By Dr Peter Heather
Last updated 2011-02-17
Alaric rose to power over the Goths in the mid 390s AD. The Visigoths had been admitted into the empire in 376 AD. They defeated and killed the emperor Valens at Hadrianople in 378 AD, and then made a treaty with the emperor Theodosius in 382 AD.
On Theodosius' death in 394 AD, Alaric revolted in a bid to secure better terms for his followers. He attacked the cities of the east to force the eastern imperial authorities in Constantinople to offer concessions, which they did in 397 AD. In 399 AD, a change of regime led to their definitive removal, and in 401-402 AD, he invaded Italy to try the same tactics - unsuccessfully - on the east.
Further barbarian invasions across the Rhine and Danube in 405-406 AD forced the effective ruler of the west, Stilicho ruling in the name of the emperor Honorius, to seek out an alliance with Alaric. But Stilicho was toppled in 408 AD and Alaric invaded Italy again, demanding that all the promises should be fulfilled.
For over a year-and-a-half, from late 408 AD, Alaric's Goths sat outside Rome to force Honorius and his advisors, safe in Ravenna in Northern Italy, to come to terms. He even raised his own Roman emperor from the Senate to apply more pressure. No deal was forthcoming. Needing to satisfy his followers' demands for plunder, he allowed them finally to sack the city on 24 August 410 - the first time this had happened for 800 years.
Alaric died of disease early in 411 AD without extracting the deal he so craved.