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Alaric the Visigoth

Civilization:Norse: Visigoth
Era: German Migrations
370–410Field of Renown:chieftain: Visogoths
Alaric in Athens
 Alaric receiving the presents of the Athenians

Alaric the Visigoth was the first, but was by no means the worst, of the barbarian chieftains that overran Rome in the fifth century A.D. He was a Gothic prince, born into a tribe that had settled south of the Danube in Roman territory, with the understanding that they would help protect the border, and would provide troops when needed to fight in alliance with the Roman legions. Alaric's first campaign in Italy was in 394 A.D., while serving with the Visigoth army, under Emperor Theodosius. The experience opened Alaric's eyes to the weaknesses of the imperial defenses, and soon after he was declared King of the Visigoths.

Upon gaining command of the Visigoths, Alaric immediately overran Greece. The eastern emperor was too weak to resist him alone, and called upon Stilicho, the general in charge of the Western Empire, to aid him in driving out the Visigoths. Within a year Stilicho had driven Alaric and his followers into the Balkan Mountains, but Alaric escaped. A few years later, due to some complicated intrigues, the eastern emperor elevated his former enemy to master general of Illyricum, a region north of Greece and just across the Adriatic from Italy. It had long been imperial policy to use barbarian forces within their legions, or alongside their legions, but the idea of giving actual command of a strategically important area to an enemy barbarian chieftain, was foolish in the extreme. Soon after gaining the command Alaric used Illyricum as a launching point for an invasion of Italy. He was repulsed by Stilicho, but was not driven completely out of Italy until 403.

During this time there were innumerable intrigues and jealousies between the east and west. Both Honorius in the west, and Arcadius in the east were jealous of Stilicho's influence, and sought to undermine, rather then aid him in his wars against the barbarians. Eventually, Stilicho negotiated a permanent peace with Alaric, which required an outlay of 4000 pounds of gold. The Senate agreed to these terms, but the enemies of Stilicho accused him of treason, and had him executed in 408. Stilicho had been the one man who could stand up to the Visigoths, and when Alaric again marched on Italy, there was no one to resist him. His first blockade of Rome ended when the citizen's agreed to pay 2000 pounds in gold. Alaric retreated but continued negotiations with Honorius, who had moved his court to Ravenna. He hoped for some permanent recognition within the empire of his position, and some territory for his tribe. Honorius, however, was too weak-minded to deal firmly or fairly with him, so as no agreement could be reached, he besieged Rome again. He made terms with the Senate and withdrew a second time, but when these arrangement too broke down, he fell upon Rome for the third time, and this time, on August 34, 410 A.D., entered the city itself. It was the first time in 900 years that an enemy army had entered the Rome. The Visigoths showed considerable restraint in taking the city. Much damage was done, but the Goths professed to be Christians and spared not only the churches, but allowed many of the citizens to take refuge. Eventually they withdrew and prepared to cross over into Africa, but before they could secure a passage Alaric died suddenly of a fever. He was buried along with many of his most precious spoils in the bottom of a river bed.

After the death of Alaric, a Visigoth Kingdom was formed in southern Gaul, where they established their capital at Toulouse. During the fifth century, the Visigoth kingdom expanded to include much of Hispania, and declared after the collapse of the Western Empire. They were eventually defeated by the German Franks and driven out of Gaul, but Hispania remained in Visigoth control until it was overrun by the Saracens in 711.


Key events during the life of Alaric

Year Event
370 Born into a tribe of Goths that had settled south of the Danube, in Roman territory.
394 Served with the German troops that campaigned with Theodosius against Eugenius in Italy.
395 Death of emperor Theodosius; troops composed of Goths and rebels chose Alaric as their leader.
396 Alaric's Goths ravaged Greece.
397 Driven into the mountains by Stilicho, but escaped.
400 Due to some intrigues, Eastern Emperor made Alaric master general of Illyricum.
401 Invaded Italy, but driven back by Stilicho the following year.
403 After another defeat at Verona, Alaric and his Gothic hordes left Italy.
  Honorius moved court from Rome to Ravenna, recalled legions from Britain; Germans invaded Gaul.
407 Stilicho negotiated a permanent peace with Alaric.
408 Stilicho was assassinated for treason; Alaric besieged Rome, but was bribed to go away.
409 Alaric blockaded Rome for a second time, but again drew back.
410 After negotiations with Stilicho failed, Alaric invaded Rome, but spared churches and citizens.
410 Alaric died and was buried with rich spoils in the bed of a river.

 

Story LinksBook Links
Alaric the Goth  in  Stories from German History  by  Aston
Barbarians Invade the Roman Empire  in  Story of Europe  by  Marshall
Three Deadly Blows  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Church
Sieges of Rome  in  Story of the Romans  by  Guerber
Alaric the Visigoth in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  Haaren
Wanderings of the West-Goths  in  Story of the Middle Ages  by  Harding
Alaric the Bold  in  Soldiers and Sailors  by  Horne
Alaric the Goth  in  Barbarian and Noble  by  Lansing
Downfall of Rome  in  Historical Tales: 11—Roman  by  Morris
Armies of the North  in  Discovery of New Worlds  by  Synge
Alaric the Visogoth Besieges Rome  in  European Hero Stories  by  Tappan

Image Links
Alaric at Athens  in Famous Men of the Middle Ages The burial of Alaric in the bed of the river Busento at midnight in Famous Men of the Middle Ages Alaric Receiving the Presents of the Athenians  in Greatest Nations: Greece
The Burial of Alaric  in Greatest Nations: Rome Alaric in Athens  in Soldiers and Sailors Alaric the Goth in Barbarian and Noble
Alaric in Rome in Barbarian and Noble Alaric's Burial in Barbarian and Noble Alaric at Athens  in European Hero Stories


Contemporary Short Biography
Theodosius Emperor excommunicated by Ambrose for massacre of civilians at Thessalonia.
Stilicho Roman general who fought off the Visigoths before they overran Rome. Murdered by Emperor Honorius.
Honorius Western Emperor during the Visigoth raids of Alaric. Moved capital to Ravenna. Murdered Stilicho.
Arcadius Eastern emperor; appointed Alaric general of Illyricum after he invaded Greece.
Claudian A poet who recorded the history of the lives of Stilicho and Alaric.