How Was Alaric Able to Sack Rome in AD 410?


Gold Coin of the Emperor Honorius

Few scholars would argue that it would be hyperbole to say that the Visigoth sack of Rome in AD 410 was one of the true turning points in world history. For Rome, it was the first time that the city had been sacked by outsiders in over 800 years when the Gauls last did the destructive deed in 390 BC. The Romans recovered nicely from the 390 BC sacking, with the majority of their cultural, political, and military achievements coming after that date.

Arguably, Rome was stronger as a result of the 390 BC sacking, as it was forced to reevaluate its military capabilities and how far its northern boundaries should be extended. The sacking in AD 410 was much different, though, as it came at a time when Rome had been in decline for over two centuries. In many ways, the sacking was the death knell of the once great city-state, which limped along for a few more decades before the last emperor of the west was deposed in AD 476.

It is said that Rome was not built in a day, which equally applies to its collapse and the sacking of the city in AD 410. Rome’s sacking was the end result of a ten-year process of invasions and sieges led by Alaric I (ruled 395-410), king of the Visigoths. Alaric I was able to bring forth unmitigated destruction to Rome due to a number of factors. The Visigoth king proved to be a great military tactician who possessed a resolute character and was a keen judge of character. On the other side, the Roman Emperor Honorius (reigned 393-423) was weak, inexperienced, and prone to take bad advice, which ultimately led to the death of the only Roman commander who could stop Alaric I.

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Categories: Roman History

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