Alaric speaks

And now it's my turn... As many others have done (in Gabrielle's blog you have the grand totale so far, at Historical Persons Me Too's, I hate this use of the concept of 'meme', it's so limited...) I have found the courage to do this.

This is -- so far -- the Alaric of my novel, The Goth, as faithfully credited by his confessor and biographer of sorts, presbyter Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus:

I am: Alaricus (Alarīks), son of Arimir, magister militum per Occidentem, rex of the Vesi Goths, and I am dying.

I want: to find a place within the Roman Empire where my People can live in peace, safe from the barbarian Huns. As Roman foedi we deserve better than we have been granted, and after years of fighting, my people needs to settle and flourish

I wish: that Honorius and Theodosius -- and their respective puppet masters -- accept the fact that the Goths are here to stay. We are the new blood the Romans need to survive, the same way the Gauls and the Illyrians were before us, we are the new Romans and I wish Constantius and the mentulae in Ravenna, and Anthemius and Antiochus, who are the real rulers in Constantinopolis would find a way to fulfill their ambitions leaving us aside.

I hate: to be fooled around, I am not famous for my patience.

I miss: the good old days on the Prut river, before the Huns arrived and the Great Migration came. I also miss my father and my grandfather, and the Old Ways of my People, I miss the good times, when Stilicho and I sat on a fireplace in the middle of Moesia, and talked about stuff that seemed so important at the time...

I fear: that when I die, my people will starve or will be cornered and fade away from memory as others had before done. We have fought so hard just to lose everything at the moment, simply because I am such a weak leader

I hear: that the Huns are starting to move again, and that the Alans, Vandals and Suebi have entered into Hispania, after plundering the Gaul for years; also I hear that it's hot outside, but I have a deadly cold, I feel it deep in my bones...

I wonder: what will be of my People, will they be able to find a place for them, now that I have failed to cross them to Africa? Who will be able to lead them successfully out of this trap that Italy has become?

I regret: not being able to save Flavius Stilicho a couple of years ago, when that snake of Honorius cornered him; he was an honorable man and a great warrior, he beat me many times and I can only hold his memory as a second father to me

I am not: fully able to understand the mentality of the Romans that prefer to trade with his own People's suffering in order to gain a temporal power, not even after all this time living among them, and fighting for them, and against them...

I dance: not anymore, but my heart still beats to the drums and flutes of my People, and my spirit is lifted with theirs by the music of our Traditions

I sing: at the firelight, with my warriors, remembering the ways of our People and the legends of times gone by, even now that my voice is fading away, like that of the distant heroes of yonder days...

I cry: to the foolishness of the stupids who have forced me to spill blood on the ground because they won't allow me a place to spill grain, instead. We are as Roman as they are, we have fought for their lands, and their gold, and their rights; we have died for them, we have suffered what most of them had never done, and we deserve our reward as Gothic Romans.

I made: what so many other Roman Generals have been making ever since Cornelius Sulla, I entered into Rome with my legions and showed them who was the real boss... if only Ravenna had been easier... But in my last days, it all seems void and pointless

I have not always been: fighting Honorius, although now that I'm looking behind, it seems I have for my whole life; I seek joy and love, like every men does...

I wrote: letter after letter to the Senate, to the Emperor, to the Praefecti and the powerful, only to find them returned with the seals intact, or with despicable rejections and threats, which is frustrating and infuriating

I confuse: piety with intelligence, and God knows I have tried to be the former while using the latter, but our Sin is for our Pride to condemn us, and I am not as intelligent as my vanity made me think, I am no Caesar

I need: to think of a way to save my People, and I await the arrival of my brother-in-law, Athaulfus, with anxiety; he must learn the way that's been opened to my eyes by Revelation, now that I won't be able to follow it myself...

I should: have killed Honorius years ago and wore the Purple myself; I've never wanted it, but it would have probably been for the best; Attalus is an incompetent, and I hope my successor won't try to use him, as he will be disappointed again, if only he wasn't so useful to legitimate our Rightful petitions!

I start: to feel that life is finally leaving me, and I depart to join my ancestors, God knows I love Him, but my blood is thicker than wine, and Tyz is calling the warrior in me to join Aramir and Wulfatta, and so many others

I finish: this asking for forgiveness, father Lucius, for I have sinned...


Gabriele C. said...

That's very interesting. I see we agree on the comradeship between Alaric and Stilicho, and that Ravenna is full of mentulae. :)

Is there any proof he became Christian (I mean not baptizism but really following that faith), and what about those letters to the senate? Would you share your sources? It seems you've found more than I (though I admit my research concentrates on Britannia and Gaul right now).

Excalibor said...

Thanks! :-)

Yes, obviously, Ravenna was full of mentulae, how could be any different, considering who was living there?

I haven't found any proof of Alaric's faith, and that's why I'm settling in a "light" Arianism mixed with the Gothic religion (Tyz et al.) and I'll surely add Mithraism to the mix (specially since he joins the military). I don't think christianism was really fixed before Honorius and Augustine's City of God, after Rome's sack, which would set it about 425. Nicea (325) and Constantinopolis (380) were harmful, and Julianus's early demise didn't help diversity to survive, as the Valentinian emperors were pretty fanatic, each with their chosen variety... But leaving aside the most extremist sects, most christians would have professed a range of mixed faith, with pagan gods disguised as Saints, below the Father and the Son, but as worthy as always (which, in a sense, still happens today in Christianism all over the world) and there would still be many pagans (not openly so, maybe) to moderate any recently converted.

Finally, Alaric would have been exposed since early childhood to many different religions and religious POVs, and that would have helped to make him a particular Christian himself.


SPOILER of non-yet-written-novel below (sounds complex, hehe :-)

As a contrast to Alaric's beliefs, I intend to play with both father Lucius (Catholic presbyter, in the last years of Alaric) and Paulus Theodoricus, who will basically be a pagan through all the novel, and a character close to Alaric, although not always in the same side... :-)


But considering he was of Fritigern's side (which was Arian Christian) and lived several years in Constantinopolis as a hostage to Theodosius I after the truce in 380 (where he met Stilicho, etc), I think the exposure "excuse" is good enough for the time being... His father, Arimir (I have chosen him, yes, considering the lack of information :-P would have been a "half convinced" Christian, but his grandfather, Wulfatta (also invented), was definitely pagan and a "true" Goth... :-)

I am making him a smart boy, already speaking Latin at short age, and learning Greek in Antioch (when he went with the Embassy). Now, he was not as smart as Caesar, as he notes himself in the "interview", but smart enough to be curious and openminded in that whole new, strange world that opened to him when he went to the capital city.

Anyway, I'm still trying to find reliable information about primitive Christianism, specially pre-Nicean Concilium, but it's really difficult, as they made sure everything else was destroyed... If I find out anything that makes me change my POV about this, it will be reflected in the revision, anyway... :-)

As for the letters, Heather talks about "communications" between Alaric and Ravenna in the sieges of Rome in 408, 409 and 410, so I am just following the logical trail with this: some messages would have been just oral (to keep them secret) but many would have been written; specially once he put Attalus as Emperor, I'd expect lots of letters between him sieging/blocking Ravenna (so Theodosius wouldn't be able to send in reinforcements by land) and Attalus and the Senate in Rome, giving orders and getting news, specially from the pagan Senators that would have been against Honorius after the loss of power in 395...

A bit speculative until I find more proof, I admit it, but there's still time for more research before I get there in the novel... I'll be sure to share my findings, worry not... :)

thanks for all!

Pacal said...

Very interesting. I personally never thouught Alaric was much of a monster given that his sack of Rome seems to have been remarkably restrained. The Vandal sack of 455 under Gisaric was far more through and profitable, destructive and involved some killing unlike Alaric's sack which seemed to have virtually no killing. Still it seems to have been quite a shock. (Rome hadn't been sacked since the Celts 390 B.C.E., date probably a few years off). Has St Jerome said, "The whole world perished in one city".

Arianism is of course a debatable topic, procticallynone of his writings survived (Arius), and he was accuussed of denying the divinity of Jesus. That is almost certainly false, it appears that his heresy could have been as simple has stating that the Son (Jesus) eminated from the father and was therefore in some sense a subordinate aspect of God. Not exactly a Earth shaking opinion from a modern point of view. but at the time they rioted, killed and oppressed each other over it with unplesant violence. Michael Grant in his book The Fall of Rome has a rather good section sumarizing these destructive quarrals.

As for Stilicho I really don't know exactly what they thought of each other, they certainly fought on occasion and Stilicho was indisputabily the better general. Honorius has gotten very bad press,p erhaps deserved. But in fairness it has been theorized that he was right to distrust Stilicho who may have been really intriguing against him, in which case Stilicho's deatth is not a surprise. What is indisputable is that the occompaning massacure of "barbarian soldiers and families"was a mistake of truly hidious proportions. The result being that much of the Imperial army in Italy joined Alaric. Which accouunts at least partly for the lack of resistance to Alaric's forces afterwords.

Stilicho also was intriguing and planning to attack the Eastern Empire for quite sometime which greatly encouraged the Easterners to send Alaric his way. And of course in c. 408 C.E., he withdrew the Roman garrison from Britain. In 405 he had withdrawn troops from Gauul which allowed a "mixed"
group of "barbarians" to cross the Rhine. Stilicho's position wasn't helped by the fact he was a Arian. If I'm correct Stilicho's wife and child in the manner of Roman Imperial court intrigues were murdered also.


Excalibor said...

Pierre, thanks for your comments.

My take on Alaric's personality is that he was a man made in both worlds, a bridge between the pre-Hun Goths and the post-Hun Goths, he was both a barbarian and a Roman. This must leak somewhere, and that's what I'm trying to convey: that the same way Rome was the light of civilization for the barbarians (in a very arrogant way of thinking), the Goths were a revulsive Rome needed to take off the rust. Some unfortunate political decisions and Attila's damage to both cities and troop morale were too much for the Western Empire, which was left without food sources after loosing Africa, and with too many open fronts along the limes and inside the legions.

Thus, Alaric sacked Rome in order to give something to his army which had been going up and down, with civilians et al. for three (frustrating) years... But he was as civilised as they were, and his Goths were as savage as any other Roman army... The Vandals' sack of 455, however, was of a very different nature, as they were taking all the food sources of Rome, and simply intended to plunder it, taking the chance that Aetius could do nothing to stop them from Sicily or Corcega (?)...

Some consider Ataulf (Attawulfks, "Father Wolf"), Alaric's brother-in-law, the first Visigothic King, and I tend to agree the more I read about them: When Ataulfs died in Barcino (modern day Barcelona) he was a Roman general and a Gothic ruler, he had married Galla Placidia and learned since childhood the Roman ways, and the Goths were considered foederati and respected (at least to a point) by Constantius. Alaric was the Creator of the Visigoths. He was the glue that tied all the different Gothic tribes, and barbarian groups disseminated within the Empire into a mosaic culture, in which a singular identity uprooted. In a way, barrings all the differences (which are huge), Alaric was to Ataulf what C. Iulius Caesar was to Caesar Octavianus: the catalist for the reaction the latter managed to perform in their societies.

Primitive Christianism is very interesting, as we find the whole range from almost primitive judaism, to almost mythraism, with all the intermediate states. Their violence was due, I think, to a desire of differentiation (from Judes, Mythraists, Sol Inuictus, Kybeles, Isis, etc...) and a desire for power, once the Emperors started to favore some bishops between others, and to give more money to Cristian temples than to the classical temples. Lastly, as a religion, Christianism is very untolerant to other beliefs (and we can say so even today, e.g. the Bible Belt in USA, or some other "right wing" organizations around the Roman Church, for example (let's not speak, please, of the Da Vinci's Code!).

As for Stilicho, he was fully Roman, and acted like one. I can't say Honorius acted wrongly, but I think Alaric would have liked to defeat Stilicho himself, if the case arrived, although when he did so, Alaric was his ally. Honorius did what he must, but it would have probably been best for the Empire to kill himself and let the control to his co-Augustus.

But so it was, we only have to try and understand it... :-)


Gabriele C. said...

I agree that Alaric probably had an open attitude towards the Christian faith without fully giving up his own gods. I, too, see him as educated man, literate and multilingual, a man who understands that the Goths need unity to survive as a people and who, in some moments, may doubt how long they will survive as Goths within the Roman Empire. I think I stress that later point a bit more than you do.

I see Stilicho differently. Not fully as Germanic, oathbound to the emperor rather than Roman as the German author Felix Dahn sees him (his Stilicho novel makes for a good read and the research is ok, but he shares the late 19th century Germanism) but not as Roman as you do. In my novel, he is the one who most clearly realises that things change, tribal identities are questioned, Roman citizenship a paper rather than a place to belong, that the empire will not survive in the present form and that the migrations will change Europe. Thus, Stilicho understands Alaric's plight; he has to fight him to keep him out of Italy but he doesn't want to destroy the Goths. And there is the companionship of a shared youth as soldiers. I have him personally meet Alaric to negotiate a peace in 408, shortly before he is assassinated.

Since in Towards the Kingdom of Tolosa the historical characters play secondary roles, Stilicho and Alaric (and Athaulf and Galla Placidia) are important, but less important than the MCs Alamir, the Roman foundling brought up as Goth, and Aurelius Idamantes, the Roman officer, his half-brother.

Stilicho features in The Charioteer as well, where the MC Ciaran meets him one time at the Wall, and one time in Rome.

Excalibor said...


Thanks for your comments! I am following my instincts and the feeling I got of the social situation from reading some authors (like Heather, or Wolfram). We know some Goths, after the 382 truce, were so pro-Roman that they even married Roman women and adopted Roman names. OTOH, there was a strong anti-Roman faction that promised to get revenge for all the suffering at the crossing of the Danube...

After the battle of the river Frigidus, in which Jordanes and other sources mention heavy losses for the Goths, and Theodosius's death early the next year, the rising star of Alaric's finally crowned him as reiks and he must balance all fractions, lend the pro- and the anti- in the same body, and reinforce his position by making concesions (like any other chosen leader at the time, including, and surely specially the Roman Emperors). Specially since we know there were several rivals waiting for the position (like Sarus and Sigeric, who later assasinated Attawulfks), he must have been able to balance all that: walking on the blade's edge.

I don't think I have ever seen anything by Felix Dahn, but I will look for it... Which novel is the one he has Stilicho in?

As I have chosen to tell Alaric's life, I am forced to make a full display of all the main characters, even when I will have a good selection of fictional, helping characters... Thus, getting "right" all the main historical figures is of capital importance for me: I am forging an idea of each one's personalities as I advance in the novel and in my investigations (for example, did you know Valens couldn't speak Greek?! Fascinating, and he chose to have a lot of Illyrians, like himself, in his court, which didn't make things easier, as they weren't Greek native speakers, either..) but I'm also open to reconsider my views, of course...

Thanks for all, it'll be very valuable!

Gabriele C. said...

I have no idea if there's a translation of Dahn's Stilicho, the German book is out of print. Thanks my late grandfather for his library I inherited, lol.

I use the factions within the Goths to further mess up an already complicated plot. *grin* Raginamer's family are followers of Sarus though they didn't join him when he took Roman service, and since Raginamer's father died at Pollentia, the young man is not happy about Alaric's conciliatory politics, and he's even less happy about his sister Mataswintha falling in love with Alamir, one of the king's closest friends.

Excalibor said...


hehe, you are really Master Evil when throwing up emotional tangles... :-)

I am pretty bad at writing those, I will try to make a correct, cool first draft, and then I'll review the emotional tanglings and whatnots, and modify things accordingly.

I don't expect big surprises, specially with the historical characters, though in Damned Linneage I was really surprised by my 1st POV support character...

transgendering all of a sudden as a natural part of the plot! Obviously, it fit later when Teireseias appeared into the story, which is curious as I haven't even thought about him when this happened (at least not consciously).

But I'll eventually get it, I hope... ;-)


Pacal said...

You say:

"The Vandals' sack of 455, however, was of a very different nature, as they were taking all the food sources of Rome, and simply intended to plunder it, taking the chance that Aetius could do nothing to stop them from Sicily or Corcega (?)..."

Aetius could not stop them in 455 C.E., because he had been assasinated in 454 C.E., with the conivience if not the orders of Valentian II. (in one of the most stupid decisions of all time). about 6 months later soldiers of Aetius avenged his death by murdering Valentinian II. The end result of this sorry mess of intrigue was the Vandal sack of Rome.

Rearding Ataulf, who married Placida. There is the wiff of promising roads untraveled in the life of Ataulf. There is a extrodinary section of Osorius' Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, that describes how Atauflf aim was at first to replace "Roma with Gothica", but under the influence of others including Placida, the decision was made to try to save Rome in what seems to have amounted to some sort of Partnership. Part of this process involved Atauflf marrying Placida and they had a child named Theodosius (I'm not sure), who died very young. The whole thing feels like a extrodinary missed opportunity even at that late date to save something from the approaching end.

Perhaps it could never have worked but still it is the stuff at which alternative history flourishes.


Excalibor said...


of course Aetius was dead by 455, and he could not stop the Vandals from sacking Rome :-)

I was meaning the joint army prepared to reconquer Africa from Sicily that Aetius was going to lead and that was disbanded by the Hunnic incursions in the Eastern Empire in the 440s (before Attila turned his gaze to the Western territories)...

As for Attawulfks, Gabrielle's novel, Towards the Kingdom of Tolossa is concentrated in that part of the History, and she will know better... :-)

But yes, the Goths were probably the biggest asset for a strong Rome in the V Century, specially considering that the raise of the Franks as the major power in the West was probably due to Rome's efforts to weaken the Goths in the first place...

But I haven't dug deep enough in that part, I'm too busy with the IV Century yet!

thanks for all!