Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

AS tribal warfare extends all over Afghanistan and the job of the peacekeepers becomes more and more impossible, the example of the late Roman empire in the West comes to mind.

Alaric, ruler of the Visigoths (AD 395-410), was born in the Danube region c. 365. In 394, he was recruited by the western Roman emperor Theodosius to take on the usurper Eugenius at the river Frigidus (north of Trieste). Eugenius was captured and executed, and Alaric demanded his reward. This was, after all, a matter of internal imperial politics, and Alaric had assumed he would be offered an appointment at the top of the Roman military hierarchy. But he was rejected. As a result, he took his career into his own hands and, backed by his powerful Gothic troops, set out to legitimise himself some other way.

For 15 years he and the Roman state engaged in a dance macabre. Stilicho, a Romanised Vandal and regent of the western Roman empire after Theodosius' death, was unable to defeat him decisively, buy him off or recruit him - Stilicho seems to have wanted to use Alaric against the eastern half of the empire but never managed to clinch a deal. In 406 a massive barbarian invasion (not involving Alaric) swept across the Rhine, leaving Rome even more unstable. …

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