9 August 378: Goths slaughter the Eastern Roman emperor Valens

Butchery heralds the demise of Rome’s overwhelming military might


Perhaps the Eastern Roman emperor Valens should have seen what was coming. “After many true predictions of seers and augurs,” wrote the historian Ammianus Marcellinus of the summer of 378, “dogs leaped back when wolves howled, night birds rang out a kind of doleful lament, the sun rose in gloom and dimmed the clear morning light.”

Yet when Valens marched out from the Balkan town of Adrianople (now Edirne, in north-western Turkey) to face the invading Goths, he was confident of victory. Instead of waiting for reinforcements from the west, the experienced Valens, emperor in Constantinople for the previous 14 years, was determined to finish off the barbarians himself. Rising early on 9 August, he drove his men north for hours in punishing heat to find the Gothic camp. At last, wrote Ammianus, the scouts spotted “the wagons of the enemy”, and the battle began.

For the Romans, it was an utter catastrophe. Encircled by the lighter Gothic horsemen, they were cut to pieces. Some said Valens himself was felled by an arrow. Others reported that the emperor took refuge in a cottage, surrounded by Gothic soldiers who, unaware of the identity of the man within, piled brushwood around the walls and set it on fire; by the time they realised the emperor was inside, it was too late.

Many historians see this moment as a landmark in the history of Rome, its military supremacy at an end. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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9 August 1974: Richard Nixon resigns

The Republican leader becomes the most high-profile casualty of the Watergate scandal – and the only president to step down

On his last night as president of the US, Richard Nixon slept badly. As happened so often during his embattled presidency, he sat up into the small hours. The telephone was clutched to his ear as he asked old friends for their reactions to the resignation announcement he had made a few hours before. At two o’clock, Nixon made his last call, then sat alone, brooding in the shadows.

Shortly after nine on the morning of Friday 9 August 1974, Nixon led his family into the East Room of the White House to bid farewell to his loyal staff. Just under two years after his landslide re-election, his presidency was over – destroyed by the Watergate scandal.

Now, exhausted from lack of sleep and perspiring beneath the television lights, Nixon launched into an emotional tribute to his father, “a little man, common man”, and his mother, “a saint”. The room was silent. “The greatness comes and you are really tested,” Nixon said, “when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes. Because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”


And then, at last, it was over. Many of Nixon’s staff were in tears. But the secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had lost patience with his master’s appetite for self-flagellation. “It was horrifying and heartbreaking,” he wrote later. “I was at the same time moved to tears and outraged at being put though the wringer once again.” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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