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300px|thumbnail|left|Joseph-Nöel Sylvestre’s 1890 Painting Depicting the Sack of Rome by the Visigoths in AD 410]]__NOTOC__Few scholars would argue that it would by hyperbole to say that the Visigoth sack of Rome in AD 410 was one of the true turning points in world history. For Rome, it was the first time that the city had been sacked by outsiders in over 800 years, when the Gauls last did the destructive deed in 390 BC. The Romans recovered nicely from the 390 BC sacking, with the majority of their cultural, political, and military achievements coming after that date. In fact , one could argue that Rome was strong <i>because</i> of the 390 BC sacking, as it was forced to reevaluate its military capabilities and how far its northern boundaries should be extended. The sacking in AD 410 was much different, though, as it came at a time when Rome had been in decline for over two centuries. In many ways, the sacking was the death knell of the once great city-state, which limped along for a few more decades before the last emperor of the west was deposed in AD 476.
It is said that Rome was not built in a day, which equally applies to its collapse and the sacking of the city in AD 410. Rome’s sacking was the end result of a ten year process of invasions and sieges led by Alaric I (ruled 395-410), king of the Visigoths. Alaric I was able to bring forth unmitigated destruction to Rome due to a number of factors. The Visigoth king proved to be a great military tactician who possessed a resolute character and was a keen judge of character. On the other side, the Roman Emperor Honorius (reigned 393-423) was weak, inexperienced, and prone to take bad advice, which ultimately led to the death of the only Roman commander who could stop Alaric I.
====Alaric I and the Visigoths====
[[File: Alaric_entering_Athens.jpg|300px|thumbnail|right|Modern Depiction of Alaric I Leading the Visigoths into Athens]]
Little is known about Alaric’s early life, although it is believed that he was born on the Peuce Island in the Danube River delta, near the Black Sea. Alaric’s people, the Visigoths, had attained <i>federate</i> status under Emperor Constantine I (ruled 306-337), which meant that they were required to fight for the Romans in exchange for a yearly allotment of grain. <ref> Bury, J. B. <i>The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. </i> (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967), p.24</ref> As a young man, Alaric marched alongside the Emperor Theodosius I (reigned 379-395), eventually acquiring a reputation for bravery, loyalty, and cleverness. Although Alaric was a German and not a Roman citizen, he desired to be a Roman general, which had become a possibility when the requirements for such an office changed during the Roman Empire. Still, it was difficult for a German to rise to such a high rank without a benefactor – Alaric believed his would be none other than the emperor, who was impressed with the young man’s abilities. Unfortunately for Alaric, his dreams of attainting the highest rank in the Roman army were dashed when Theodosius I died. <ref> Bury, p. 64</ref> The young Visigoth warrior would have to look elsewhere for status.
In the year 395, some of Alaric’s ambitions were finally realized when he was elected king of the Visigoths at the age of thirty. The election made Alaric the first true Visigoth king, <ref>Rousseau, Philip. “Visigothic Migration and Settlement, 376-418: Some Excluded Hypotheses.” <i>Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte</i> 41 (1992) p. 335</ref> but it did help him gain entry into the Roman elite. The title of Visigoth king must have seemed like an inferior door prize to Alaric I, because as soon as he was crowned he set out to punish Rome.
Alaric I led his Visigoth army into Roman territory and for a time it seemed that there was nothing the Western or Eastern emperors could do about it, until the Roman general Stilicho came to the rescue. Like Alaric, Stilicho was actually of German ancestry, but he was from the Vandal tribe and by the late fourth century his reputation as a excellent tactician and charismatic general preceded him, which eventually resulted in Theodosius I appointing him as the young Honorius’ regent. Honorius later married Stilicho’s daughter Thermania, placing the Vandal firmly in the imperial family. <ref> Sennigen, William B., and Arthur E.R. Boak. <i>The History of Rome to A.D. 565. </i> Sixth Edition. (New York: Macmillan, 1977), p.451</ref> Most now believe that Stilicho was the one who truly held the reins of power in the Western Roman Empire and that he largely controlled Alaric I’s early movements in southern Europe.
====The Invasions of Italy and Sieges of Rome====
Not long after Alaric I was elected king, he lead the Visigoth nation into southern Europe, embarking on a thirteen year orgy of plunder and devastation. The Visigoths first marched into the Balkans region in 397 and were met by little resistance. The emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Arcadius (ruled 395-408), was weak like his brother Honorius and totally bereft of any military force that could stop the Visigoths. The only hope that Arcadius had was to appeal to his brother to send Stilicho and his army, but the general decided to sit back for awhile to see how the situation transpired. Alaric I led his Visigoths to ravage Illyrium, Macedonia, and Thrace before he finally arrived with his army in southern Greece. <ref> Bury, pgs. 66-67</ref> The Visigoths returned to their temporary base in Epirus after losing a battle to Stilicho’s forces, but the army was largely still intact. <ref>Burrell, Emma. “A Re-Examination of Why Stilicho Abandoned His Pursuit of Alaric in 397.” <i>Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte</i> 53 (2004) p. 252</ref> Many modern scholars believe that Alaric’s entire campaign was manipulated by Stilicho – the general purposely allowed the Visigoths to plunder the region so that he could be the savior and gain control at the expense of the East. <ref>Bury, p. 79</ref> But Alaric I was not content with mere plunder, he desired to have a territory for his people within Roman territory so he decided to bring his request straight to the emperor.
Since no one in either half of the Roman Empire appeared to be listening to Alaric, the Visigoth king decided to take his grievances straight to the emperor by invading Italy in 401. Alaric and his army ravaged towns in northern Italy until Stilicho arrived once more to save the day, forcing the Visigoths to accept his terms and leave Italy in 402. <ref> Bury, p. 77</ref> Alaric did not plan to stay away until his dreams were realized, though, so he invaded Italy once more in 403, but was defeated again by Stilicho. After the defeat in 403, Alaric led the Visigoths back through the Balkans where they encamped in Epirus for nearly five years. <ref> Bury, p. 78</ref>
In 408, Alaric I led his Visigoth army out of Epirus to Noricum on Italy’s northern border, where they camped and sent an embassy to Rome. Alaric I demanded 4,000 pounds of gold in return for fighting against a usurper who challenged Honorius in Gaul. The young emperor was not happy about the situation, but he was pressured to accept the demands by Stilicho, who understood the extent of the Visigoth’s military capabilities. <ref> Bury, p. 84</ref> The payment had the effect of temporarily mollifying Alaric’s demands for Roman land, but it also led to the formation of a palace conspiracy. A palace official named Olympius spread a rumor that Stilicho was plotting to usurp the Eastern throne on behalf of his son. The rumors were believed by many since Stilicho was a German and it seemed to many that the commander was doing little to stop the German Alaric. As proof, the conspirators pointed to the large gold payment that Alaric received, which was facilitated by Stilicho. The conspiracy gained strength until Stilicho was captured and beheaded on August 22, 408. <ref> Matthews, J. F. “Olympiodorus of Thebes and the History of the West (A.D. 407-425).” <i>Journal of Roman Studies</i> 60 (2004) p. 83</ref>
Stilicho’s assassination was the worst imaginable thing that could have happened to Honorius. Stilicho was his most able commander and the only person in his army who appeared to have the ability to defeat Alaric. The Visigoth king clearly also had a high level of respect for Stilicho and was willing to listen to him. Stilicho’s assassination was followed up by an anti-German pogrom where Roman troops massacred the families of German auxiliaries. The events only hardened Alaric’s resolve and increased the size of his army when 30,000 German survivors joined him in Noricum. <ref> Bury, p. 91</ref>
Bury, J. B. <i>[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393003884/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0393003884&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=674cc418da52757c6a23d9153bed4b30 The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians]. </i> (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967) Sennigen, William B., and Arthur E.R. Boak. <i>[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/151159859X/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=151159859X&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=30e0c8a670cab9eddaa81a763aee31d9 The History of Rome to A.D. 565] </i> 6th Ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1977) Kyle Harper, <i>[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691166838/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0691166838&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=8847a0d9567c7a46530e846eddf769f7 The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire]</i> (Princeton University Press, 2017) John Boardman, edit. Jasper Griffen, Oswyn Murray, <i>[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0192802038/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0192802038&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=cf273774d1bac11c72c7b6dba59f6ce1 The Oxford History of the Roman World]</i> (Oxford University Press, 2001)
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