Arab raid against Rome

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The Arab raid against Rome took place in 846. Saracen raiders plundered the outskirts of the city of Rome, sacking the basilicas of Old St Peter's and St Paul's-Outside-the-Walls, but were prevented from entering the city itself by the Aurelian Wall.


In the 820s, the Aghlabids of Ifriqiya (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 Arab mercenaries to fight in Campania.[1]

Raid on Rome[edit]

A large force set sail from Miseno, which the Saracens had conquered in 845, and landed at Porto and Ostia in 846, annihilating the garrison of Nova Ostia.[2] The Arabs struck following the Tiber and the Ostiense and Portuense roads, as the Roman militia hastily retreated to the safety of the Roman walls.[1][2]

At the same time, other Arab forces landed at Centumcellae, marching towards Rome.[2]

The Arab raiders seem to have known about Rome's extraordinary treasures. Some basilicas, such as St. Peter and Saint Paul Outside the Walls, 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". The most important among them were the golden cross erected above the alleged tomb of Petrus, the so-called Pharum Hadriani and the silver table donated to the church by Charlemagne, and adorned with a representation of Constantinople.[3] As a result, the raiders pillaged the surroundings of the city and the two holy shrines. Contemporary historians believe the raiders had known exactly where to look for the most valuable treasures.[1]

No contemporary account hints to an Arab attempt to penetrate into the city, but it is possible that the Romans defended the walls, while around Saint Peter members of the Vatican scholae (Saxons, Lombards, Frisians and Franks) attempted to resist, but were defeated.[4]

In the meantime, an army coming from Spoleto and headed by Lombard Duke Guy, attacked the Arabs, hindered by booty and prisoners, in front of the city walls, pursuing a part of them until Centumcellae, while another group tried to reach Misenum by land.[5] The Saracens were able to embark, but a storm destroyed many ships, bringing on the beaches many corpses adorned with jewels which could be recovered.[5] After that, the Lombard army headed south, reaching the Arabs at Gaeta, where another battle was engaged.[5] In that occasion, only the arrival of Cesarius, son of Sergius, Magister Militum of Naples, could decide the battle in favour of the Christians.[5]


Shortly after the siege Pope Leo IV built a strong wall on the right bank of the Tiber, in order to protect the Church of St. Peter. The encircled territory, defended by Castel Sant'Angelo, was named after the pope Leonine City, and was considered a separate town, with its own administration. It joined the city in the sixteenth century, becoming the fourteenth rione of Rome, Borgo. In 849, another Arab raid against Rome's port, Ostia, would be repelled; the city was never again attacked by an Arab fleet.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kreutz 1996, pp. 25–28.
  2. ^ a b c Gregorovious 1988, p. 99.
  3. ^ Gregorovious 1988, p. 101.
  4. ^ Gregorovious 1988, p. 100.
  5. ^ a b c d Gregorovious 1988, p. 103.