Today on June 1, 455, King Genseric and the Vandal barbarians sack Rome, plundering the eternal city for fourteen days.
The Sack of Rome in 455 was the third of four successful sieges against the ancient capital city. Rome's founding fathers, Romulus and Remus, founded the eternal city over a thousand years earlier on April 21, 753 BCE. In 390 BCE, King Brennus of the Gauls led an invasion into Italy that ended with the city being pillaged for three days. It would take another 800 years before Rome was sacked again. In 410, King Alaric of the Visigoths surprised the world by successfully attacking and subsequently raiding the ancient city. By the Fifth Century, it was clear the Roman Empire had become a mere shadow of its former self. Hampered by constant political instability and weak leadership, the once-mighty empire was now ripe for the taking.
During the 440s, Emperor Valentinian III made significant efforts to maintain peace with the Vandal barbarians. As an early Germanic tribe, the Vandals eventually began migrating in large numbers to the Iberian peninsula in present-day Spain. Some even went on to settle parts of North Africa. In 442, Vandal King Genseric signed a peace treaty with Valentinian to have his son Huneric marry the emperor's daughter, Eudocia. Less than ten years later, a usurper named Petronius Maximus assassinated Valentinian and claimed the throne for himself. Maximus immediately married his son to Eudocia instead. Outraged by the betrayal, Genseric raised an army and set sail for Italy. Valentinian's widow secretly conspired with Genseric and welcomed his support in removing Maximus from power.
As they approached the city, the Vandals began to deliberately destroy all of the region's vital aqueducts. The Romans aqueducts were massive structures designed to supply major cities with a reliable source of freshwater, ultimately choking the population into submission. Upon hearing the news, Emperor Maximus swiftly tried to flee the city with his remaining soldiers. A local mob outside of the city walls spotted Maximus and murdered him on the spot. Pope Leo I took control of the situation and sent peace terms to Genseric. He agreed to open the city gates to the Vandals if they promised to show mercy to its citizens.
Historians continue to debate the severity of Genseric's Sack of Rome in 455. Most agree that he kept his promise by refraining from settling buildings ablaze and slaughtering its inhabitants. Nevertheless, the Vandals did loot large amounts of treasure and damaged culturally significant monuments such as the Temple of Jupiter. The Vandals spent fourteen days plundering the city before finally leaving for North Africa. Many Roman citizens were enslaved, including Empress Eudoxia and Eudocia—the last imperial family.
Over the next two decades, the power of the Western Roman Roman became negligible, wielding insignificant military, political, or financial power. They had little control over the scattered Western domains that could still be described as Roman. It's been said that the lights went out in Europe following the Sack of Rome in 455. Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, would exist for another thousand years before the Fall of Constantinople in 1452.