Alaric II

Alaric II
(d. 507)
   Visigothic king of Toulouse (484-507) who traditionally has been seen as a weak and unworthy successor to his great father Euric, but who more recently has been seen as an important and innovative king. Even by traditional estimates, Alaric is worthy of better treatment than he has received because of his successful military alliance with the most powerful Germanic king of his age, Theodoric the Great. He introduced important legislation during his reign and prepared an important legal codification. He also instituted a new and farsighted religious policy, which laid the foundations for an important church council and would have established an important institutional framework for church-state relations in the Visigothic kingdom had the kingdom not been smashed by the great Frankish king Clovis (r. 481-511). Indeed, it is Alaric's defeat by Clovis that has, most unfairly, shaped his modern reputation.
   Although overshadowed by his Ostrogothic father-in-law Theodoric and his Frankish rival Clovis, Alaric was an ambitious and, for much of his reign, successful king. He oversaw the expansion and consolidation of the kingdom of Toulouse that his father Euric may have intended in his attempts to extend the kingdom's boundaries. During Alaric's reign, Visigoths from his kingdom began to migrate in significant numbers into Spain and often fought the local inhabitants to gain control of large estates, military campaigns supported by Alaric.
   In the early 490s, Alaric joined Theodoric in his struggles in Italy against the Germanic king Odovacar. Upon Theodoric's victory over Odovacar in 493, Alaric was rewarded by marriage to one of Theodoric's daughters. At the same time Theodoric married one of his daughters to Clovis, so that the new king in Italy could gain the support of the powerful Frank. It is possible that it was for the same reason - to gain the friendship of Clovis - that Alaric handed over Syagrius, the former king of Soissons who had earlier been defeated by Clovis and fled to Toulouse. Although Gregory of Tours in his history places this act earlier and sees it as a sign of weakness, it most likely happened in 493 as part of the broader political strategy involving Theodoric. Indeed, in the early sixth century, when the Franks sought to expand into his territory, Alaric defeated Clovis, who then sought to reestablish their previous amity. But once again the relationship between the two kings changed.
   According to Gregory of Tours, Clovis attacked Alaric because the Visigothic king was an Arian Christian and Clovis could not stand the thought of a heretic living as his neighbor. Clovis ignored the warning of Theodoric that he would defend Alaric, and war broke out between Clovis and Alaric in 507. At this point, Alaric may have overextended his resources, and Theodoric himself was concerned about the strength of Alaric's army. In late summer of that year, Alaric and Clovis met in battle at Vouillé, near Poitiers. Alaric was outnumbered by his rival and was defeated. Clovis supposedly killed Alaric himself and then absorbed the kingdom of Toulouse.
   Although defeated and killed in battle, Alaric was still a noteworthy king. His success in battle against Clovis, Odovacar, and others before his final defeat testifies to his martial abilities. But more important than his military prowess are the legal and religious reforms he instituted. He promulgated a new legal code, the Breviarium Alaricianum (Breviary of Alaric), in 506, which had been compiled by a commission of legal experts under the direction of a high-ranking royal official. The code was based upon earlier Roman legal codes and their commentaries and became the official law for the Roman subjects of the kingdom.
   The participation of the Roman bishops in the codification of the law laid the foundation for the Council of Agde in 506. The council was Alaric's means to integrate the Roman Catholic bishops and church into the governmental framework of the kingdom ruled by an Arian Christian. His father had been more hostile to the church, but Alaric, recognizing perhaps the wave of the future, sought to incorporate the church into his kingdom. The council at Agde was an important first step in that process, and plans were made at the council to hold a national council in the following year at Toulouse. Although the council was never held because of Alaric's defeat by Clovis, preparation for it foreshadowed church councils in the future. Alaric established an important precedent for later church-state relations with the council at Agde and the proposed council at Toulouse. Although known best for his defeat at Vouillé, Alaric was a successful and innovative king for much of his reign.
   See also
 ♦ Gregory of Tours. History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. Vol. 1. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1958.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
 ♦ --- . The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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