"The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken"

by Walter Muzzy, March 27, 2005 (original post)

Seven years ago I was so excited to find this site in the Roman Forum. Standing on the entrance ramp peering through binoculars for fifteen minutes at a floor, searching, until I found them. But today the section is reopened and you don't have to be a binocular searching geek, you can just walk right up and see it! And it is (drumroll!!!) green stains on a marble floor! Please try and contain your excitement :-) . But how they got there is the interesting part.

"My voice sticks in my throat and as I dictate, sobs choke my utterance. The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken. Nay more famine was beforehand with the sword and but few citizens were left to be made captives. In their frenzy the starving people had recourse to hideous food and tore each other limb from limb that they might have flesh to eat. Even the mother did not spare the babe at her breast." - St. Jerome 412 AD

Rome has been declining for decades, it's vast far reaching Empire is just a memory and what is left is basically split in two between the East and West. But on August 24, 410 AD it receives a mortal wound from which it will never recover. And 66 years later (476 AD) the 'Dark Ages' begin. Many historians say, that what happened on that August day in 410 marked the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. And there are small pieces of physical evidence that you can see, an historical 'timestamp' so to speak of this event that caused the Fall of this once great Empire.

But let's start with what happen on August 24, 410 AD. King Alaric and his Visigoths have besieged Rome for about 18 months. His army is encamped at the present day Villa Borghese Park when someone opened the Salaria Gate (now called the Porta Pinciana at the end of the Via Veneto). The gate was possibly opened by slaves who were spies for Alaric or by servants of a noblewoman, perhaps to end the siege or for a reward?

It has been almost 800 years since the City Walls were breached by a foreign invader but this won't be the last time.

The three-day sacking of Rome has begun. The Visigoths are also Christians like the Romans so as far as sackings go, there have been a lot worse in history. Loot is what they are most interested in rather than wholesale murder and rape. But they will put some buildings in Rome to the torch, including this Basilica.

Look at this photo: wings.buffalo.edu/AandL/Maecenas/rome/bas_aemilia/ac822606.html. See the wall on the left and a doorway. This Basilica was connected to shops on the other side of this wall and there were three doorways into the Basilica, one in the middle that you see and one at each end. These shops were on two stories and part of the two-storied Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar. The shops, the porticus and the basilica were all part of the same building. These shops were high-end in a *prime location* and used by the Money-changers who were just like modern day bankers. So of course they have money handy! Gold and silver coins, jewelry plus other less precious metal coins.

Today, on the floor of this Basilica at this end there are small coin-sized circular green stains (like the green you sometimes see on brass or copper) in the marble floor. Now this end of the Basilica was never rebuilt after the 410 fire, the other end and the porticus were built over with structures. During the Renaissance this end was excavated for the plundering of building materials. And pre-410 AD coins were found on the floor. There is also evidence of fused coins at the opposite end of the Basilica. So coins *are* on the floor when the Basilica is torched. The burning wooden roof over the central nave collapses onto the floor. The intense heat causes an oxidation process and some of the coins stain or semi-fuse into the floor.

But how did these coins get there? How about an educated guess :-) . August 24, 410 AD the gate is opened and the Visigoths come storming into the city. The whole area around here (Roman Forum, the Imperial Forums, the Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill, high-end shops all over the place, rich and important people, etc) is where the bulk of the money is. Where would you be heading if you were a Visigoth :-) ?

The Bankers hear people screaming and see them running in terror, shortly thereafter followed by barbarians storming into the Forum. They grab their money planning on escaping by running through the doors and then through the Basilica. But they are caught there and robbed. In the fear and confusion some coins are dropped perhaps some resisted and were beaten or killed (I said the Visigoths were Christians, not Saints :-) ). And perhaps other Romans ran in the Basilica for safety and were robbed of their money pouches.

Because there is evidence of coins also at the opposite end of the Basilica, these coins were not dropped by just one person. The few scattered coins are just left there, perhaps because people have other things on their mind during a Barbarian Invasion and picking up some pocket change isn't likely one of them :-) . The Basilica is put to the torch and the burning wooden roof collapses on top of them.

Ok look at the photo again. This is taken from the ramp leading into the Forum from the Via dei Fori Imperiali Roman Forum entrance. See the four column stumps (left to right 1 2 3 4)? Well about 1.5 m (about 5 feet) past stump #2 there is a group of circular green stains. But you can't see them from here unless you have binoculars which is how I found them seven years ago. The good news is the scaffolding that once covered this ramp is gone and now you can access the corner of the Basilica just to the left of column stump #1.

So walk down into that corner by stump #1 and look to the left of that #2 column stump (1.5 m / 5 feet) and with the naked eye you can see a group of six circular bright green large coin-sized stains. More detailed: Look a #2 stump, now move your eyes to the left, the marble is busted up in this area but you will see a small black section and to the left of that are the coin stains and to the left of that is sand that covers a large section of the floor. Think of this: Coins :::, Black Section z, Marble Floor xxx, Column Stump #2 o, Ramp || :::zxxxo||

There are others in this area and some are just partials but you need binoculars to find them.

Next: Emperors Galba and Vitellius' Murder In The Roman Forum
[Home]                         copyright (c) 2012-2018 by Jeff Bondono                         [Walter's Tours of Ancient Rome]