Editors’ note: To contextualise these excerpts of a 6-page section of Vol. II, ‘The fall of Rome (410) and the pretexts of Augustine’ in Karlheinz Deschner’s encyclopaedic history of the Church in 10-volumes, Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums, read the abridged translation of Volume I.
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Furious at the Roman Catholic massacre, the Germanic soldiers, apparently some thirty thousand men, went over to Alaric’s side. They fled Italy to the sphere of political influence of the Goth king, who had waited in Epirus in vain for the army of Flavius Stilicho. Nor did the Roman soldiers of the West receive their salaries. Thus, Alaric advanced through Pannonia to Italy. On the way, he demanded to Stilicho, by messengers, 4,000 pounds of gold for his march to Epirus; a very considerable sum that the Senate only approved with great reluctance after an intervention of Stilicho, but that later, in view of the changes produced in the government of the Roman Empire of the West, had not paid.
Alaric, who in the meantime had crossed the unprotected Julian Alps and invaded Italy, crossed the Po by Cremona, ravaging everything in his path, and in 408 he presented himself before Rome, which he subjected to siege; hunger and plague took over the city. When promised a gigantic tribute (apparently 5,000 pounds of gold, to which in part contributed images of molten gods, 30,000 pounds of silver, 4,000 silk suits, 3,000 purple-dyed skins and 3,000 pounds of pepper) he retreated to Tuscia after increasing his army with some forty thousand slaves who had escaped the city.
However, Olympius tried to neutralize Alaric’s demands. For this reason, the magister officiorum lost his position in January 409, and although he recovered it after a successful campaign against the Goths in Pisa, Honorius expelled him again at the beginning of that year, now definitively. He fled to Dalmatia, where around 411-412 the magister militum Constantius had him captured, his ears cut off and he was beaten with stakes to death. After a new failure in the negotiations, Alaric marched for the second time, in the year 409, to Rome. This time he named himself a prince. He imposed on the Romans, as a counter-emperor, the prefect of his city Priscus Attalus.
The new Christian and Emperor (409-410), in order to guarantee the supply of grain for Rome, had to send a small contingent of troops to Africa, and he himself went to Ravenna to force Honorius to abdicate. There, the praefectus praetorius Jovius, who directed the negotiations of the sovereign and was the most important man of the court, went to the side of Attalus and proposed to mutilate Honorius.
However, four thousand soldiers returning from Constantinople saved him. Alaric dethroned Attalus because he refused to let the Goths conquer Africa, whose colonisation he feared. The king tried again, in vain, to reach an understanding with Honorius, after which he advanced to Rome for the third time. And on this occasion, on August 24, 410, with the citizens practicing cannibalism because of hunger, the city fell. Through the Porta Salaria, which is said to have been opened from within, the drunken Visigoths of victory entered, while a stream of fugitives spread through southern Italy to Africa and Palestine.
Rome, still one of the richest cities in the world, was subjected to a rigorous pillage for three days, although it did not suffer great devastation, and its matrons and girls were barely touched. Of the majority, according to Gibbon, the lack of youth, beauty and virtue saved them from being raped. Naturally, there were also acts of cruelty. Thus, apparently ‘devout fighters’ or ‘idolaters’ stormed the convents to ‘forcibly release the nuns from the vow of chastity’ (Gregorovius).
Christian voices even claimed that a part of the city was burned down… In fact, by Alaric’s express order, churches and ecclesiastical property were respected, as happened in the sieges of 408 and 409, with the churches of St Peter and St Paul located outside the walls. In spite of this, until quite advanced the modern era it was believed in Rome, where ignorance was not accidental, that the Goths had destroyed the city and its monuments. The fact is that it was not the ‘barbarians’ who ruined it, but the decline of Christians in the Middle Ages, and even some popes.
In the previous eight hundred years, Rome—the city in which, it was believed, Peter and Paul were resting together with innumerable martyrs—had not been conquered. And it fell in the Christian era! The adepts of Greco-Roman culture considered that the cause had been the outrage against the gods. ‘Look,’ they said, ‘in the Christian era Rome has sunk.’ ‘While we were making sacrifices to our gods, Rome remained, Rome flourished’. To all this it was added that, shortly before the fall of the city, on November 14, 408, the exclusive validity of Christianity had been legally forced. Now the followers of the old faith almost threatened to shout as before, before the arrival of all kinds of misfortunes, ‘christianos ad leones’.
The world was deeply shocked, frightened; especially the Catholic orb. Ambrose, who after Adrianople had perceived the general collapse, was no longer alive. However, his colleague Jerome, far away in Bethlehem, saw before him the fall of Troy and Jerusalem: the world is falling, orbis terrarum ruit.
‘If Rome can fall, what is there safe? Why has heaven allowed this to happen? Why has not Christ protected Rome? Where is God?’ (Ubi est deus tuus?) Agustine aired in the years 410 and 411, in several sermons: a question that moved the world.