On this date in 410, Rome was experiencing its third day of siege by the Goths under the command of Alaric.
What made this event unique?
- Rome had not been attacked for 800 years. Not since the Gauls in 390 BC had Rome’s enemies reached the eternal city.
How were the enemies allowed to get inside?
Rome hired them. In the later Roman Empire, it was common for Rome to hire barbarians as soldiers. They were already trained, and they saw the army as a way to improve their status. They would often begin as soldiers under a commander of their ethnicity, and later could rise to become officers. Early on, soldiers from one area would be moved across the empire to keep them from joining enemies, but by the fourth century, soldiers were placed where they were needed.
- The sack was civilized. The Goths often get a bad rap, being included among the other backward barbarians who fought against the empire. Though Alaric sacked the city for three days, the pillage and rape was far lower than any other siege.
Alaric and the Goths were Christians. (They followed a version of Christianity known as Arianism, which surprisingly was the same as what former Emperor Valens believed.) Even though Rome was the seat of Catholicism, Alaric still kept his men from attacking the holy sites.
- Rome was not the capital.
Emperor Honorius lived in Ravenna, Italy during the sack. In this nearly impenetrable fortress he ignored the pleas of his people and let Rome fall.
Apparently, he had a favorite chicken named Rome. When he heard about the trouble at the city of Rome, he was more afraid that his bird was in danger than that the city would fall!
- No one knows where the treasure is.
According to legend, after Alaric died, his followers had slaves alter the Buzita River, bury him, and let the river flow over his body. Afterwards, the slaves were killed. No one has ever been able to locate the grave or the treasure.
Sounds like a thriller in the making—National Treasure 3!
Though this sack did not end Rome’s rule, it was a vital part leading to the fall of the western empire, especially when followed by the Vandal and later the Ostrogoth attacks. Only then did foreigners take control and end the reign of the emperors.
Check out other articles on the Goths:
Why didn’t the Goths take over the Roman Empire
Weapons and armor of the Goths
True or false
For more information on the Gothic quest for a home and freedom, check out “Alaric, Child of the Goths.”