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Geiseric sacking Rome

The second of three barbarian sacks of Rome, the sack of 455 was at the hands of the Vandals, then at war with the usurping Western Roman Emperor Petronius Maximus.

In 455, the Vandal king Geiseric sailed his powerful fleet from the capital in Carthage, up the Tiber, finally sacking Rome. The murder and usurpation of the previous Emperor Valentinian III by Petronius Maximus that same year was seen by Geiseric as an invalidation of his 442 peace treaty with Valentinian.

Upon the Vandal arrival, according to the chronicler Prosper of Aquitaine, Pope Leo I besought Geiseric not to destroy the ancient city or murder its inhabitants. Geiseric agreed and the gates of Rome were thrown open to him and his men. Maximus, who fled rather than fight the Vandal warlord, was killed by a Roman mob outside the city.

It is accepted that Geiseric looted great amounts of treasure from the city, and also took the Empress Licinia Eudoxia, Valentinian's widow, and her daughters hostage. One of these daughters was Eudocia, who was later to marry Geiseric's son Huneric.

There is, however, some debate over the severity of the Vandal sack. The sack of 455 is generally seen by historians as being more thorough than the Visigothic sack of 410, because the Vandals plundered Rome for fourteen days whereas the Visigoths spent only three days in the city.

The cause of most controversy, however, is the claim that the sack was relatively 'clean', in that there was little murder and violence, and the Vandals did not burn the buildings of the city. This interpretation seems to stem from Prosper's claim that Leo the Great managed to persuade Geiseric to refrain from violence.

However, Victor of Vita records how many shiploads of captives arrived in Africa from Rome, with the purpose of being sold into slavery. Similarly, the Byzantine historian Procopius reports how at least one church was burnt down.

References

  • Procopius, 'The Vandalic War' in The History of the Wars, Books III & IV, trans. H.B Dewing (Cambridge; Mass. 1916)
  • Muhlberger, S., The Fifth Century Chroniclers: Prosper, Hydatius and the Gallic Chronicler of 452 (Leeds, 1990) — for Prosper's hagiographic portrayal of Leo.
  • Victor of Vita, History of the Vandal Persecution, trans. J. Moorhead (Liverpool, 1992).
  • Ward-Perkins, B., The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilisation (Oxford, 2005) pp. 17 & 189.
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