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At the end of the fourth century various barbarian peoples, in search of wealth and new lands to settle, took advantage of the weakness of the Roman empire and began to pour over its long eastern border.

Early in his life Alaric, the son of a Visigothic king, volunteered for the Roman army and rose to the rank of commander. He resigned when he became king of the Visigoths. Several times, the Roman emperor Honorius tried to bribe him not to attack Rome, but he never paid the bribes, so Alaric laid siege to Rome in 410. After the city had been reduced to near starvation, discontented citizens opened the gates and the Visigoths entered. The Visigoths rampaged through the streets for three days, pillaging and burning. Alaric was a Christian convert, so he ordered his army not to molest women, destroy churches, or steal Christian objects. On the whole his orders were obeyed, and Rome was not totally destroyed. But Rome had been unconquered for 800 years, and the defeat of its mightiest city shocked the Romanized world.

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