Europe 402: Alaric’s invasion of Italy
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
??–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.