Thursday, November 24, 2011

Alaric I (370-410), The Barbarian King Who Sacked Rome

Alaric I, king of Visigoth

Alaric in Athens by Ludwig Thiersch, 1894

Sack of Rome by Alaric

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

Captioned as "The burial of Alaric in the bed of the Busentinus". Drawing of Alaric I being buried in the bed of the Busento River. Lithograph published in 1895

Alaric I (Gothic: Alareiks; 370 - 410) was the King of the Visigoths from 395–410, whose sack of Rome in 410 marked a decisive event in the decline of the Roman Empire.

Alaric was born the son of a nobleman about a.d. 370 on Peuce Island, an island in the delta of the Danube River now in Romania. Although it is unknown exactly when he became the leader of the Visigothic tribe, for some time he served as the chief of Gothic forces serving in the Roman army. In 394, it was first noted that he was named as a military leader of the foederati (Visigoth regular troops), and in this capacity he fought for the emperor Theodosius I in crushing the forces of Eugenius, a usurper to the Roman throne, at the battle of the Frigidus (394). However, following the death of Theodosius in 395, Alaric left the service of Rome and shortly thereafter was named as head of the Visigoths. Almost immediately, Alaric turned on his old employer. Charging that Rome had failed to pay the Goths for serving the emperor, he decided to exact tribute by capturing Roman property and marched with the Visigothic army toward Constantinople, then the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. When Roman forces in that city seemed ready to overwhelm him, he turned south, marching into Greece, sacking the Piraeus at Athens, and striking the cities of Argos, Megara, and the former capital of Sparta. In 396, however, Flavius Stilicho, a Roman general, succeeded in trapping Alaric’s force in Greece, though Alaric himself escaped. In a surprising turn of fortune, Alaric regained power when the Eastern Roman emperor Arcadius, probably fearful of the growing influence of the Western Empire based in Rome, made him governor of Illyria (part of today’s Yugoslavia), and named him magister militum (master of soldiers).

After gathering troops and weapons, Alaric turned his army west and invaded Italy, where he was again met and defeated by the Roman general Stilicho at Pollentia (now Pollenza, Italy) on 6 April 402. Alaric subsequently attempted a second invasion of Italy but again met with defeat. It was not until after Flavius Stilicho was murdered in 408 and many Roman troops defected to Alaric’s side that the tide turned. By this time tired of warfare, Alaric offered peace to the Western Roman emperor Flavius Honorius, but the emperor refused, and in 408 Alaric marched on Rome. This time he could not be stopped, and he laid siege to the city until the Roman Senate agreed to his request for land and tribute. However, Honorius held his position, and in 409 Alaric again invaded Italy and surrounded Rome. When Honorius again refused to meet his demands, Alaric named Attalus, a Roman noble, as the western emperor, in exchange for which Attalus appointed Alaric as magister utriusque militum (literally, “master of both services”). However, when Attalus refused to let Alaric move his army into Africa, Alaric again besieged Rome, deposing Attalus, whose enemies opened Rome’s gates to him. When Alaric marched in on 24 August 410, he became the first foreign military leader to occupy that city in over 800 years.

Alaric was now free to march into Africa, whose corn both Rome and Alaric badly needed, but he was seriously ill. The Visigoths left Rome and marched north through Italy, and he died at Cosentia, Bruttium (modern-day Cosenza, Italy). He was buried by his comrades, but his grave is now lost.

Sources on the life of Alaric are scant; the chief authorities for any information are the historians Orosius and the poet Claudian, whose contemporary works have been studied thoroughly. Jordanes, a Visigothic historian who lived in the a.d. sixth century, wrote a history of the Visigoths and included information on Alaric not seen in other publications.

Sources :
Book "World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary" by Mark Grossman

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