Alaric and the Kingdom of the Goths


Alaric, a Gothic king [see Visigoths Timeline], had no territory or power base beyond his soldiers, but he was leader of the Goths for 15 years. When he died, his brother-in-law took over. When he died, Walla, and then, Theoderic ruled the Goths, but by then the Gothic king finally had a physical territory over which to rule.

One of the historical sources, Claudian, says Alaric confronted the Emperor Theodosius at the Hebrus River in 391, but Alaric didn't come into prominence until 4 years later, in 395, when Stilicho sent Alaric and auxiliary troops who had served in the Battle of the Frigidus to the Eastern Empire.

395 to 397

The historian Zosimus claims Alaric, upset that he lacked a proper military title, marched on Constantinople to try to get it. According to Claudian, Rufinus, (de facto head of the Eastern Empire at the moment) bribed Alaric with Balkan provinces to sack, instead. Looting, Alaric advanced through the Balkans and via Thermopylae into Greece.

In 397, Stilicho led naval forces against Alaric, forcing the Gothic troops to Epirus. This act provoked Rufinus, so he persuaded eastern Emperor Arcadius to declare Stilicho a public enemy. He withdrew and Alaric received a military position, perhaps magister militum per Illyricum.

401 to 402

Between then and 401, nothing is heard of Alaric. Gainas, a Gothic military leader under Theodosius, went in and out of favor so that Alaric thought his Goths would be better off elsewhere. They set off for the Western Empire, arriving at the Alps on November 18. Alaric threatened to invade Italy and then carried through. He fought against Stilicho at Pollentia (map ), on Easter in 402. Stilicho won, took Alaric's loot, his wife, and his children. The two sides signed a truce and Alaric withdrew from Italy, but soon Stilicho claimed Alaric had violated the terms, so they fought in the summer of 402 at Verona.

402 to 405

Although the battle was indecisive, Alaric withdrew to the Balkans, where he stayed until 404 or 405 when Stilicho granted him the office of magister militum for the West. In 405, Alaric's people went to Epirus. This, again, upset the Eastern Empire who saw it as preparation for an invasion of Illyricum (map ).


Alaric marched to Noricum (Austria) where he demanded protection money -- what was probably enough to repay his losses at Pollentia in return for not invading Italy. Silicho, who wanted Alaric's help elsewhere, persuaded Emperor Honorius and the Roman Senate to pay.


Arcadius died in May. Stilicho and Honorius planned to go East to tend to the succession, but Honorius' magister officiorum, Olympius, persuaded Honorius that Stilicho was planning a coup. Stilicho was executed on August 22.

Olympius refused to honor Stilicho's bargain.

Alaric next demanded gold and a hostage exchange, but when Honorius refused, Alaric marched on Rome and put the city under siege. There he was joined by veterans of other barbarian battles. The Romans feared starvation, so they promised to send an embassy to Honorius (in Rimini) to convince him to settle with Alaric.


The imperial legation met the Romans. Alaric demanded money, grain (it wasn't just the Romans who were hungry) and the top military office, magisterium utriusque militiae -- which post Stilicho had held. The imperials conceded money and grain, but not the title, so Alaric marched on Rome, again. Alaric made two more attempts with smaller demands, but was rebuffed, so Alaric set up his second siege of Rome, but with a difference. He also set up a usurper, Priscus Attalus, in December. The historian Olympiodorus says Attalus gave Alaric his title, but rejected his advice.


Alaric deposed Attalus and then took his troops near Ravenna to negotiate with Honorius, but he was attacked by a Gothic general, Sarus. Alaric took this as a token of Honorius' bad faith, so he marched on Rome, again. This was the major sack of Rome mentioned in all the history books. Alaric and his men sacked the city for 3 days, ending on August 27. [See Procopius.] Along with their plunder, the Goths took Honorius' sister, Galla Placidia, when they left. The Goths still didn't have a home and before they acquired one, Alaric died of a fever very soon after the sacking, at Consentia.


Alaric's brother-in-law Athaulf marched the Goths into southern Gaul. In 415, Athaulf married Galla Placidia, but the new western magister utriusque militiae, Constantius, starved the Goths out, anyway. After Athaulf was assassinated, the new Gothic king, Walla, made peace with Constantius in exchange for food. Galla Placidia married Constantius, producing a son Valentinian (III) in 419. Walla's men, now in the Roman army, cleared the Iberian peninsula of Vandals, Alans, and Sueves. In 418 Constantius settled Walla's Goths in Aquitaine, Gaul.

The Goths in Aquitaine were the 1st autonomous barbarian kingdom inside the Empire.

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Alaric and the Kingdom of the Goths." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). Alaric and the Kingdom of the Goths. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Alaric and the Kingdom of the Goths." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).