Athanaric or Atanaric (Gothic: Aþanareiks presumably from aþni "year" and reiks "king"; Latin: Athanaricus; died 381) was king of several branches of the Thervingian Goths for at least two decades in the 4th century. Athanaric made his first appearance in recorded history in 369, when he engaged in battle with the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens and ultimately negotiated a favorable peace for his people. During his reign, many Thervings had converted to Arian Christianity, which Athanaric vehemently opposed, fearing that Christianity would destroy Gothic culture. According to the report of Sozomenos, more than 300 Christians were killed in Athanaric's persecution during the 370s.
Fritigern, Athanaric's rival, was an Arian and had the favor of Valens, who shared his religious beliefs. In the early 370s, Athanaric successively fought Fritigern in a civil war, only to later be defeated by the invading Huns. Temporarily fleeing to Caucaland in the Carpathians, Athanaric was warmly received by Theodosius in Constantinople in 381, where he signed a treaty of friendship with the Eastern Roman Empire.
According to Socrates, Fritigern and Athanaric were rival leaders of the (Therving) Goths. As this rivalry grew into warfare, Athanaric gained the advantage, and Fritigern asked for Roman aid. The Emperor Valens and the Thracian field army intervened, Valens and Fritigern defeated Athanaric, and Fritigern converted to Christianity, following the same teachings as Valens followed. Sozomen follows Socrates' account.
According to Zosimus, Athanaric (Athomaricus) was the king of the Goths (Scythians). Sometime after their victory at Adrianople, and after the accession of Theodosius, Fritigern, Alatheus, and Saphrax moved north of the Danube and defeated Athanaric, before returning south of the Danube.
In 376, Valens permitted Fritigern's people to cross the Danube River and settle on Roman soil to avoid the Huns, who had recently conquered the Greuthungs and were now pressing the Thervings then living in Dacia. Athanaric's people were left to their fate, but many of them found their own way across the river, as well. In 381, Athanaric unexpectedly came to the East Roman capital of Constantinople. According to Jordanes, he negotiated a peace with the new emperor, Theodosius I, that made some Thervings foederati, or official allies of Rome allowed to settle on Roman soil as a state within a state. Orosius (Historiae adversum paganos 7, 34) and Zosimus (New History 4, 34, 3-5) affirm this, but another source, Ammianus Marcellinus (Res gestae 27, 5, 10) tells us an entirely different story. According to him, Athanaric was banished by his fellow tribesmen and forced to seek asylum on the Roman territory. Cf. Themistius (oratio 15, 190-1), who likewise describes Athanaric as a supplicant and a refugee. Clearly, Athanaric was by then no authority to negotiate with; he was welcomed by Theodosius in Constantinople only because the Emperor wished to make a lasting impression on the Tervingi, who were still fighting the Romans. A few weeks later, Athanaric died. A peace and a treaty with those Tervingi (or Visigoths), who still fought the Romans in Thrace, was concluded in 382 and it lasted until Theodosius' death in 395.
- Maurizio Lupoi (18 January 2007). The Origins of the European Legal Order. Cambridge University Press. pp. 47–. ISBN 978-0-521-03295-7. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
- History of the Goths. University California Press. 13 February 1990. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
- Socrates Scholasticus, Church History, book 4, chapter 33.
- Sozomen, Church History, book 6, chapter 37.
- Zosimus, Historia Nova, book 4.
- Jordanes, Getica 142-145.
- Hydatius, Chronicon 39, 3; Prosper Tiro, Chronicon 41, 4; Fasti consulares, s. a. 381.