HomeMiddle AgesThe GothsAlaric I (395-410) the first King of the Visigoths

Alaric I (395-410) the first King of the Visigoths



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Alaric descended from the aristocratic Balti dynasty. He gained his military abilities at the court of Roman Emperor Theodosius. The Visigoths united after the death of Theodosius and they choose Alaric as their tribal king, they were also involved in the power games of the court. Knowing, that the eastern and western Roman emperors were fighting over the prefecture of Illyria (the territory of Macedonia and Dacia), Alaric was balancing between the opposed sides. Finally, the eastern Roman emperor granted him the title of magister militum per Illirycum, to gain his favor.

In 397 after he spent time in Greece, Alaric invaded Italy on the orders of Constantinople. But his advance was halted in 401/402 by Stilicho, the major military commander of the western Roman emperor Honorius. Alaric made a secret deal with Stilicho, and he defected and served the western Roman emperor for a rich yearly wage.

Stilicho used all his available forces in his struggle against the barbarians, in spite of this he was not accepted by the senators because of his Germanic heritage. The Roman senators accused him of treason and conspiring with Alaric when he moved the legions from Britannia to Italy in 407, since the forces in Italy were very weak.

It is true that Stilicho was close to capturing Alaric several times, but he always barely escaped; so there could be truth in the accusations of the senators. Stilicho was executed along with his family in Ravenna in 408, and the anti-Germanic policy was on the rise in Italy. 30,000 Germanic soldiers served in the Roman army, and they would desert and join Alaric, fearing for their lives. Alaric invaded Italy in 408, and only a great ransom held him back from attacking Rome, “the eternal city”, in 409. Alaric besieged Rome in 410 after the Romans attacked his camp when he was negotiating with Honorius. Roman slaves opened the gates of Rome for Alaric, and Rome was very harshly looted. This act was deemed as shocking in these times, according to the testimony of Jeronimus and Augustine.

The Visigoths captured the half-sister of emperor Honorius, Placidia, and they took her to southern Italy. Alaric’s plan was to cross the sea from south Italy to North Africa and to form a state, but his early death made an end to his goals. He died from exhaustion in his 33rd year. Christians saw this as a sign, since Christ died in his 33rd year also. According to the traditional narration, Alaric was buried in the bed of the Busento River, in Cosenza. Since the river was restored to it’s bed again after the burial, it was said that the world will know about Alaric and his glory.