Really Old News: Rome

Sitting on the west coast of Apennine Peninsula, Rome has stood as a global cultural and economic center for millennia. It’s long held position as one of the greatest cities in the world has earned it the nickname “The Eternal City”. While an impressive title, I’m not sure it’s entirely fitting considering Rome has been sacked six times.

Not much is known about the first sack of Rome, or, at least, not much is verifiable as it happened a forever ago (387 B.C.). The Gauls came and scattered the Roman army as they didn’t have their infamous fighting style developed yet. Many people were killed and many things were stolen. The surviving Romans retreated to Capitoline hill. After several months of siege, the Romans agreed to pay the Gauls 1,000 pounds of gold for their retreat from the city. According to legend, Brennus, the warlord of the Gauls, used a rigged scale to measure out the weight. When the romans complained he shouted “Vae Victis” (“woe to the vanquished”).

After the sack by the Gauls, the city remained untouched by the direct effects of war for hundreds of years because it turned out the Romans were really good at this whole war thing. Sadly for them, the Romans committed some blunders in the operation of their whole deal. Such as making the state economy depend on stealing stuff from people they conquer and splitting the empire in two. Anyway, instability and internal problems eventually lead to Rome being unable to protect itself and being invaded by the Visigoths. While laying siege to the city, a group of slaves opened one of the city’s gates and allowed the barbarian invaders into the town. The Visigoths proceeded to steal most everything but allowed citizens to take refuge within the city’s basilicas as the Vandals were Christian just as the romans were. As St. Jerome wrote: “The city which has taken the whole world was itself taken”.

The third sack was by a germanic tribe called the Vandals. Following the assassination of the emperor, the Vandals laid siege to Rome. Knowing they couldn’t stop the invaders, the Romans sent the pope to negotiate their surrender. The Vandals agreed not to destroy any buildings or kill anyone, but they were let into the city without resistance and allowed to take what they pleased. Following the sack, the late emperor’s daughter was married to a Vandal prince and the nations enjoyed peace with one another.

Following the destruction of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Empire succeeded in retaking the city of Rome from its gothic rulers in the 6th century. The victory was short lived however, as Totila managed to pull the goths under his banner and laid siege to the city. Supposedly, his men scaled the walls of the city in the night and opened the gates to allow the army in. After a few weeks, the goths left the city. Buildings lay in ruin, streets were plundered, and less than 1,000 still inhabited the city.

In the late 11th century, the Norman warlord Robert received a call for help from the pope, who was under siege by the forces of the Holy Roman Empire. He arrived and drove back the imperial forces from the city, but was met with rebellion from the citizens, many of whom favored imperial rule over papal rule. Robert allowed his army to pillage the city, and they did for three days. Many blame this sack for the destruction of many historic structures.

After defeating the armies of france in the early 16th century, forces of the Holy Roman Emperor marched towards Rome. The Papacy had allied themselves with the now defeated France and had invoked the ire of Charles V, the emperor. To make matters worse for the Romans, the 1,000 imperial troops marching towards them had not been paid but instead offered the chance to sack Rome. The duke of Bourbon, the leader of the army, was killed in the fighting but his forces managed to enter the city. Once inside, The army proceeded to loot, kill torture, and rape the inhabitants of the city. To protect the pope, who was then an enemy of the empire, 42 members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard escorted the pope to castel sant’angelo while the other 147 stood behind to cover his escape. None of the 147 survived.


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