Friday, November 25, 2011

Jesus Christ and the first sack of Rome 410

Again we return to this momentous historic event that changed the world and brought the thousand years old Classical era to an end in the West.

What did Jesus Christ do when the unstoppable Visigoths had set their eyes to the once invincible city?

For the conquest of a city, the breaking of walls built to defend people from people and the events when an aggressive bunch of enemies spreads to the streets among defenceless civilian population, is quite a thing. Many words starting with R and other letters come to mind.

Rome had been sacked only once in human memory. On July 18, 387 BC the Gaul  Senone tribe led by chief Brennon led had broken a Roman army of 24.000 men in the Battle of the river Allia near Rome and entered the city. Artist Paul Jamin imagined in his painting how victorious Brennon would smile while entering one of the rich houses and seeing the treasures and captive naked women waiting for their fate there. Voe victis

Le Brenn et sa part de butin
Paul Jamin 1893 (wikimedia)

It was not all that different in 410 AD as we learn from Saint Augustine in De Civitate Dei. The bishop of Hippos had met many refugees from the Rome sacked by Alaric and his people and discusses at length the matter of a chaste Christian women who have been raped by the cruel enemy.

In more recent memory we have the entry of Russian soldiers to Berlin after the collapse of the Third Reich when enemies were hunting German soldiers trying to hide from their wrath in the forests and we have heard stories about what was done to the women and children in Hitler's capital. And other cities in other places and in other times. homo homini lupus.

Christian Goths
Well - as for Jesus Christ, he had already conquered many hearts of the mighty Visigoths who had converted to His faith. There was therefore a certain trembling in their hearts when they entered the capital of Christian Rome on August 24, 410.

Alaric was on the verge of an agreement with Honorius when his forces were attacked by Sarus, a fellow Gothic commander who was allied to Honorius and who had a blood feud with Ataulf. In response, Alaric returned to Rome and laid siege to it a third time. On August 24, 410, slaves opened Rome's Salarian Gate and the Visigoths poured in and looted for three days. Many of the city's great buildings were ransacked, including the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian, in which many Roman Emperors of the past were buried; the ashes of the urns in both tombs were scattered. This was the first time the city had been sacked in 800 years, and its citizens were devastated. Many Romans were taken captive, including the Emperor's sister, Galla Placidia, who subsequently married Ataulf. Tens of thousands of Romans subsequently fled the economically ruined city into the countryside, with many of them seeking refuge in Africa.

The historian Procopius recorded the following satire: the feeble-minded Emperor Honorius was informed by a eunuch that "Rome was destroyed" and, thinking the reference was to his favorite hen named "Roma", cried out in great consternation: "How could it be? She just ate out of my hand." Upon being informed of his mistake, the hapless emperor was greatly relieved.

The Visigoths entered, ransacked ... and left with their spoils of war, people and things, aiming at the riches of Africa. But very soon after the sack of Rome a mighty storm destroyed their ships and God thus drowned many of their soldiers in the sea and the heroic king Alaric himself died in a fever.

Alaric, having penetrated the city, marched southwards into Calabria. He desired to invade Africa, which, thanks to its grain, had become the key to holding Italy. But a storm battered his ships into pieces and many of his soldiers drowned. Alaric died soon after in Cosenza, probably of fever, at the age of about forty (assuming again, a birth around 370 AD), and his body was, according to legend, buried under the riverbed of the Busento. The stream was temporarily turned aside from its course while the grave was dug wherein the Gothic chief and some of his most precious spoils were interred. When the work was finished, the river was turned back into its usual channel and the captives by whose hands the labor had been accomplished were put to death that none might learn their secret.

Alaric was succeeded in the command of the Gothic army by his brother-in-law, Ataulf, who married Honorius' sister Galla Placidia three years later .

The Gothic mind surely connected the two things - the conquest of a sacred city and the horrible curses that fell on their people thereafter. Rome was not just another city.

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.