Alaric I Biography

(King of the Visigoths from 395 to 410)

Born: 370

Born In: Peuce Island

Alaric I was the first king of the Visigoths. A direct descendant of the great chieftain Rothestes, he reigned from 395–410 as the ruler. He hailed from Balti, an aristocratic dynasty. He is best remembered for the sack of Rome which was decisive in the decline of the Western Roman Empire. He began his military career under Gainas, a Gothic soldier. He later joined the Roman army. The death of the Roman Emperor Theodosius elevated Alaric to the status of the king of the Visigoths. Though he never wanted to besiege Rome at any point in his life, he ended up invading the country trice as his demands were not agreed upon by the Roman emperor. He tore apart various cities of Italy during this invasion, often leading to a lot of losses both in terms of revenue and soldiers for the Roman Empire. He breathed his last after falling sick with malaria, which he contracted while traveling in a ship to besiege Africa. Acquiring Africa had been an important part of his expansion plans owing to the land’s richness in terms of available food resources.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 40


father: Rothesteus

children: Pélagie, Theodoric I

Born Country: Romania

Emperors & Kings Military Leaders

Died on: 410

place of death: Cosenza, Italy

Childhood & Early Life
Alaric I was born on AD 370 in Peuce Island at the mouth of the Danube delta in present-day Romania. He was either a son or paternal grandson of chieftain Rothestes.
He was part of the Balti dynasty of the Tervingian Goths who suffered major setbacks against the Huns and migrated across the Danube, eventually fighting a war with the Romans.
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Accession & Reign
Alaric I was appointed a leader in the military under Roman Emperor Theodosius I. Owing to a strange sequence of events, he became the king of the Visigoths after the death of Emperor Theodosius I in AD 395.
As the king, he wished to form an alliance with the Western Roman Empire against the Eastern Roman Empire. However, none of his requests for the same were entertained by the Romans.
First Invasion of Italy
Since Alaric I’s requests were not entertained, he decided to invade Italy. But he was repelled by an able general in the form of Stilicho who had been appointed by Theodosius as the regent for his underage son, Honorius.
In AD 408, Honorius had Stilicho and his family assassinated as there were rumors that he was trying to acquire the throne of the Western Roman Empire after seeking the help of Alaric I and his Visigoths.
Alaric I tried to invade immediately again by sacking a lot of cities and by standing before the Roman walls during the end of AD 408. He also chose to blockade the city completely, forcing the citizens to starve and endure diseases. The Romans got little help from the then Emperor Honorius who was in Ravenna, the capital of the then Western Roman Empire.
Alaric I relented only when the Romans agreed to pay a huge ransom to him and his people. The campaign ended in AD 409 when Alaric raised a puppet empire and a senator called Priscus Attalus in Rome in order to further pressurize Honorius.
Second Invasion of Italy
In AD 410, the second invasion of Italy happened when Alaric attacked Rome. Many works by the historian Zosimus were lost during this campaign. Not much is known about what exactly ensued over the course of this siege. However, what is known is that this invasion of Rome lasted for nearly two years.
Alaric I finally used a different version of the “Trojan Horse” tactic to completely usurp the city. The only difference was that the horse was replaced with three hundred young men with great strength as a gift to the Roman nobility.
Family & Personal Life
The name of Alaric I’s wife is not known. It is believed that his wife was taken a prisoner during his first invasion of Italy.

Death & Legacy
After penetrating into the city of Rome, Alaric I moved southwards towards Calabria. This was mainly because he desired to invade Africa which was an important area to capture owing to the huge supply of grains it had. This was also essential to capture Italy completely.
However, on his way, a storm tore apart Alaric’s ships and most of his soldiers drowned. It is believed that Alaric died soon after in Cosenza, possibly owing to fever. The year of his death was recorded as AD 410.
Alaric’s body was buried under the riverbed of Busento, in sync with the pagan practices followed by the Visigoths. Recent findings have suggested that the actual cause of his death was malaria.
After Alaric’s death, his brother-in-law Ataulf succeeded him in commanding the Gothic army. It is to be noted that he married Honorius’ sister Galla Placidia approximately three years after Alaric’s death.
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