Last updated

Foederati / Foi·d'or·ioγantzi ( /ˌfɛdəˈrt/ in English; sing. foederatus / fio·Δ'or·ioγent /ˌfɛdəˈrtəs/ ) were peoples and cities bound by a treaty, known as foedus, with Rome. In Republican times the term identified the socii, whereas during the Imperial period it was used to describe foreign states, client kingdoms, or barbarian tribes to which the Roman Empire provided benefits in exchange for military assistance. The term was also used, especially under the Roman Empire, for groups of "barbarian" mercenaries of various sizes, who were typically allowed to settle within the Roman Empire.[ citation needed ]



The Republic

Early in the history of the Roman Republic, foederati were the tribes that were bound by a treaty (foedus /ˈfdəs/ ) to come to the defense of Rome but which were neither Roman colonies nor a beneficiaries of Roman citizenship (civitas). The Latini tribe were considered blood allies, but the rest were federates or socii . The friction between these treaty obligations without the corresponding benefits of Romanity led to the Social War between the Romans, with a few close allies, and the disaffected socii. A law of 90 BCE (Lex Julia) offered Roman citizenship to the federate states that accepted the terms. Not all cities were prepared to be absorbed into the Roman res publica (e.g., Heraclea and Naples). Other foederati lay beyond Italy: Gades (Cádiz) in Spain; and Massilia (Marseilles).[ clarification needed ][ citation needed ]

The Empire

Later[ when? ], the sense of the term foederati and its usage and meaning was extended by the Roman practice of subsidizing entire barbarian tribes which included the Franks, Vandals, Alans, Huns and, best known, the Visigoths in exchange for providing warriors to fight in the Roman armies. Alaric began his career leading a band of Gothic foederati.[ citation needed ]

At first, the Roman subsidy took the form of money or food, but as tax revenues dwindled in the 4th and 5th centuries, the foederati were billeted on local landowners, which came to be identical to being allowed to settle on Roman territory. Large local landowners living in distant border provinces (see "marches") on extensive, largely self-sufficient villas, found their loyalties to the central authority, already conflicted by other developments, further compromised in such situations. Then, as these loyalties wavered and became more local, the Empire began to devolve into smaller territories and closer personal fealties.[ citation needed ]

4th century

The first Roman treaty with the Goths was after the defeat of Ariaric in 332, but whether or not this treaty was a foedus is unclear. [1]

The Franks became foederati in 358 CE, when Emperor Julian let them keep the areas in northern Gaul, which had been depopulated during the preceding century. Roman soldiers defended the Rhine and had major armies 100 miles (160 km) south and west of the Rhine. Frankish settlers were established in the areas north and east of the Romans and helped with the Roman defense by providing intelligence and a buffer state. The breach of the Rhine borders in the frozen winter of 406 and 407 made an end to the Roman presence at the Rhine when both the Romans and the allied Franks were overrun by a tribal migration en masse of Vandals and Alans.[ citation needed ]

In 376 CE, some of the Goths asked Emperor Valens to allow them to settle on the southern bank of the Danube river, and were accepted into the empire as foederati. These same Goths then rose in rebellion and defeated the Romans in the Battle of Adrianople in 378 CE. The critical ensuing loss of military manpower forced the Western Roman Empire to rely much more on foederati levies thereafter.[ citation needed ]

The loyalty of the tribes and their chieftains was never reliable, and in 395, the Visigoths, this time under the lead of Alaric, once again rose in rebellion. The father of one of the most powerful late Roman generals, Stilicho, was from the ranks of the foederati.[ citation needed ]

5th century

At the Battle of Faesulae in 406, Stilicho defeated the Gothic king Radagaisus and his combined Vandal and Goth army, only with the support of Gothic chieftain Sarus and Hunnic ruler Uldin.[ citation needed ]

In 423, the general Flavius Aetius entered the service of the usurper Joannes as cura palatii and was sent by Joannes to ask the Huns for assistance. Joannes, a high-ranking officer, lacked a strong army and fortified himself in his capital, Ravenna, where he was killed in the summer of 425. Shortly afterwards, Aetius returned to Italy with a large force of Huns to find that power in the west was now in the hands of Valentinian III and his mother Galla Placidia. After fighting against Aspar's army, Aetius managed a compromise with Galla Placidia. He sent back his army of Huns and in return obtained the rank of comes et magister militum per Gallias, the commander in chief of the Roman army in Gaul.[ citation needed ]

Around 418 (or 426), Attaces, the king of the Alans, fell in battle against the Visigoths, who at the time were still allies of Rome, in Hispania, and most of the surviving Alans appealed to Gunderic. Gunderic accepted their request and thus became King of the Vandals and Alans.[ citation needed ]

Late in Gunderic's reign, the Vandals themselves began to clash more and more with the Visigothic Foederati, often getting the worse of these battles because the Visigoths were so much more numerous. After Gunderic died early in 428, the Vandals elected his half-brother Genseric as his successor, and Genseric left Iberia to the Visigoths in favor of invading Roman Africa.[ citation needed ]

By the 5th century, lacking the wealth needed to pay and train a professional army, Western Roman military strength was almost entirely reliant on foederati units. In 451, Attila the Hun was defeated only with help of the foederati (who included the Visigoths, Alans and Saxons), and the foederati would deliver the fatal blow to the dying nominal Western Roman Empire in 476, when their commander Odoacer deposed the usurper Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, and sent the imperial insignia back to Constantinople with the Senate's request that the 81-year-old West/East sub-division of the empire be abolished. Even before the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 several kingdoms with the status of foederati managed to gain a full independence formally recognized by the Western Roman Empire, such as the Vandals through the peace treaty concluded in 442 between their king Genseric and Valentinian III [2] and the Visigoths through the peace treaty concluded in 475 between their king Euric and Julius Nepos. [3]

After the collapse of the Hunnic empire, the Ostrogoths entered into relations with the Eastern Roman Empire and were settled in Pannonia to become foederati of the Byzantines. During the latter half of the 5th century, the Ostrogoths relationship with the Byzantines started to shift from friendship to enmity, just as the Visigoths had done before them, and their king Theoderic the Great led them to frequently ravage the provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire, eventually threatening Constantinople itself. Eventually, Theoderic and emperor Zeno worked out an arrangement beneficial to both sides, in which Theoderic invaded Odoacer's kingdom and eventually conquered Italy. [4]

6th century

Foederati (Gr: Φοιδερᾶτοι or translated as Σύμμαχοι) were still present in the Eastern Roman army during the 6th century. Belisarius' and Narses' victorious armies included many foederati, including Hunnic archers and Herule mercenaries, when they reconquered Africa and Italy. At the Battle of Taginae, a large contingent of the Byzantine army was made up of Lombards, Gepids and Bulgars.[ citation needed ]

In the east, foederati were formed from several Arab tribes to protect against the Persian-allied Arab Lakhmids and the tribes of the Arabian peninsula. Among these foederati were the Tanukhids, Banu Judham, Banu Amela and the Ghassanids. The term Foederati continues to be attested in the Eastern Roman armies until around the reign of Maurice. [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

Burgundians Historical East Germanic ethnic group

The Burgundians were an early Germanic tribe or group of tribes. They appeared in the Rhine region, near the Roman empire, and were later moved into the empire, in the western Alps and southeastern Gaul. They were perhaps mentioned much earlier in the time of the Roman Empire as living in part of the region of Germania that is now part of Poland.

Ostrogoths Germanic people of late antiquity

The Ostrogoths were a Roman-era Germanic people. In the 5th century, they followed the Visigoths in creating one of the two great Gothic kingdoms within the Roman Empire, based upon the large Gothic populations who had settled in the Balkans in the 4th century, having crossed the Lower Danube. While the Visigoths had formed under the leadership of Alaric I, the new Ostrogothic political entity which came to rule Italy, was formed in the Balkans under the influence of the Amal Dynasty, the family of Theodoric the Great.

5th century Century

The 5th century is the time period from 401 to 500 Anno Domini (AD) or Common Era (CE) in the Julian calendar. The 5th century is noted for being a period of migration and political instability throughout Eurasia.

The 400s decade ran from January 1, 400, to December 31, 409.

The 430s decade ran from January 1, 430, to December 31, 439.

The 420s decade ran from January 1, 420, to December 31, 429.

The 450s decade ran from January 1, 450, to December 31, 459.

The 440s decade ran from January 1, 440, to December 31, 449.

Gunderic, King of Hasding Vandals (407-418), then King of Vandals and Alans (418–428), led the Hasding Vandals, a Germanic tribe originally residing near the Oder River, to take part in the barbarian invasions of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century.

Vandals East Germanic tribe

The Vandals were a Roman-era Germanic people who first appear in written records inhabiting present-day southern Poland. Some later moved in large numbers, including most notably the group which successively established Vandal kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula, on western Mediterranean islands and in North Africa in the 5th century.

Flavius Aetius Roman General

Flavius Aetius, dux et patricius, commonly called simply Aetius or Aëtius, was a Roman general of the closing period of the Western Roman Empire. He was an able military commander and the most influential man in the Western Roman Empire for two decades (433–454). He managed policy in regard to the attacks of barbarian federates settled throughout the Western Roman Empire. Notably, he mustered a large Roman and allied (foederati) army to stop the Huns in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, ending the devastating Hunnic invasion of Attila in 451, though another devastating invasion of the Huns occurred in the year after that.

Battle of the Catalaunian Plains Battle 451 AD in Gaul, between forces led by the Western Roman Empire and Attila the Hun

The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, also called the Battle of the Campus Mauriacus, Battle of Châlons, Battle of Troyes or the Battle of Maurica, took place on June 20, 451 AD, between a coalition led by the Roman general Flavius Aetius and the Visigothic king Theodoric I against the Huns and their vassals commanded by their king Attila. It was one of the last major military operations of the Western Roman Empire, although Germanic foederati composed the majority of the coalition army. Whether the battle was strategically conclusive is disputed: the Romans possibly stopped the Huns' attempt to establish vassals in Roman Gaul. However, the Huns successfully looted and pillaged much of Gaul and crippled the military capacity of the Romans and Visigoths. Attila died only two years later and his Hunnic Empire was dismantled by a coalition of their Germanic vassals after the Battle of Nedao in 454.

Fall of the Western Roman Empire Political change in late antiquity that came with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire

The fall of the Western Roman Empire was the process of decline in the Western Roman Empire in which the Empire failed to enforce its rule, and its vast territory was divided into several successor polities. The Roman Empire lost the strengths that had allowed it to exercise effective control over its Western provinces; modern historians posit factors including the effectiveness and numbers of the army, the health and numbers of the Roman population, the strength of the economy, the competence of the Emperors, the internal struggles for power, the religious changes of the period, and the efficiency of the civil administration. Increasing pressure from invading barbarians outside Roman culture also contributed greatly to the collapse. Climate change has been suggested as a driver of the changes in some of these factors. The reasons for the collapse are major subjects of the historiography of the ancient world and they inform much modern discourse on state failure.

This is a chronology of warfare between the Romans and various Germanic tribes between 113 BC and 596 AD. The nature of these wars varied through time between Roman conquest, Germanic uprisings and later Germanic invasions in the Roman Empire that started in the late 2nd century BC. The series of conflicts, which began in the 5th century under the Western Roman Emperor Honorius, was one of many factors which led to the ultimate downfall of the Western Roman Empire.

Gondioc, also called Gunderic and Gundowech, was a King of the Burgundians, succeeding his putative father Gunther in 436.

Uldin, also spelled Huldin is the first ruler of the Huns whose historicity is undisputed.

Sangiban was a fifth-century Alan king at the time of Attila's invasion of Gaul (451). He was the successor of Goar as king of the Alan foederati settled in the region around Aurelianum. According to Jordanes, Sangiban had promised Attila before the Battle of Châlons to open the city gates and deliver Aurelianum to the Huns. Suspecting this, the Romans and Visigoths put Sangiban in the center of the line opposing the Huns, where they could prevent him from defecting. Thus the Alans bore the main brunt of the Hunnic assault, while the Goths were able to flank the Huns and ultimately drive them back.

Battle of the Nervasos Mountains

The Battle of the Nervasos Mountains occurred in the year 419 and was fought between a coalition of Suebi, led by King Hermeric together with allied Roman Imperial forces stationed in the Province of Hispania, against the combined forces of the Vandals and Alans who were led by their King Gunderic. This battle occurred in the context of a contemporary Germanic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. The battle took place in what is today the Province of León, Spain, and resulted in a Roman/Suebian Victory.

Kingdom of the Burgundians kingdom established by the Germanic Burgundians in the Rhineland and then in Savoy in the 5th century

The Kingdom of the Burgundians or First Kingdom of Burgundy was established by Germanic Burgundians in the Rhineland and then in Savoy in the 5th century.

The history of the Huns spans the time from before their first secure recorded appearance in Europe around 370 AD to after the disintegration of their empire around 469. The Huns likely entered Europe shortly before 370 from Central Asia: they first conquered the Goths and the Alans, pushing a number of tribes to seek refuge within the Roman Empire. In the following years, the Huns conquered most of the Germanic and Scythian barbarian tribes outside of the borders of the Roman Empire. They also launched invasions of both the Asian provinces of Rome and the Sasanian Empire in 375. Under Uldin the first Hunnic ruler named in contemporary sources, the Huns launched a first unsuccessful large-scale raid into the Eastern Roman Empire in Europe in 408. From the 420s, the Huns were led by the brothers Octar and Ruga, who both cooperated with and threatened the Romans. Upon Ruga's death in 435, his nephews Bleda and Attila became the new rulers of the Huns, and launched a successful raid into the Eastern Roman Empire before making peace and securing an annual tribute and trading raids under the Treaty of Margus. Attila appears to have killed his brother and became sole ruler of the Huns in 445. He would go on to rule for the next eight years, launching a devastating raid on the Eastern Roman Empire in 447, followed by an invasion of Gaul in 451. Attila is traditionally held to have been defeated in Gaul at the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields, however some scholars hold the battle to have been a draw or Hunnic victory. The following year, the Huns invaded Italy and encountered no serious resistance before turning back.


  1. From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms. Thomas F. X. Noble. ed. 2006, p.245
  2. Patout Burns, J.; Jensen, Robin M. (November 30, 2014). Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs– Google Knihy. ISBN   978-0-8028-6931-9. Archived from the original on 2016-12-26. Retrieved 2016-12-25.
  3. Faiths Across Time: 5,000 Years of Religious History [4 Volumes]– Google Knihy. January 15, 2014. ISBN   978-1-61069-025-6 . Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  4. Costambeys, Marios (November 2016). "The Legacy of Theoderic". The Journal of Roman Studies. 106: 249–263. doi:10.1017/S0075435816000587 via Cambridge Journals Online.
  5. McMahon, Lucas (2014). "The Foederati, the Phoideratoi, and the Symmachoi of the Late Antique East (ca. A.D. 400-650)". Retrieved 2018-11-20.