The Barbarian at the Gate

Philip Parker at Literary Review:

Like many a subsequent empire, Rome had a highly ambivalent relationship with the outsiders it needed to fuel its commerce, stock its slave markets and man its armies. In this particular case, those outsiders were not colonised peoples but the Germanic barbarian tribes living in areas against which the waves of Roman imperialism had only lapped during the empire’s high tide, before it began to recede in the third century. The Danube basin, where Alaric grew up in the 370s, seems from Boin’s account an idyllic place: his family home bore the bucolic name Pine Tree Island and Boin conjures an image of infant Goths listening to tales of their heroic ancestor King Berig, who had led his people – perhaps understandably – out of a homeland of ‘quaking bogs’ called Scandza. Yet it was also a place of profound danger: of slave traders who kidnapped young girls in order to sell them south of the river, of ghosts and demons and, most threatening of all, of predatory Roman officials whose actions in trying to starve would-be migrants who were crossing the imperial frontier led to the first mass Gothic raids on the Balkans.

more here.