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Emperor Honorius, known for his weak character and for being often influenced by court officials.

Alaric was born among the Visigoths, a Germanic people who had migrated towards the  borders of the Roman Empire, and in particular, was a member of the Tervingi tribe, the same tribe that had defeated the imperial armies at Adrianople (378 AD). Born in modern day Romania, Alaric was part of the noble Balti dynasty. In the year 382, the Goths had been permitted to stay inside the Roman borders by Emperor Theodosius, however, they had to fight for the Romans as Foederati (allies). 

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Emperor Theodosius, father of Honorius and Arcadius.

As a result of this, Alaric lived in a world where the concept of “Romanity” was loved by the “Barbarian” tribes, as they admired the beauty and power that Rome represented and, as a result, wanted to be part of the Roman political machine. Alaric therefore began his military career as a commander of the gothic forces serving the Romans. In 394 Alaric brought with him a force of 20,000 gothic warriors to the Battle of Frigidus. He fought heroically for Emperor Theodosius against the usurper Eugenius, with 10.000 of his men dying during the fighting. There is even a rumor (which has some grounding) that Theodosius and his favorite general Flavius Stilicho may have put the Goths in the first line in order for them to absorbe the enemy charge completely, minimizing Roman casualties. When Emperor Theodosius died in 395 AD, the empire was divided between his two less than able sons, Arcadius and Honorius. Honorius took the western half while Arcadius, supported by his able and ruthless Praetorian Prefect Rufinus, took control of the east. After being elected king of the Visigoths, Alaric descended towards Greece in order to plunder it. After ravaging Attica and the Peloponnese, Alaric was surprised by the forces of the Magister Militum Stilicho.

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Magister Militum Flavius Stilicho with his wife and son. The General was executed by order of emperor Honorius because of the intrigues of court eunuc Olympius.

Stilicho trapped Alaric’s forces on the mountains of Pholoe, with the Visigoths barely escaping. Afterwards, Aleric was named Magister Militum per Illyricum by Arcadius. With this title, Alaric obtained the royal position he had always wanted. Twice Alaric campaigned into Italy in order to  obtaining a powerful imperial military rank. During the first incursion, Alaric was defeated by Stilicho and his forces at Pollentia and Verona. By the time of the second invasion however, Stilicho had been slain by Emperor Honorius for having too much power. The emperor Honorius thenfled towards the fortified city of Ravenna and stayed there while Alaric’s troops ravaged Italy and marched to Rome by the Flaminian way. Three times he besieged Rome, blackmailing the Roman Senate, and on the 24th of August 410 AD, the Goths entered the city through the Salarian Gate, most likely with help from someone within the city walls. 

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Salarian Gate before it was demolished in 1921.

Alaric’s men sacked the city for three days and even captured the emperor’s sister, Galla Placidia. The sack of Rome was a devastating psychological blow, as the city of Rome represented their culture. Materially however, the sack was not incredibly destructive, as the Goths, being Arian christians, did not destroy churches or public monuments. Alaric died shortly thereafter as a result of fever and his body was buried under the bed of the river Busento. Legend says that the builders of the tomb were killed in order to maintain its secret location.

 

 

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