Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome

Norton. Jun. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9780393635690. $26.95. HIST
Though at one time a soldier in the Roman army, Alaric the Goth’s (370 BCE–410 CE) repeated dismissive treatment by the ruling emperors in spite of his military successes shifted his loyalties back to his Gothic kinsmen. By 395, he had become leader of the Visigoths and led several invasions of the Empire, eventually sacking the city of Rome for three days in 410. Boin (history, Saint Louis Univ.) lays out the known facts of Alaric’s life clearly, but the paucity of contemporary records about him unfortunately impinges some of the book’s effectiveness as a biography; the parallels Boin draws to current-day issues by examining Roman attitudes toward Gothic immigrants are effective, but the positioning of Alaric specifically as an immigrant child torn from his parents by Rome’s border policies stumbles given the amount of mights and maybes that Boin must hedge his statements with. More compelling is Boin’s overall presentation of the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries: a declining civilization facing turmoil from within and without, reliant for military strength on the very “barbarians” it disdained.
VERDICT A serviceable study of Alaric himself, but more valuable as a resource offering a look at the Roman Empire midway through its fall.

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