July 11, 2020


Knocking at the gates: A review of Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of Rome, by Douglas Boin. (Clayton Trutor, 7/09/20, New Criterion)

In 410 ad, Alaric I, King of the Visigoths, breached Rome's walls, likely with the aid of collaborators, and led an army of thousands into the city. Alaric's sack of Rome was the culmination of a decade's worth of campaigns against an increasingly unstable western imperial state, which had grown incapable of controlling its hinterlands and the people who inhabited them, including the Visigoths.

This was also the first time in eight centuries that the city of Rome's defenses had ruptured. Luckily for the Romans, Alaric was a professed Christian. He gave refuge to those who sought safety in churches and implored his men not to plunder religious artifacts. Following a three-day pillaging of the city, the Goths under Alaric's command began a campaign southward for Sicily that was derailed by a devastating storm. Less than a year after sacking Rome, Alaric died of a sudden, unknown illness. In the wake of his death, the Goths retreated from the Italian peninsula and established a kingdom within the bounds of the Western Roman Empire, in the French region of Aquitaine. The swift rise and fall of Alaric has often been depicted in arts and letters, typically as an apocalyptic moment in the history of Rome--the beginning of the end. Nevertheless, an English language biography of Alaric was not available until the historian Douglas Boin took on the task.

Boin's Alaric the Goth is an entertaining, highly readable account of a figure who has previously been regarded as a pitiless heel straight from central casting. Boin, in a fresh approach, looks at the events leading up to the sack of Rome from the Goths' perspective; thus Alaric is a cultural outsider, a transient, non-citizen within the Roman realm, seeking out the privileges afforded those with Roman citizenship. Alaric admired Roman culture and, like thousands of other Goths, had fought on its behalf before turning on the Empire.

Posted by at July 11, 2020 6:46 AM