The Sack of Rome

Rome has been attacked on several occasions due to different reasons. There have been various occurrences referred to as the" Sack of Rome". Many were attracted to the riches of Rome and wished to defeat it for glory or profit.

The Colosseum in RomeThe Colosseum in Rome

One of the earliest Sacks of Rome was the one which occurred in AD 410. Just before the death of Theodosius I in 395, he divided the Roman Empire into East and West. The main aim behind this division was to enable his two sons to rule the two empires. By then, his son, Honorius was only ten years old and Flavius Stilicho ruled the West on his behalf. However, there was a disagreement between the two empires and Alaric (a Visigoth leader) used that opportunity to rebel against their leadership.  As a result of this, Alaric decided to lead the Visigoths to fight Honorius, though they did not succeed.

However, Alaric died in AD 410 and his position was taken over by his kinsman Athaulf who decided to negotiate with Honorius. Following the death of Honorius in AD 423, Valentinian III took over the empire and at the same time the Visigoths decided to fight Rome again. This time they had a powerful army and managed to conquer Rome under the command of Flavius Aetius. When Valentinian III died in AD 455, the Visigoths entered Rome and raided it for two weeks. They carried out treasures of the Temple of Peace and the golden bronze tiles from the Temple of Jupiter. This was the first successful Sack of Rome.

Another Sack of Rome took place in May 1527. This military event was undertaken by the troops of Charles V, a section of the Papal States and Holy Roman Emperor. By then, Pope Clement VII had supported the Kingdom of France with the aim of changing the balance of power in the region and free the Papacy from dependency.

The French army had been defeated by the army of the Holy Roman Emperor but there was no sufficient money to pay the soldiers. The commander of the army, Charles III, then led the soldiers towards Rome. They targeted Rome because it was the richest city and the easiest to attack. However, Rome did not have a powerful army. On 6th May 1527, the Imperial army finally attacked the walls at the Vatican Hills and Gianicolo. During the attack, Charles was gravely wounded.

During the attack, 147 Swiss Guards were killed on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica and only 42, who had accompanied the Pope managed to survive. The attack led to vast destruction of property, looting, killings, and arrests. The rude actions of the Imperial troops stopped when Clement VII surrendered and agreed to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducats, to save his life. Many people died during the Sack and as a commemoration of the Sack, Swiss Guards are still sworn in on the 6th of May every year.