Source: James Harvey Robinson, Readings in European History (Boston: Ginn and Company. 1904). Transcribed by Robert Brant.
The West Goths [terrified
by the victories of the Huns over the East Goths] requested Emperor Valens
to grant them a portion of Thrace or Moesia south of the Danube in which
to settle. They promised to obey his laws and commands and, in order
still further to gain his confidence, they engaged to become Christians
if only the emperor would send to them teachers who knew their language.
When Valens heard this he readily agreed to a plan which he might himself
have proposed. He received the Goths’ into Moesia and erected them,
so to speak, into a sort of rampart to protect his empire against the other
Now, since Valens was infected with the heresy of the Arians and had closed all the churches which belonged to our party [i.e. the orthodox], he sent the Goths preachers of his own infection. These missionaries poured out for the newcomers, who were inexperienced and ignorant, the poison of their own false faith. So the West Goths were made Arians rather than Christians by Emperor Valens. Moreover, in their enthusiasm they converted their kinsmen, the East Goths and the Gepidae, and taught them to respect this heresy. They invited all nations of their own tongue everywhere to adopt the creed of this sect.
When news of this reached the emperor Valens at Antioch, he hastened with an army into Thrace. Here it came to a miserable battle in which the Goths conquered. The emperor fled to a peasant’s hut not far from Adrianople. The Goths, according to the custom of the raging enemy, set fire to the buildings, having no idea that there was an emperor hidden in the little hut, and so he was consumed in his kingly pomp. This was in accordance with God’s judgment that he should be burned with fire by them, since when they asked for the true faith, he misled them with false teaching and changed for them the fire of love into the fire of hell.
After the great and glorious victory, the West Goths set themselves to cultivate Thrace and the Dacian river valley as if it were their native soil of which they had just gained possession.
[There they remained, hostile to the Empire, and a perpetual menace. Finally Theodosius the Great, the brace and stern, the wise and liberal, ended the war between the Goths and Romans by a treaty. By his presents and his own friendly bearing, he won the friendships of Athanaric, king of the West Goths, and invited him to go to Constantinople.]
When the West Goth entered the royal city he was astounded. “Now I see what I have often heard without believing --- the glory of this great city.” Looking here and there, he admired the site of the city, and the number of ships, and the magnificent walls. He saw people of many nations, like a stream flowing from different sources into one fountain. He marveled at the martial array of the soldiers and exclaimed, “Doubtless the emperor is a god of this earth, and whoever has raised his hand against him is guilty of his own blood.”
A few months later, Athanaric, upon whom the emperor heaped his favors, departed from this world, and the emperor, because of his affection for Athanaric, honored him almost more in death that he had done in life, gave him worthy burial, and was himself present beside the bier at the funeral.
After the death of Athanaric, all his army remained in the service of the emperor Theodosius, submitted to the Roman power, and formed, as it were, one body with its soldiers. They resembled the allies whom Constantine had had, who were called Foederati.
After Theodosius, who cherished both peace and the Gothic people, had departed this life, his sons [Honorius and Arcadius], through their lives of indulgence, began to bring ruin down upon their empires and withdrew from their allies, the Goths, the accustomed gifts. The Goths soon grew disgusted with the emperors, and since they were fearful lest their bravery in war should decline by too long a period of peace, they made Alaric their king….So, since the said Alaric was chosen king, he took counsel with his fellows and declared to them that is was preferable to conquer a kingdom through one’s own force rather than to live in peace under the yoke of strangers.
He thereupon took his army and advanced, during the consulate of Stilicho and Aurelianus, through Pannonia and Sirmium into Italy. This country was so completely deprived of forces that Alaric approached without opposition to the bridge over the Candiano, three miles from the imperial city of Ravenna….
The Goths sent messengers to the emperor Honorius who was at Ravenna, requesting that they might be permitted to settle quietly in Italy. Should they be allowed to do this, they would live as one people with the Romans; otherwise they would try which people could expel the other, the victor to remain in control. But the emperor Honorius, fearing both suggestions, took counsel with his senate how they might rid Italy of the Goths. He at last concluded to assign the distant provinces of Gaul and Spain to the West Goths. He had, indeed, already nearly lost these districts, for they had been devastated by an incursion of Genseric, king of the Vandals. If Alaric and his people could succeed in conquering this region, they might have it as their home.
[The Goths agreed to this, but on their way thither were treacherously attacked by Stilicho, the emperor’s father-in-law. The Goths, however, held their own in the battle which followed. They turned back, full of wrath, towards Italy, and wasted the northern part of the peninsula during the following years; then moved south into Tuscany.]
Finally they entered the city of Rome and sacked it at Alaric’s command. They did not, however, set fire to the city, as is the custom of the wild peoples, and would not permit that any of the holy places should be desecrated. They then proceeded into Campania and Lucania, which they likewise plundered, and came then to Britii….
Alaric, the king of the West Goths, also brought hither the treasures of all Italy which he had won by plunder, and determined to cross from here over to Sicily and thence to Africa which would offer him a final abode. But a number of his ships were swallowed up by that fearful sea, and many were injured; for man is unable to carry out his wishes when they are opposed by God’s will.
While Alaric, discouraged by this misfortune, was considering what he should do, he was struck down by an early death and departed this world. His followers mourned the loss of him they had so dearly loved. They diverted the river Busento from its ordinary bed near the town of Consentia --- this river, it may be added, brings salubrious water from the foot of the mountains to the town --- and had a grave dug by captives in the middle of the channel. Here they buried Alaric, together with many precious objects. Then they permitted the water to return once to its old bed. Moreover, in order that the place might never be found, they killed all those who had helped dig the grave.
The Goths transferred the rule to Atavulf, a relative of Alaric’s, and a man of fine figure and lofty spirit, who, although he was not distinguished for his size, was remarkable for his figure and face. When Atavulf had assumed the rule he turned back again to Rome, and what had been left there from the first sack was now swept clean away, as a field might be devastated by grasshoppers. He robbed not only individuals of their wealth in Italy, but he also took that of the state, and Emperor Honorius was able in no way to restrain him. He even led away prisoner from Rome Placidia, the sister of Honorius, and daughter of Emperor Theodosius by his second wife.
[Later he married Placidia and strengthened the Gothic cause by this royal alliance. He then moved on to Gaul, where he engaged in a struggle with the other barbarians.]
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