in German Al-ric, i. c.
" All rich," king of the Visigoths, remarkable as being the first of the barbarian chiefs who entered and sacked the city of Rome, and the first enemy who had appeared before its walls since the time of Hannibal.
He was of the family of Baltha, or Bold, the second noblest family of the Visigoths. (Jornandes, de Reb. Get.
29.) His first appearance in history is in A. D. 394, when he was invested by Theodosius with the command of the Gothic auxiliaries in his war with Eugenius. (Zosimus, 5.5.) In 396, partly from anger at being refused the command of the armies of the eastern empire, partly at the instigation of Rufinus (Socrates, Hist. Eccl.
7.10), he invaded and devastated Greece, till, by the arrival of Stilicho in 397, he was compelled to escape to Epirus. Whilst there he was, by the weakness of Arcadius, appointed prefect of eastern Illyricum (Zosimus, 5.5, 6), and partly owing to this office, and the use he made of it in providing arms for his own purposes, partly to his birth and fame, was by his countrymen elected king in 393. (Claudian, Eutrop.
2.212, Bell. Get.
The rest of his life was spent in the two invasions of Italy.
The first (400-403), apparently unprovoked, brought him only to Ravenna, and, after a bloody defeat at Pollentia, in which his wife and treasures were taken, and a masterly retreat to Verona (Oros. 7.37
), was ended by the treaty with Stilicho, which transferred his services from Arcadius to Honorius, and made him prefect of the western instead of the eastern Illyricum.
In this capacity he fixed his camp at Aemona, in expectation of the fulfilment of his demands for pay, and for a western province, as the future home of his nation.
The second invasion (408-410) was occasioned by the delay of this fulfilment, and by the massacre of the Gothic families in Italy on Stilicho's death.
It is marked by the three sieges of Rome.
The first (408), as being a protracted blockade, was the most severe, but was raised by a ransom.
The second (409), was occasioned by a refusal to comply with Alaric's demands, and, upon the occupation of Ostia, ended in the unconditional surrender of the city, and in the disposal of the empire by Alaric to Attalus, till on discovery of his incapacity, he restored it to Honorius. (Zosimus, v. vi.)
The third (410), was occasioned by an assault upon his troops under the imperial sanction, and was ended by the treacherous opening of the Salarian gate on August 24, and the sack of the city for six days.
It was immediately followed by the occupation of the south of Italy, and the design of invading Sicily and Africa.
This intention, however, was interrupted by his death, after a short illness at Consentia, where he was buried in the bed of the adjacent river Busentinus, and the place of his interment concealed by the massacre of all the workmen employed on the occasion. (Oros. 7.39
; Jornandes, 30.)
The few personal traits that are recorded of him--his answer to the Roman embassy with a hoarse laugh in answer to their threat of desperate resistance, "The thicker the hay, the easier mown," and, in reply to their question of what he would leave them, "Your lives"--are in the true savage humour of a barbarian conqueror. (Zosimus, 5.40.)
But the impression left upon us by his general character is of a higher order.
The real military skill shewn in his escape from Greece, and in his retreat to Verona; the wish at Athens to shew that he adopted the use of the bath and the other external forms of civilised life; the moderation and justice which he observed towards the Romans in the times of peace; the humanity which distinguished him during the sack of Rome--indicate something superior to the mere craft and lawless ambition which he seems to have possessed in common with other barbarian chiefs. So also his scruples against fighting on Easter-day when attacked at Pollentia, and his reverence for the churches during the sack of the city (Oros. 7.37
), imply that the Christian faith, in which he had been instructed by Arian teachers, had laid some hold at least on his imagination, and had not been tinged with that fierce hostility against the orthodox party which marked the Arians of the Vandal tribes. Accordingly, we find that the Christian part of his contemporaries regarded him, in comparison with the other invaders of the empire as the representative of civilization and Christianity, and as the fit instrument of divine vengeance on the still half pagan city (Oros. 7.37
), and the very slight injury which the great buildings of Greece and Rome sustained from his two invasions confirm the same view. And amongst the Pagans. the same sense of the preternatural character of his invasion prevailed, though expressed in a different form.
The dialogue which Claudian (Bell. Get.
485-540) represents him to have held with the aged counsellors of his own tribe seems to be the heathen version of the ecclesiastical story, that lie stopped the monk who begged him to spare Rome with the answer, that he was driven on by a voice which he could not resist. (Socrates, Hist. Eccl.
7.10.) So also his vision of Achilles and Minerva appearing to defend the city of Athens, as recorded by Zosimus (5.6), if it does not imply a lingering respect and fear in the mind of Alaric himself towards the ancient worship, -- at least expresses the belief of the pagan historian, that his invasion was of so momentous a character as to call for divine interference.
The permanent effects of his career are to be found only in the establishment of the Visigothic kingdom of Spain by the warriors whom he was the first to lead into the west.
The authorities for the invasion of Greece and the first two sieges of Rome are Zosimus (v. vi): for the first invasion of Italy, Jornandes de Reb. Get.
30; Claudian, B. Get.:
for the third siege and sack of Rome, Jornandes, ib.;
; Aug. Civ. Dei,
1.1-10; Hieronym. Epist. ad Princip.
; Procop. Bell. Vand.
1.2; Sozomen, Hist. Eccl.
9.9, 10; Isid. Hispalensis, Chronicon Gottorum.
) The invasions of Italy are involved in great confusion by these writers, especially by Jornandes, who blends the battle of Pollentia in 403 with the massacre of the Goths in 408.
By conjecture and inference they are reduced in Gibbon (c. 30, 31) to the order which has been here followed.
See also Godefroy, ad Philostor.