Alastair Sooke takes an in-depth look at the art of the Roman Empire in an attempt to refute the claims that Rome didn't produce any art of originality during its reign.
Runtime: 60 minutes
Treasures of Ancient Rome - Sack of Rome (410) - Netflix
The Sack of Rome occurred on 24 August 410. The city was attacked by the Visigoths led by King Alaric. At that time, Rome was no longer the capital of the Western Roman Empire, having been replaced in that position first by Mediolanum in 286 and then by Ravenna in 402. Nevertheless, the city of Rome retained a paramount position as “the eternal city” and a spiritual center of the Empire. The sack was a major shock to contemporaries, friends and foes of the Empire alike. This was the first time in almost 800 years that Rome had fallen to a foreign enemy. The previous sack of Rome had been accomplished by the Gauls under their leader Brennus in 390 or 387/6 BC. The sacking of 410 is seen as a major landmark in the fall of the Western Roman Empire. St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem at the time, wrote that “The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken.”
Treasures of Ancient Rome - First siege of Rome - Netflix
Serena, the wife of the proscribed Stilicho and a cousin of emperor Honorius, was in the city and believed by the Roman populace, with little evidence, to be encouraging Alaric's invasion. Galla Placidia, the sister of the emperor Honorius, was also trapped in the city and gave her consent to the Roman Senate to execute Serena. Serena was then strangled to death. Hopes of help from the Imperial government faded as the siege continued and Alaric took control of the Tiber river, which cut the supplies going into Rome. Grain was rationed to one-half and then one-third of its previous amount. Starvation and disease rapidly spread throughout the city, and rotting bodies were left unburied in the streets. The Roman Senate then decided to send two envoys to Alaric. When the envoys boasted to him that the Roman people were trained to fight and ready for war, Alaric laughed at them and said, “The thickest grass is easier to cut than the thinnest.” The envoys asked under what terms could the siege be lifted, and Alaric demanded all the gold and silver, household goods, and barbarian slaves in the city. One envoy asked what would be left to the citizens of Rome. Alaric replied, “Their lives.” Ultimately, the city was forced to give the Goths 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 hides dyed scarlet, and 3,000 pounds of pepper in exchange for lifting the siege. The barbarian slaves fled to Alaric as well, who swelled his ranks to about 40,000. Many of the barbarian slaves were probably Radagaisus' former followers. To raise the needed money, Roman senators were to contribute according to their means. This led to corruption and abuse, and the sum came up short. The Romans then stripped down and melted pagan statues and shrines to make up the difference. Zosimus reports one such statue was of Virtus, and that when it was melted down to pay off barbarians it seemed “all that remained of the Roman valor and intrepidity was totally extinguished”. Honorius consented to the payment of the ransom, and with it the Visigoths lifted the siege and withdrew to Etruria in December 408.
Attempting to come to an agreement with Honorius, Alaric asked for hostages, gold, and permission to move to Pannonia, but Honorius refused. Alaric, aware of the weakened state of defenses in Italy, invaded six weeks after Stilicho's death. He also sent word to his brother-in-law Ataulf to join the invasion as soon as he was able with reinforcements. Alaric and his Visigoths sacked Ariminum and other cities as they moved south. Alaric's march was unopposed and leisurely, as if they were going to a festival, according to Zosimus. Sarus and his band of Goths, still in Italy, remained neutral and aloof. The city of Rome may have held as many as 800,000 people, making it the largest in the world at the time. The Goths under Alaric laid siege to the city in late 408. Panic swept through its streets, and there was an attempt to reinstate pagan rituals in the still religiously mixed city to ward off the Visigoths. Pope Innocent I even agreed to it, provided it be done in private. The pagan priests, however, said the sacrifices could only be done publicly in the Roman Forum, and the idea was abandoned.