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Raphael - The Battle of Ostia (1514) (Public Domain)

The Forgotten Arab Raid On Rome In 846 AD

Throughout its millennia long existence, the illustrious city of Rome has been invaded many times, and changed hands just as frequently. The Gauls, Goths, Vandals, and Normans have all been responsible at one time or another for despoiling the crown jewel of Italy, each one a disaster of such magnitude that even today they are still remembered. Remaining virtually unknown however, is the Arab raid of 846 AD, which although not as ruinous as the others, still left an indelible mark on the citizens that survived it. Curiously and in stark contrast to the other examples, in this case the Islamic aggressors chose to ignore Rome entirely, opting instead to ravage the Italian cities of the Mediterranean basin.

Drawing and graphic reconstruction of the Constantinian basilica over the grave of St. Peter in Rome (1450) (Public Domain)

Drawing and graphic reconstruction of the Constantinian basilica over the grave of St. Peter in Rome (1450) (Public Domain)

Their unusual choice was dictated by the principles of a military strategy that only the Arabs could fully understand and properly execute. Performing the medieval Islamic equivalent of a blitzkrieg, they used the doctrine of ghazw warfare to terrorize Italian provinces — burning, killing, and looting their way towards the churches of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which they robbed of all their priceless treasures. It was a chain of events that was to sharply illuminate Rome’s weaknesses, compelling it to initiate a policy that would ultimately strengthen its ability to repel repeat incursions.


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