Alaric leads the Visigoths in their sack of Rome in 410. The Visigoths were a Germanic people who lived throughout eastern Europe.
Illustration by Wilhelm Lindenschmit

Download this file

  • 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 (217 miles) 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.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    antiquity Noun

    ancient time.

    bank Noun

    a slope of land adjoining a body of water, or a large elevated area of the sea floor.

    basilica Noun

    large and important medieval Christian church.

    beach Noun

    narrow strip of land that lies along a body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: beach
    capital Noun

    city where a region's government is located.

    Encyclopedic Entry: capital
    Christian Noun

    people and culture focused on the teachings of Jesus and his followers.

    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    classical Adjective

    having to do with the empires and cultures of ancient Greece and ancient Rome.

    consider Verb

    to think about.

    cultural symbol Noun

    structure that represents the traditional beliefs, behavior, and identity of a group of people.

    defeat Verb

    to overcome an enemy or obstacle.

    empire Noun

    group of nations, territories or other groups of people controlled by a single, more powerful authority.

    influential Adjective

    important; having the ability to lead the opinions or attitudes of others.

    loot Verb

    to steal or take something illegally.

    Mediterranean basin Noun

    land that surrounds the Mediterranean Sea.

    Middle Ages Noun

    (500-1500) period in European history between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    protect Verb

    to take action to prevent injury or attack.

    Roman Empire Noun

    (27 BCE-476 CE) period in the history of ancient Rome when the state was ruled by an emperor.

    sack Verb

    to capture, loot, and largely destroy a city or other targeted area.

    shore Noun

    coast.

    treasure Noun

    wealth, riches, and other valuable materials.

    Vatican City Noun

    44-hectare (110-acre) walled enclave in Rome, Italy, that is an independent state, home of the Pope, and headquarters of the Catholic Church.