Ardaric (also known as Arcadius or Aldigar; died around AD 460) was the king of the Gepids, a Germanic tribe closely related to the Goths. He was "famed for his loyalty and wisdom", one of the most trusted adherents of Attila the Hun, who "prized him above all the other chieftains." After Attila's death, Ardaric led the rebellion against Attila's sons and routed them in the Battle of Nedao, thus ending the Huns' dominance in Eastern Europe.
Background: the Gepids
Nothing is known of Ardaric’s early life. Presumably he was a member of the nobility among the Gepids. The Gepids were an East Germanic tribe that first appears in historical record in the sixth century in Jordanes’s Origins and Deeds of the Goths. They first settled along the Vistula River between the first and third centuries A.D. In the fourth century they moved closer to the Eastern Roman Empire, and converted to Arian Christianity, as did their neighbours the Goths. This southward shift is demonstrated by archaeology; Gepids buried their dead with swords, spears, or shields, which their Gothic neighbours did not.
Gepidic society was divided by wealth. From burial grounds found scattered throughout the Carpathian Basin and Hungarian Plain, archaeologists can divide Gepidic sites into two distinct groups. Large burial grounds indicate villages of common people with no significant wealth, and small burial grounds of larger houses which often have weapons, jewelry, and religious icons, wealth far greater than the goods found in the mass gravesites of the larger and poorer villages.
Attila had unified the Eastern European tribes outside the Roman Empire’s border and attacked the Western Roman Empire, in AD 451 facing a coalition put together by Flavius Aëtius in northern Gaul. Ardaric is first mentioned by Jordanes as Attila's most prized vassal at the battle of the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. "The renowned king of the Gepidae, Ardaric, was there also with a countless host, and because of his great loyalty to Attila, he shared his plans. For Attila, comparing them in his wisdom, prized him and Valamir, king of the Ostrogoths, above all the other chieftains."
The battle ended with the retreat of Attila's forces. However, the Gepids and Ardaric still remained loyal to their Hunnish overlord. When Attila made another attempt to penetrate Italy, he and his armies were successful in capturing Aquileia, Pavia, and Milan. But disease struck the Hun forces, forcing Attila to retreat once again back to the Hungarian Plain. Here Attila died in AD 453.
After Attila’s burial, his eldest son Ellak rose to power. Supported by Attila’s chief lieutenant, Onegesius, he wanted to assert the absolute control with which Attila had ruled. However, Attila’s other two sons, Dengizik and Ernak, objected to the idea of their brother being the sole ruler. They claimed kingship over smaller subject tribes. In AD 454, Ardaric led his Gepid and Ostrogothic forces against Attila’s son Ellak and his Hunnish army. The Battle of Nedao was a bloody but decisive victory for Ardaric, in which Ellak was killed.
Jordanes' account of the Battle of Nedao
When Ardaric, king of the Gepidae, learned this [about the strife between Attila's sons], he became enraged because so many nations were being treated like slaves of the basest condition, and was the first to rise against the sons of Attila. Good fortune attended him, and he effaced the disgrace of servitude that rested upon him. For by his revolt he freed not only his own tribe, but all the others who were equally oppressed; since all readily strive for that which is sought for the general advantage. They took up arms against the destruction that menaced all and joined battle with the Huns in Pannonia, near a river called Nedao.
There an encounter took place between the various nations Attila had held under his sway. Kingdoms with their peoples were divided, and out of one body were made many members not responding to a common impulse. Being deprived of their head, they madly strove against each other. They never found their equals ranged against them without harming each other by wounds mutually given. And so the bravest nations tore themselves to pieces. For then, I think, must have occurred a most remarkable spectacle, where one might see the Goths fighting with pikes, the Gepidae raging with the sword, the Rugi breaking off the spears in their own wounds, the Suavi fighting on foot, the Huns with bows, the Alani drawing up a battle-line of heavy-armed and the Heruli of light-armed warriors.
The cause of Ardaric, king of the Gepidae, was fortunate for the various nations who were unwillingly subject to the rule of the Huns, for it raised their long downcast spirits to the glad hope of freedom... Finally, after many bitter conflicts, victory fell unexpectedly to the Gepidae. For the sword and conspiracy of Ardaric destroyed almost thirty thousand men, Huns as well as those of the other nations who brought them aid.
Aftermath of the battle
"But the Gepidae by their own might won for themselves the territory of the Huns and ruled as victors over the extent of all Dacia, demanding of the Roman Empire nothing more than peace and an annual gift as a pledge of their friendly alliance. This the Emperor freely granted at the time, and to this day that race receives its customary gifts from the Roman Emperor."
Nothing is known about Ardaric after the battle of the Nedao. He may have died shortly afterwards.
Ardaric’s most immediate achievement was the establishment of his people in Dacia. His defeat of the Huns at the River Nedao not only banished and dispersed the Huns, but cut the thread that strung the Eastern European tribes together. With the divisions between these formerly federated tribes, the Eastern Roman Empire had less fear of barbarian invasion. While the Western Roman Empire lay in ruins after AD 476, the Eastern Roman Empire was allowed to continue on for almost one thousand years.
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