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31 December 406 is the often-repeated date of the crossing of the Rhine by a mixed group of barbarians that included Vandals, Alans and Suebi. The Rhine-crossing transgressed one of the Late Empire's most secure limites or boundaries, a climactic moment in the decline of the Roman Empire that initiated a wave of destruction of Roman cities and the collapse of Roman civic order in northern Gaul, and that occasioned the rise of three usurpers in succession in the province of Britannia; hence the crossing of the Rhine is a marker date in the Migrations Period.

The full statement of received opinion has been that a mixed band of Vandals, Alans and Suebi crossed the Rhine at Mainz on December 31, 406, and began to ravage Gaul. Several written accounts document the crossing, supplemented by the time line of Prosper of Aquitaine, which gives a firm date of 31 December 406.

A letter of Jerome written from Bethlehem, which gives a long list of the barbarian tribes involved, some of them, like Quadi and Sarmatians, drawn from history or literary tradition, mentions Mainz first in a list of the cities devastated by the incursion; this is the sole support for the common assumption that the crossing of the unbridged Rhine was effected at Mainz. Jerome lists the cities now known as Mainz, Worms, Rheims, Amiens, Arras, Thérouanne, Tournai, Speyer and Strasbourg as having been pillaged.

The initial gathering of barbarians on the east bank of the Rhine has been interpreted as a banding of refugees from the Huns or the remnants of Radagaisus' defeated Goths, without direct evidence. A frozen Rhine, making the crossing easier, is not attested by any contemporary, but was a plausible surmise of Edward Gibbon. On the east bank, the mixed band of Vandals and Alans fought a raiding party of Franks. The Vandal king Godigisel was killed, but the Alans came to the rescue of the Vandals, and once on the Roman side, they met with no organized resistance. Stilicho had depleted the garrisons in 402 to face Alaric in Italy.

Zosimus' New History (vi.3.1) imputes the usurpation of Marcus in Britannia to a reaction to the presence of barbarians in Gaul in 406; from a fragment of Olympiodorus, the acclamation as Emperor of Marcus, the first of the Romano-Britannic usurpers, took place that same summer.


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