#12 – The Sack Of Rome
April 13, 2018
#14 – Augustine of Hippo
May 4, 2018

#13 – The Blame Game

After three days of pillage, Alaric left Rome.

* Instead of heading for Ravenna, he headed for southern Italy.
* He took with him lots of gold and hostages, including Honorius’ sister, the daughter of Theodosius.
* They sacked many cities in southern Italy and were preparing to go on to Sicily and Africa when Alaric died of an illness, just a few months after the sack.
* According to legend, he was buried with his treasure by slaves in the bed of the Busento river.
* The slaves were then killed to hide its location.
* His brother-in-law Ataulf was elected king in 410.
* And they headed for Gaul.
* He married Honorius’ sister in 414
* But then he also died a year later in 415.
* In Gaul, the Goths set up the Visigothic Kingdom in 418 under the new king, King Wally.
* It lasted for three hundred years.
* Honorius did a deal with them and used them to help kick the Vandals and the Suevi out of Hispania.
* As for Rome, it was obviously devestated.
* The population fell from 800,000 in 408 to 500,000 by 419.
* land taxes dropped anywhere to one-fifth to one-ninth of their pre-invasion value
* This was the first time the city of Rome had been sacked in almost 800 years, and it had revealed the Western Roman Empire’s increasing vulnerability and military weakness.
* It was shocking to people across both halves of the Empire who viewed Rome as the eternal city and the symbolic heart of their empire.
* The Roman Empire at this time was still in the midst of religious conflict between pagans and Christians.
* The sack was used by both sides to bolster their competing claims of divine legitimacy.
* Paulus Orosius, a Christian priest and theologian, a student of Augustine of Hippo, writer of the Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, which was very influential throughout the Middle Ages – believed the sack was God’s wrath against a proud and blasphemous city, and that it was only through God’s benevolence that the sack had not been too severe.
* Classic.
* Okay, sure, God let our city be attacked.
* But it could have been much worse.
* He stopped it from being worse.
* It’s like saying, oh sure, God let thousands of little kids die in Africa from starvation, but hey, it could have been worse.
* He’s a MERCIFUL god.
* The mental hurdles you have to jump through.
* This is an idea that Augustine himself goes to extreme lengths to explain in one of his books as we’ll see.
* Of course, the sack of Rome was no doubt seen by the Arian Christians as proof that they were the right version of Christianity, that Jesus favoured them over the Trinitarians.
* Of course, only a few years earlier, Ambrose had written his work “De Fide”, On Faith, in which he arrogantly equated victory in war with acceptance of the Nicene creed and points out that the Homoians are always losing battles because they insult God through their heresy.
* “the army is led not by military eagles or the flight of birds but by your name, Lord Jesus, and Your Worship.”
* So much for that!
* He would have been feeling VERY silly – but he died in 397 and wasn’t around for the sack.
* Rome had lost its wealth, but Roman sovereignty endured.
* Of course the Pagan Romans felt the sack was divine punishment for turning away from the traditional pagan gods to Christ.
* Zosimus, a Greek pagan historian who lived in Constantinople towards the end of the 5th century, believed that Christianity, by abandoning the ancient traditional rites, had weakened the Empire’s political virtues, and that the poor decisions of the Imperial government that led to the sack were due to the lack of the gods’ care.
* The religious and political attacks on Christianity spurred Saint Augustine to write a defense, The City of God Against The Pagans, which went on to become foundational to Christian thought.
* The Roman army meanwhile became increasingly disloyal to the Empire.
* The large landowners—more and more, laws unto themselves—ignored the emperor’s decrees, going even so far as to use the great public edifices as quarries for private palaces.
* Rome itself, abandoned by the emperors for the more defensible marshes of Ravenna, saw the splendor of its public buildings crumble before the destructiveness of private greed.
* Though the emperor announced dire punishments for any official who cooperated in this destruction—fifty pounds of gold for a magistrate, a flogging and the loss of both hands for a subordinate—the looting continued unabated.
* The Vandals were not the only vandals.
* And of course it was now evident to other tribes that Rome was weak.
* A more severe sack of Rome by the Vandals, also Arian Christians, followed in 455, and the Western Roman Empire finally collapsed in 476 when the Germanic Odovacer removed the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, and declared himself King of Italy.
* But more on that later.

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