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Bill Thayer

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Book I
Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 6

Book 1 (continued)

Thayer's Note: This page is from the first edition of the book, which Hodgkin considerably expanded into a much more detailed second edition, often refining or even outright changing his conclusions and opinions. That second edition is onsite in full; the serious student will take advantage of it.

Vol. I
Note D

On the Chronology of Alaric's First Invasion

In revising this history, I have adopted an earlier series of dates for Alaric's first invasion than I had previously assigned to it. I have been convinced by the arguments of some of the German authors, especially Pallmann, that such a change was necessary; but as it is made in opposition to the opinions of my most trusted guides, Gibbon, Tillemont, and Clinton, it will be necessary briefly to set forth the reasons for the new chronology.

If we call the old chronology Tillemont's, and the new Pallmann's, the following are the chief differences between them:—

Tillemont Pallmann

Alaric enters Italy.

Alaric and Radagaisus enter Italy.


Is driven out of it by Stilicho.

Desultory warfare in the north-east of Italy.


Alaric returns into Italy.

Battle of Pollentia (Good Friday).


Battle of Pollentia (Good Friday); Verona; Alaric's retreat.

Battle of Verona; Alaric's retreat.


Triumphal entry of Honorius into Rome and his sixth Consulship.

It will be seen that the chief point of difference is the date of the battle of Pollentia, which Tillemont places in 403, Pallmann in 402. But this works retrospectively, thus: 'Nous avons peine à croire qu'Alaric soit demeuré en Italie jusqu'à la bataille de Pollence donnée en l'an 403 ; nous aimons mieux croire que Stilicon trouva quelque moyen de les faire sortir tous deux (Alaric et Radagaise) d'Italie  p311 en 401 ; mais qu'Alaric y revint sur la fin de 402.' Thus we have to suppose a retreat of which no mention is made in history. Clinton, by putting the invasion of 400 in brackets, seems inclined to go a step further and doubt the reality of this abortive invasion (400‑402) altogether.

And yet, if we go to the man who is really our earliest and best historical authority, Prosper, the matter is clear enough. Translating the years of the Roman Consuls into years of the Christian era, this is his chronology:—

400 'Gothi Italiam, Alarico et Rhadagaiso, ducibus ingressi.'
402 'Pollentiae adversus Gothos vehementer utriusque partis clade pugnatum est.'
405 'Rhadagaisus in Thusciâ multis Gothorum millibus caesis, ducente exercitum Stilicone superatus est.'

The first of these dates is confirmed by Cassiodorus and by Jornandes (whom it is safest however to consider as only an echo of Cassiodorus), the second by Cassiodorus alone.​1 What is there to set against this positive testimony? As regards the original entry of Alaric and Radagaisus into Italy, one firm statement from a high authority (the so‑called 'Chronicon Cuspiniani'), which says under the year 401 'et intravit Alaricus in Italiam XIV Kal. Decemb.' There is a contradiction here which we cannot reconcile, and the only course seems to be to allow the double testimony of Prosper and Cassiodorus to outweigh the single testimony of the Chronicon Cuspiniani.

But as to the date of the battle of Pollentia there is really no conflict of testimony whatever. Scholars have chosen to make certain inferences from the highly rhetorical, unchronological poems of Claudian, and cannot make these inferences fit with those dates, but if they had taken the dates from the generally accurate Prosper, and then interpreted the poet according to them, they would have found  p312 no difficulty. They say that Claudian's 'De Bello Getico' was written in 403, and as it closes rather abruptly with the battle of Pollentia, it must have been written immediately after that event. But other poems of Claudian's end abruptly, evidently not from lack of material, but rather suggesting that the poet felt that he was giving too many hexameters for his patron's money. And why must it have been written in 403? Because he says in the Prologue that his Muse is beginning to bestir herself, 'post resides annos,' his last preceding poems having been written for the First Consulship of Stilicho. As that Consulship was in 400, and the poems must have been on the anvil in the autumn of 399, if he had his 'De Bello Getico' completed, and the prologue to it written in the autumn of 402, that would make an interval of three years between the two poems. Was not three years a long time for a poet like Claudian to survive without flattering anybody? Looking to the character and position of the man, I am, still, more perplexed by his three years of silence than astonished that they should seem long to him in the retrospect.

The date 403 seems to have originally obtained currency from a simple mistake on the part of Baronius, a mistake fully acknowledged by Tillemont (V.804). Prosper's date having once been set aside, other reasons were found for supporting the generally received conclusion, instead of going back to the beginning and admitting that a competent witness had been disallowed on insufficient grounds.

While, therefore, by no means pleading for the unfailing accuracy of Prosper's dates (e.g. Athanaric's visit to Constantinople appears to be put a year too low, 382 instead of 381), I cannot but think that, as far as our present evidence goes, we must accept his statement that 402 was the date of the battle of Pollentia.

Incidentally also it may be remarked that Propose's mention of Radagaisus as the ally of Alaric in his first invasion, has hardly received the attention which it deserves. As Pallmann says, 'Diese Stelle in Prosper's Chronik ist von der Kritik sehr stiefmütterlich behandelt worden.' His  p313 notice of Radagaisus again in 405 shows that there is no jumbling up of the events of those two years, and as I have endeavoured to indicate in the text (following Pallmann's guidance) the history of the years from 400 to 402 is simplified, not entangled, by the hypothesis (partly, no doubt, conjectural) of a combined attack by Radagaisus upon Rhaetia and by Alaric on Venetia.

The Author's Note:

1 It is fair to mention that even Cassiodorus builds so much on Prosper that he can hardly be claimed as an independent authority; but the sanction set upon Prosper's work by such a man as Cassiodorus, the first statesman and the most learned man of his age, separated by only a generation from the events narrated at the close of the work, is surely an important fact.

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