Europe 402: Alaric’s invasion of Italy

Political map of Europe & the Mediterranean on 25 Feb 402 (Theodosian Dynasty: Alaric’s invasion of Italy), showing the following events: Anti-Gothic riot in Constantinople; Battle of the Hellespont; Death of Gainas; Stilicho’s Vandalic War; Alaric’s invasion of Italy; Siege of Milan.

Gainas’ brief primacy collapsed in July 400, when many of his supporters were killed in anti-Gothic riots in Constantinople. Facing growing hostility in the East, Alaric took advantage of Stilicho’s absence fighting against the Vandals on the Danube to invade Italy in late 401 and besiege Mediolanum in 402.

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Akatziri and the “Scythian Kingdom” (Kuban Huns)

Little is known about the region north and east of the Black Sea in the first half of the fifth century, except that in c. 400 a “Scythian King” (almost always assumed to be a Hun) lived in the Kuban region and by the 440s a Hunnic people known as the Akatziri lived east of the Dniester. Although fragmented, the Akatziri were powerful enough that, when the Eastern Romans aligned with all but one of their kingdoms in 447, it took over a year for Attila’s armies to crush them and install his son as their king. After this, Attila contemplated invading Persia, implying that suppressing the Akatziri had bought the periphery of his empire close to the Caucasus. All this suggests that the Akatziri may have extended into the North Caucasus and that the “Scythian King” may have been part of the Akatziri, although this is of course conjecture.

Main Events

12 Jul 400 Anti-Gothic riot in Constantinople

Gainas’ primacy over the Eastern Roman Empire was not as easy as he had hoped and in July 400 he felt compelled to leave Constantinople for the nearby Church of St John the Apostle, feigning illness. Almost immediately afterwards riots broke out in the city as the people rose up against the Gothic and Germanic troops stationed there, with an alleged 7,000 of Gainas’ supporters being burned alive while taking refuge in a church. Approving of the massacre, Emperor Arcadius declared Gainas hostis publicus (a public enemy). in wikipedia

400 Battle of the Hellespont

After the massacre in Constantinople (July 400), Gainas pillaged Thrace with his remaining men but soon found that its cities were well fortified and defended. Deciding instead to move back into Asia, he marched south to the Thracian Chersonese and hastily began assembling rafts and crude vessels with which to cross the Hellespont. By now, however, Flavius Fravitta—a Gothic general still loyal to the Romans—had reached the opposite (Asian) coast with his army and a fleet of liburnae, so that when Gainas’ forces disembarked on their makeshift craft, they were quickly intercepted and sunk by Fravitta’s warships. His hopes of a crossing crushed, Gainas fled north to the Danube. in wikipedia

401? Death of Gainas

In the winter of 400/401 the rebel Roman general Gainas and his surviving followers crossed the Danube, entering the territory of Uldin the Hun. The Huns responded by harrying the intruders before eventually killing Gainas and his men in battle. Uldin then sent Gainas’ head to the Eastern emperor Arcadius, who rewarded the Hun with the title comes (count). in wikipedia

401–402? Stilicho’s Vandalic War

In the late summer or early fall of 401 the Vandals and Alans crossed the upper Danube and ravaged the Western Roman provinces of Raetia and Noricum. Stilicho promptly gathered his army and pushed north, defeating the invaders by early 402. However, this campaign would leave him stranded on the other side of the Alpine passes—now frozen during winter—when Alaric invaded Italy in November 401. in wikipedia

18 Nov 401 Alaric’s invasion of Italy

Taking advantage of Stilicho’s campaign against the Vandals on the Upper Danube, Alaric—who had taken the title King of the Goths in 400—invaded the Western Roman Empire in late 401. He passed through the Julian Alps into Italy in November, encountering no opposition from the garrison of Ad Pirum, which may have been stripped of troops for Stilicho’s war in the north. Alaric then moved to capture Aquileia, but, when this proved too difficult, instead advanced across the north Italian plain to attack Mediolanum (Milan) early in the new year. in wikipedia

??–Mar 402 Siege of Milan

In early 402 Alaric and his Goths besieged Mediolanum (Milan), then the imperial residence of the Western emperor Honorius and his court. The siege lasted until March, when Stilicho, finally able to make use of the Alpine passes from Raetia and Noricum into Italy, forced his way into the city at night with the vanguard of his army. Confounded, Alaric withdrew to the west, apparently hoping to make his way into Gaul. in wikipedia