After having sent some bishops as ambassadors, on two different occasions, to treat on this subject, but without effect, Alaric returned to Rome, and besieged the city; he took possession of one part of Portus, and compelled the Romans to recognize Attalus, then prefect of the city, as their king. When the Romans had been nominated for the other offices, Alaric was appointed general of the cavalry and infantry, and Ataulphus, the brother of his wife, was raised to the command of the force called the domestic cavalry. Attalus assembled the senators, and addressed them in a long and very elaborate discourse, in which he promised to restore the ancient customs of the senate, and also to bring Egypt and the other Eastern provinces under the sway of Italy. Such was the boastfulness of a man, who was not destined to bear the name of sovereign during the space of a single year. He was deceived by the representations of some diviners, who assured him that he would be able to conquer Africa without a battle; he disobeyed Alaric, who urged him to send a moderate force to Carthage, to slay the officers of Honorius, in case of their attempting any resistance. He also refused to follow the counsels of John, to whom he had given the command of the royal cohorts about his own person, and who advised him to entrust Constans, on his proposed departure for Libya, with a document which they call edict, as though sent by Honorius, by which Heraclean might be dispossessed of office; he had been entrusted with the rule of the soldiers in Africa. Had this artifice been adopted, it would probably have proved successful, for the designs of Attalus were unknown in Libya. But as soon as Constans had set sail for Carthage, according to the advice of the diviners, Attalus was so weak in mind that he did not think it doubtful, but believed that the Africans would be his subjects, according to the prediction of the diviners, and marched at the head of his army towards Ravenna. When it was announced that Attalus had reached Ariminum, with an army composed partly of Roman and partly of barbarian troops, Honorius wrote to him to acknowledge him as emperor, and deputed the highest officers of his court to wait upon him, and offer him a share in the empire. Attalus, however, refused to share power with another, and sent word that Honorius might choose an island or any spot of ground that he pleased for his private residence, and that he would be allowed every imperial service. The affairs of Honorius were reduced to so critical a condition, that ships were kept in readiness to convey him, if it were necessary, to his nephew, when an army of four thousand men which had started from the west arrived unexpectedly during the night at Ravenna; Honorius caused the walls of the city to be guarded by this reinforcement, for he distrusted the native troops as inclined to treachery.
In the meantime Heraclean had put Constans to death, and had ranged troops along the ports and coasts of Africa to hinder the merchant vessels from going to Rome. When, as a consequence, a famine seized the Romans, they sent a deputation to Attalus about it. Being at a loss what measures to adopt, he returned to Rome to consult the senate. The famine was so grievous that chestnuts were used by the people to supply the place of corn, and some persons were suspected of having partaken of human flesh. Alaric advised that five hundred barbarians should be sent into Africa against Heraclean, but the senators and Attalus objected that Africa ought not to be entrusted to barbarians. It then became evident to Alaric that God disapproved of the rule of Attalus; and finding that it would be futile to labor for a matter which was beyond his power, and after receiving certain pledges, he agreed with Honorius to deprive Attalus of his sovereignty. All the parties concerned assembled together without the walls of the city, and Attalus threw aside the symbols of imperial power. His officers also threw aside their girdles, and Honorius granted pardon to all for these occurrences, and each was to hold the honor and office which he had first had. Attalus retired with his son to Alaric, for he thought his life would not be in safety as yet, if he continued to dwell among the Romans.