- A central Asian people who moved into southern Russia, the Alans participated in the migrations of peoples of the fourth and fifth centuries. Unlike other barbarian groups such as the Huns, the Alans never formed a united hoard, and therefore their impact was felt in various places in the Roman Empire. They were also associated with a number of other groups, including Huns, Vandals, and Visigoths, as well as serving the Roman military commanders Aëtius and Stilicho. Groups of Alans settled in Gaul, Italy, and Spain, with the Spanish contingent joining the Vandals who conquered the empire's North African province. Although active during the fourth and fifth centuries as both allies and enemies of the Roman Empire, the Alans disappeared as an independent people during the sixth century. They were defeated with the Vandals by Justinian's armies in North Africa and gradually absorbed by the surrounding population in both Africa and Europe. Despite their assimilation, the Alans did influence artistic styles in southern France and were known for a special breed of hunting dogs, now extinct, the canis Alani.The Alans were first identified by Roman writers in the first century of the Common Era, but had only limited and minor contact with the Romans until the fourth century. There was, however, one major confrontation before then, and the Alans were often used by the Romans as interpreters. In the late fourth century the Alans, like other peoples of the central steppes of Asia, were forced to move westward by the onslaught of the Huns. Some groups of Alans were defeated by the Huns and incorporated into their army, and one group of Alans joined with the Visigoths who sought entry into the Roman Empire in the 370s. This alliance proved beneficial for the Alans but nearly fatal to the empire. The Alans joined with the Visigoths at the Battle of Hadrianople in 378, having been promised substantial rewards by the Visigoths for their assistance. After the battle, at which the Roman armies were destroyed and the emperor killed, groups of Alans settled in northern Italy and parts of southeastern Europe. Moreover, many Alans remained with the main Visigothic force and served them into the fifth century. They were part of the force that Alaric led during his rampage in Italy and sack of Rome in 410. They migrated into Gaul with Alaric's successor, where they broke ranks with the Visigoths in exchange for an alliance with the empire and lands from Narbonne to Toulouse.The greatest number of Alans, however, entered the empire during the mass barbarian crossing of the Rhine River in 406. Led by their kings Goar and Rependial, the Alans entered imperial territory with the Vandals and fought a battle against the Franks, a Germanic people allied with the empire, who attacked the Vandals. After defeating the Franks, the Alans marched across Roman territory and sacked Trier and other cities. The group led by King Goar became an ally of Rome after the king was promised land and gold. His followers were settled around Worms, later supported a rebel Roman general, and were ultimately settled near Orléans by Aëtius. They remained important but untrustworthy allies of the Roman commander during the mid-fifth century and played a significant role in the struggle with Attila. In 451, when the great Hun decided to invade the Western Empire, he hoped to regain control over the Alans. But the Alans of Orléans, led by their King Sangiban, stood with the imperial forces in defense of the Gaul. The king's opposition to Attila slowed his advance. The king also joined with Aëtius in the great Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, but the Roman general placed the Alans between Gothic and Roman troops because of his fear that Sangiban would go over to Attila's side.Although one group of Alani settled in Gaul, another group remained with the Vandals and entered Spain in 409. After pillaging Gaul, the Alans carved out small kingdoms in Spain and shared land with the native Roman population. Their independent existence in Spain, however, was short-lived because the Visigoths, under imperial direction, conquered the Alans, who then joined with the Vandals, losing their political independence at the same time. Although now subject to the Vandals, the Alans continued to play an important role in late imperial history. They joined with the Vandals under King Gaiseric, who was officially styled rex Vandalorum et Alanorum (king of the Vandals and Alans), when he led an invasion of North Africa in 429. They were part of the force that gradually displaced Roman rule in the region and established an independent kingdom ruled by Gaiseric and his successors for more than a century. The kingdom fell, however, before the armies of Justinian, led by the great general Belisarius in 533. This defeat, along with the easy assimilation of other Alan tribal units in the old Western Empire and the Alans' conversion to Christianity, brought about the disappearance of the group as an independent people in the sixth century.See alsoAëtius; Alaric; Attila the Hun; Belisarius; Catalaunian Plains, Battle of the; Gaiseric; Hadrianople, Battle of; Justinian; Vandals; VisigothsBibliography♦ Bachrach, Bernard S. "The Alans in Gaul." Traditio 23 (1967): 476-89.♦ --- . A History of the Alans in the West, from Their First Appearance in the Sources of Classical Antiquity through the Early Middle Ages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1973.♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.