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Defining Alaric

May 21, 2008

Although I’ve decided to give The Scourge of Rome one more run through to see what else can be trimmed away (a lot, apparently – I’ve managed to slough away another 11,000 words and I’m only halfway through), that doesn’t mean I’ve been inactive on other fronts. For instance, I’ve embarked on initial research for my next novel.

The focus of this second novel? The Visigoths. Their story has fascinated me for some time, and the more I read about them, the more drawn in I become.

To provide some very basic background, the Visigoths were a barbarian tribe that resided north of the Danube in modern-day Romania. In A.D. 376, under pressure from Hunnic expansion, they petitioned the Roman emperor, Valens, for asylum within the Empire itself. Valens, no doubt eyeing them as potential mercenaries (foederati), assented. But things went terribly wrong. Poor harvests and corrupt Roman officials saw the Visigoths hemmed into what basically amounted to concentration camps. Naturally, they revolted, and in 378 smashed an imperial army and killed Valens at the Battle of Adrianople.

Peace was made a few years later, and for a span of years the Visigoths served Rome’s armies in the frequent civil wars that beset the Empire. But the peace did not last. In 395, angered at the way their numbers were squandered in combat, and at being passed over for imperial favor, the Visigoths again revolted, this time under the leadership of Alaric, at the time probably 25 years old. For the next fifteen years the Empire and the Visigoths engaged in a cat-and-mouse game that eventually ended with Alaric sacking Rome in 410.

But here’s the thing. Alaric did not want to destroy the Empire. He had no wish to sack Rome. What he wanted was legitimacy. Recognition. A secure position within the imperial government, and land and privileges for his people. He wanted, in other words, to assimilate into the Empire, but the Romans in their obstinancy refused to permit this. It was that refusal, delivered for probably the dozenth time, that drove Alaric to unleash his Goths on Rome and forever ruin his homes of gaining legitimacy.

It’s an odd notion that the Roman Empire, which expanded as it did through ruthless conquest and forced assimilation, should be brought to its knees by a people who wanted to belong, who wanted to be accepted.

Now…this is all still extremely top-line, but I think it could make for one hell of a story.

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