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Alaric King of the Visigoths and the Sack of Rome in A.D. 410

Alaric and the Sack of Rome


Sack of Rome in 410 by Alaric the King of the Goths. Miniature from 15th Century.

Sack of Rome in 410 by Alaric the King of the Goths. Miniature from 15th Century.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Alaric and the Goths Timeline | Alaric's Sack of Rome

Alaric was a Visigoth king, a barbarian who has the distinction of having sacked Rome. It was not what he wanted to do: In addition to being a king of the Goths, Alaric was a Roman magister militum 'master of soldiers,' making him a valued member of the Roman Empire.

Despite his allegiance to Rome, Alaric knew he would conquer the eternal city because it had been prophesied:

"Penetrabis ad Urbem"
You will penetrate The City
Despite or to avoid his destiny, Alaric tried to negotiate peacefully with the rulers of Rome.

Far from being the enemy of Rome, Alaric worked as king-maker, installing Priscus Attalus as emperor, and keeping him there despite policy disagreements. It didn't work. Ultimately, Rome's refusals to accommodate a barbarian led Alaric to sack Rome on August 24, A.D. 410.

Aside: An Unlucky Day for Rome

Most Roman festivals began on odd-numbered days because even numbers were considered infelicitous. (The word felix means fortunate in Latin and was the agnomen the Roman dictator Sulla added to his name in 82 B.C. to indicate his luck. Infelicitous means unlucky.) August 24 is a good example of just how bad even-numbered days could be for the Roman Empire, since it was on that same day, 331 years earlier, that Mt. Vesuvius had erupted, wiping out the Campanian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The Sack of Rome

Gothic troops destroyed most of Rome and took prisoners, including the Emperor's sister, Galla Placidia.

"But when the appointed day had come, Alaric armed his whole force for the attack and was holding them in readiness close by the Salarian Gate; for it happened that he had encamped there at the beginning of the siege. Aug. 24, 410 A.D. And all the youths at the time of the day agreed upon came to this gate, and, assailing the guards suddenly, put them to death; then they opened the gates and received Alaric and the army into the city at their leisure. And they set fire to the houses which were next to the gate, among which was also the house of Sallust, who in ancient times wrote the history of the Romans, and the greater part of this house has stood half-burned up to my time; and after plundering the whole city and destroying the most of the Romans, they moved on."
Procopius on the Sack of Rome.

What Alaric Did After Sacking Rome

Following the sack of Rome, Alaric led his troops south to Campania, taking Nola and Capua along the way. Alaric headed towards the Roman province of Africa where he intended to provision his army with Rome's personal breadbasket, but a storm wrecked his ships, temporarily blocking his crossing.

The Successor of Alaric

Before Alaric could re-outfit his naval forces, Alaric I, King of the Goths, died at Cosentia. In Alaric's place, the Goths elected his brother-in-law, Athaulf. Instead of heading south to Africa, under Athaulf's leadership the Goths marched north across the Alps, away from Rome. But first, as an en route parting shot, they devastated Etruria (Tuscany).

That's the gist of it. The following two pages contain more, but still abbreviated details on how Alaric tried not to sack Rome, but ultimately felt he had no alternative.

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