August 24, 410 C.E.

Sack of Rome by Visigoths, 410 C.E., painting by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre (1890). [Naturally, being naked makes you a barbarian. - ed.]

Sack of Rome by Visigoths, 410 C.E., painting by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre (1890). [Naturally, being naked makes you a barbarian. – ed.]

On this date, Rome was attacked by the Visigoths, led by Alaric I. At that time, Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire, replaced in this position initially by Mediolanum and then later Ravenna. Nevertheless, the city of Rome retained a paramount position as “the eternal city” and a spiritual center of the Empire.

This was the first time in almost 800 years that Rome had fallen to an enemy. The previous sack of Rome had been accomplished by the Gauls under their leader Brennus in 387 B.C.E. 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 that “The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”

This sack of Rome is generally considered to mark the end of classical history and the beginning of the Middle Ages, characterized by the rise of small feudal regions rather than one unitary empire and Christian chivalry as opposed to secular investigation. In truth, of course, the matter is more complicated, as scientific inquiry continued to some degree during the Middle Ages and the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) continued for a further 1000 years.

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