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.
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.

Noun

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

Noun

city where a region's government is located.

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.