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In 253, Valerian (b. c. 193) became emperor, and soon his son Gallienus (c. 218–c. 268) joined him as co-ruler. The father took charge of military actions in the east, while the son focused on the west. Valerian had trouble battling the empires to the east; he was captured some time around 260, leaving Gallienus as the sole emperor. Gallienus then relied on the Roman client state of Palmyra to protect Roman interests in Asia Minor and the Middle East. Still, the Goths won major victories in that part of the empire.

One of the major tribes was the Vandals, who eventually settled in the Iberian peninsula. The next year, the western empire lost control of Britain, as a commander named Constantine (d. 411) declared himself emperor (he was not related to Constantine the Great). He eventually took control of part of France and Spain, but was captured by Honorius’s troops and executed. In 408, Roman officials convinced Emperor Honorius that Stilicho was trying to harm the empire, and Honorius ordered his execution.

As part of his plan to reunite the empire, Stilicho killed Rufinus. But before he could begin a direct military attack on the east, Stilicho had to combat Germanic tribes, first in the Alps, and then in the Italian peninsula. In 402, the Visigoth general Alaric (c. 370–410) led an invading force into the Italian peninsula. Stilicho drove off the Visigoths, but they returned the next year. In the heartland of the old Roman Empire, two German generals fought each other, using mostly German soldiers.

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