Alaric the Goth
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.

Alaric the Goth Details

TitleAlaric the Goth
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJun 9th, 2020
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393635690
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Biography, Historical

Alaric the Goth Review

  • Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    Alaric and the Goths have a bad reputation (largely due to Renaissance writers) but if one looks closer at the events of 410 ce. a much more complicated and less black and white picture emerges. The Goths were more like refugees than invaders and Roman authorities and intolerant zealots on the Roman side are according to the writer also culpable in the Alaric sack of Rome. Rome was weaker but bad decisions by people like the intolerant Theodosius played a role in motivating the Goths to sack Rom Alaric and the Goths have a bad reputation (largely due to Renaissance writers) but if one looks closer at the events of 410 ce. a much more complicated and less black and white picture emerges. The Goths were more like refugees than invaders and Roman authorities and intolerant zealots on the Roman side are according to the writer also culpable in the Alaric sack of Rome. Rome was weaker but bad decisions by people like the intolerant Theodosius played a role in motivating the Goths to sack Rome. Goths were Arians and Theodosius a zealot wanted to stamp out heterodox opinion and was too rigid to integrate the Goths into Roman society. The sacking of Rome although traumatic didn't do much damage to Rome in 410 it did signal Rome's weakness and made for more destructive raids by the Vandals forty years later. Lot of what-ifs around this event.
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  • Tim O'Neill
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Dave
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Philipp
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Dan Seitz
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Lindsey
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Matt
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Kristy
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • peter lang
    January 1, 1970
    Atlantic's legacyI quite enjoyed this book,too bad it wasn't longer. It's extremely important that the legacy of Alaric be objectively evaluated.
  • K
    January 1, 1970
    "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.
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  • Stephen Morrissey
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Andrew Dockrill
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Miguel
    January 1, 1970
    It’s a pleasant surprise to see a Roman historical work not centered around the Classic period or earlier. The sack of Rome shortly after 400 AD heralded the Western Empire’s eventual downfall and this work addressed the leader of that occurrence. It speaks more to the time period than to Alaric himself as there are apparently no first hand historical sources. Still, this is a lively account of the time and place full of interesting tidbits and one gets a good sense of both the Romans and the Vi It’s a pleasant surprise to see a Roman historical work not centered around the Classic period or earlier. The sack of Rome shortly after 400 AD heralded the Western Empire’s eventual downfall and this work addressed the leader of that occurrence. It speaks more to the time period than to Alaric himself as there are apparently no first hand historical sources. Still, this is a lively account of the time and place full of interesting tidbits and one gets a good sense of both the Romans and the Visigoths of that time period and what drove them to this historical event. The author highlights conditions for early Christians which differ somewhat substantially from what is commonly taught in history class (at least if one is attending Catholic high school). The fact that Alaric rose so high in the Roman army despite his heritage and that Visigoths were not considered citizens showed the issues with Rome attempting to hold such a wide land swath without corresponding offers of citizenship.
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  • Stuart Smith
    January 1, 1970
    I don't think I have ever read a work of non-fiction that was less directly about the subject of the book. Mr. Boin weaves the sketchy records of Alaric into a great many aspects of Roman culture, politics and war to produce an excellent image of the times and conditions that allowed Alaric to lead some of his people to plunder the city of Rome.There seems to always be this sense that one day Romans woke up with barbarians ringing the city and no idea of how they ended up there all of the sudden I don't think I have ever read a work of non-fiction that was less directly about the subject of the book. Mr. Boin weaves the sketchy records of Alaric into a great many aspects of Roman culture, politics and war to produce an excellent image of the times and conditions that allowed Alaric to lead some of his people to plunder the city of Rome.There seems to always be this sense that one day Romans woke up with barbarians ringing the city and no idea of how they ended up there all of the sudden. Mr. Boin outlines the state of the Roman empire at the time and gives a picture of a much more connected world. He also sets out conditions that gave impetus to Alaric's rise.Very well done.
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  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    For some reason when I requested this book I thought it was a novel? It is...not. It still should've been very interesting but it really wasn't. A lot of it was also "we can imagine that this might've happened but we actually have no idea". I like my non-fiction to deal with real facts not the imagination of an author who is probably very qualified to imagine but still, that's very subjective. Also this was just boringly written. I excuse a lot more when a book holds my attention but I forced my For some reason when I requested this book I thought it was a novel? It is...not. It still should've been very interesting but it really wasn't. A lot of it was also "we can imagine that this might've happened but we actually have no idea". I like my non-fiction to deal with real facts not the imagination of an author who is probably very qualified to imagine but still, that's very subjective. Also this was just boringly written. I excuse a lot more when a book holds my attention but I forced myself to finish this and then felt mad at all the wasted time.
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  • Ietrio
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Peter Learn
    January 1, 1970
    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
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  • Douglas Boin
    January 1, 1970
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