"Written in an enchanting and effortless style that transports you back in time, Douglas Boin’s
Alaric the Goth masters the art of bringing the past to life in a thrilling fashion and making it relevant to today. An essential and scholarly page-turner."
"An entertaining, highly readable account of a figure who has previously been regarded as a pitiless heel straight from central casting. Boin, in a fresh approach, looks at the events leading up to the sack of Rome from the Goths’ perspective."
New Criterion - Clayton Turner
"A fascinating account of one of the most important—and misunderstood—leaders in Roman history. Douglas Boin…tells the story of a man fighting for respect and dignity in a world consumed by civil war, religious intolerance, ethnic prejudice, greedy self-interest, and treacherous politics. Boin brings Alaric’s world to life, and so brings Alaric to life. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the whole story of the fall of Rome."
In this eye-opening revisionist history, St. Louis University historian Boin (
Coming Out Christian in the Roman World) recounts the life and times of Alaric, the Gothic ruler who sacked Rome in 410 CE after laying siege to the city on two previous occasions. According to Boin, the Goths, a Germanic people from present-day Romania and Ukraine, saw their status as Roman citizens disappear in the fourth and fifth centuries due to territorial losses and the adoption and cementing of Christianity as the empire’s sole religion. Drawing on contemporaneous and early medieval records, Boin chronicles Alaric’s transformation from loyal general in the Roman army to disillusioned enemy of the state, and stresses that Goth invaders treated Romans humanely when they finally penetrated the city. Taking issue with depictions of Alaric and the Goths as violent barbarians in histories by Edward Gibbon and Rodolfo Lanciani, Boin discusses how the term Gothic has been erroneously appropriated over the centuries to describe anything “weird” and “scary.” His brisk and well-documented account reveals the Roman Empire 50 years before its collapse as a decadent society rife with xenophobia and political conflict. This invigorating rehash of ancient times speaks clearly to the modern world. (July)
"The most engaging parts of Alaric the Goth, and by far the greater portion of its contents, diverge from Alaric’s story to give a sweeping view of Roman life near the fall of the empire. It’s here, especially in matters of Christian-pagan tension, that Mr. Boin excels."
Wall Street Journal - James Romm
"This is a story of desperation and broken promises, pitting refugees from the north seeking homes, respect, and citizenship in an unwieldy empire already juddering with anti-immigrant fears, social upheavals, and political treachery. With deep research and insight, Boin traces the trajectory of cultural conflict from dashed hopes to devastation."
"This is less a biography than the anatomy of an empire. Mr. Boin opens up the Rome of the fourth and fifth centuries and examines it with scientific precision and a wonderful turn of phrase, guiding readers with erudition and verve into battles in which men’s eyes are stabbed by arrows ‘the way a silver toothpick stabbed an olive.’"
"Boin paints a richly detailed portrait of the world in which Alaric maneuvered, defined by the thrashings of an empire in turmoil….A cogent, readable text that vividly conveys the fears and confusion that surrounded the issue of immigrants’ rights in a period of declining Roman power."
The Boston Globe - Wendy Smith
"A remarkable feat of historical alchemy: a transmutation of the scanty and inadequate sources into the gold of a gripping narrative."
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. —Kathleen McCallister, William & Mary Libs., Williamsburg, VA
A fresh look at a little-known corner of the history of the Roman Empire.
Alaric, born around 370 C.E., led an army that sacked Rome in 410; this expert history describes his life but mostly his times. Boin, a professor of history and the author of
Coming Out Christian in the Roman World, emphasizes that Rome’s “decline and fall” was a concept invented by later historians. No fourth- or fifth-century Roman believed the empire was “falling” even though times were difficult. Almost nothing is known of Alaric’s early life, and only a few historians, not all of whom were contemporaries, recorded his later accomplishments, most of which were military actions. Alaric was born into a Gothic tribe that, a few years later, under pressure from Huns invading from the north, migrated into Roman territory. As recent immigrants, they were denied the benefits of Roman citizenship, which caused resentment as well as economic hardship. By the second century, Romans had lost interest in most military matters, so the army had become dependent on “barbarians.” Alaric enlisted as a young man and quickly rose to high rank. Around 395, having won an important victory, he quit the emperor’s service, apparently frustrated at being denied promotion, and was elected ruler of his tribe (later known as Visigoths). For the remainder of his life, he fought against Rome, invaded and plundered Greece, and laid siege to Rome three times. Twice, he was bought off, but the third attack resulted in the sack, during which his men plundered but (rare for the time) did not massacre the citizens. A few months later, as his army and tribe wandered Italy, he died. Although Alaric never comes fully to life as an individual, Boin delivers a revealing account of the late Roman empire, which was misgoverned, retreating from its frontier provinces, and almost perpetually at war but still certain it was the epitome of civilization.
An admirable history of a lesser-known Roman era.