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Alaric I
Alaric I
(/ˈælərɪk/; Gothic: *Alareiks, "ruler of all";[2] Latin: Alaricus; 370 (or 375) – 410 AD) was the first King of the Visigoths
from 395–410, son (or paternal grandson) of chieftain Rothestes.[3] Alaric is best known for his sack of Rome
in 410, which marked a decisive event in the decline of the Roman Empire. Alaric began his career under the Goth soldiers Gainas and later joined the Roman army. Alaric's first appearance was as the leader of a mixed band of Goths
and allied peoples who invaded Thrace
in 391 and were stopped by the half- Vandal
Roman General Stilicho. In 394 he led a Gothic force of 20,000 that helped the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius defeat the Frankish usurper Arbogast at the Battle of Frigidus. Despite sacrificing around 10,000 of his men, Alaric received little recognition from the Emperor. Disappointed, he left the army and was elected reiks of the Visigoths
in 395, and marched toward Constantinople
until he was diverted by Roman forces. He then moved southward into Greece, where he sacked Piraeus
(the port of Athens) and destroyed Corinth, Megara, Argos, and Sparta. As a response, the Eastern emperor Flavius Arcadius
Flavius Arcadius
appointed Alaric magister militum ("master of the soldiers") in Illyricum. In 401 Alaric invaded Italy, but he was defeated by Stilicho
at Pollentia
(modern Pollenza) on April 6, 402. A second invasion that same year also ended in defeat at the Battle of Verona, though Alaric forced the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
to pay a large subsidy to the Visigoths. During Radagaisus' Italian invasion in 406, Alaric remained idle in Illyria. In 408, Western Emperor
Western Emperor
Flavius Honorius
Flavius Honorius
ordered the execution of Stilicho
and his family, amid rumours that the general had made a deal with Alaric. Honorius then incited the Roman population to massacre tens of thousands of wives and children of foederati Goths
serving in the Roman military. Subsequently, around 30,000 Gothic soldiers defected to Alaric, and joined his march on Rome
to avenge their murdered families.[4] Moving swiftly along Roman roads, Alaric sacked the cities of Aquileia and Cremona
and ravaged the lands along the Adriatic Sea. The Visigothic leader thereupon laid siege to Rome
in 408. Eventually, the Senate granted him a substantial subsidy. In addition, Alaric forced the Senate to liberate all 40,000 Gothic slaves in Rome. Honorius, however, refused to appoint Alaric as the commander of the Western Roman Army, and in 409 the Visigoths
again surrounded Rome. Alaric lifted his blockade after proclaiming Attalus Western Emperor. Attalus appointed him magister utriusque militiae ("master of both services") but refused to allow him to send an army into Africa. Negotiations with Honorius broke down, and Alaric deposed Attalus in the summer of 410, and besieged Rome
for the third time. Allies within the capital opened the gates for him on August 24, and for three days his troops sacked the city. Although the Visigoths
plundered Rome, they treated its inhabitants humanely and burned only a few buildings. Having abandoned a plan to occupy Sicily
and North Africa
after the destruction of his fleet in a storm, Alaric died as the Visigoths
were marching northward.


1 Early life 2 In Roman service 3 In Greece 4 First invasion of Italy 5 Second invasion of Italy

5.1 Second siege of Rome 5.2 Third siege of Rome 5.3 Death and funeral

6 Sources 7 See also 8 Notes 9 References 10 External links

Early life[edit]

Portrait of Alaric in C. Strahlheim, Das Welttheater, 4. Band, Frankfurt a.M., 1836

Born on Peuce Island
Peuce Island
at the mouth of the Danube Delta
Danube Delta
in present-day Romania, Alaric belonged to the noble Balti dynasty of the Tervingian Goths. The Goths
suffered setbacks against the Huns, made a mass migration across the Danube, and fought a war with Rome. Alaric was probably a child during this period. In Roman service[edit] During the fourth century, the Roman emperors
Roman emperors
commonly employed foederati: irregular troops under Roman command, but organized by tribal structures. To spare the provincial populations from excessive taxation and to save money, emperors began to employ units recruited from Germanic tribes. The largest of these contingents was that of the Goths, who in 382 (376 in some sources), had been allowed to settle within the imperial boundaries, keeping a large degree of autonomy. In 394 Alaric served as a leader of foederati under Theodosius I
Theodosius I
in the campaign which crushed the usurper Eugenius. As the Battle of the Frigidus, which terminated this campaign, was fought at the passes of the Julian Alps, Alaric probably learned the weakness of Italy's natural defences on its northeastern frontier at the head of the Adriatic Sea.[5] Theodosius died in 395, leaving the Empire to be divided between his two sons Arcadius
and Honorius, the former taking the eastern and the latter the western portion of the Empire.[5] Arcadius
showed little interest in ruling, leaving most of the actual power to his Praetorian Prefect Rufinus. Honorius was still a minor; as his guardian, Theodosius had appointed the magister militum Stilicho. Stilicho
also claimed to be the guardian of Arcadius, causing much rivalry between the western and eastern courts. According to Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, during the shifting of offices that took place at the beginning of the new reigns, Alaric apparently hoped he would be promoted from a mere commander to the rank of general in one of the regular armies. He was denied the promotion, however. Among the Visigoths
settled in Lower Moesia
(now part of Bulgaria and Romania), the situation was ripe for rebellion. They had suffered disproportionately great losses at Frigidus. According to rumour, exposing the Visigoths
in battle was a convenient way of weakening the Gothic tribes. This, combined with their post-battle rewards, prompted them to raise Alaric "on a shield" and proclaim him king; according to Jordanes, a 6th-century Roman bureaucrat of Gothic origin who later turned his hand to history, both the new king and his people decided "rather to seek new kingdoms by their own work, than to slumber in peaceful subjection to the rule of others."[5] In Greece[edit]

Alaric in Athens
by Ludwig Thiersch, 1894

Alaric struck first at the eastern empire. He marched to the neighborhood of Constantinople
but, finding himself unable to undertake a siege, retraced his steps westward and then marched southward through Thessaly
and the unguarded pass of Thermopylae
into Greece.[5] The armies of the eastern empire were occupied with Hunnic incursions in Asia Minor
Asia Minor
and Syria. Instead, Rufinus attempted to negotiate with Alaric in person, which only aroused suspicions in Constantinople
that Rufinius was in league with the Goths. Stilicho
now marched east against Alaric. According to Claudian, Stilicho
was in a position to destroy the Goths
when he was ordered by Arcadius
to leave Illyricum. Soon after, Rufinus' own soldiers hacked him to death. Power in Constantinople
now passed to the eunuch Chamberlain Eutropius. Rufinus' death and Stilicho's departure gave free rein to Alaric's movements; he ravaged Attica
but spared Athens, which capitulated at once to the conqueror. In 396, he wiped out the last remnants of the Mysteries at Eleusis in Attica, ending a tradition of esoteric religious ceremonies that had lasted since the Bronze Age. Then he penetrated into the Peloponnesus
and captured its most famous cities—Corinth, Argos, and Sparta—selling many of their inhabitants into slavery.[5] Here, however, his victorious career suffered a serious setback. In 397 Stilicho
crossed the sea to Greece
and succeeded in trapping the Goths
in the mountains of Pholoe, on the borders of Elis
and Arcadia in the peninsula. From there Alaric escaped with difficulty, and not without some suspicion of connivance by Stilicho, who supposedly had again received orders to depart. Alaric then crossed the Gulf of Corinth
and marched with the plunder of Greece
northward to Epirus.[6] Here his rampage continued until the eastern government appointed him magister militum per Illyricum, giving him the Roman command he had desired, as well as the authority to resupply his men from the imperial arsenals. First invasion of Italy[edit] It was probably in 401 that Alaric made his first invasion of Italy, originally with the intention to petition for a position closer to Rome. Alaric had a fascination for the 'golden age' of Rome
and insisted on his tribesmen calling him 'Alaricus'.[7][8] Supernatural influences were not lacking to urge him to this great enterprise. Some lines of the Roman poet Claudian
inform us that he heard a voice proceeding from a sacred grove, "Break off all delays, Alaric. This very year thou shalt force the Alpine barrier of Italy; thou shalt penetrate to the city." But the prophecy was not to be fulfilled at this time. After spreading desolation through North Italy
and striking terror into the citizens of Rome, Alaric was met by Stilicho
at Pollentia, today in Piedmont. The battle which followed on April 6, 402 (coinciding with Easter), was a victory for Rome, though a costly one. But it effectively halted the Goths' progress.[9] Stilicho's enemies later reproached him for having gained his victory by taking impious advantage of the great Christian festival. Alaric, too, was outwardly a Christian, though an Arian, not Orthodox though he continued to practice the Pagan rituals of his ancestors as well as observing Christian ritual practices. He had trusted to the sanctity of Easter for immunity from attack.[9] Alaric's wife was reportedly taken prisoner after this battle; it is not unreasonable to suppose that he and his troops were hampered by the presence of large numbers of women and children, which gave his invasion of Italy
the character of a human migration.[9] After another defeat before Verona, Alaric left Italy, probably in 403. He had not "penetrated to the city" but his invasion of Italy
had produced important results. It caused the imperial residence to be transferred from Milan
to Ravenna, and necessitated the withdrawal of Legio XX Valeria Victrix
Legio XX Valeria Victrix
from Britain.[9] Second invasion of Italy[edit] Alaric became the friend and ally of his erstwhile opponent, Stilicho. By 407, the estrangement between the eastern and western courts had become so bitter that it threatened civil war. Stilicho
actually proposed using Alaric's troops to enforce Honorius' claim to the prefecture of Illyricum. The death of Arcadius
in May 408 caused milder counsel to prevail in the western court, but Alaric, who had actually entered Epirus, demanded in a somewhat threatening manner that if he were thus suddenly requested to desist from war, he should be paid handsomely for what modern language would call the "expenses of mobilization". The sum which he named was a large one, 4,000 pounds of gold. Under strong pressure from Stilicho, the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
consented to promise its payment.[9] But three months later, Stilicho
and the chief ministers of his party were treacherously slain on Honorius' orders. In the unrest that followed throughout Italy, the wives and children of the foederati were slain.[4] Consequently, these 30,000 men flocked to Alaric's camp, clamouring to be led against their cowardly enemies. He accordingly led them across the Julian Alps
Julian Alps
and, in September 408, stood before the walls of Rome
(now with no capable general like Stilicho
as a defender) and began a strict blockade.[9] No blood was shed this time; Alaric relied on hunger as his most powerful weapon. When the ambassadors of the Senate, entreating for peace, tried to intimidate him with hints of what the despairing citizens might accomplish, he laughed and gave his celebrated answer: "The thicker the hay, the easier mowed!" After much bargaining, the famine-stricken citizens agreed to pay a ransom of 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 hides dyed scarlet, and 3,000 pounds of pepper.[10] Along came 40,000 freed Gothic slaves. Thus ended Alaric's first siege of Rome.[9] Second siege of Rome[edit]

The Sack of Rome
by the Visigoths
on 24 August 410 by J-N Sylvestre (1890)

Throughout his career, Alaric's primary goal was not to undermine the Empire, but to secure for himself a regular and recognized position within the Empire's borders. His demands were certainly grand: the concession of a block of territory 200 miles long by 150 wide between the Danube
and the Gulf of Venice
(to be held probably on some terms of nominal dependence on the Empire) and the title of commander-in-chief of the Imperial Army. Immense as his terms were, the emperor would have been well advised to grant them. Honorius, however, refused to see beyond his own safety, guaranteed by the dikes and marshes of Ravenna. As all attempts to conduct a satisfactory negotiation with this emperor failed, Alaric, after instituting a second siege and blockade of Rome
in 409, came to terms with the Senate. With their consent, he set up a rival emperor, the prefect of the city, a Greek named Priscus Attalus.[9] Third siege of Rome[edit] Main article: Sack of Rome
(410) Alaric cashiered his ineffectual puppet emperor after eleven months and again tried to reopen negotiations with Honorius. These negotiations might have succeeded had it not been for the influence of another Goth, Sarus, an Amali, and therefore hereditary enemy of Alaric and his house. Alaric, again outwitted by an enemy's machinations, marched southward, and began his third siege of Rome. Apparently, defence was impossible; there are hints, not well substantiated, of treachery; surprise is a more likely explanation. However, this may be—for our information at this point of the story is meagre—on August 24, 410, Alaric and his Visigoths
burst in by the Porta Salaria
Porta Salaria
on the northeast of the city. Rome, for so long victorious against its enemies, was now at the mercy of its foreign conquerors.[9] The contemporary ecclesiastics recorded with wonder many instances of the Visigoths' clemency: Christian churches saved from ravage; protection granted to vast multitudes both of pagans and Christians who took refuge therein; vessels of gold and silver which were found in a private dwelling, spared because they "belonged to St. Peter"; at least one case in which a beautiful Roman matron appealed, not in vain, to the better feelings of the Gothic soldier who attempted her dishonor. But even these exceptional instances show that Rome
was not entirely spared the horrors which usually accompany the storming of a besieged city. Nonetheless, the written sources do not mention damages wrought by fire, save the Gardens of Sallust, which were situated close to the gate by which the Goths
had made their entrance; nor is there any reason to attribute any extensive destruction of the buildings of the city to Alaric and his followers.[9] The Basilica Aemilia in the Roman Forum
Roman Forum
did burn down, which perhaps can be attributed to Alaric: the archaeological evidence was provided by coins dating from 410 found melted in the floor. The pagan emperors' tombs of the Mausoleum of Augustus
Mausoleum of Augustus
and Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo
were rifled and the ashes scattered.[citation needed] Death and funeral[edit]

The burial of Alaric in the bed of the Busento
River. 1895 wood engraving.

Alaric, having penetrated the city, marched southwards into Calabria. He desired to invade Africa, which, thanks to its grain, had become the key to holding Italy. But a storm battered his ships into pieces and many of his soldiers drowned. Alaric died soon after in Cosenza, probably of fever,[11] and his body was, according to legend, buried under the riverbed of the Busento
in accordance with the pagan practices of the Visigothic people. The stream was temporarily turned aside from its course while the grave was dug wherein the Gothic chief and some of his most precious spoils were interred. When the work was finished, the river was turned back into its usual channel and the captives by whose hands the labor had been accomplished were put to death that none might learn their secret.[12] Alaric was succeeded in the command of the Gothic army by his brother-in-law, Ataulf,[13] who married Honorius' sister Galla Placidia three years later. Sources[edit] The chief authorities on the career of Alaric are: the historian Orosius and the poet Claudian, both contemporary, neither disinterested; Zosimus, a historian who lived probably about half a century after Alaric's death; and Jordanes, a Goth who wrote the history of his nation in 551, basing his work on Cassiodorus's Gothic History. The legend of Alaric's burial in the Buzita River comes from Jordanes. See also[edit]

Alaric II


^ Wolfram, Herwig (1997). The Roman Empire
Roman Empire
and Its Germanic Peoples. University of California Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-520-08511-6.  ^ Kelsie B. Harder, Names and their varieties: a collection of essays in onomastics, American Name Society, University Press of America, 1984, pp. 10-11 ^ Settipani, Christian (1993). La Préhistoire des Capétiens, 481-987, Première Partie. Villeneuve d'Ascq. p. Tableau 1.  ^ a b Heather, Peter (2006). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History. Pan Books. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-330-49136-5.  ^ a b c d e Hodgkin 1911, p. 470. ^ Hodgkin 1911, pp. 470-471. ^ Bayless, William N. (1976). "The Visigothic Invasion of Italy
in 401". The Classical Journal. 72 (1): 65–67. JSTOR 3296883.  ^ Brion, Marcel (1930). Alaric the Goth. R. M. McBride & Co.  ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hodgkin 1911, p. 471. ^ J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Early Centuries, 134 ^ Erik Durschmied, From Armageddon to the Fall of Rome, p. 401, ch. 17, 2002, London: Coronet. ^ Hodgkin 1911, pp. 471-472. ^ Hodgkin 1911, p. 472.


Henry Bradley, The Goths: from the Earliest Times to the End of the Gothic Dominion in Spain, chapter 10. Second edition, 1883, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Hodgkin, Thomas (1911). "Alaric". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 470–472.  Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome
and the Barbarians, Oxford University Press (2006)pg.151 Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire: AD 354-378 Book XXXI Kulikowski, Michael (2006). Rome's Gothic Wars: From the Third Century to Alaric. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 1139458094. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 

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Alaric I Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 30 and Chapter 31. The Legend of Alaric's Burial For a modern-day novel exploring the historical sources relating to Alaric's riverbed grave see Alaric's Gold by Robert Fortune

King Alaric I
Alaric I
of the Visigoths Balti dynasty Born: 370 Died: 410

Regnal titles

Vacant Title last held by Athanaric King of the Visigoths 395–410 Succeeded by Ataulf

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 35265767 LCCN: n92059169 ISNI: 0000 0001 2146 2974 GND: 1194036