18 June 2014

Today in History: Vandals begin their sack of Rome in 455

Readers - and watchers - of George R.R. Martin's popular series of A Song of Ice and Fire, whose first installment was titled A Game of Thrones, will be familiar with the Red Wedding or, more precisely, the bloodshed that followed after a betrothal between House Stark and House Frey was broken. The betrothal was to have united two houses but resulted in violence and division when the wedding was called off.

This theme is not unique to Westeros; similarities to it can be found throughout history. Take, as just one example, the betrothal in A.D. 442 of Eudocia - daughter of Valentinian III, Emperor of Rome - to Huneric - son of Gaiseric, King of the Vandals. Since, at the time, Eudocia was only three years old, the wedding was delayed for several years.

Valentinian III died on March 16, 455 at the hands of two Hunnish assassins before the marriage took place (it was Valentinian III who sent Pope Saint Gregory Leo the Great to negotiate with Attila the Hun in 452). Valentinian was succeeded by Petronius Maximus (who may have hired the assassins).

The Emperor Maximus broke the agreed upon betrothal by marrying Eudocia to his own son, Palladius, to strengthen his ties with another noble Roman family (one of whom would later declare Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and ban pagan religions altogether (it was not, contrary to what is written in many high school textbooks, Constantine who did this). Naturally, this did not please King Gaiseric who responded by marching his armies to Rome to sack the city.

They arrived on this day in the year 455. Pope Saint Gregory Leo the Great again went into diplomatic mode. While he was not able to persuade Gaiseric from sacking the city altogether, as he had done with Attila, he was able to persuade Gaiseric from destroying the city and from murdering her citizens, provided they did not oppose him. Once this agreement was made, the gates of the city were opened to the Vandals. The pillaging of the city lasted fourteen days; among the looted items was the great menorah taken by Titus from the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70.

The Emperor Maximus fled and was murdered by a Roman mob; his son Palladius may also have been murdered. Eudocia was taken captive and eventually married to Huneric as originally planned.

The sack of the Imperial City by the Vandals marked the fourth time in less than half a century that an army of barbarians approached the gates of the city. It was clear that the end of the Western Empire was near.

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