The Gothic Refugee Crisis of 376
When you first saw the title of this article, you probably assumed that it was written for or against Trump’s executive action on refugees. It is not. After that, you probably wondered whether there even was a Gothic refugee crisis, or if I invented a fictional scenario. Again, I did not. The events that you are about to read are factual.
The Stage Is Set
The story begins in 374 AD, when the Roman Empire was the most powerful state in the world. Nevertheless, the Roman power was steadily declining. In the East, the ancient nation of Parthia (modern Iran) was exerting its influence, and decades of Barbarian wars on the northern frontier were also stressing the empire.
The Romans were terrified of the barbarian tribes that lived to the north. They did not understand their strange cultures or warlike manners. Yet in 374, a new and far more terrifying enemy arrived north of the Black Sea: a tribe known as the Huns. The Huns entered the territory of the Ostrogoths, conquering every tribe they encountered.
By the summer of 376, tens of thousands of Goths were fleeing from the advancing Hunnish armies. Ancient historians estimated some 200,000 refugees, and even modern historians admit that 60,000-90,000 Goths were fleeing. There was only one place that the Goths could go: Roman territory.
The Refugee Crisis
Isaac Asimov surveys the story of the Gothic Refugees in his excellent history, ‘The Roman Empire.’ To summarize his words, “The Goths were terrified and in 376 asked the Romans for refuge in the empire. The Romans set hard terms: they were to come over unarmed, and they had to provide hostages. The Goths had to agree, and they did. Immense crowds entered. The Romans exploited the Goths by selling food at exorbitant prices and treating them as weaklings saved by Roman charity. Because of this, the Goths found arms and began to pillage.”
Undoubtedly, the Goths were in a desperate situation. Part of the treaty allowing the Goths into Roman territory specified that the Roman state would sell food to them. Yet the corrupt Roman officials often sold the food to others, and the little remaining food was sold at exorbitant prices. One particularly horrifying account details that Gothic families sold their children into slavery for the flesh of dogs, simply to keep from starving. Considering these abuses, it is no surprise that the Goths eventually revolted.
The Battle of Adrianople
The story began with a Gothic refugee crisis on the Roman border. Now, the Roman empire had a far more serious problem: tens of thousands of revolting barbarians, already within their territory. Eventually, the Roman Emperor, Valens, returned from his eastern wars with Parthia to subdue the rebellious refugees. The battle took place near Adrianople, and it was a resounding Gothic victory. Between 10,000-20,000 Roman soldiers were killed, in one of the worst defeats of the imperial forces.
What Can We Learn?
Before I continue, please understand. The purpose of this story is not to portray every refugee like a rebellious Gothic barbarian. In fact, any group of people – when driven to desperate measures – would probably revolt. There is, however, an important lesson to learn from this story.
It is not enough for a nation to open its borders, if it arrogantly views itself as ‘charitable’ and never reaches out to the desperate refugees. Again, I am not making a statement about whether we should or should not open our borders – I am simply pointing out that to truly help, society must do more than simply accept refugees.
What Are We Doing?
This is where my concern lies: America has accepted refugees. We buy them plane tickets, bring them to America, and give them a few months of support. Yet they never assimilate into our culture. Many Americans have no interest in helping refugees. There are multiple examples.
Consider this example (not of refugees, but still of internationals) – did you realize that hundreds of thousands of international students are in America today, yet 70% will never enter an American household? Their professors will never invite them in. Their fellow students will never care for them in this way. We are all too busy pursing the American dream. That 70% never had the opportunity to learn about American culture in a personal setting. To that 70%, Americans are too busy to care for them.
If 70% of international students never enter an American house, I can guarantee that a far greater percentage of refugees will never enter an American house. Even if they live among us, they will never have the opportunity to be one of us.
A Personal Example
I have seen this problem firsthand. Living in Kansas City (one of the primary entry-points for refugees into America), I’ve toured some of the areas that these people live in. Eating dinner in one small shop owned by immigrants, I noticed the cluster of men sitting in the corner. They eyed me warily as I walked in.
I sat down by the window and ate with my friend. Between slices of exotic meats, he explained in a hushed voice why refugees have such a distorted view of our country. In this community – an extremely conservative Muslim community – immigrants never get to experience the America that we experience every day. Since they are not accepted by us, they form their own communities, isolated from ours. Their only portal to the rest of the country is their televisions – which naturally makes them think that this country is identical with Hollywood. Yes, they really think that most Americans act like Hollywood actors. No wonder that they hesitate to embrace our culture. Maybe it is not surprising that a recent report indicated that Kansas City is ‘known for extremist and radical fundraising.’
To summarize, the Gothic refugee crisis of 376 reveals that it is not enough to simply accept refugees through our borders. Refugees need to be treated with respect and assimilated into our culture, if we are serious about helping them. Whether or not it is a wise political move to accept new refugees is outside the realm of this article. What is certain is that there are already tens of thousands of refugees and immigrants in America that Americans in general, and Christians in particular, need to reach out to.
Question for Consideration: How many of those speaking out for or against immigration have taken this common-sense step of reaching out to the refugees who are already in their communities?