10 Facts About Alaric and the Sack of Rome in 410 AD

Graham Land

3 mins

02 Mar 2015

On 24 August 410 AD, the Visigoth General Alaric led his forces into Rome, looting and pillaging the city for 3 days. Though a sack nonetheless, it was considered restrained by the standards of the day. There were no mass killings and most structures survived intact, though the event is seen as a contributing factor in the fall of Rome.

Here are 10 facts about the 410 sack of Rome.

alaric sack of rome

Alaric in Rome, 1888 by Wilhelm Lindenschmit

1. Alaric had once served in the Roman Army

In 394 Alaric led a 20,000-strong force in aid of Theodosius, the Eastern Roman Emperor, in his defeat of the Frankish Roman General Arbogast at the battle of Frigidus. Alaric lost half his men, but saw his sacrifice barely acknowledged by the Emperor.

2. Alaric was the first King of the Visigoths

Alaric reigned from 395 – 410. The story goes that after victory at Frigidus, the Visigoths decided to fight for their own interests rather than those of Rome. They raised Alaric on a shield, proclaiming him as their king.

3. Alaric was a Christian

Like the Roman Emperors Constantius II (ruled 337 – 362 AD) and Valens (ruled the Eastern Roman Empire 364 – 378 AD), Alaric was a member of the Arian tradition of early Christianity, ascribing to the teachings of Arius of Alexandria.

4. At the time of the sack, Rome was no longer capital of the Empire

In 410 AD, the capital of the Roman Empire had already been moved to Ravenna 8 years prior. Despite this fact, Rome still had great symbolic and emotional significance, causing the sack to reverberate through the Empire.

5. Alaric wanted to be a high-ranking Roman official

After his great sacrifice at Frigidus, Alaric expected to be promoted to General. The fact that he was denied, coupled with rumours and evidence of unfair treatment of the Goths by the Romans, prompted the Goths to declare Alaric as their king.

sack of rome

Alaric in Athens, 19th century painting by Ludwig Thiersch

6. The sack of Rome was preceded by sacks of several Greek cities in 396 – 397

The fact that the armies of the Eastern Empire were busy fighting the Huns enabled the Goths to raid places such as Attica and Sparta, though Alaric spared Athens.

7. The sack was the first time in 800 years that Rome had fallen to a foreign foe

The last time Rome had been sacked was 390 BC by the Gauls following their victory against the Romans at the battle of Allia.

8. The sack was largely due to the failed alliance of Alaric and Stilicho, a high-ranking general, or magister militum, in the Roman Army

Stilicho was half Vandal and married to the niece of the Emperor Theodosius. Though comrades in the battle of Frigidus, Stilicho had later defeated Alaric’s forces in Macedonia and later Pollentia. However, Stilicho planned to enlist Alaric to fight for him against the Eastern Empire in 408.

These plans never came to fruition and Stilicho, along with thousands of Goths, were killed by the Romans, though without Emperor Honorius’ say-so. Alaric, strengthened by 10,000 Goths that had defected from Rome, sacked several Italian cities and set his sights on Rome.

sack of rome alaric

Honorius as a young Emperor of the West. 1880, Jean-Paul Laurens

9. Alaric attempted numerous times to negotiate with Rome and avoid the sack

Emperor Honorius did not take Alaric’s threats seriously enough and negotiations crumbled under evidence of Honorius’ bad faith and desire for war. Honorius ordered a failed surprise attack on Alaric’s forces at a meeting where the two were scheduled to negotiate. Angered by the attack, Alaric finally entered Rome.

10. Alaric died soon after the sack

Alaric’s next plan was to invade Africa in order to control the lucrative Roman trade in grain. However, while crossing the Mediterranean, storms wreaked havoc on Alaric’s boats and men.

He died in 410, probably of fever.

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