The people who lived northeast of the Roman Empire spoke languages similar to modern German. These “Germanic tribes” included the Vandals, Lombards, Alamanni, Goths, Franks, and Burgundians. Most of the tribesmen did not know how to read, but unlike the Huns, they tended to farms and were not nomadic. By the Middle Ages, most of the Germanic tribes gave up their pagan beliefs and became Christians.
In 376, the Huns forced the Visigoths (western Goths) to leave their homeland near the Danube River in modern Austria. The Visigoths asked Emperor Valens permission to settle inside the Roman Empire. Valens agreed but charged the Visigoths unfair prices for food and other supplies. When the Visigoths protested, Valens ordered them to leave. The Visigoths refused and formed an army that defeated and killed the emperor in 378.
Alaric was a Visigoth who joined the Roman army and rose to a high rank. Alaric left the army to become king of the Visigoths when his father died. In 410, the Romans refused to pay a bribe, so Alaric’s soldiers formed a siege around Rome. When the city was close to starvation, the Roman citizens opened the gates and allowed the conquering army to enter. The Visigoths rampaged through the streets for three days, pillaging and burning the city. Alaric ordered his army not to molest women or destroy churches. Rome had not been destroyed, but for the first time in nearly 800 years, the “Eternal City” had been defeated.