Boin’s contention is that Alaric was enraged by his failure to be awarded full citizen rights, and that this – and not, for example, what Augustine would have called libido dominandi, “the lust for power” – was what motivated his attacks on Rome. The result is a curiously domesticated and diminished Alaric. It also poses the question: what did Roman citizenship mean to its recipients in the early fifth century? Was it something to be passionately strived for and desired? Were its privileges clearly perceptible? Or was it a dubious and corroded inheritance?
Boin, an American academic, is a good writer, but his narrative has little balance. Alaric’s side is entirely noble and reasonable, the Romans are “rabid xenophobes” and hedonists who have it coming. Alaric’s campaign, he writes, is a “fight for human decency”. Right from the first line — “a talented immigrant is denied citizenship by an unjust empire” — his allegiances are clear.