The Sack of Rome 410 was a momentous event in the history of Europe that took place on August 24, 410. This event marked the end of classical antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. It also marked a decisive end to the supremacy of Rome, being the first time in 800 years that the city was sacked.
The sacking relieved Rome of some of its greatest treasures and the city would never recover its former glory again. Following is a look at the causes, facts, and consequences of the sack of Rome in 410.
The Roman Empire had reached the zenith of its power and geographical extent in 117. From then onward, the central authority of the Empire began to fade as the distant provinces became impossible to govern. Ultimately, the Empire split up into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire.
The Eastern Empire had its capital at Constantinople and was more secure. The Western Roman Empire was more vulnerable to Germanic tribes and was more vulnerable to their attacks. At its heart was Rome, the city that was once the heart of the Empire but was not even the capital of the Western Roman Empire now.
From the first century onward, Germanic migration had begun. In this migration, tribes from Eurasia migrated westwards, which pushed the tribes in the west further westwards. Central and Western Europe were directly in the path of these migrating hordes of Germanic tribes.
Rome faced wave after wave of these unwelcome migrants. It fought and subdued most of them initially, allowing them to settle on Roman lands in return for their military services to the Empire. But in time, the Empire grew weak, the tribes grew stronger and more enormous, and there was unrest due to the unfulfilled promises of the state.
By the 4th century, Germanic tribes had settled on Roman lands. These were primarily a specific branch of the Goths known as Therving and later named Visigoths.
Visigoths initially fought alongside the Roman soldiers. But by the second half of the 4th century, relations between Visigoths and the Empire had deteriorated. So they revolted against the Empire. The conflict culminated in the Battle of Adrianople.
The Battle of Adrianople was fought in 378 between Gothic forces and the Eastern Roman Empire. The Goths were angry with the Empire for unfulfilled promises, they had been promised lands and other privileges. The Empire, on the other hand, saw them as a threat.
This ultimately led to a conflict that culminated in this battle. The Battle of Adrianople was fought in Adrianople which is situated in modern-day Turkey. It was the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire at the time. The battle was a decisive victory for the Goths and the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens died while fighting in it.
Alaric was a Gothic chieftain who became the king of the Visigoths in 391. Following the Battle of Adrianople, Visigoths had reached peace with the new emperor Theodosius and now fought on his side. In 394, Alaric and his Visigoth warriors fought alongside the emperor in a fight with the Western Roman Empire.
Although Theodosius won, he failed to reward Alaric sufficiently. So when Theodosius died, Alaric launched an invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire. He was able to gain control of vast territories of Greece and other lands. In the end, the Empire offered him a military post and incentives to end his invasion.
In 408, disgruntled and disillusioned by the unfulfilled promises of the Roman Empire, Visigoths under Alaric launched a second invasion of Italy. During this invasion, they marched on Rome and laid siege to it. Any reinforcements or help to Rome from outside was intercepted.
In the end, the city agreed to pay a heavy ransom in gold, silver, barbarian slaves, and other resources to convince Alaric and his men to end the siege.
In 409, due to the failure of Emperor Honorius to honor the promises made to Visigoths, Alaric launched another attack on Italy. Rome was besieged once again. This time, Alaric forced the Roman Senate to elect its own emperor while also earning a prestigious position for himself.
Alaric also marched on the city of Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire at the time and the home of Emperor Honorius. However, the city could not yet be taken and the siege of Rome was lifted as negotiations with Honorius resumed.
After the second siege of Rome, negotiations between Visigoths and Emperor Honorius were still ongoing in 410. However, these broke down when some allies of the Emperor attempted to attack and kill Alaric. Alaric escaped but enraged at the treachery, laid siege to Rome for the third and final time.
This time, the Visigoths were able to breach and enter the city. This was then followed by widespread looting, plunder, murder, rape, and overall destruction. The homes, buildings, and inhabitants were stripped of their valuables. Many Romans were taken as slaves, others fled and were forced to live out their days in misery. The pillage and looting of the city continued for three days.
The Sack of Rome 410 was a shocking event for those within the Empire as well as those without. It exposed the decline and weakness of the Roman Empire. The eternal city of Caesar and Augustus which had also become an important city of Christendom had been overrun by the barbarians.
Many timeless treasures from the city were forever lost. The event marked the final days of the Western Roman Empire. A few decades later, Vandals would sack the city a second time. The true legacy of the Roman Empire came to be limited to the Eastern Roman Empire which would live on for nearly another thousand years as the Byzantine Empire.