Alaric the Goth

Alaric the Goth

(c. 370-410)

Alaric, the warlord who captured Rome was born on the island of Peuce, at the mouth of the Danube River in present-day Romania. In A.D. 390, he led a group of Visigothic tribespeople south against the Eastern Roman Empire, centered at Constantinople. Alaric’s advance was stopped by Roman troops under the command of Flavius Stilicho, who was from the Vandal tribe.

Alaric attacked Greece in A.D. 395. His Gothic soldiers ravaged the major cities and destroyed the Temple of Demeter. Only bribes offered by the Eastern Roman emperor placated Alaric, who then withdrew. The emperor gave Alaric the title of magister mili- tum (master of the soldiers) and allowed him to control Illyricum in what later became Yugoslavia.

The latter gift was a mistake, since Alaric soon used Illyricum as a base from which to harass the Western Roman Empire, centered in Rome. Alaric invaded Italy in A.D. 401 and again in A.D. 402-403. Both times he was repulsed by Stilicho who forced him to retreat to Illyricum.

Stilicho was murdered in A.D. 408. Lacking his skillful leadership, Rome and Italy lay open to future invasions. Alaric invaded Italy again and twice laid siege to Rome itself. Both times, he accepted tribute payments from the city and withdrew his troops, although he forced the Romans to elect a puppet emperor who then named Alaric commander-in-chief of the Roman forces. This confusing situation was typical of the Roman Empire during its last 50 years as Romans and barbarians com¬ mingled throughout the empire.

In A.D. 410, the Roman emperor sanc¬ tioned a surprise attack on Alaric’s camp. Furious by this betrayal, Alaric moved on Rome and commenced his third siege of the Eternal City. After three weeks of inconclu¬ sive fighting, treachery delivered the city to Alaric. The Salarian Gate was opened, and the

Goths poured into the city, ravaging the buildings and monuments for three days. When news of this attack spread to other parts of the empire, many people were stunned. Rome, which had held itself in power and grandeur, had not been taken for more than 800 years, since the Gauls had done so in 390 B.C.

Alaric marched south from Rome. He wanted to move his tribe to North Africa, but his fleet was driven back to port by a major storm. He died suddenly, just months after the assault on Rome, and was buried at a secret location on the Busento River in south¬ ern Italy. His men killed the slaves who had buried him so that no one would find and desecrate the grave.