastating the defeat, the battle did not entirely break the Gothic tribes' military strength. [Alaric Watson, p.216] Besides, the troubles with Zenobia in the East and the breakaway Gallic Empire in the West were so urgent that the victory at Naissus could only serve as a temporary relief for the troubled Empire. In 271, after Aurelian repelled another Gothic invasion, he abandoned the province of Dacia north of Danube forever, in order to rationalize the defense of the Empire. [David S. Potter, p.270]



Primary sources

* Zosimus, "Historia Nova" ( _el. Polytonic|"Νέα Ἱστορία"), book 1, in "Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae", ed. Bekker, Weber, Bonn, 1837
* George Syncellus, "Chronographia" ( _el. Polytonic|"Ἐκλογὴ χρονογραφίας"), in "Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae", ed. Dindorf, Bonn, 1829
* "Scriptores Historiae Augustae", "Vita Gallieni Duo" & "Vita Divi Claudii", Loeb Classical Library, 1921–1932 (English translation), on-line at [|Lacus Curtius]
* Zonaras, "Epitome historiarum" ( _el. Polytonic|"Ἐπιτομὴ ἱστοριῶν"), book 12, in "Patrologia Graeca, ed. J.P.Migne, Paris, 1864, vol 134

econdary sources

* Bray, John. "Gallienus: A Study in Reformist and Sexual Politics", Wakefield Press, 1997. ISBN 1-862-54337-2
* Potter, David S. "The Roman Empire at Bay AD 180–395", Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-10058-5
* Southern, Pat. "The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine", Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-415-23943-5
* Watson, Alaric. "Aurelian and the Third Century", Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-30187-4
* Wolfram, Herwig. "History of the Goths" (transl. by Thomas J. Dunlap), University of California Press, 1988. ISBN 0-520-06983-8

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Battle of Lake Benacus — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Battle of Lake Benacus partof=the Roman Alamanni conflict caption= date=November 268 place= Lake Garda, Italy result=Roman victory combatant1=Roman Empire combatant2=Alamanni commander1=Claudius II commander2=… …   Wikipedia

  • Battle of Thermopylae (267) — For other uses see Battle of Thermopylae (disambiguation)The Battle of Thermopylae in 267 was the unsuccessful defense of the pass by local forces during the great invasion of the Balkans by the Heruli.The Heruls are first mentioned by Roman… …   Wikipedia

  • Naissus — Niš Pour les articles homonymes, voir Nis. Niš Ниш …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Niš — Naissus redirects here. For the Catholic titular, see Naissus (titular see). Niš Ниш   City   Niš city centre …   Wikipedia

  • Claudius Gothicus — Claudius II 42nd Emperor of the Roman Empire Bust of Emperor Claudius II. Reign September 268 – January 270 …   Wikipedia

  • Campaign history of the Roman military — This article is part of the series on: Military of ancient Rome (portal) 753 BC – AD 476 Structural history Roman army (unit types and ranks …   Wikipedia

  • Roman Empire — For other senses of the term, see Roman Empire (disambiguation). Imperium Romanum redirects here. For the video game, see Imperium Romanum (video game). Roman Empire Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR) The Senate and …   Wikipedia

  • Crisis of the Third Century — This article is part of the series on: Military of ancient Rome (portal) 753 BC – AD 476 Structural history Roman army (unit types and ranks …   Wikipedia

  • Dacia — This article is about a historic region in Central Europe. For the Romanian automobile maker, see Automobile Dacia. For other uses, see Dacia (disambiguation). See also: Dacians and Dacian language Dacian Kingdom independent kingdom …   Wikipedia

  • List of battles (alphabetical) — Alphabetical list of historical battles (see also Military history, List of battles): NOTE: Where a year has been used to disambiguate battles it is the year when the battle started. In some cases these may still have gone on for several years.… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.