Episode Two – Khalid ibn al-Walid versus Alaric the Visigoth.
Today’s battle comes from the Military bracket. It pits the scourge of Rome, Alaric the Visigoth against a companion of the prophet Muhammad, Khalid Ibn al-Walid.
Our first contestant, Alaric, was born on an island at the mouth of the Danube River, now modern-day Romania in either 370 or 375. His family belonged to an aristocratic clan which was part of the Tervingian Goths.
Very little is known about his early life. What we do know about the time of his childhood, is that the Huns, a nomadic people, were pressuring the Goths in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, in effect, squeezing them out of their native territory. This is, of course, a time before Attila the Hun.
Since the Goths were being used by the Romans in the fourth century as irregular troops, known as the foederati, the Goths were allowed to settle within the Roman territory, starting in 382, when Alaric was a young boy.
Just a little FYI moment here. The terms Goths and Visigoths are somewhat interchangeable, but many strict historians would have my head on a platter for saying that. The Visigoths are thought of as the Western side of the overall Germanic tribes known as the Goths.
The relationship problem between the Goths and the Romans was that they were thought of as barbarians, beneath the dignity of their overlords. Many in history continue to perpetuate this idea which is wrong, as the Goths had a very developed culture and society, but the Romans did not see that. The Roman Emperor Valens, allowed the Goths to settle in the area where Alaric was born, but quickly betrayed them, forcing them into a revolt which furthered the notion of barbarism.
The ensuing Gothic War of 376-382 culminated in the famous Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378 in what is now Turkey, near the Greek-Bulgarian border. This battle, was a devastating defeat of the Romans with Valens himself, being killed. Many believe this sped up the fall of the Western Empire, something Alaric would accelerate even further.
The betrayal by the Roman’s when Alaric was young, stuck in his head and psyche. He became the leader of his contingent of foederati under Roman Emperor Theodosius I in his civil war against the Western Emperor, Eugenius with assurances that the Romans would look favorably on the Goths. Alaric believed that this was best for his people, so, despite some hesitation, he decided to trust the Romans.
At the Battle of Frigidus on September 5th and 6th 394, the Goths were sent in first where Arbogast, a general under Eugenius, inflicted heavy losses on them. Theodosius is said to have done this purposely to weaken the Goths as a potential future enemy, as well as to undermine his opponent. This was seen as yet another betrayal by the Goths and certainly by Alaric.
The Goth leader felt that with his and his people’s loyal service to the Romans’ following Theodosius’s win at Frigidus, he should be given a promotion and the Visigoths additional lands, but with the death of the Emperor in 395, this was not done. Rome would pay for the slight.
That year, having had enough of the Roman’s and their betrayals, the Goths proclaimed Alaric king. He had his sights on revenge on the Empire which at the time was split between the Eastern and Westerns halves.
At first, he went after the surrounding area around Constantinople but found stiff resistance. Greece became his new target. The Roman strongman general Stilicho showed up which gave Alaric pause. Fortunately for the Goths, Stilicho was ordered back West which allowed the Goths to ravage most of Greece. His reign of terror ended when he was appointed magiste militum of Illyricum by the Roman Emperor.
Mistrusting the Romans, he decided to invade Italy in 401. A year later, Alaric was defeated in battle by Stilicho and again by another Roman army in 403. Even with these losses, the Gothic king gained the respect of Stilicho. Unfortunately for Rome, Stilicho and his ministers were murdered by order of the Roman Emperor Honorius. Afterward, many of the wives and children of the Gothic foederati who were stationed in Roman territory under Stilicho were killed as well, leading many of the fighting men affected, to join Alaric. This number has been estimated to be about 30,000.
In 408, Alaric and his growing army laid siege to Rome, and after starving them out, he was paid a large sum to leave along with 40,000 freed Gothic slaves.
Alaric wanted to be named the chief of the Imperial Roman Army, something the short-sighted Honorius refused. This led to the second siege of Rome. Again, he came to terms with the Roman Senate and left.
Alaric was then betrayed by a fellow Goth, Sarus who was in cahoots with the Romans, so he decided this time to do more than lay siege to the ancient city, he intended to enter and sack it. On August 24, 410, Alaric’s army came through the Porta Salaria. The Goths had their way with the citizens of Rome, looting everything and everyone. Interestingly, they spared most of the Christian churches where many people sought shelter.
After leaving Rome, Alaric wanted to cross the Mediterranean and attack the grain basin of Rome in North Africa. Unfortunately for the Goths, Alaric died in late-410 of an unknown fever.
Now is the time for our Put It Into Perspective segment of the podcast.
During Alaric’s time, Saint John Chrysostom is baptized. Hadrian’s Wall in Britain is overrun. The library at Alexandria is destroyed in a fire, and the last known gladiator fight in Rome is fought.
If you are looking for an image of the following contestant, well, I’m afraid you will be sorry because frankly, there isn’t any that I could find.
Few outside the Muslim world know much about the next contestant, Khalid ibn al-Walid but inside the Islamic world, they are very familiar with him. Born in Mecca, Arabia in 585, he was one of the most successful military leaders of all time.
Little is known about the early life of Khalid, but what we do know is that his family and tribe were originally enemies of the Prophet Muhammad. Khalid led a successful fight against the Muslim’s at the Battle of Uhud in 625 and two years later led the Quraysh’s fight against the prophet’s followers.
Shortly after that, with the persuasion of his brother Walid, Khalid converted to Islam.
In 629, in the Battle of Mu’tah between Muslim forces and the Byzantine Empire, the three main commanders of the Islamic troops were killed and the annihilation of their army almost certain. Khalid stepped up and led his men to a careful retreat. During the battle, he reportedly used nine swords to fight off his attackers, all of which broke. It is for this that historians claim that Muhammad bestowed the title Saifullah, meaning The Sword of Allah, or Khalid.
In subsequent fighting against others within the Arab world, Khalid was impressively successful time and time again. When Mecca was taken in 630, Khalid was one of the four commanders of the Muslim army to enter the city and defeat the Quraysh.
When Muhammad died in 632, Abu Bakr took control. Khalid was one of his most revered advisors. Many Arabic tribes and cities revolted as they felt that they converted to Islam only to follow Muhammad. This precipitated the Wars of Apostasy also known as the Ridda Wars. I won’t go into these crucial battles of the war because of the difficulty in finding cohesive, believable and non-contradictory accounts. What we do know is how Khalid ibn al-Walid was critical in the winning of the war by the Muslims.
In the invasions of Persia and the Byzantine Empire, Khalid was victorious again and again, often when his armies were vastly outnumbered.
When Abu Bakr died in August of 634, Khalid’s cousin Umar was named Caliph. He promptly dismissed him as supreme commander of the army. He made him a commander of a smaller army but time after time, when things seemed hopeless, he helped bail out other, larger Muslim armies.
Armenia, Anatolia, and Syria fell to Khalid’s forces. He was by now, the most admired man in the Muslim military world which made him a threat to Umar. He was railroaded out of his position with Caliph Umar describing his dismissal of Khalid, “I have not dismissed Khalid because of my anger or because of any dishonesty on his part, but because people glorified him and were misled. I feared that people would rely on him. I want them to know that it is Allah who give us victory, and there should be no mischief in the land.”
Four years after his dismissal, Khalif ibn al-Walid died in 642 in Emesa. Before dying, Khalid is said to have proclaimed the following, “I’ve fought in so many battles seeking martyrdom that there is no spot in my body left without a scar or a wound made by a spear or sword. And yet here I am, dying on my bed like an old camel. May the eyes of the cowards never rest.”
Now for the second part of Putting It Into Perspective.
During Khalid’s time, Pope Gregory the Great decreed that God Bless You is the correct religious response to a sneeze. The Tang Dynasty in China begins, and Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium dies after a reign of 31 years.
Now on to the scoring.
We start with the length of service to his country or people. Alaric, was a military leader of the Visigoths from 391 to his death in 410, a span of 19 years. For Khalid, he led his armies from 625 at the Battle of Uhud until 638 for a total of 13 years. So, I give Alaric a total of 15 points to Khalid’s 13.
Next is how they affected the world around them at the time. When I review the two men, I must give the slight edge, and I mean slight edge to Alaric, a total of 20 points to Khalid’s 18. So far, it is 35 to 31, Alaric in the lead.
Here is where things change. We are giving points for their effect on history on the whole. Alaric kicked the rotten doors down on the decaying Roman Empire. It went into its death spiral with the three sieges and the sack of Rome in 410. This was devastating, but it would have happened anyway, with or without his leadership. Khalid on the other hand, led his men to victory by his military brilliance against all odds, but more importantly, without him, Islam may not have survived to spread throughout the world, so Khalid gets the 25 points with Alaric getting 20.
Finally, we give the big points, 40 to the person who had the greatest effect on his country or region. While Alaric’s victories were not lasting, they helped his people a great deal but not nearly as much as Khalid did. Khalid’s victories laid the groundwork for Islam to overtake Persia and what would become the Ottoman Empire. For this I give Khalid the 40 points, leaving Alaric with 30.
So, the final score is Alaric 85 and Khalid ibn al-Walid, 96. Khalid moves on to the second round in the Military bracket where he will face the winner of the matchup between…. Douglas MacArthur and Dwight David Eisenhower
I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. Join me next time when I match up two men in the Rebels and Rogues division, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Russian peasant Yemeleyan Pugachev.
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