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How Was Alaric Able to Sack Rome in AD 410

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[[File: Sack_of_Rome_by_JN_Sylvestre_1890.jpg|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.
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.
In terms of material goods, the siege was a major success for Alaric and the Visigoths. They took 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, and 4,000 silk tunics from the city, with many ancient statues being melted down to meet Alaric’s exorbitant demands. <ref> Bury, p. 94</ref> Although Alaric I and the Visigoths claimed a major victory, they were far from done with Honorius and Rome.
====The Sack of Rome====
[[File: Honorius.jpg|300px|thumbnail|left|Gold Coin of the Emperor Honorius]]
Although Alaric’s siege of Rome was financially successful, he was still unable to secure land within the Roman Empire for his people. He was not finished with Rome and by 409 his war had taken on a more personal note that was directed at Honorius. Alaric sieged Rome again in 409, forcing the Senate to accept his puppet, Priscus Attalus, as emperor. The move had the desired effect of pressuring Honorius to come to the negotiating table, but Alaric was attacked on the way to the negotiations. <ref> Bury, p. 96</ref> Alaric deposed of Attalus, who was no longer of any use to him, and took his force to Rome once more, but this time the Visigoths would lay waste to the city. After camping outside of the city, the Visigoths gained entry on August 24, 410 through guile. According to the sixth century Byzantine historian Procopius, the Visigoths gained entry through a Germanic Trojan Horse.
deeds were never forgotten.
Alaric I, king of the Visigoths, is a well-known historical personality because of his sack of Rome in AD 410. The event changed the course of history as it hastened the decline of the Roman Empire, but numerous factors contributed to make it a reality. The general weakness of the Roman Empire at the time and more specifically the weakness of Emperor Honorius were among the most important factors – in earlier periods, when Rome was strong, foreign armies could rarely get close to Rome, never mind sack the city. The death of the Roman general Stilicho should also not be overlooked. Stilicho was an able general and tactician who routinely defeated Alaric and the Visigoths on the battlefield. The general was also a diplomat and moderator who more than once brought the Visigoths and Romans to the negotiating table. After Stilicho died, there was no longer a voice of reason in the conflict. Finally, the abilities of Alaric I and his army played the pivotal role. Alaric knew when to use brute force and when to use guile and cunning, which allowed him to win numerous battles and to ultimately sack the greatest city of the ancient world.
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[[Category: Decline of Rome]] [[Category:Roman History]][[Category:wikis]]

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