This Day in ‘Mostly Peaceful’ History: Visigoths Sack Rome in 410 AD

The “mostly peaceful” Sack of Rome occurred on 24 August 410 AD by the protesters from Gaul known as the Visigoths. The Eternal City was attacked, burned, and pillaged by the Visigoths led by King Alaric.

At that time, Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire, having been replaced in that position, first by Mediolanum in 286 and then by Ravenna in 402. Nevertheless, the city of Rome retained a paramount position as “the eternal city” and a spiritual center of the Empire. The sack was a major shock to contemporaries, friends and foes of the Empire alike.

This was the first time in almost 800 years that Rome had fallen to a foreign enemy. The previous sack of Rome had been accomplished by the Gauls under their leader Brennus in 390 or 387/6 BC.

The sacking of 410 is seen as a major landmark in the fall of the Western Roman Empire. St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem at the time, wrote; “the city which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”

Historians maintain that the attack was “mostly peaceful” and that the complete destruction of the city and the raping of its women were secondary to the main message.