Alaric now set out to make an attack on Rome , the capital of the Western Empire . As soon as Honorius, Emperor of the West, learned that Alaric was approaching, he fled to a strong fortress among the mountains of North Italy . His great general Stilicho came to his rescue and defeated Alaric near Verona . But even after this Honorius was so afraid of Alaric that he made him governor of a part of his empire called Western Illyricum and gave him a large yearly income.
Honorius, however, did not keep certain of his promises to Alaric, who consequently, in the year 408, marched to Rome and besieged it. The cowardly emperor fled to Ravenna , leaving his generals to make terms with Alaric. It was agreed that Alaric should withdraw from Rome upon the payment of 5, 000 pounds of gold and 30, 000 pounds of silver.
When Honorius read the treaty he refused to sign it. Alaric then demanded that the city be surrendered to him, and the people, terrified, opened their gates and even agreed that Alaric should appoint another emperor in place of Honorius.
This new emperor, however, ruled so badly that Alaric thought it best to restore Honorius. Then Honorius, when just about to be treated so honorably, allowed a barbarian chief who was an ally of his to make an attack upon Alaric. The attack was unsuccessful, and Alaric immediately laid siege to Rome for the third time. The city was taken and Alaric's dream came true. In a grand procession he rode at the head of his army through the streets of the great capital.
Then began the work of destruction. The Goths ran in crowds through the city, wrecked private houses and public buildings and seized everything of value they could find. Alaric gave orders that no injury should be done to the Christian churches, but other splendid buildings of the great city were stripped of the beautiful and costly articles that they contained, and all the gold and silver was carried away from the public treasury.
In the midst of the pillage Alaric dressed himself in splendid robes and sat upon the throne of the emperor, with a golden crown upon his head.
While Alaric was sitting on the throne thousands of Romans were compelled to kneel down on the ground before him and shout out his name as conqueror and emperor. Then the theaters and circuses were opened, and Roman athletes and gladiators had to give performances for the amusement of the conquerors. After six days of pillage and pleasure Alaric and his army marched through the gates, carrying with them the riches of Rome .
Alaric died on his way to Sicily , which he had thought to conquer also. He felt his death coming and ordered his men to bury him in the bed of the river Busento and to put into his grave the richest treasures that he had taken from Rome .
This order was carried out. A large number of Roman slaves were set to work to dig a channel and turn the water of the Busento into it. They made the grave in the bed of the river, put Alaric's body into and closed it up. Then the river was turned back to its old channel. As soon as the grave was covered up, and the water flowed over it, the slaves who had done the work were put to death by the Visigoth chiefs.