the massacre, mutilation and pillage of rome -- 10/09/17

Today's selection -- from Rome: The Biography of a City by Christopher Hibbert. After Rome fell to the barbarians in 476 CE, it went from a city of more than a million people to only a few hundred thousand -- still large by the standards of the middle ages but nowhere near its former glory -- and at its lowest point, as few as 20,000 people. Through this period, Rome was sustained because it was the seat of the pope, and it had all the Church's landholdings and power to collect offerings and sell offices. Places like Florence, Venice and Milan became the important population and economic centers on the Italian peninsula during these centuries. It wasn't until Italy was united as a single country under Vittorio Emmanuel in the 1860s with Rome as its capital that Rome again grew to become one of Europe's largest cities. Perhaps the lowest moment in Rome's history came in 1527 CE, when Pope Clement VII, pursuant to an unsuccessful attempt to limit the power of Charles V (who soon became Holy Roman Emperor), was invaded by his troops, and those troops, after defeating the pope's forces, mercilessly sacked Rome in months of unbridled horror. It was the era of England's King Henry VIII, Martin Luther and Michelangelo. Rome was forever changed:

"Rome was ... at the mercy of the [victorious] imperialist troops. Gian d'Urbina, the cruel and arrogant commander of the Spanish infantry, infuriated by a pike wound in the face inflicted by a Swiss Guard, rampaged through the Borgo, followed by his men, killing everyone they came across. 'All were cut to pieces, even if unarmed,' wrote an eyewitness, 'even in those places that Attila and Genseric, although the most cruel of men, had in former times treated with religious respect.' The Hospital of S. Spirito was broken into, and nearly all those who were cared for there were slaughtered or thrown into the Tiber alive. The orphans of the Pieta were also killed. Convicts from the prisons were set free to join in the massacre, mutilation and pillage.

Sack of Rome, by Francisco Javier Amérigo Aparicio, 1884.

"The imperialists stormed over the Ponte Sisto and continued their savagery in the heart of the city. The doors of churches and convenes, of palaces, monasteries and workshops were smashed open and the contents hurled into the streets. Tombs were broken open, including that of Julius II, and the corpses stripped of jewels and vestments. ...

"Men were tortured to reveal the hiding-places of their possessions or to pay ransoms for the sparing of their lives, one merchant being tied to a tree and having a fingernail wrenched out each day because he could not pay the money demanded.

Many were suspended for hours by the arms [wrote Francesco Guicciardini's brother, Luigi]; many were cruelly bound by the genitals; many were suspended by the feet high above the road or over the river, while their tormentors threatened to cut the cord. Some were half buried in the cellars; others were nailed up in casks or villainously beaten and wounded; not a few were branded all over their persons with red-hot irons. Some were tortured by extreme thirst, others by insupportable noise and many were cruelly tortured by having their teeth brutally drawn. Others again were forced to eat their own ears, or nose, or their roasted testicles and yet more were subjected to strange, unheard-of martyrdoms that move me too much even to think of, much less describe. ...

"Those who professed to support the imperial cause suffered with the rest, and none was safe from capture and demands for ransom. ... Over two thousand people, more than half of them women, who had been given refuge in the Palazzo dei SS. Apostoli, were made to pay ransom. Most officers had little authority over their men and stood by helpless when they did not condone, encourage or even participate in the atrocities: one German commander boasted his intention of eviscerating the Pope once he had laid his hands on him.

"Some priests were, indeed, eviscerated. Others were stripped naked and forced to utter blasphemies on pain of death or to take part in profane travesties of the Mass. One priest was murdered by Lutherans when he refused to administer Holy Communion to an ass. Cardinal Cajetan was dragged through the streets in chains, insulted and tortured; Cardinal Ponzetti, who was over eighty years old, shared his sufferings and, having parted with 20,000 ducats, died from the injuries inflicted upon him. Nuns, like other women, were violated, sold in the streets at auction and used as counters in games of chance. Mothers and fathers were forced to watch and even to assist at the multiple rape of their daughters. Convents became brothels into which women of the upper classes were dragged and stripped. 'Marchionesses, countesses and baronesses,' wrote the Sieur de Brantôme, 'served the unruly troops, and for long afterwards the patrician women of the city were known as "the relics of the Sack of Rome".' "



Christopher Hibbert


Rome: The Biography of a City




Copyright Christopher Hibbert 1985


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