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Warrior Kings: Alaric the Visigoth

Jule Romans has over 30 years of experience researching and writing on educational topics. She presently works in State Government.

King Alaric, Visigoth and conqueror of Rome

King Alaric, Visigoth and conqueror of Rome

The Visigoths

King Alaric was a Visigoth, born in 370 AD. The Visigoth story begins in the area north of the Danube river, the country that is now known as Romania. During the 4th century, this land was ruled by the Roman Emperor Valens.

In 369, Athnaric, then chief of the Goths, met Emperor Valens in the middle of the Danube River to negotiate a treaty of peace. Under another chief, Fritigern, the Goths continued to do violence, succeeding in the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The Goths and the Huns were also perpetually at war, with varying results. The Huns were victorious when they could drive the Goths back up into the mountains in 379.

Eventually, the Goths became weary of fighting the Huns and decided to look for a new home. The request was formally made to the Roman Emperor to settle in the land south of the Danube river. The Goths pledged to fight for Rome in any battles necessary. The Emperor granted the request, and the agreement was sealed. That is how these Goths became known as the Western Goths, or Visigoths.

It was into this arena of alternating violence, peace, and confusion that Alaric was born in 370 AD.

King Alaric, the Visigoth

The Visigoth tribe became well settled in the area of land that is now known as Bulgaria. In time the Visigoths became a powerful nation in their own right. In 395, the Visigoths chose Alaric to be their king.

Alaric was a successful chief, brave soldier, great man, and excellent leader. Even as a young man, Alaric had been a committed warrior. At sixteen years old, he fought as enthusiastically as a grown man, with victorious results.

King Alaric’s Dream

One night, early on in his rulership, Alaric had a dream. In the dream, Alaric was leading a procession through the streets of Rome, while all the citizens hailed him as emperor. Alaric became obsessed with this vision. Soon, he decided to try to make the vision a reality.

Alaric gathered his chiefs and held a discussion. His chieftains were ready to fight. They were experienced warriors who enjoyed battle, and they gave Alaric their full support. For warriors, battle was life, and the prospect of rich rewards came with the spoils of conquering and claiming property. By the end of the 4th century, they were on their way.

Alaric Moves Toward Rome

The process of taking Rome would be a long one. From 396 to 408, the Visigoths moved in a warlike fashion

First, The Visgoths raised a great army and marched through Trhace and Macedonia to reach Athens. The city of Athens surrendered quickly, because they had very little protection from violence. Alaric and the Visigoths plundered the city of Athens.

After Athens, they proceeded to the state of Elis, where they were besieged by a famous Roman general names Stilicho. Alaric somehow managed to press on through the resistance, and escaped.

He and his troops then marched to Epirus, an eastern province of Greece near the Ionian Sea. Diplomacy became a part of the warlike process, and Emperor Arcadius Named Alaric Governor of the district as well as a great deal of land nearby. The entire territory became know as Eastern Illyricum, and Alaric was a major leader of this part of the Eastern Empire.

This long process was all in the plan for gaining eventual control of the Roman Empire.

Alaric Rules Eastern and Western Ilyricum

Alaric’s next move was to set out for a direct attack on Rome, which was by then the capital of the entire Western Empire. Rome’s Emperor of the West, Honorius, was terrified. Honorius fled to a fortress in the ountains of northern Italy, leaving General Stilicho to face Alaric’s onslaught. Surprisingly, Alaric was defeated, and Stilicho emerged victorious. Thus, Alaric was stopped near Verona.

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Even after this defeat, Honorius remained intimidated by the Visigoths. Honorius made Alaric the ruler of Western Illyricum, including a sizable annual income. This might have been enough for Alaric. However, Honrius did not keep all the promises of the appointment, and the Visigoths prepared to attack again.

Alaric at Athens

Alaric at Athens

Alaric’s Siege of Rome

In the year 408. Alaric began a siege on Rome. The emperor left is generals in charge, and fled to Ravenna. According to Edward Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Alric demanded all the gold and silver in the city.

The ministers of the senate presumed to ask, in modest and suppliant tone, "If such, O king! are your demands, what do you intend to leave us?" "Your lives," replied the haughty conqueror...they trembled and retired.

In the end, as ransom, Rome paid 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.

Unfortunately, Honorius refused to sign the treaty, and Alric again demanded that the city surrender. The frightened people opened their gates. They allowed Alaric to choose a new emperor in place of Honorius. This emperor was terrible, and Alaric planned to restore Honorius. But Honorius had other plans.Honorius made allegiance with another barbarian chief, who then made an attack on Alaric. This attack was unsuccessful.

This began Alaric’s third and ultimate siege on Rome in 410 AD.

Alaric Takes Rome

In 410 AD, Alric’s vision of grandeur became a reality. The city of Rome was taken. Alaric led a grand procession through the streets. Then came the destruction. Visigoths ran in gangs throughout the streets and properties. They destroyed homes, seized valuables, and overwhelmed public buildings. On Alaric’s orders all Christian churches were spared. Every other treasured building was pillaged, stripped of all riches, and carried away by the marauders. Even the public treasury was depleted of its gold and silver reserves.

In the midst of the turmoil, Alaric dressed in gorgeous heavy robes and sat upon the throne. He wore a golden crown on his head. While he did so, the roman citizens were forced to kneel down and shout his name as conqueror. Thousands of people became Alaric’s subjects for a short time. Then, Alaric orderd the theaters, circuses, and gladiator arenas to open, with required performances for the amusement of the conquerors. This went on for six full days. At the end of six days, Alaric took his army and marched out through the gates, carrying away all the riches.

Woodcarving of the Burial of Alaric

Woodcarving of the Burial of Alaric

The Death of Alaric

Alaric and his troops marched toward Sicily, with an intent to conquer that city as well. On the way to Sicily, Alaric died.

He is said to have felt his death was coming, and ordered preparations for his own burial. It was a dramatic and laborious affair. Alaric ordered his men to bury him in the bed of the Busento River, placing with his body the richest of the treasures he had taken from Rome.

First, a huge phalanx of roma slaves were set upon the task of digging a channel. This channel turned the river into a different path, filling the channel. Alaric’s grave was created in the bed of the river. When Alaric had passed away, his body was placed in the bed of the river, and closed up. The river was then turned back into its natural flow. The poor slaves who had completed the work were put to death by the Visigoths—and the chiefs carried on.

The Burial of Alaric on the River Busento

The Burial of Alaric on the River Busento

Sources

  • Alaric the Goth Insults the Roman Senators. (12 December, 2006). Sedulia’s Quotations. <sedulia.blogs.com/sedulias_quotations>.
  • Editors. (1 January 2021). Alaric, Leader of Visigoths. Britannica. <britannica.com/biography/Alaric>.
  • Haaren, John and Poland, A.B. (1904). Famous Men of the Middle Ages. American Book Company.
  • Visigoth Timeline. (2020). World History Encyclopedia. <ancient.eu/timeline/Visigoth>.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jule Romans

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