Alaric I

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Alaric I (Alareiks in the original Gothic) was likely born about 370 on an island named Peuce (the Fir) at the mouth of the Danube in present day Romania. King of the Visigoths from 395–410, Alaric was the first Germanic leader to take the city of Rome. Having originally desired to settle his people in the Roman Empire, he finally sacked the city, marking the decline of imperial power in the west.

Alaric, whose name means "king of all" was well-born, his father kindred to the Balti, a tribe competing with the Amali among Gothic fighters. He belonged to the western Gothic branch, the Visigoths. At the time of his birth, the Visigoths dwelt in Bulgaria, having fled beyond the wide estuary marshes of the Danube to its southern shore so as not to be followed by their foes from the steppe, the Huns. There is evidence, however, as suggested by Peter Heather, that the Huns were not near the Danube until closer to the 5th century. What is certain is that the Visigoths' westward migration occurred in response to the threat posed by the Huns. Heather asserts, "Mysterious as the Huns' origins and animating forces may remain, there is no doubt at all that they were behind the strategic revolution that brought the Goths to the Danube in the summer of 376." Moreover, concerning the Huns displacement of the Goths, ancient historian Ammianus Marcellinus concluded, "The seed-bed and origin of all this destruction and of the various calamities inflicted by the wrath of Mars, which raged everywhere with extraordinary fury, I find to be this: the people of the Huns." Ammianus Marcellinus was right - the Huns were behind the military revolution that had brought the Tervingi and Greuthungi to the Danube sometime in the late summer or autumn of 376. It now presented Emperor Valens with a huge dilemma- tens of thousands of displaced Goths had suddenly arrived on his borders requesting asylum.


In Roman service

During the fourth century, the Roman emperors commonly employed foederati: Germanic irregular troops under Roman command, but organized by tribal structures. To spare the provincial populations from excessive taxation and to save money, emperors began to employ units recruited from Germanic tribes. The rich balked at furnishing recruits from their own estates in the numbers needed for the empire's defense and ordinary folk were reluctant to serve. Instead, the rich paid a special tax to fund the hiring of mercenaries. Moreover, the emperors—ever fearful that a brilliantly successful general of Roman extraction might be proclaimed Augustus by his followers—preferred that high military command should be in the hands of one to whom such an accession of dignity was impossible. The largest of these contingents was that of the Goths, who in 382, had been allowed to settle within the imperial boundaries, keeping a large degree of autonomy.

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