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Jun 2, 2009 8:50 pm

Today In History, June 2, 455 A.D.

Starting with the Visigoths in 410, the fifth century A.D. ushered in a new favorite way among barbarian tribes to pass a long summer -- to saunter down or sail up to the former imperial powerhouse and sack its capital. “Oh, you’re going to Italy this summer?” one barbarian would say to another, “Do make sure you sack Rome while you’re there, it’s a delightful city”.

By this time in her history, the formerly warlike Romans could do little more than cringe and beg for mercy against any invader. The once proud Roman Republic had degenerated over the centuries to little more than a totalitarian shadow of her glory.

The rulers of Rome during 455 A.D. seemed far more intent in sticking swords into each other than in rallying the city for its defense. The year started out with Valentinian III, scion of a long time sleazy political family, in charge. Yet, having murdered another political well-connected one named Aetius he would soon be murdered himself by a follower of his victim, and served him right.

Petronius Maximus ascended to the imperial purple and, as the story goes, forced Eudoxia, the former emperor’s widow, to marry him, or maybe to his son, depending on what source you consult. Little matter who she was forced to marry because her marrying anyone at all seemed to anger Gaiseric, who may have had a funny name but had a large Vandal army and fleet at his disposal. He sailed for Rome to show his displeasure.

Emperor Maximus more than likely loved to wear the emperor’s purple, but not enough to fight to keep it. He attempted to flee from the city as the Vandal army approached and the Roman people, embarrassed that this poltroon was their leader, stoned him to death, thus ending his reign after a glorious, very eventful 70 days.

As barbarian sackings go, history records this one as rather tame. Legend tells that Pope Leo I had far more courage than Maximus, and he personally pleaded with Gaiseric to spare the city a bloodbath. Gaiseric consented, under the provision that he and his men could steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. Having lived under a long line of Roman Emperors who did the same, the cowering citizens of Rome were thrilled with the bargain.

The Vandals looted for two weeks, than sailed back home with ships groaning under the weight of their stolen treasure. Back home, they ever after told all their friends, “Oh, you’re going to Italy this summer?!? Do make sure to sack Rome……….

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