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Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of Rome

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Stigmatized and relegated to the margins of Roman society, the Goths were violent “barbarians” who destroyed “civilization,” at least in the conventional story of Rome’s collapse. But a slight shift of perspective brings their history, and ours, shockingly alive. Alaric grew up near the river border that separated Gothic territory from Roman. He survived a border policy tha Stigmatized and relegated to the margins of Roman society, the Goths were violent “barbarians” who destroyed “civilization,” at least in the conventional story of Rome’s collapse. But a slight shift of perspective brings their history, and ours, shockingly alive. Alaric grew up near the river border that separated Gothic territory from Roman. He survived a border policy that separated migrant children from their parents, and he was denied benefits he likely expected from military service. Romans were deeply conflicted over who should enjoy the privileges of citizenship. They wanted to buttress their global power, but were insecure about Roman identity; they depended on foreign goods, but scoffed at and denied foreigners their own voices and humanity. In stark contrast to the rising bigotry, intolerance, and zealotry among Romans during Alaric’s lifetime, the Goths, as practicing Christians, valued religious pluralism and tolerance. The marginalized Goths, marked by history as frightening harbingers of destruction and of the Dark Ages, preserved virtues of the ancient world that we take for granted. The three nights of riots Alaric and the Goths brought to the capital struck fear into the hearts of the powerful, but the riots were not without cause. Combining vivid storytelling and historical analysis, Douglas Boin reveals the Goths’ complex and fascinating legacy in shaping our world.


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Stigmatized and relegated to the margins of Roman society, the Goths were violent “barbarians” who destroyed “civilization,” at least in the conventional story of Rome’s collapse. But a slight shift of perspective brings their history, and ours, shockingly alive. Alaric grew up near the river border that separated Gothic territory from Roman. He survived a border policy tha Stigmatized and relegated to the margins of Roman society, the Goths were violent “barbarians” who destroyed “civilization,” at least in the conventional story of Rome’s collapse. But a slight shift of perspective brings their history, and ours, shockingly alive. Alaric grew up near the river border that separated Gothic territory from Roman. He survived a border policy that separated migrant children from their parents, and he was denied benefits he likely expected from military service. Romans were deeply conflicted over who should enjoy the privileges of citizenship. They wanted to buttress their global power, but were insecure about Roman identity; they depended on foreign goods, but scoffed at and denied foreigners their own voices and humanity. In stark contrast to the rising bigotry, intolerance, and zealotry among Romans during Alaric’s lifetime, the Goths, as practicing Christians, valued religious pluralism and tolerance. The marginalized Goths, marked by history as frightening harbingers of destruction and of the Dark Ages, preserved virtues of the ancient world that we take for granted. The three nights of riots Alaric and the Goths brought to the capital struck fear into the hearts of the powerful, but the riots were not without cause. Combining vivid storytelling and historical analysis, Douglas Boin reveals the Goths’ complex and fascinating legacy in shaping our world.

30 review for Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of Rome

  1. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    Feeling like reading a history about a dying empire that * takes immigrants' kids away, puts them into cages, and 'loses' them in the system? * uses immigrants as soldiers and then discards them? * has its culture and politics dominated by a constantly-outraged Christian far-right? * is enormously xenophobic, using that xenophobia as a political tool? * cherry-picked its own literature and religious texts to justify their xenophobia? * is led by a chaotic and disastrous ruler? * has the 'centralist' p Feeling like reading a history about a dying empire that * takes immigrants' kids away, puts them into cages, and 'loses' them in the system? * uses immigrants as soldiers and then discards them? * has its culture and politics dominated by a constantly-outraged Christian far-right? * is enormously xenophobic, using that xenophobia as a political tool? * cherry-picked its own literature and religious texts to justify their xenophobia? * is led by a chaotic and disastrous ruler? * has the 'centralist' part of its political class that just hopes to do business as usual? You don't have to read the news, you can read this history of the last years of Rome instead. It wasn't directly Alaric who brought about the fall of Rome, but his sacking of the city of Rome certainly didn't help.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter Learn

    I bought this book based on a positive review in The Economist. I was disappointed. The book lacks focus. Suppoedly about Alaric, it would have been better titled Rome in the Age of Alaric. Boin lets us know there exists only a paucity information on the subject then proceeds to prove it

  3. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    This is very loosely a biographic sketch of Alaric, the leader of the Goths who led the Sack of Rome in 410, the first breach of the Eternal City's walls in roughly 800 years. There simply aren't the sources about Alaric to produce the kind of biography we've come to expect from more modern figures—even by the standards of the ancient world—so Douglas Boin mines textual, artistic, and archaeological evidence to produce a portrait of the world in which Alaric lived and thus outline the kind of pe This is very loosely a biographic sketch of Alaric, the leader of the Goths who led the Sack of Rome in 410, the first breach of the Eternal City's walls in roughly 800 years. There simply aren't the sources about Alaric to produce the kind of biography we've come to expect from more modern figures—even by the standards of the ancient world—so Douglas Boin mines textual, artistic, and archaeological evidence to produce a portrait of the world in which Alaric lived and thus outline the kind of person he might have been. Boin squeezes as much evidence as he can from the source base, and in the kind of accessible prose that would make this a good microhistory to hand to someone new to the history of the later Roman Empire. However, I kept finding myself tripping over some of Boin's framing choices which show his analysis is (unthinkingly?) rooted in a modern U.S. American perspective. Whether you see it as coming from an intense desire to claim a relevance for the deep past, personal convictions, or an impish desire to needle, Boin's refers to Christian "culture warriors" who lack the "religious tolerance" of the "immigrant" Goths, while discussions of the Roman border along the Rhine and Danube prompt Boin to write about the "border patrol", "border separation", and wealthy Romans pulling back to live in "gated communities." Boin never makes any comparison to the present-day U.S. overtly but at times I wished he had. If you're going to be provocative, you might as well provoke—and if you're going to use the problems of an ancient imperial hegemon to throw light on those of a modern one, you might as well be up front about that.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tim O'Neill

    I like historical analysis that takes well trodden subjects and looks at them from a new or different perspective. It is inevitable that most of our sources on the Goths generally and on Alaric's famous sack of Rome in 410 AD come from Roman and therefore largely unsympathetic sources. So there is a lot to recommend Boin's looking at these subjects from something like Alaric's point of view. Again, given the nature of our sources this can be a tricky proposition, but putting the young Alaric in t I like historical analysis that takes well trodden subjects and looks at them from a new or different perspective. It is inevitable that most of our sources on the Goths generally and on Alaric's famous sack of Rome in 410 AD come from Roman and therefore largely unsympathetic sources. So there is a lot to recommend Boin's looking at these subjects from something like Alaric's point of view. Again, given the nature of our sources this can be a tricky proposition, but putting the young Alaric in the political context of the upheavals on the Roman frontier in the late fourth century, the social context of that border region and the environmental context of the Danube region are all useful and interesting. But as the book progresses it becomes evident that there may be some modern political agendas lurking in the background of Boin's approach - ones involving some recent modern anxieties about and reactions to immigrants moving into richer regions seeking a better life. Again, looking at the past via a perspective of somewhat analogous modern events can give history a vividness and immediacy it may not otherwise have and can also give insights. But at times Boin seems to labour a little too hard to make the modern analogues closer than they may be. Alaric and his people certainly can be usefully seen as immigrants seeking a new life. And the way they are seen as hostile "invaders" by the Romans does indeed have current modern analogues - to an extent. But when it seems Boin is downplaying some elements to keep his modern analogies close, this becomes less useful. So his account of Alaric's foray into Greece in 396-98 AD is referred to as a "stay" and some readers might not realise that this "stay" involved wide-ranging raiding, plunder and extensive destruction. That our Roman sources talk this up as the actions of these "wolves of the north" is likely to be evidence of the prejudices against outsider groups like the Goths that Boin highlights usefully throughout the book. But his narrative of "immigrants not invaders" can sometimes obscure or downplay the fact that these particular "immigrants" were sometimes less than peaceful refugees. There are a couple of other oddities in the book. Boin draws heavily on the surviving pieces of the History of Olympiodorus, though - strangely - he refers to this historian as "Oly" throughout the book. This is the abbreviation scholars use for the historian when citing him in footnotes etc., but it's not clear why Boin uses this in his main text while using the full name of all other such sources - Ammianus Marcellinus is referred to in full many times, for example, and not as "AmmMarc". It was also jarring to read an anachronistic and actually nonsensical reference to Anglo-Saxons invading "England" when the writer clearly means Britain or Britannia. Americans really seem to struggle to understand the relevant geographical terms pertaining to the British Isles. These points aside, this is a vivid and interesting account of a story that has been told many times and one that opens up some intriguing new perspectives.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William Gill

    A good example of what happens when an author's agenda gets in front of his historical acumen. There is a staggering amount of anachronism, clumsily transplanting identity politics into the ancient Mediterranean world which has been so famously documented time and again to have been one of the most open and accessible societies in history. So, in my opinion much of what Boin achieves is tainted by politically correct secular moralism in order to sell books and I won't even go into the shameless A good example of what happens when an author's agenda gets in front of his historical acumen. There is a staggering amount of anachronism, clumsily transplanting identity politics into the ancient Mediterranean world which has been so famously documented time and again to have been one of the most open and accessible societies in history. So, in my opinion much of what Boin achieves is tainted by politically correct secular moralism in order to sell books and I won't even go into the shameless pandering to a modern audience complete with thinly drawn analogies to present day America. The book is also extensively anti-Christian to the point of being a screed at times. Sobering only in the fact that it got published, full of the author's speculations and at points utterly devoid of historical discipline, it remains like the broken clock accurate in rare moments that give evidence of a better book that might have been if only the author could have put aside his manifest prejudices. Boin rarely misses a chance to play the "worst possible assessment of a person's character" card in his never ending psychological and moral analysis of his subjects, particularly if they were Christian, Roman, or both. The result is a book that could have been wonderfully insightful, written by a talented author who was unafraid to be unconventional, that at the end of the day caved to every current leftist trope. It is the height of irony that Boin, in his flawed heavy handed interpretation of history becomes twice the zealot he finds in the much maligned Theodosius. Such is the blindness of the bigot and the fool.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dan Seitz

    The story of the fall of Rome, as we're taught, is very simple. A bunch of angry, uncivilized men stormed the great beacon of learning and decency and burnt it all down in a fit of pique. Douglas Boin's book is about explaining why that's a myth, what might have really happened, and why we should question the established narrative. Boin is not subtle in the reasons he picked up this story: It's one of increasing religious hypocrisy and intolerance (on the part of early Christians), greed, bigotry The story of the fall of Rome, as we're taught, is very simple. A bunch of angry, uncivilized men stormed the great beacon of learning and decency and burnt it all down in a fit of pique. Douglas Boin's book is about explaining why that's a myth, what might have really happened, and why we should question the established narrative. Boin is not subtle in the reasons he picked up this story: It's one of increasing religious hypocrisy and intolerance (on the part of early Christians), greed, bigotry, and heartless cruelty driven by apathy and smugness. The reign of Theodosius and his sons, from the Gothic perspective, is not great. It's got a strong narrative drive, although it runs low in the tank at the very end, but Boin admits he's light on sources and facts; he has to draw from negative inference and what little records there are much of the time. Despite this, he makes a fairly compelling case that if anything, Alaric is the hero of the story, and the sacking of Rome was not an act of spite but a form of political protest. Rome and America are not equivalent, and their marginalized groups even less so. However, considering the current moment we live in, this resonates in ways worth considering.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I guess it’s really a look at Rome at about 350 - 450AD. There’s not much good historical info about Alaric himself, so the author tries to fill in without actually making stuff up. I learned many things about Roman life at that time, but I think a good historian, had they worked on a history of Rome from 350-450, could have come up with something a little more solid. By trying to focus on Alaric, about whom so little can be known, something was lost. But still the book was very educational.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Wolanin

    I am the audience for this book's ideological viewpoint, but I think it pushed it too much (and should have focused more on the nuts-and-bolts history). Full blog post: tylerwolanin.com/blog/2020/9/3/what-i... I am the audience for this book's ideological viewpoint, but I think it pushed it too much (and should have focused more on the nuts-and-bolts history). Full blog post: tylerwolanin.com/blog/2020/9/3/what-i...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    A wonderful work of science. If you don't believe me, just ask Boin for his hundreds of hours of filmed interviews with the participants of those misreported events. A wonderful work of science. If you don't believe me, just ask Boin for his hundreds of hours of filmed interviews with the participants of those misreported events.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hazel

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There is not much information around about Alaric. The author has taken each nugget that there is, let's switch metaphors and say picked up a twig and built a nest around that twig. Each twig becomes a discussion/context of what was happening in Rome, who was doing what, and so building a story of Alaric. I liked the details, the various historical figures, the religious machinations. Several descriptions of fanatical Christians resonated with what we're dealing w I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There is not much information around about Alaric. The author has taken each nugget that there is, let's switch metaphors and say picked up a twig and built a nest around that twig. Each twig becomes a discussion/context of what was happening in Rome, who was doing what, and so building a story of Alaric. I liked the details, the various historical figures, the religious machinations. Several descriptions of fanatical Christians resonated with what we're dealing with today. When fanatics rule, chaos is not far off.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    Boin gives us a well written account of the Goths living under Roman law. The book does a good job of keeping the narrative told from the Goths’ perspective, depicting them as refugees searching for a place they can truly call home. Boin also does a good job of discussing the bias and shortcomings of the sources that he uses - usually these sources are written by Romans much later. This book is somewhat anticlimactic though. This book is leading up to a significant event - the 410 sack of Rome - Boin gives us a well written account of the Goths living under Roman law. The book does a good job of keeping the narrative told from the Goths’ perspective, depicting them as refugees searching for a place they can truly call home. Boin also does a good job of discussing the bias and shortcomings of the sources that he uses - usually these sources are written by Romans much later. This book is somewhat anticlimactic though. This book is leading up to a significant event - the 410 sack of Rome - but we actually get very little information about that. Just a couple pages. We also get very little detail about the attacks on the Roman countryside leading up to 410, even though Boin admits that there is plenty of evidence about those attacks. This book is very short, but I think it would benefit from a couple more chapters. As another reviewer mentioned, this should’ve been called something like “The Goths - an outside perspective of the Roman Empire”. A lot of the information about Alaric, especially his early life, is speculative and based on generalized accounts of the time. Due to the lack of sources, this makes sense, but then the focus of this book isn’t really Alaric. It is all Goths living in the Roman Empire at this time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    This is the worst kind of history in my opinion. I understand Boin wants to make the work accessible to a more popular audience but he is dumbing the topic down and painting in the broadest of strokes in this short work. What disturbs me most is his lack of references, which makes it unclear where he is using his source material and where he is embellishing. This is especially important because this work has a great deal of fiction in it as the author prioritized telling an interesting story ove This is the worst kind of history in my opinion. I understand Boin wants to make the work accessible to a more popular audience but he is dumbing the topic down and painting in the broadest of strokes in this short work. What disturbs me most is his lack of references, which makes it unclear where he is using his source material and where he is embellishing. This is especially important because this work has a great deal of fiction in it as the author prioritized telling an interesting story over dry fact based history. He frequently inserts a level of detail that is clearly meant to add a bit of color to a scene, but you would think Boin was an eyewitness based on some passages. The fact is there isn't enough surviving material for a book on Alaric. Boin thus accepts thin and frankly untrustworthy evidence at face value that other historians have rightfully questioned and in some cases rejected. This is largely a writing around the topic project to make up for the fact that he doesn't have enough evidence for a biography.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This was a very good introduction to the fall of Rome and The outsiders, specifically Alaric, that just wanted acceptance and inclusion into the Roman empire and the consequences when that didn't happen. There were parallels that appeared deliberate between then and now. This was highly readable and entertaining but lacked some depth. I hope to read more about the subject matter in the future. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this arc available through edelweiss. This was a very good introduction to the fall of Rome and The outsiders, specifically Alaric, that just wanted acceptance and inclusion into the Roman empire and the consequences when that didn't happen. There were parallels that appeared deliberate between then and now. This was highly readable and entertaining but lacked some depth. I hope to read more about the subject matter in the future. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this arc available through edelweiss.

  14. 5 out of 5

    William Adams

    Perhaps the greatest empire in the history of the world, the Roman Empire, collapsed in the first half-century, C.E. Uncountable books have been written about its rise and fall, most notably Gibbon’s six-volume “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” published in 1776. We all know that the Roman Empire was invaded by barbarians from the north. Boin’s popular history asks, what did that look like from the point of view of the invaders? Alaric, “king of the Goths,” was the main l Perhaps the greatest empire in the history of the world, the Roman Empire, collapsed in the first half-century, C.E. Uncountable books have been written about its rise and fall, most notably Gibbon’s six-volume “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” published in 1776. We all know that the Roman Empire was invaded by barbarians from the north. Boin’s popular history asks, what did that look like from the point of view of the invaders? Alaric, “king of the Goths,” was the main leader of the invading group that inflicted the knockout blow around 450. Boin’s history focuses on what historians know about Alaric, his people, and his times. It's a lot more than I thought. Apparently, there is a thriving subset of historians specializing in Gothic history, even though the original sources are extremely sparse. Unfortunately those sources are not well-documented in the text, perhaps to improve readability. For example, Boin refers extensively to a historian, Jordanes, who does not appear in the bibliography. He was a sixth-century Roman bureaucrat. Boin tries to present a biography of Alaric despite lack of historical detail. I did not think that approach was successful for two reasons. One is that there isn’t much source material to do it, yet Boin is loathe to venture into fictional embellishment. He suggests only things that Alaric “must have known” or that “people living in this region did at the time.” The second problem is that Boin is a historian, not a writer of fiction, so his quasi-biographical scenes range from stilted to cringeworthy. Nevertheless, the book has been well-reviewed, so most people find it acceptable. The history of the Goths was largely unknown to me and I found the story fascinating. I certainly could have used a map or two. The Danube is a very long river, for example, and I am not fully aware of its course. From what I can gather, the Goths of Alaric’s time came from a region around present-day Romania and Bulgaria. Rome was sacked and burned by Alaric and his men, but it wasn’t the first time that had happened. Anyway, Rome’s alternative imperial city, Byzantium, had been the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for a hundred years, and it carried on unscathed. The Goths didn’t “take over” Rome. They left it burning and moved to Spain. Boin’s account of the “fall” of Rome focuses on political intrigue and especially on Roman xenophobia, but it is surprisingly innocent of economic and demographic considerations. Did the Roman Empire even “fall?” I think about people who ask what happened to ancient tribes of Native Americans who “disappeared” from thriving cities, for example, the cliff-dwelling Anasazi tribe of the “Four Corners” region where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. If you ask the local indigenous people about that today, they’ll tell you, “Nothing happened. They’re still here. It’s us.” I wish Boin had taken the plunge (perhaps with the help of a co-author) into a more imaginative biographical treatment of Alaric. A good writer could have made Alaric into a personality without crossing the line into novelistic fiction. Even so, this book did increase my awareness of and appreciation for present-day “Gothic” representations, in architecture (e.g., English Houses of Parliament), culture, and literature. Boin, Douglas (2020). Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome. New York: W.W. Norton, 253 pp.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    What a great book! Alaric the Goth was informative while still being engaging and entertaining! Douglas Boin painted his history book with images of the ancient world that felt almost like time travel. “Within a decade, the old sights and smells a pagan Rome—of incense wafting from outdoor alters and of pagan priests dressed smartly to visit stately temples, religious activities that men like Cicero and Virgil would have instantly recognized as an essential part of being Roman—gradually disappea What a great book! Alaric the Goth was informative while still being engaging and entertaining! Douglas Boin painted his history book with images of the ancient world that felt almost like time travel. “Within a decade, the old sights and smells a pagan Rome—of incense wafting from outdoor alters and of pagan priests dressed smartly to visit stately temples, religious activities that men like Cicero and Virgil would have instantly recognized as an essential part of being Roman—gradually disappeared.” This book touches upon themes of citizenship, immigration, ethnicity, identity, religious intolerance, religious moderates, paganism, the early Christian Church, empires, and the judgement of history—no matter how biased. The overall theme being the concept of Romanitas, what it meant to be Roman, and the consequences of its requirements. It was interesting to see how an array of emperors changed Roman life one by one. From Septimius Severus, the African emperor, who admired the Gothic Maximinus for his strength and talent and allowed him to rise the ranks instead of the lazy rich Roman boys who spent more time answering to their accusers in court. Then there was the rogue emperor Caracalla who granted citizenship to everyone in the empire, leading way for Maximinus to become the first foreign born emperor and first of Gothic origin. Over a hundred years later was Emperor Theodosius, who campaigned against the Goths, who no longer had citizenship or protections. Theodosius turned the empire into a Nicene Christian state, and outlawed all forms of paganism. Eventually the empire was ruled by his two sons, Honorius to the West, and Arcadia to the East. Their youth being ill timed for such a chaotic time period, and the eventual sacking of Rome in AD 410 by the Visigoths, and led by Alaric. The greatness, and also the barbarism of Ancient Rome was shown through vignettes such as the story of two Gothic men who attended a banquet of Emperor Theodosius. While at the banquet, the men resolved an argument like this: “In the middle of the dinner, Fravitta plunged his sword into Eriulf’s side, murdering him in front of Rome’s leading family, a bold act that impressed Theodosius. What a just, virtuous man Fravitta was, the emperor coolly remarked, as the slaves rush in to mop up the mess. From that one thrust Fravitta would draw a promotion, a Roman wife, and the emperor‘s lasting support.” Another one was the tale of Alaric in Athens, which attempts draw parallels between the past and the future; the sacking of Troy and the sacking of Rome. “The beauty of the Acropolis affected Alaric too, if Zosimus can be believed. When Alaric arrived outside the city, in 396 or 397, he supposedly spied the goddess Athena striding atop the city walls, joined by the ghost of the great warrior Achilles.” Overall, it was a well crafted book full of imagery of the sights and smells of an Empire that spanned three continents. It detailed the precariousness of Roman Politics and presented information of a bygone era which reflects our current day and age.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Excellent look at a controversial figure in Roman history with a lot of parallels to today's increasingly partisan and polarized society. Boin uses the few scraps of historical accounts that exist to paint a picture of Alaric the Goth, a Gothic foreigner desperate for citizenship after years of service to the empire, against the backdrop of wild xenophobia within the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius and his sons. After multiple attempts at citizenship via negotiations with multiple Roman deci Excellent look at a controversial figure in Roman history with a lot of parallels to today's increasingly partisan and polarized society. Boin uses the few scraps of historical accounts that exist to paint a picture of Alaric the Goth, a Gothic foreigner desperate for citizenship after years of service to the empire, against the backdrop of wild xenophobia within the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius and his sons. After multiple attempts at citizenship via negotiations with multiple Roman decision makers, Alaric sacks the city of Rome with a group of his Gothic compatriots, bucking against the nativist, anti-foreigner sentiment pervading the Roman Empire at the time. A quick read, it would be five stars if Boin was able to paint more of a picture of the fateful 72 hours of the sack of Rome in 410. It felt a little anti-climactic to get towards the end of the book leading up to the actual attack only to walk away without a good picture of what exactly happened. It's not really Boin's fault - the archaeological record is hazy and has been somewhat politicized, making a precise retelling difficult, if not impossible. Boin does the best he can with the source material, and is transparent about this.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bobby

    A great book. Boin delivers a historical narrative rich with social and cultural context, more than making up for the lack of available information about Alaric's own biography to work with. I'm often skeptical of histories that try to view the distant past in modern terms, but Boin makes a compelling case here. The way he describes the events along the Danube in the 4th century as a border crisis, and asks readers to think about immigrants in the Roman Empire helps bring the past and especially A great book. Boin delivers a historical narrative rich with social and cultural context, more than making up for the lack of available information about Alaric's own biography to work with. I'm often skeptical of histories that try to view the distant past in modern terms, but Boin makes a compelling case here. The way he describes the events along the Danube in the 4th century as a border crisis, and asks readers to think about immigrants in the Roman Empire helps bring the past and especially the humanity of the people who lived it into focus.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ian Cook Westgate

    To call this a biography of Alaric would be inaccurate; tidbits of information about Alaric’s life are routinely used as a springboard to explore some aspect of Gothic/Roman life in the 4th and 5th centuries. That being said, the dearth of information we have on Alaric makes this a necessity, and the survey history of his time period is nonetheless quite absorbing and analogous in many ways to our own current events, particularly when it comes to immigration, citizenship, and refugees. A worthy To call this a biography of Alaric would be inaccurate; tidbits of information about Alaric’s life are routinely used as a springboard to explore some aspect of Gothic/Roman life in the 4th and 5th centuries. That being said, the dearth of information we have on Alaric makes this a necessity, and the survey history of his time period is nonetheless quite absorbing and analogous in many ways to our own current events, particularly when it comes to immigration, citizenship, and refugees. A worthy read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    In what seems to be a theme in history books I've read lately, the title of this book is fairly misleading. While Alaric is certainly the backbone tying the narrative of the book together, I would not call this an in-depth, detailed biography of the man. Instead, this focuses much more broadly on the portion of the title after the colon to tell the story of Rome in the late 4th century through a lens of immigration and assimilation with several pointed references to current events. I'm not famil In what seems to be a theme in history books I've read lately, the title of this book is fairly misleading. While Alaric is certainly the backbone tying the narrative of the book together, I would not call this an in-depth, detailed biography of the man. Instead, this focuses much more broadly on the portion of the title after the colon to tell the story of Rome in the late 4th century through a lens of immigration and assimilation with several pointed references to current events. I'm not familiar enough with the facts to know if that lens was fair or overly slanted, but I found myself wanting less commentary and more facts. This is a slight book and I think it would have been better if it had been about 50 pages longer (something I rarely say). Ultimately, this isn't one I can recommend to anyone as it will be too surface for serious students of the period but lacking background for newcomers.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kristy

    The story of Alaric the Goth is more than the traditional view of a barbarian who sacked the glorious city of Rome in 410 that history has given him. In his exploration of Alaric's world and story, Boin draws the picture of a child of the borderlands, a Christian who is held separately from the Christians of Rome, a man who takes an opportunity to fight for the Roman Empire, but who is denied any opportunity at citizenship, and one whose charisma and strength ultimately makes him the leader who The story of Alaric the Goth is more than the traditional view of a barbarian who sacked the glorious city of Rome in 410 that history has given him. In his exploration of Alaric's world and story, Boin draws the picture of a child of the borderlands, a Christian who is held separately from the Christians of Rome, a man who takes an opportunity to fight for the Roman Empire, but who is denied any opportunity at citizenship, and one whose charisma and strength ultimately makes him the leader who finds a home for a people without a land of their own. As seen in his earlier book, Coming out Christian in the Roman World, Boin has a talent for drawing parallels between the ancient and modern worlds, both in his exploration of the themes of history and in his description of everyday life. It sound cliche to say that Boin's work makes the ancient world come alive, but it kind of does -- instead of just a world of emperors, wars, and monuments, we enter a world of families, writers, tourists, restaurants, politicians, the powerful, and the powerless. As a historian, Boin had his work cut out for him in finding sources on Alaric and his life, which aren't well represented in existing primary sources. Instead he gives us a picture of Alaric informed by poetry, archaeology, early Christian writings, partisan histories, and (sometimes) conjecture. The reader benefits from Boin's thoughtful reading of these sources, and he walks us through the biases, context, traditional readings, and new interpretations of the texts. Boin is a very readable storyteller and this book should appeal both to historians and to general readers of ancient history, the Roman Empire, and early Christianity. Highly recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jon Glazer

    I was underwhelmed by this book. Faced with a lack of factual evidence and unbiased commentary the author simply selected one plausible interpretation of events and stuck to it relentlessly. I was expecting a more nuanced approach which considered multiple interpretations and rigorously evaluated the pros and cons of each. Moreover, the author's chosen interpretation fits a little too neatly with issues we are facing in contemporary society. Throughout this book I got the sense that he was imposi I was underwhelmed by this book. Faced with a lack of factual evidence and unbiased commentary the author simply selected one plausible interpretation of events and stuck to it relentlessly. I was expecting a more nuanced approach which considered multiple interpretations and rigorously evaluated the pros and cons of each. Moreover, the author's chosen interpretation fits a little too neatly with issues we are facing in contemporary society. Throughout this book I got the sense that he was imposing a 21st century mind-set on to events that happened 1700 years ago.

  22. 5 out of 5

    peter lang

    Atlantic's legacy I quite enjoyed this book,too bad it wasn't longer. It's extremely important that the legacy of Alaric be objectively evaluated. Atlantic's legacy I quite enjoyed this book,too bad it wasn't longer. It's extremely important that the legacy of Alaric be objectively evaluated.

  23. 5 out of 5

    K

    "A talented immigrant is denied citizenship by an unjust empire and, in retaliation, unleashes a surprise attack." This is Alaric the Goth, who would go on to sack Rome in the year 410. He cannot write, and so cannot tell his story himself, the Romans have their own sources and their own reasons to be angry. He has a record of changing sides - of fighting with the Eastern Romans against the Western Roman Empire and then rebelled due to mistreatment. But after being beaten three times, he again si "A talented immigrant is denied citizenship by an unjust empire and, in retaliation, unleashes a surprise attack." This is Alaric the Goth, who would go on to sack Rome in the year 410. He cannot write, and so cannot tell his story himself, the Romans have their own sources and their own reasons to be angry. He has a record of changing sides - of fighting with the Eastern Romans against the Western Roman Empire and then rebelled due to mistreatment. But after being beaten three times, he again signs up with the Eastern Romans and is subordinate to the general who defeated him, until that general is killed. Alaric revolts yet again. Boin tells the story of Alaric through what sources are available - there are very few, and so he fills in the many gaps with the background of Roman society, the treatment of "barbarians" (a loaded term, as so many had become part of the empire), and the role of Christianity at this time. As beguiling as Alaric's story is, Boin's writing about the setting is well-done and they add real character to the book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Morrissey

    To modern ears, the word "Goth" often sends a shiver down the arm or, at the very least, a contempt for something strange, possibly violent, and definitely out-of-the-ordinary. That word, though, elicits such responses due to centuries of a construed narrative of Rome falling at the hands of barbaric Goths, led by the savage Alaric. If modern readers know anything about Alaric and his band of immigrants, it is only that he arrived at the pristine gates of Rome in 410 AD, laid pillage to the Eter To modern ears, the word "Goth" often sends a shiver down the arm or, at the very least, a contempt for something strange, possibly violent, and definitely out-of-the-ordinary. That word, though, elicits such responses due to centuries of a construed narrative of Rome falling at the hands of barbaric Goths, led by the savage Alaric. If modern readers know anything about Alaric and his band of immigrants, it is only that he arrived at the pristine gates of Rome in 410 AD, laid pillage to the Eternal City, and left civilization in ruins as it descended despairingly into the Dark Ages of history. Douglas Boin, despite scant primary source evidence, resurrects the story of Alaric and 4th-5th Century Rome in a gripping and surprisingly prescient narrative. While the author latches on to Alaric as the central figure of the story, the book is more aptly summarized as a view on immigration policies in the Roman Empire. Alaric is not presented as a marauding neanderthal so much as a scorned and abused immigrant, denied the fruits of Rome's civilization because of xenophobic policies and rulers designed to preserve a Roman identity against a purported "other." Boin's book seamlessly wends through Roman history, particularly focusing on the immigrant experience in later AD Rome. Alaric and his Gothic comrades do not appear as the menacing monsters of Augustine of Hippo's "City of God," but rather as a people searching for acceptance and a fresh start at life within, not without, Roman civilization. To modern readers unacquainted with Roman history, Boin provides a smart overview, with enough lurid details pumped in from primary sources and archaeology to recreate the scene in a way that breathes life back into the ruins and the parchments that seem dead to 21st Century onlookers. Boin's book is not simply history, but also a cautionary tale: societies that do not tolerate and accept immigrants are doomed to fight it out with outsiders in bloodier ways. Immigrants like Alaric have always sought to become one with dominant civilizations on their own terms: to preserve their heritage, but also partake in the fruits of civilization. From time immemorial, Rome's decline and fall has been attributed to overzealous Christianity, moral decadence, deteriorating environmental factors, and political instability. Boin makes a convincing case that the fall of Rome may also have stemmed from its unwillingness to welcome and assimilate foreigners, to stay wedded to chauvinism rather than embrace a wider view of the world. Perhaps Rome could have used less of the "Make Rome Great Again" antics of its rulers and more of the tolerance that led it to conquer and rule the Mediterranean world for centuries before its fall.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    Alaric led a Gothic Army which invaded Rome and occupied it for three days in 410 AD. It is usually considered the beginning of the Dark Ages where the Roman empire dissolved. It traumatized the Roman Empire. Saint Augustine wrote his masterpiece "The City of God" in response to the catastrophe. We know very little about Alaric or his attack on Rome. He was born in the Ukrainian corner of Eastern Europe. He was an outlaw leader, than a Roman soldier. He eventually became a Roman senior officer. Alaric led a Gothic Army which invaded Rome and occupied it for three days in 410 AD. It is usually considered the beginning of the Dark Ages where the Roman empire dissolved. It traumatized the Roman Empire. Saint Augustine wrote his masterpiece "The City of God" in response to the catastrophe. We know very little about Alaric or his attack on Rome. He was born in the Ukrainian corner of Eastern Europe. He was an outlaw leader, than a Roman soldier. He eventually became a Roman senior officer. He then lead a army/mob of Goths to Constantinople to demand land, money and food for the Goths. He was eventually named a Roman General and sent off to battle for the empire. He then changed sides again and eventually marched from Greece to Rome with another army/mob of Goths. He died shortly after his raid on Rome. Every fact about Alaric is contested; his name, his birthplace, his loyalty to Rome or to the Goths, his skill as a general or leader, are all unclear from the record. The histories we have where written mostly by Catholic writers with a definite agenda. One of my favorite authors, R. A. Lafferty, used this uncertainty to write a wonderfully odd book about Alaric, "The Fall Of Rome". Lafferty told the story as legend. He had the Goth gods play a part in the story and just assumed that he knew what Alaric and everyone else was thinking. Boin writes an entirely different book. He is dedicated to determining what we can be reasonably sure of from the record. He evaluates the evidence. He makes judgments about the credibility of the sources. He is careful to make it clear when he is speculating. Boin also uses this as an opportunity to describe the Late Roman Empire. Christianity was digging in as the only religion tolerated in the Empire. Pagan temples where being closed. Animal sacrifices were outlawed. Citizens where being required to accept the Nicene Creed. The Christianity of the 400s was increasingly strict, intolerant and violent. The problems of the empire, including Alaric's invasion of Rome, was blamed on the sinfulness of the citizens. Immigrants were the second major issue in the Empire. Boin argues that earlier in the Empire immigrants where given the chance or hope to become Roman citizens. At the time of this story, that door had closed. There was widespread prejudice against immigrants and they were unable to secure land. The result was constant revolts and battles with the tribes and groups all around the borders. This relatively short book paints a complex story. It does a great job setting the background and does as much as can be done about telling the story of Alaric's life. This is a good solid telling of an important story.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Interesting short read on Alaric, the Gothic leader whose sack of Rome entered a new adjective into the English language to describe all things countercultural. Published in 2020, this is a book self-consciously written to highlight parallels between the decadent late Roman Empire--with its increasingly close-mindedness to the foreign peoples and talents whose absorption in previous generations and centuries were the source of its strength, and how the closing of its mind led to its downfall--an Interesting short read on Alaric, the Gothic leader whose sack of Rome entered a new adjective into the English language to describe all things countercultural. Published in 2020, this is a book self-consciously written to highlight parallels between the decadent late Roman Empire--with its increasingly close-mindedness to the foreign peoples and talents whose absorption in previous generations and centuries were the source of its strength, and how the closing of its mind led to its downfall--and the United States under the Trump administration. This subtext is shot through from start to finish. These parallels are quite real, though the author at times overplays his hand. In relating the tale of the Palmyran queen Zenobia, the author writes that the "shocked establishment" of Rome captured and punished her for her "audacity" (as a female pretending to leadership, it is implied), as opposed to the reality that her leadership of the region was quite accepted, and it was only her revolt and pursuit of autonomy from Rome that led to her pursuit and capture. The author also chastises Rome for its “colonialism” and “aggressive foreign policy,” which seem anachronistic when applied to the ancient world, again overplaying his hand with regard to the parallels with contemporary criticisms of America. It all becomes a bit too cute by half. This is a shame, because the bending of the truth here might cause one to question the veracity of the parallels drawn elsewhere, which are quite well supported by the sources the author cites to represent contemporary popular opinion in Rome, leaning especially heavily on the poet Claudian. Roman strength really was enhanced by the bringing together of diverse peoples and ideas, and diminished by late era decadence and hardening. The author acknowledges early on that direct sources about Alaric are thin, and this becomes clear the further one gets into the book. The book really is more about Roman society at the time of Alaric's sack, how it had changed prior to it, and how it was impacted by it, than about Alaric himself, whose biography is dealt with by ~25 pages spread throughout the book's 200 page run. In that sense, the book is much less an "outsider's" history of the fall of Rome and more so a story about Rome itself, and how its hardening lines around insiders prevented the assimilation of "outsiders," who in lieu of the ability to assimilate elected instead to dominate.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Dockrill

    Douglas Boin has written a very eloquent and easily accessible book on this Gothic military man who spent much of his life as a wanderer looking for stability and a place within the Roman empire, but instead faced the severe xenophobia of the Roman Republic. Boin approaches this biography in a very nuanced way, as this is the first book on Alaric to be done in English, he tries to revitalize and redeem him in the eyes of academia but still remains largely balanced. Going into this book I was exc Douglas Boin has written a very eloquent and easily accessible book on this Gothic military man who spent much of his life as a wanderer looking for stability and a place within the Roman empire, but instead faced the severe xenophobia of the Roman Republic. Boin approaches this biography in a very nuanced way, as this is the first book on Alaric to be done in English, he tries to revitalize and redeem him in the eyes of academia but still remains largely balanced. Going into this book I was excited to learn about him as the only knowledge I had came from the history channels show "Barbarian's Rising" which, while good, definitely lacks a little in its historical accuracy but is good as an introduction. This book definitely made me reassess my view on this Gothic man however, as he was not some "barbarian" who went along rampaging, instead, Boin makes the argument that he was simply trying to find a place for his community to settle peacefully and to assimilate into the Roman Empire much like so many Goths had done during the years of the Severan dynasty under Atoninus "Caracalla". But Honorius who ruled the Empire from the West and Arcadius in the East did not want anything to do with these "barbarians". So despite every effort to make peaceful terms with Rome and avoid bloodshed, Alaric, out of frustration and scorn sacked Rome in 410. It was also quite interesting to read that even today, there are large steps being taken to revitalize and change the narrative about Alaric and bring more awareness to this man, which statues and museums being opened in southern Italy near Casenza, which now has a statue of their image of Alaric standing atop of horse. This is largely a story of xenophobia and discrimination that still resonates to this day but it was rewarding seeing his story through this lens, for when you place a man or a community in desperation, they can become utterly dangerous and the Western Roman Empire did not do themselves any favor by keeping a blind eye to these people who were essentially refugees living without food or a home. I would recommend this read to both the serious student as well as the casual reader.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Steven Clark

    I'm going back to libraries now that they've re-opened and I can TOUCH books, CHOOSE them...and among four, this was one, and I wanted a book published in 2020. I liked the study of the later Roman Empire, an always intriguing subject, as I wrote a play about Hypatia of Alexandria. I agree with others that the title is misleading; there just isn't that much about Alaric, and Boin's study is one of later, collapsing Rome. Boin asserts that the barbarians were 'immigrants'; he reasserts that over an I'm going back to libraries now that they've re-opened and I can TOUCH books, CHOOSE them...and among four, this was one, and I wanted a book published in 2020. I liked the study of the later Roman Empire, an always intriguing subject, as I wrote a play about Hypatia of Alexandria. I agree with others that the title is misleading; there just isn't that much about Alaric, and Boin's study is one of later, collapsing Rome. Boin asserts that the barbarians were 'immigrants'; he reasserts that over and over, and there are obvious modern parallels he is making between our 'immigrants' and Rome's, which left me cold. A horde who sacks a city and despoils a land is more barbarian than immigrant, but I'll concede Boin his points, and he conveys the continual struggle Rome had dealing with hostile migrations, as well as Roman government that was authoritarian, vindictive, and incapable of unifying the ruling classes. Rome's biggest problem was one of succession, and Boin does show the political mess, recalling familiar personages such as Stilicho and the incompetent Honorius. His prose is serviceable, but a bit drab here and there. In Otto Friedrich's The End of the World, the sack of Rome is better written and more thoughtful. Boin's call for a diverse Rome, and blaming Christian intolerance for many of its later political problems has a good case; I just wish he'd lay off the 'immigrant' analogy over and over. I smell some p.c. revisionism here and there, but he brought up some good points, with asides to Roman culture and daily life that were poignant, although I could do without homosexual love letters and an unfounded assertion that a single woman opened the gates to Alaric's forces...to, yes, protest treatment of immigrants. It was a good study on the Goth's (relative) leniency sacking Rome, if such a thing can be so. The real damage to Rome came later, with Justinian's total war to regain Italy; triumphant, but a real disaster, a Dresden bombing for Rome.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    It is said that history is written by the victors, but for the Goths and their leader, Alaric, this was not the case. In part this was because the Roman Empire had eastern and western factions and because the Goths didn't have a tradition of writing things down for posterity. Perhaps due to my country school primary education and my technical collegiate career, all I ever knew of the Goths was that they were a brooding horde from the north that ravaged Rome, setting back human society for centur It is said that history is written by the victors, but for the Goths and their leader, Alaric, this was not the case. In part this was because the Roman Empire had eastern and western factions and because the Goths didn't have a tradition of writing things down for posterity. Perhaps due to my country school primary education and my technical collegiate career, all I ever knew of the Goths was that they were a brooding horde from the north that ravaged Rome, setting back human society for centuries. Instead, it's a parable for our times on how xenophobia, unresolvable partisanship, religious purity, and hubris destroyed an empire. The Goths just happened to be at the gates. Spoilers ahead, so be forewarned. The Goths were an integral part of the Roman Empire at the time, having been ransacked for slaves, served in armies, and joining the Roman middle class. Alaric was trained in the Roman army, served valiantly, and rose to the level of a Roman General. However, he and his people sought citizenship in the empire, something the empire had done in the past for the conquered but, do to xenophobia and fanning those flames for political gain and the growing intolerance of Christianity (although Alaric was a Christian), Alaric and his men were kicked out of the army, thus losing nearly all hope of getting the rewards of serving the Roman Empire. A gifted leader, Alaric organized his men and marched on Rome to negotiate a better deal, seeking to settle in Southwestern France as Roman citizens. Despite disaster on their footsteps and no way to avoid it, the Romans refused to grant a Goth the right to be Roman, placing xenophobia above the reality outside their gates, somehow convincing themselves that Rome would not fall. Oops.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    Fascinating and troubling. The author adroitly balances his desire to look at Rome with less than sympathetic eyes with important nuance, avoiding broad brush strokes. So we do see how incompetence and evil among government and church leaders, coupled with a xenophobic and ethnocentric population, ultimately set Rome on a collision course with the increasingly desperate and disgruntled Goths. But attitudes among leadership and the population are never treated as monoliths. Exceptions abound, but Fascinating and troubling. The author adroitly balances his desire to look at Rome with less than sympathetic eyes with important nuance, avoiding broad brush strokes. So we do see how incompetence and evil among government and church leaders, coupled with a xenophobic and ethnocentric population, ultimately set Rome on a collision course with the increasingly desperate and disgruntled Goths. But attitudes among leadership and the population are never treated as monoliths. Exceptions abound, but that might be the most troubling revelation of the book. It doesn't matter that bad leaders were challenged and a vocal opposition existed. These voices just weren't enough to arrest the inevitable sacking of Rome. The natural conclusion is that had Rome been more open to extendeding citizenship and, frankly, less cruel, the empire could have avoided, slowed or at least had a less painful disintegration. I worry, however, that some might come away from this book with a different view. Perhaps it's not a lack of openness that caused the Rome's collapse, but the failure to be more uncompromising and cruel. It's a morally reprehensible thought but one that people might entertain far too comfortably and see as a sort of lesson. But I think the response to this is fairly straightforward; that is, had Rome been more strident and uncompromising, they would have simply hastened their destruction. Granting Alaric a high ranking military position, for example, assuaged the Goths for a time. Not doing so would have just accelerated the conflict.

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