"... to enable him to make a permanent stand ..." Julian the Apostate's Victory at the Battle of Strasbourg


25 August 387, Julian the Apostate decisively defeated the Alemanni confederation at Argentoratum (Strasbourg), ending the latest Germanic invasion of Gaul.



“When this disgraceful disaster had become known, Chnodomarius and Vestralpus, the kings of the Allemanni, and Urius and Ursicinus, with Serapion, and Suomarius, and Hortarius, having collected all their forces into one body, encamped near the city of Strasburg, thinking that the Caesar, from fear of imminent danger, had retreated at the very time that he was wholly occupied with completing a fortress to enable him to make a permanent stand.“ (Ammianus Marcellinus, “Res Gestae“)



Late Roman infantry - equipped like Julian's men at the Battle of Strasbourg might have been*



It somehow seems that Gaul was a favourite destination for Germanic excursions since the days of Ariovistus and his brush with the Celtic Sequani and Aedui at the time when Julius Caesar arrived in the place. Things simmered down again in Gaul, when the Romans finally established a foothold on the other side of the Rhine. 200 years later though, when the tribes had formed the Alemanni confederation beyond the limes, large warbands began to slop over the border into Roman territory again. The broad estates south of the river Main became indefensible by the end of the 3rd century CE, the limes crumbled and the empire withdrew beyond the Rhine again. Alemanni raiding parties were hot on their heels.





Alemanni Warriors **




When the deputy emperor Julian was ordered to take care of the latest Germanic trip into Gaul in the year 350, the Western Empire was already torn by endless civil wars and various barbarian incursions and this time, the Alemanni got into Gaul with more than 30.000 warriors, the defences along the Rhine had collapsed and Julian promptly got a trashing at Reims, probably owed to the controversies in the Roman high command. The young Caesar obviously reasserted his authority afterwards and met the challenge to push the Alemanni back east.  When the Roman army took up winter quarters, the war theatre had already moved to the Rhineland. 



A solidus from 361 showing Julian the Apostate


The next year saw an attempt of Alemannic diplomacy when Chnodomar and the other leaders tried to negotiate with Julian at least for the territories they still had more or less under their control. The deputy emperor laughed them down, took, against all customs, their ambassadors captive and the war dragged on until late summer when the two armies finally met at Strasbourg. Especially Ammianus, a faithful follower of Julian, was of the opinion that all 30.000 Alemanni fought at Strasbourg, but that is highly improbable. Julian presumably had the numerical superiority and a decisive advantage with his heavy cavalry, mounted archers and well-disciplined troops when the battle began. Lightly armoured tribal warriors managed to crawl under the horses when the heavies charged and cut their bellies, an almost unbelievable feat, that seemed to have broken the charge and then it was shield wall against ranks of Roman infantry and finally, Julian routed the Alemanni. Most of their leaders were either dead or captured – Chnodomar died in a kind of detention camp in Italy a few years later, and by the end of the year, Gaul was again firmly in hand of the Western Empire, at least until the next generation of Alemanni raiders took the trip west ten years later.


members of the living history group “Britannia” (http://www.durolitum.co.uk - picture from their website)