Sack of Rome (846)

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In 846 AD Arab raiders plundered the environs of Rome, including the Vatican, sacking Old St. Peter's and St. Paul's-Outside-the-Walls, but were prevented from entering the city itself by the Aurelian Wall. Rome has been sacked many times throughout its history;[1] the attack of 846 is often referred to as the "Arab sack of Rome" to distinguish it from the others.


In the 820s AD, Arabs (known by medieval Italians as the Saracens) began the conquest of Sicily. In 842, Arab forces tried to capture Ponza, but were beaten off by a combined fleet from Naples and Gaeta. However, the same year they took Messina, Sicily. Around the same time Radelchis I of Benevento and Siconulf of Salerno, rivals engaged in civil war, hired Saracen mercenaries to fight in Campania.[1]


A large force set sail from Campania, landed at Portus and Ostia in 846. The Saracens struck as the Roman militia hastily retreated to safety of Roman walls.[1]

The Saracen raiders seem to have known about Rome's extraordinary treasures. Some holy - and impressive - basilicas, such as St. Peter's Basilica, were outside the Aurelian walls, and thus easy targets. They were "filled to overflowing with rich liturgical vessels and with jeweled reliquaries housing all of the relics recently amassed". As a result the raiders pillaged the holy shrines, including St. Peter's basilica. Contemporary historians believe the raiders had known exactly where to look for the most valuable treasures.[1]


Rome fortified its defenses after the sacking, repelling a raid in 849; the city was never again attacked by an Arab fleet.[1]


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