Alaric I.

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Memorial plaque for Alarich I, Walhalla near Regensburg

Alaric I ( Latin Alaricus , Gothic Alareiks ; * around 370 in Peuke (island) (today's Romania ); † 410 near Cosenza (today's Italy )) was the first known leader of the early " Visigoths " and after 800 years the first military leader who plundered Rome . Whether Alaric was actually "King" or rex of the Goths is very controversial in research. The oldest sources instead call it the " hegemon of the Goths" (ὁ τῶν Γότθων ἡγούμενος; Sozomenos HE 8, 25) or dux Gothorum (Rufinus, HE praef.). He is most likely to be seen as an army king and warlord who also belonged in a Roman context.


The early years

Alaric was supposedly born on the now unlocated island of Peuce in the mouth of the Danube , which marked the Roman border there, in what is now the Romanian district of Tulcea . Possibly this information, attested late, should also simply underline that Alaric acted throughout his life in both the Gothic and the Roman context. According to Jordanes, his father was a nobleman from the royal house of the Balthens , but this could also be a later invention that Alaric wanted to attribute a noble origin. At the time of his birth, many of the Gothic Terwingen settled in the Roman diocese of Thrace on the southern bank of the Danube after fleeing the Huns . The name of this increasingly Romanized Terwingen changed to "Visigoten" on the soil of the Roman Empire.

In 394 Alaric served as the commander of the Visigoths in a Terwingian mercenary army in Roman services ( foederati ). Under Emperor Theodosius I , he took part in the civil war against the usurper Eugenius , who had gained power in the western part of the empire. In the decisive battle on Frigidus , which was fought in the valley of the Vipava in the southeastern Alps near Trieste , Alaric's Visigoten had to pay a particularly high blood toll (according to Orosius 10,000 warriors died), which probably worsened his relationship with Theodosius. The emperors of this time often relied on the barbaric foederati , who were considered particularly loyal, dispensable and, moreover, even less expensive than the regular Roman troops.

When Theodosius died in the beginning of 395, the rule in the Roman Empire was divided between his two sons. Arcadius received the eastern half and Honorius the western half. Rivalries and conflicts soon arose between the two imperial courts. The alliance ( foedus ) that Theodosius I had concluded with the Terwingen was now evidently viewed by Honorius and his advisors as null and void, and they wanted to dismiss the foederati without compensating them. This led to an uprising that Alaric led. The army master Stilicho then proceeded in the name of Honorius against the mutineers, who had begun to feed themselves through plunder in the face of the lack of state supplies; but when Arcadius demanded that the Eastern Roman contingents that had followed Theodosius west should now be transferred back to the east, the Western Roman army lacked enough soldiers to defeat the Visigoths of Alaric.

Towards the east

From then on, Alarich's aim was always to obtain a foedus that looked after his men and gave him legitimation through a position in the Reich Service. Every military leader had to ensure the supply ( annona militaris ) of his warrior group, and in late antiquity this was impossible without recourse to the Roman infrastructure. Alaric tried to achieve this goal by taking advantage of the aforementioned rivalry between the two imperial courts in Constantinople and Italy. In 397 the Visigoths under Alaric (it would be too early to speak of "Visigoths" at this point; the ethnogenesis was not yet completed) attacked Eastern Roman territory and advanced to Constantinople . The Eastern Roman court accused Stilicho of inciting the Visigoths, perhaps not without good reason. Since Alaric was unable to siege the heavily fortified city, he moved on to Thessaly and over the unguarded Thermopylae into the interior of Greece. The exact details of this two-year campaign are not known. In any case , he plundered Attica , spared Athens , which surrendered without resistance, advanced into the Peloponnese and conquered the most important cities of Corinth , Argos and Sparta . Here his triumphal march ended, because now Stilicho attacked him. The experienced general managed to place the Visigoten between the mountains of Pholoe , on the border between Arcadia and Elis . The Visigoten escaped with difficulty, perhaps with Stilicho's toleration. Alaric and his Visigoths crossed the Gulf of Corinth and moved north to Epirus with their booty .

The train to the west

For reasons that were ultimately unclear, there was a change. The Eastern Roman court was probably of the opinion that Stilicho's operations in the Balkans should be understood as an attack. Emperor Arcadius' ministers now offered Alaric to settle with his warriors and their relatives in the important prefecture of Illyria and to be provided with annona there. He was appointed magister militum per Illyricum and had his troops rearmed through the Eastern Roman arsenals; Constantinople wanted to use the Visigoths against Stilicho, who had been declared an enemy of the state. Soon after 400 there was another break between Alaric and Constantinople, perhaps in connection with Gaina's attempted coup . Alaric first advanced to Italy around the year 401, exact dates are not known. Through his participation in the Battle of Frigidus he knew about the weaknesses of the Claustra Alpium Iuliarum , the defense system in the Julian Alps , which secured access to and from Italy in the area of ​​the Birnbaumer Forest in present-day Slovenia .

Alaric now wanted to force a foedus with Westrom to take care of his men. He devastated parts of northern Italy and brought terror to Rome until Stilicho defeated him in a battle near Pollentia on Easter 402. After another lost battle near Verona , Alaric left Italy again, probably in the spring of 403. According to Claudian, this battle must have cost such a high blood toll on the Visigothic side that Alaric was supposedly only able to rearrange and equip his army with the toleration of Stilichos. Presumably, Stilicho did not want to smash Alarich's vigorous association, but rather to build it into an ally against the East for future internal Roman disputes.

Alaric did not get to Rome , but his attack caused major changes in the empire: the imperial residence was moved from Milan to Ravenna in 402 , the 20th Legion had to be withdrawn from Britain , and the fighting in Italy probably made it easier for the Vandals , Suebi and Alans to advance into Gaul, whereby Westrom temporarily lost control of the provinces in Gaul and Spain .

The next time Alaric is reported will be in the year 407. The governments of East and West were now so hostile that a civil war loomed. Stilicho allied himself with Alaric to enforce the claims of Honorius in the prefecture of Illyricum . But there was no war, as the Rhine border collapsed on New Year's Eve 406/07 and Stilicho had to hurry to gather troops in order to master this new threat. In 408 Honorius and Arcadius were reconciled again, but Alaric, who had already reached Epirus , now demanded the reimbursement of his previous costs. The sum he asked for, 4,000 pounds of gold, was very high, but under pressure from Stilicho the Senate approved the payment in order to be able to use Alaric's Visigoten against the usurper Constantine (III), who now controlled Britain and Gaul. Three months later, however, Emperor Honorius had his father-in-law Stilicho, who was accused of high treason , killed. In the riots that followed, women and children of the barbaric foederati were murdered across Italy. At the same time the foedus with Alarich's Visigoten was canceled. As a result, a force of around 30,000 men ran over to the Visigoths of Alaric. In September 408, Alaric reached Rome, which no longer had a general of Stilichos to defend him, and besieged the city. Tormented by hunger, the citizens of Rome agreed to a ransom of 2,000 pounds of gold, 3,000 pounds of pepper , and precious silk and leather robes.

The sack of Rome

The conquest of Rome. 15th century French miniature.

Alaric now demanded from Honorius the annona from the area between the Danube and the Gulf of Venice and the title of army master of the imperial troops. Honorius, who was safe in Ravenna, rejected Alaric's demands. After a second siege of Rome, the Senate agreed to Alaric's request to proclaim a new emperor, Priscus Attalus , and let Alaric into the city for the first time. Attalus concluded the desired foedus with the Goths in the name of Rome , but otherwise proved to be unsuitable. Ignoring Alaric's advice, he lost the province of Africa , the granary of Rome, to units loyal to Honorius under the comes Heraclianus . This stopped the important grain deliveries to Italy. Hunger, previously a weapon used by Alaric against Rome, was now used against Alaric. However, Attalus refused to consent to a military invasion of North Africa. After Honorius had been strengthened by Eastern Roman troops, Alaric deposed Attalus. Renegotiations with Honorius failed, and Rome was besieged for the third time. Alaric, whose men were plagued by hunger, found himself in a desperate situation and could not help himself.

Presumably on August 24, 410 the Goths invaded Rome after the gates had been opened to them. The Goths plundered the city for three days, but spared it, since even Christians, the churches and all who had sought refuge in it; overall there was hardly any major devastation. Nevertheless, the capture of Rome, the first since 387 BC, had BC, a definite shock effect on the Roman world. The pagans believed that Christianity was to blame for this catastrophe, while Augustine of Hippo in his main work De Civitate Dei formulated a reply to these accusations, which Orosius later expanded. Alaric, who had probably not planned to plunder Rome at all - consider that he had been in the surrounding area for months and would have had the opportunity to do so at any time - only came under pressure to act because of Honorius' stubborn behavior. Now he moved further south to Calabria to conquer the rich Roman province of Africa . The previous events had shown him how important control of this region was. However, his ships were destroyed by a severe storm and many of his soldiers died.

A short time later he died of a fever near Cosenza and, according to legend, was buried in Busento . To this end, the river was temporarily diverted so that Alaric's grave should never be found. The contemporary sources - such as Orosius - do not report a grave in the river bed; this story does not appear until over 100 years later in Jordanes .

Alarich's brother-in-law Athaulf followed him from 410 to 415 as the leader of the association. He led his warriors to Gaul and married the imperial sister Galla Placidia , who had kidnapped Alaric in 410 from Rome in order to find connection to the ruling dynasty, but was murdered. Theodoric I , Alaric's son-in-law, then led the association of Visigoths from 418 to 451 as rex . A new foedus assigned them Aquitaine as a settlement and supply area.


The sources do not allow a more precise definition of Alaric's character. Obviously he wanted to fight for a place in the Imperium Romanum and a share in its prosperity for himself and his warriors, who were by no means only Goths . It was obviously about a contractually secured supply, annona , for his men. Alaric probably had no political conception and was driven by a certain "restlessness" in view of the changeable civil war period in which he lived. Under his leadership, the forming Visigoths took a clear step towards expansion , so the number and importance of cavalry in the Gothic army increased.


Long famous and known the ballad was the grave in Busento of August Graf von Platen , the romanticized depiction of Alaric's funeral the image for posterity by the late antique barbarian invasions coined a long time.

A plaque with the inscription "Alaric, King of the Visigoths, † CCCCX " was placed in the Walhalla memorial near Regensburg .



  • Frank Martin Beuttel : Germanic rulers. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2007, ISBN 978-3-89678-603-6 , pp. 73-87.
  • Douglas Boin: Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of Rome . Norton, New York 2020, ISBN 978-0-39-363569-0 .
  • Henning Börm : Westrom. From Honorius to Justinian (= Urban pocket books. Vol. 735). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-17-023276-1 , p. 47 ff.
  • Wolfgang Giese : The Goths (= Urban pocket books. Vol. 597). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-17-017670-6 , p. 27 ff.
  • Guy Halsall: Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-43491-1 , pp. 189 ff.
  • Peter J. Heather : Goths and Romans. 332-489. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1991, ISBN 0-19-820234-2 , pp. 193-224.
  • Mischa Meier : Alaric and the conquest of Rome in 410. The beginning of the "Great Migration". In: Mischa Meier (Ed.): They created Europe. Historical portraits from Constantine to Charlemagne. Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-55500-8 , pp. 45-62.
  • Mischa Meier, Steffen Patzold : August 410 - A fight for Rome. 2nd Edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-608-94646-8 (on the history of the reception of the conquest of Rome).
  • Otto Seeck : Alaricus 2 . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume I, 1, Stuttgart 1893, Col. 1286-1291.
  • Hagith Sivan: Alaricus Rex. Legitimizing a Gothic King. In: Richard Corradini, Max habenberger, Helmut Reimitz (eds.): The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages. Texts, Resources and Artefacts (= The Transformation of the Roman world. A Scientific Program of the European Science Foundation. Vol. 12). Brill, Leiden et al. 2003, ISBN 90-04-11862-4 , pp. 109-121.
  • Herwig Wolfram : The Goths. From the beginning to the middle of the 6th century; Draft of a historical ethnography (= early peoples ). 4th edition. Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-33733-3 , pp. 145-179.

Web links

Commons : Alaric I  - collection of images, videos and audio files

supporting documents

  1. Guy Halsall: Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West. Cambridge 2007, p. 202 ff.
  2. Herwig Wolfram: The Goths. 4th edition. Munich 2001, p. 150.
  3. Wolfgang Giese: The Goths. Stuttgart 2004, p. 36 f.
  4. ^ Roger C. Blockley : The fragmentary classicizing historians of the later Roman Empire. Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus and Malchus. Cairns, Liverpool 1981-1983.
predecessor Office successor
- Visigoth kings