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Ataulf (sometimes Athavulf [1], Atawulf [2], or Athaulf — "noble wolf" — Latinized as Ataulphus) was king of the Visigoths from 410 to 415. The modern historian of the Goths, Herwig Wolfram, summarizes the last seven years of his life, the only ones that we can follow: "within that period he developed from a tribal chief to a late antique statesman."[3]



He was unanimously elected to the throne to succeed his brother-in-law Alaric, who had been struck down by a fever suddenly in Calabria. King Ataulf's first act was to halt Alaric's southward expansion of the Goths in Italy.

Meanwhile, Gaul had been separated from the western Roman Empire by the usurper Constantine III. So in 411 Constantius, the magister militium (master of military) of the western emperor, Flavius Augustus Honorius, with Gothic auxiliaries under Ulfilas, crushed the Gallic rebellion with a siege of Arles. There Constantine and his son were offered an honorable capitulation— but were beheaded in September on their way to pay homage to Honorius at Ravenna.

In the spring of 412 Constantius pressed Ataulf. Taking the advice of Priscus Attalus—the former emperor whom Alaric had set up at Rome in opposition to Honorius at Ravenna, and who had remained with the Visigoths after he'd been deposed—Ataulf led his followers out of Italy. Moving north into a momentarily pacified Gaul, the Visigoths lived off the countryside in the usual way. Ataulf may have received some additional encouragement in the form of payments in gold from the Emperor Honorius—since Ataulf carried with him as a respected hostage the emperor's half-sister Galla Placidia, who had long been his captive.

Once in Gaul, Ataulf opened negotiations with a new usurper, the Gallic Jovinus. But when the latter ended up instead preferring Sarus, Ataulf's blood enemy among the Gothic nobles, Ataulf broke negotiations off and attacked and killed Sarus. Jovinus then named his brother Sebastianus (Sebastian) as Augustus (co-emperor). This further offended Ataulf, who hadn't been consulted. So he allied his Visigoths with Honorius. Jovinus' troops were defeated in battle, Sebastianus was captured, and Jovinus fled for his life. Ataulf then turned Sebastianus over for execution to Honorius' Gallic praetorian prefect (provincial governor), Postumus Dardanus. After this, Ataulf besieged and captured Jovinus at Valentia (Valence) in 413, sending him to Narbo (Narbonne), where he was executed by Dardanus.

After the heads of Sebastianus and Jovinus arrived at Honorius' court in Ravenna in late August, to be forwarded for display among other usurpers on the walls of Carthage, relations between Ataulf and Honorius improved sufficiently for Ataulf to cement them by marrying Galla Placidia at Narbo in early 414. The nuptials were celebrated with high Roman festivities and magnificent gifts from the Gothic booty. Priscus Attalus gave the wedding speech, a classical epithalamium.

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