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Alaric

Alaric

 

AlaricAlaric, King of the Visigoths, was the first barbarian chief that captured and sacked Imperial Rome. He was descended from the noble family of the Balti, and his name signifies All-rich or All-powerful. He first appears in history in 394 A. D., as a commander in the army of subjugated Goths whom the Emperor Theodosius employed in a war against Eugenius. In this service he acquired a knowledge of the art of war, as practiced by the Romans.

 

On the death of Theodosius in 395, the Goths revolted against his unwarlike sons and chose Alaric for their leader. He had solicited the command of the Roman armies, which the imperial court refused to give him. According to Gibbon, he had devoutly embraced the Christian faith. T he same historian declares: " Alaric disdained to trample any longer all the prostrate and ruined countries of Thrace and Dacia, and he resolved to seek a plentiful harvest of fame and riches in a province which had hitherto escaped the ravages of war." In 396 A.D., he traversed without resistance the plains of Macedonia and Thessaly, and invaded Greece. The troops which had been posted to defend the narrow pass of Thermopylae, having no Leonidas in command, retreated without an effort to prevent the easy and rapid passage of the Goths. The fields of Boeatia were quickly devastated by the barbarians, who massacred all the males of an age to bear arms.

 

Alaric marched against Athens, and prevented the delay of a siege by the offer of a capitulation. The peace-loving Athenians were persuaded to deliver the greatest part of their wealth as the ransom of their city. Alaric did not destroy the buildings and works of art but the whole territory of Attica was blasted by his baleful presence. Onward rolled the wave of barbarian invasion into the Peloponnesus. Corinth, Argos and Sparta surrendered without resistance to the Goths, who treated the inhabitants without mercy. From Thermopylae to Sparta the leader of the Goths pursued his victorious march without encountering any martial antagonists.

 

In 397 Stilicho brought a Roman army from Italy to the Gulf of Corinth. He took the field against the invaders, and after a long and doubtful struggle enclosed them on Mount Pholoe in Arcadia. The skill of Stilicho had so far prevailed; but his folly let them escape. Secure of his prey, he went to amuse himself with the public games still celebrated at Olympia. 'While he was away Alaric withdrew and escaped to Epirus. Here he negotiated a treaty with Arcadius, the Emperor of the East, who ordered the Roman Stilicho to retire from his dominions, but took Alaric into his service and appointed him master-general of Eastern Illyricum in 398. The Roman provincials and the allies were justly indignant that the ruin of Greece and Epirus should be so liberally rewarded.

 

In 398 A.D., Alaric was elected King of the Visigoths, and according to their custom was lifted upon a shield in the presence of the army. He now aspired to plant the Gothic standard on the walls of Rome, and" to enrich his army with the accumulated spoils of three hundred triumphs." Invading Italy about 402 A.D., he took Milan, in which Honorius held his court, and laid siege to Asta, ill which that emperor took refuge. Stilicho, having raised an army, came and attacked the Goths at Pollentia, while they were celebrating the festival of Easter in March, 403 A.D. The Romans gained a great victory and captured the camp and wife of Alaric. After the total defeat of his infantry the barbarian king retreated with his cavalry. The war was suspended by a treaty which the Goths made against the will of Alaric with the Empire of the West.

 

Alaric then resolved to occupy Verona and to invade Gaul but he was again defeated by Stilicho Deaf Verona. The loss of the Goths in this action was as heavy as that which they suffered at Pollentia. Alaric escaped by the swiftness of his horse, and was not pursued. The people arraigned the policy of Stilicho, who so often vanquished, so often surrounded, and so often dismissed the implacable enemy of the republic." Again in 405 Alaric obtained from the invincible Stilicho, all behalf of Honorius, a treaty of peace and alliance by which he was appointed master-general of the Roman armies throughout the prefecture of Illyricum.

 

The death of Stilicho, in 408 A.D., having removed his only formidable adversary, Alaric crossed the Alps, invaded Italy, and marched without resistance to Rome, then the most magnificent city of the world. About October, 408 A.D. he formed the blockade of that city, being the first foreign enemy that appeared before its walls since the time of Hannibal. Within a few months famine compelled the Senate to negotiate with Alaric, who was induced to raise the siege and to retire by the payment of 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, and 4,000 robes of silk.

 

Honorius, whose capital was now Ravenna, refused the terms of peace offered by Alaric, who demanded for himself the rank of master-general of the armies of the West. In 409 A. D., the Roman Senate consented to Alaric's proposal to place a new emperor on the throne, and Alaric bestowed the purple on Attalus, Prefect of Rome. Attalus soon offended Alaric, who deposed him 410 A. D., and again offered terms of peace which Honorius rejected. In August, 410, the Goths captured Rome by the aid of slaves who opened the gates in the night. The Goths pillaged Rome for six days and massacred multitudes of Romans, but spared the churches at the request of Alaric. The Gothic conqueror marched southward and ravaged Italy, and proposed to conquer Sicily. But his career was suddenly terminated at Cosenza in 410 A_D. The Goths diverted the course of a small river, buried him in the vacant bed, and then restored the water to its fonner channel.


Alaric possessed the invincible temper which rises superior to every defeal There are many proofs of his moderation and clemency in trying circulllstances, while the charges of
cruelty made by some authors are not supported by evidence. He left a son named Theodoric.

 

ALARIC IN ITALY.

 

The Emperor Honorius was distinguished, above his subjects, by the preeminence of fear as well as of rank. The pride and luxury ill which he was educated had not allowed him to Suspect that there existed on the earth any power presumptuous enough to invade the repose of the successor of Augustus. The arts of flattery concealed the impending danger till Alaric approached the palace of Milan. But when the sound of war had awakened the young Emperor, instead of flying to arms with the spirit, or even the rashness, of his age, he eagerly listened to those timid counselors who proposed to convey his sacred person and his faithful attendants to some secure and distant station in the provinces of Gaul. Stilicho alone had courage and authority to resist this disgraceful measure, which would have abandoned Rome and Italy to the Barbarians; but as the troops of the palace had been lately detached to the Rhaetian frontier, and as the resource of new levies was slow and precarious, the General of the West could only promise that, if the court of Milan would maintain their ground during his absence, he would soon return with an army equal to the encounter of the Gothic King.

 

Without losing a moment while each moment was so important to the public safety, Stilicho hastily embarked on the Larian Lake, ascended the mountains of ice and snow, amidst the severity of all Alpine winter and suddenly repressed, by his unexpected presence the enemy who had disturbed the tranquility of Rhaetia. The Barbarians, perhaps some tribes of the Alemanni, respected the 6nuncss of a chief who still assumed the language of command and the choice which he condescended to make of a select number of their bravest youth was considered as a mark of his esteem and favor. The cohorts, who were delivered from the neighboring foe, diligently repaired to the Imperial standard ; and Stilicho issued his orders to the most remote troops of the West to advance, by rapid marches, to the defense of Honorius and of Italy. The fortresses of the Rhine were abandoned, and the safety of Gaul was protected only by the faith of the Germans and the ancient terror of the Roman name. Even the legion, which had been stationed to guard the wall of Britain against the Caledonians of the North. was hastily recalled, and a numerous body of the cavalry of the Alani was persuaded to engage in the service of the Emperor, who anxiously expected the return of his general. The prudence and vigor of Stilicho were conspicuous on this occasion, which revealed, at the same time, the weakness of the falling empire. The legions of Rome, which had long since languished in the gradual decay of discipline and courage, were exterminated by the Gothic and civil wars and it was found impossible, without exhausting and exposing the provinces, to assemble an army for the defense of Italy.

 

When Stilicho seemed to abandon his sovereign in the unguarded palace of Milan, he had probably calculated the term of his absence, the distance of the enemy, and the obstacles that might retard their march. He principally depended on the rivers of Italy-the Adige, the Mincius, the Oglio aud the Addua-which, in the winter or spring, by the fall of rains, or by the melting of the snows, are commonly swelled into broad and impetuous torrents. But the season happened to be remarkably dry, and the Goths could traverse, without impediment, the wide and stony beds, whose center was faintly marked by the course of a shallow stream. The bridge and passage of the Addua were secured by a strong detachment of the Gothic army, and as Alaric approached the walls, or rather the suburbs, of Milan, he enjoyed the proud satisfaction of seeing the Emperor of the Romans fly before him. Honorius, accompanied by a feeble train of statesmen and eunuchs, hastily retreated towards the Alps, with a design of securing his person in the city of Arles, which had often been the royal residence of his predecessors.

 

But Honorius had scarcely passed the Po before he was overtaken by the speed of the Gothic cavalry, since the urgency of the danger compel1ed him to seek a temporary shelter within the fortifications of Asta, a town of Liguria or Piedmont, situated on the banks of the Tanarus. The siege of an obscure place, which contained so rich a prize, and seemed incapable of a long resistance, was instantly formed and indefatigably pressed by the King of the Goths; and the bold declaration, which the Emperor might afterwards make, that his breast had never been susceptible of fear, did not probably obtain much credit, even in his own court. In the last and almost hopeless extremity, after the Barbarians had already proposed the indignity of a capitulation, the Imperial captive was suddenly relieved by the fame, the approach, and at length the presence of the hero whom he had so long expected. At the head of a chosen and intrepid vanguard, Stilicho swam the stream of the Addua, to gain the time which he must have lost in the attack of the bridge; the passage of the Po was all enterprise of much less hazard and difficulty ; and the successful action in which he cut his way through the Cothic camp under the walls of Asta revived the hopes and vindicated the honor of Rome.

 

Instead of grasping the fruit of his victory, the Barbarian was gradually invested on every side by the troops of the West, who successively issued through all the passes of the Alps; his quarters were straitened ; his convoys were intercepted and the vigilance of t he Romans prepared to form a chain of fortifications, and to besiege the lines of the besiegers. A military council was assembled of the long-haired chiefs of the Gothic nation; of aged warriors whose bodies were wrapped in furs and whose stern countenances were marked with honorable wounds. They weighed the glory of persisting in their attempt against the ad vantage of securing their plunder, and they recommended the prudent measure of a seasonable retreat. In this important debate, Alaric displayed the spirit of the conqueror of Rome; and after he had reminded his countrymen of their achievements and of their designs, he concluded his animating speech by the solemn and positive assurance that he was resolved to find in Italy either a kingdom or a grave.

 

The loose discipline of the Barbarians always exposed them to the danger of a surprise; but, instead of choosing the dissolute hours of riot and intemperance, Stilicho resolved to attack the Christian Goths whilst they were devoutly employed in celebrating the festival of Easter. The execution of the stratagem, or, as it was termed by the clergy, of the sacrilege, was intrusted to Saul, a Barbarian and a Pagan, who had served, however, with distinguished reputation among the veteran generals of Theodosius. The camp of the Goths, which Alaric had pitched in the neighborhood of Policutia, was thrown into confusion by the sudden and impetuous charge of the Imperial cavalry; but, in a few moments, the undaunted genius of their leader gave them an order and a field of battle and, as soon as they had recovered from their astonishment, the pious confidence that the God. of the Christians would assert their cause added new strength to their native valor. In this engagement, which was long maintained with equal courage and success, the chief of the Alani, whose diminutive and savage form concealed a magnanimous soul, approved his suspected loyalty by the zeal with which he fought, and fell, in the service of the republic; and the fame of this gallant Barbarian has been imperfectly preserved in the verses of Claudian, since the poet who celebrates his virtues has omitted the mention of his name. His death was followed by the flight and dismay of the squadrons which lie commanded; and the defeat of the wing of cavalry might have decided the victory of Alaric, if Stilicho had not immediately led the Roman and Barbarian infantry to the attack. The skill of the general and the bravery of the soldiers surmounted every obstacle. In the evening of the bloody day the Goths retreated from the field of battle, the entrenchments of their camp were forced, and the scene of rapine and slaughter made some atonement for the calamities which they had inflicted on the subjects of the empire.

 

The magnificent spoils of Corinth and Argos enriched the veterans of the West; the captive wife of Alaric, who had impatiently claimed his promise of Roman jewels and Patrician handmaids, was reduced to implore the mercy of the insulting foe; and many thousand prisoners, released from the Gothic chains, dispersed through the provinces of Italy the praises of their heroic deliverer. The triumph of Stilicho was compared by the poet, and perhaps by the public, to that of Marius, who, in the same part of Italy, had encountered and destroyed another army of Northern Barbarians. The huge bones and the empty helmets of the Cimbri and of the Goths would easily be confounded by succeeding generations, and posterity might erect a common trophy to the memory of the two most illustrious generals who had vanquished, on the same memorable ground, the two most formidable enemies of Rome.

 

The eloquence of Claudian has celebrated, with lavish applause, the victory of Pollentia, one of the most glorious days in the life of his patron; but his reluctant and partial muse bestows more genuine praise on the character of the Gothic King. His name is, indeed, branded with the reproachful epithets of pirate and robber, to which the conquerors of every age are so justly entitled; but the poet of Stilicho is compelled to acknowledge that Alaric possessed the invincible temper of mind which rises superior to every misfortune and derives new resources from adversity. Aft(;r the total defeat of his infantry, he escaped, or rather withdrew, from the field of battle, with the greatest part of his cavalry entire and unbroken.

 

Without wasting a moment to lament the irreparable loss of so many brave companions, he left his victorious enemy to bind in chains the captive images of a Gothic King, and boldly resolved to break through the unguarded passes of the Apennines, to spread desolation over the fruitful face of Tuscany, and to conquer or die before the gates of Rome. The capital was saved by the active and incessant diligence of Stilicho but he respected the despair of bis enemy, and, instead of committing the fate of the republic to the chance of another battle, he proposed to purchase the absence of the Barbarians. The spirit of Alaric would have rejected such terms, the permission of a retreat, and the offer of a pension with contempt and indignation; but he exercised a limited and precarious authority over the independent chieftains who had raised him, for their service, above the rank of his equals they were still less disposed to follow an unsuccessful general, and many of them were tempted to consult their interest by a private negotiation with the minister of Honorius. The King submitted to the voice of his people, ratified the treaty with the Empire of the West, and repassed the Po with the remains of the flourishing army which he had led into Italy.-E. GIBBON.

 

Alaric

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