27 August 410

The sacking of Rome by the Visigoths ends after three days.

On August 27, 410, Visigoths from eastern Europe ended a three-day sack of the city of Rome, now the capital of Italy. This was the first time Rome had been sacked, or defeated and looted, in nearly 800 years. The Visigoth Sack of Rome is considered a major event in the fall of the Roman Empire and the slow move from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages.

By the time the Visigoths, led by Alaric, entered the city, Rome had already lost its political position in its former empire. The empire itself had split in two. Real power rested in the Eastern Roman Empire also called the Byzantine Empire whose capital was Constantinople, what is today Istanbul, Turkey. The capital of the Western Roman Empire had moved to Ravenna, about 350 kilometers northeast of Rome.

The Visigoths themselves were not entirely different from Romans. In fact, Alaric had tried to join forces with the Western Roman Empire for years. Like most Romans, Visigoths were Christians, and gathered and protected Christian treasures in St. Peter’s Basilica, now part of Vatican City in Rome.

Still, Rome remained an influential cultural symbol. At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from the entire Mediterranean basin to the beaches of the North Sea in the north, to the shores of the Red and Caspian Seas in the East. “The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken,” wrote St. Jerome of the sacking in 412.