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Sack of Rome

At the death of Theodosius in AD 395, the Roman empire was divided into east and west, to be ruled by his two young sons. Honorius (AD 395-423) was only ten years old at the time of his accession, and the west was governed by Flavius Stilicho, his guardian and commander (magister militum) of the army. The two halves of the empire were in contention, a situation exploited by Alaric, whose Visigoths had been used as foederati but now, with the death of Theodosius, renounced their allegiance. Although twice defeated by Stilicho, Alaric was persuaded to ally himself with Honorius against his brother. But when Arcadius unexpectedly died in AD 408, the plan was abandoned. Alaric demanded compensation for the alliance, which Honorius, safe in the capital at Ravenna, refused to pay. Stilicho, who had insisted on payment, was executed and Alaric marched on Rome. The siege of the city was lifted only after an enormous ransom had been paid. In AD 410, when further negotiations broke down, Rome was sacked.

That same year, Alaric died and the Visigoths migrated to southwestern Gaul, where, in AD 418, Honorius was obliged to let them settle. The Vandals and other Germanic tribes who had crossed over the frozen Rhine on the last day of AD 406 now were in Spain under their leader, Genseric. Honorius permitted them to stay, as well, although there was little he could have done otherwise. In AD 423 Honorius died and eventually was succeeded by Valentinian III, who was still a child at the time. The Vandals crossed into North Africa, defeated the Romans there, and, in AD 439, conquered Carthage, which Genseric made his capital. In AD 451, Attila and the Huns, who already had become so powerful that they were paid an annual tribute by Rome, invaded Gaul, in alliance with the Vandals. They were defeated at the battle of Châlons by the Visigoths under the command of Flavius Aetius, magister militum of the west. In AD 455, the death of Valentinian III served as a pretext for the Vandals to enter an undefended Rome, which they plundered for two weeks, carrying away the treasures of the Temple of Peace and the gilded bronze tiles from the Temple of Jupiter.

The stains of bronze coins still are visible on the colored marble floor of the Basilica Aemilia gutted by fire in the sack of Rome in AD 410.