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The Warrior's of Tribal Europe: Alaric

Updated on June 7, 2013

While the likes of Vercingetorix, Caracatus and Attila the Hun were intent on resisting or removing the Roman influence on their lands,customs and people. Alaric only wanted some recognition and acceptance by the Roman Empire. Alaric wanted to settle with his warriors in the lands of the Romans, and serve the Empire in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The Empire that Alaric wanted some power in was not the same Empire that had kept the other Tribal Warriors in check in the first few centuries of the new age. Had the Emperor's of the West and Byzantine empire utilized King Alaric's obvious leadership and the abilities of his warrior's, we may have seen less military turmoil in the later Roman period.

Death of King Alaric.
Death of King Alaric. | Source

The Visigothic tribes location in 370AD-382AD

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A markerBulgaria -
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The Visigothic tribe had headed south from the original migratory lands into modern day Bulgaria.

B markerIstanbul -
Istanbul Province/Istanbul, Turkey
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Istanbul, which is the site of the ancient Byzantine capital of Constantinople.

C markerRome -
Rome, Italy
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Rome the capital of the Western Roman Empire.

Roman Translations

Roman Name
Modern Name
Balkan region of Europe
Most of England and Wales
Eastern Roman Empire

Alaric was a high-born Visigoth prince, he was the son of King Athanaric. He is believed to have been born in 370 AD. At the time of his birth, the semi-nomadic Visigoths were based in what is modern day Bulgaria. The Visigoth's were a Germanic tribe who had been forced into the lands of the Roman Empire by the Hun's own migration from the North East of the Ural Steppes.

The Visigoth's had come into the Roman lands and had offered their services as auxiliaries to the Roman Legions. The Huns had been a long held enemy of the Visigoths and for the Visigoths to survive they had to move out of the way of the Hun hoard. Alaric is believed to have succeeded his father King Athanaric as King of the Visigoth's in 395 AD.

Both Roman Empire's had from around 382 AD allowed the migrating tribes of the North East of Europe to settle within the lands of the Empires. The reason why they were allowed in was quite simple, the Roman Empire no longer had the desire to let their own son's go off to war. Both Rome and to a lesser extent Constantinople employed tribes such as the Visigoth's as mercenaries in the rank's of the mighty Roman legion. The term that these non-Roman combatants were known by was " Foederati ".

King Alaric was a Christian who wanted to settle within an area he and his people could call their own. Both the Western and Eastern Empires would allow him this as long as he supplied auxiliaries to their legions. But both Emperors and their advisers were not quite so keen on giving King Alaric a legion command, King Alaric with a military command was a threat to the Emperors. Giving a King access to command their troops, could mean handing the keys to Rome and Constantinople to a rival.

There was precedent in Roman history of military commanders forming military dictatorships and then becoming Emperor. King Alaric became slightly annoyed at this snub by both sides, and decided that both the Western and Byzantine Empire were heading towards oblivion. Given the distrust and lack of co-operation between East and West, a civil war seemed very likely. This maybe encouraged King Alaric to see what concessions he could get from both the Western and Byzantine Empires. King Alaric had the power to seriously damage both crumbling Empires.

King Clovis of the Frank's. He was King Alaric's great rival for power.
King Clovis of the Frank's. He was King Alaric's great rival for power. | Source

Sensing that the ancient Hun enemy were moving closer to his peoples location, the Visigoths needed to go on the offensive. King Alaric attempted to strike first at the Byzantine Empire, the Visigoth army reached the outer city of Constantinople. King Alaric soon realised they were unable to control the flow of supplies into the city by sea, so a siege was not a viable tactic or option. The Legion's of the Byzantine Empire were occupied with the raids of the Hun on their North Eastern border, So King Alaric turned his eye's on the relatively undefended treasures of Greece.

KIng Alaric was able to ravage most of what is now modern day Greece, Alaric defeated the standing Roman forces in Athens,Sparta,Corinth and Argos. King Alaric took some war booty and sold many of the great cities residents into slavery. Opinion is divided on whether King Alaric was successful in his campaign due to his warrior's abilities and his strategy. Or did the Roman counsel Rufinus use Alaric Goth's to score points against his hated enemy the half Vandal Master-General Stilicho. Stilicho had the chance to wipe out the Visigothic forces in Greece, but Rufinus used his influence on the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius to ask Stilicho to withdraw from Illyrium.

By 397AD King Alaric had settled some of his trivial issues with the Byzantine Empire of the East. He was given a command within the Byzantine province of Illyrium, and he had started to forge a lasting friendship with the Master-General Stilicho. By 401AD the Visigoths and King Alaric had turned their attention on the weak Western Roman Empire. Alaric and his Gothic forces attacked Northern Italy, and they caused massive damage to what was once a target unaccustomed to enemy invasion. King Alaric met the Legions under the direct command of Stilicho near the Roman city of Pollentia, after a bloody battle the Legions of Rome were victorious. King Alaric retreated away from Northern Italy, but he had done enough damage to make the Roman victory taste very sour.

An Empire divided
An Empire divided

King Alaric knew that he had the beating of the Legion's of Rome, the only thing that stood in his way was the logistical problem of his army and its accompanying baggage. Alaric and his troops attacked Verona and suffered another defeat by the Roman Legions who were fighting for their homes. It is believed that Alaric's Queen was captured by the Romans and this combined with a lack of concrete gains and victory, lead to Alaric withdrawing his forces from Italy in 403 AD.

The threat that Alaric caused the Western Empire was very real, so much so that the Imperial residence was moved to Ravenna. Ravenna was a fortified military harbour which was surrounded by swamp land, which made it strategically more defensible than Milan. The military command also recalled a veteran legion from the Roman province of Britannia to assist in defending the capital.

By the year 407AD, Master General Stilichos and King Alaric had forged a strong friendship and become firm allies. It is not surprising that with tension between both Empires teetering on the brink of Civil War, that these two warriors would find a common ground. They both had realized very quickly that the Roman Civilization was entering its final years. King Alaric and his troops were almost used by the Roman Elite to force the issue between East and West by pressing home claims on Illyrium. The plan was to press Emperor Honorius claim on Illyrium, this would give the Western Emperor an advantage over his Byzantine brother Arcadius and once more shift the balance of power in the modern day Balkans region of Eastern Europe.

It was only the death of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius, that stopped a Western Empire backed Visigothic onslaught into Illyrium. King Alaric was told to pull back his force, Alaric saw this as a great opportunity to gain a material advantage. He bullishly informed the Western Senate that he required compensation, as he had mobilized his forces at great expense. With the persuasive nature of Master General Stilichos, arguing Alaric's case to the Roman Senate. King Alaric received around 3-4000 pound in weight of Roman treasury gold. This act proved to King Alaric how weak Rome had become, Rome could be made to cede the Visigothic people a new homeland. It is likely that King Alaric had designs on the area around the Gulf of Venice.

In June 408AD, Master-General Stilicho and other key figures in the Roman hierarchy were purged or executed. Master-General Stilicho was executed due to the influence that he held within the Legions and his pro-Alaric sympathies were a worry for the Emperor. King Alaric took this as a time to march on a Rome in disarray,the loss of Alaric's ally and friend made it personal. Rome was not helped by the decision to execute the barbarian families of the auxiliaries serving within the legion. It is estimated nearly thirty thousand barbarian auxiliaries marched with King Alaric on Rome.

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Could King Alaric have taken over the Western Empire?

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By late 408AD, King Alaric and his barbarian army were camped outside of the great walls of Rome. Rome was lacking in manpower due to the barbarian auxiliaries, swapping sides to Alaric cause. And the execution of Stilicho left the Roman defenders without a seasoned and veteran commander. King Alaric decided to lay siege to Rome and soon the people of Rome offered him and his troops a compromise. This resulted in more gold and silver been given to King Alaric and his army. The Western Emperor was safe in his isolated but defended Ravenna stronghold, and did not seem very active in defending Rome. There was little he could do as the invading force bypassed his position, and the entire Western Empire was under constant barbarian assault.

King Alaric asked again for the title of Commander in chief of the Roman Legions, the Western Roman Emperor refuse King Alaric's request. If the Emperor had agreed to King Alaric he may have safeguarded the Western Roman Empires future, or he may have given Alaric free reign to enforce his Visigothic vision on the whole Roman Empire. Where the Emperor was negative in his dealings with Alaric, the Roman Senate were much more receptive to him.

In 409Ad, King Alaric came to an agreement with the senate, the Roman Senate and King Alaric decided to support a rival emperor. This caused a vast gulf between the Roman Senate and the aristocratic and high born citizens of the Western European Empire.The choice for the new emperor was the prefect of the city of Rome, a Greek by the name Priscus Attalus. Whether King Alaric genuinely supported the idea of putting in a new emperor more sympathetic to King Alaric's is unknown, maybe the strategy was to cause more social division in the crumbling Western Empire,

King Alaric and his army marched on Rome again in 410 AD, and rather than laying siege to the city they finally penetrated the defences of the Imperial heart of the Empire. Alaric and his forces looted certain areas of the city, but were careful not to disturb any of the Christian sites. King Alaric knew the key to taking Rome and keeping Rome, was by taking the Roman possessions in Africa. King Alaric knew that the grain produced in North Africa, was essential to feeding the Legions and the citizens of Rome.

King Alaric was not able to undertake the conquest of North Africa, due to a storm while crossing the Mediterranean Sea saw many of his warriors perish. By the end of 410AD, the great Warrior King Alaric was dead. It is believed that he died of fever in the Roman city of Cosenza. He was succeeded by his brother in law Ataulf, who in time married Galla Placidia, the Roman Emperors sister. The body of King Alaric was buried under the river Busento, with trappings of his military success and riches. His exact burial spot remains a mystery as the burial party was executed to maintain its secrecy.


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    • Asp52 profile image

      Asp52 6 years ago from England

      Thank you for the feedback, hope you enjoyed it and found the information useful.


    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Another excellent historic hub. Well done.