The Sack of Rome

Augustinus, Bishop of Hippo, De Civitate Dei, illustration fifteenth century, Paris. Photo: Wikipedia.

“The king of the Goths, Alcaric, who no longer dissembled his appetite for plunder and revenge, appeared in arms under the walls of the capital; and the trembling senate, without any hopes of relief, prepared by a desperate resistance to delay the ruin of their country. But they were unable to guard against the secret conspiracy of their slaves and domestics, who either from birth or interest were attached to the cause of the enemy. At the hour of midnight the Salarian gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet. 1136 years after the foundation of Rome, the Imperial city, which had subdued and civilized sp considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia”.

Those are the  words of the British historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), written in the eighteenth century. The Imperial court escaped the disaster, because it had already moved to Ravenna, the cultural shock was immense however, perhaps comparable to 9/11. Soon after, the conspiracy theories started to spread around. Many chroniclers, historians and artists expressed their ideas and thought on paper, paintings or other artifacts. Augustinus blamed Roman’s decadence, Gibbon blamed Christianity (Christianity had become the official state religion in 396), Von Freising interpreted is as a signal from God and a German dictator as the beginning of German dominance (the codename of the German campaign to occupy Italy in 1943 was ‘Alcaric’). The Roman Empire as such had faded away already, divided into a West-Roman and an East Roman part. The exact facts of the fall of Rome will never be known, but Alcaric and his troops left the city after three days and the West-Roman empire continued for another two generations. For painters, poets, writers and other artists, is was a rich source of inspiration for the centuries to come. (Source: M. Meier, S. Patzhold, August 410-ein Kampf um Rom (Stuttgart 2010)