Sacco di Roma

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The sack of Rome ( 17th century painting by Johann Lingelbach )

The Sack of Rome ( Italian Sacco , archaic term for "looting") was the sacking of Rome and the Papal States by German mercenaries as well as Spanish and Italian mercenaries under Charles V from 6. May  1527 . Beyond the Italian wars , the Sacco di Roma is considered to be a culmination of excesses of warlike violence caused by mercenary armies beyond their control.


Spain ruled by Charles V and France ruled by Francis I fought for supremacy in northern Italy since 1521 . Pope Clement VII (1523–1534) tried to take advantage of the conflict to strengthen the papal state. After the crushing defeat of French troops in the Battle of Bicocca (April 1522), Clement VII claimed the Duchy of Milan for himself as soon as it was back in French hands. With the consent of Franz I, Clement VII stepped out of the alliance of Charles V and accused him of waging an “unjustified war against a Christian brother”, the sole purpose of which was to enlarge his own empire. This public charge made it very difficult for Charles V to act against France.

In August 1524 Charles V's troops besieged Marseille without success . During their retreat, they were attacked by French troops and pushed back to Pavia , among other places . There it came to a battle in February 1525 , in which Francis I was captured and the French troops were defeated. During his imprisonment in Madrid , Francis I signed the Peace Treaty of Madrid , in which he dropped all claims to the principalities of northern Italy. Charles V appealed to Franz's knightly honor - his "gloire" - to adhere to the contract and - against the advice of his advisors - released him from captivity. Barely free again, Francis I announced that the Treaty of Madrid was invalid because he had only signed it with great fear for his own life. Pope Clement VII then publicly granted him absolution , so that the peace of Madrid was recognized as null and void. Since Charles V became too powerful from the point of view of many other rulers, they formed in 1526 in the Pro-French League of Cognac . In addition to Pope Clement VII and Francis I, it also included the Duke of Milan Francesco II Sforza , the Republic of Venice and some smaller northern Italian rulers.

The duchies of Northern Italy, whose wealth would have been necessary to finance the mercenary army, because of the invalid treaty of Madrid, the change of the English King Henry VIII of Charles Alliance to the side of the League of Cognac, the religious conflict within Germany between Lutherans and Catholics (see Reichstag zu Worms ) and the years of struggle of the German mercenaries under Charles V against a pope, whom they were never allowed to attack directly, caused great displeasure among Charles V's troops in northern Italy. They had not been paid regularly since the Battle of Pavia, had received no reinforcements and were self-sufficient.

Landsknechte in the early 16th century

The explosive situation erupted in a mercenary uprising in March 1527, in which the leader of the German mercenaries, Georg von Frundsberg , who had crossed the Alps with over ten thousand men in November 1526, suffered a stroke while trying to appease his troops. The now by Charles III. Troops led by de Bourbon-Montpensier , Constable of France , but in no way restrained, marched first on Florence in order to be rewarded and supplied for their efforts there.

However, an army of the League of Cognac was stationed in Florence and held the city against the attackers, who then went under siege. At the beginning of 1527, there was not enough food in the surrounding lands, so the situation of the besiegers steadily deteriorated. On March 16, 1527 the mercenaries refused to obey their commanders and decided to take revenge on Pope Clement VII, whom they blamed for their situation. They left the heavy siege equipment at the gates of Florence and marched on Rome.

Charles of Bourbon falls while storming Rome (engraving by Maarten van Heemskerck , 1527)

Pope Clement VII tried in vain to bribe de Bourbon with a large sum of money in order to avert the impending misfortune. But neither did he accept it, nor would the bribe have been of any use, since the mercenary army no longer obeyed any leader. On May 4, 1527, the mercenaries reached the lands around the city of Rome; in the early morning of May 6, 1527, the army began to storm the city. The few troops in Rome could not counter the onslaught, and so the mercenaries were in the city that morning. Charles of Bourbon was killed while rushing to the city while climbing a ladder by a shot from a hook- barrel. The artist Benvenuto Cellini boasted of having fired them .

The events of the Sacco di Roma

Rome, one of the richest cities of the Renaissance , was ill-prepared for the attack of the 24,000-strong army with German mercenaries, Spanish mercenaries and anti-papal Italian condottieri , as the Pope had recently dismissed large parts of his troops in order to save money. On May 6th, the Borgo was first taken , favored by thick fog, and the Duke of Bourbon fell. A weakness in the wall was exploited by Spanish troops to invade the city, whereupon the resistance of the defenders of the Borgo collapsed.

A large part of the Swiss Guard , 147 out of 189 men in total, had taken up position on St. Peter's Square to protect the Pope and the Holy See . All 147 men were killed in defense. Pope Clement VII was able to flee from St. Peter's Basilica through the Passetto di Borgo with the remaining 42 Swiss to Castel Sant'Angelo , where they were besieged by the attackers.

The following day - after attempts at negotiations had failed - the Trastevere and first the bridges and then the rest of Rome were taken.

Sacco di Roma, Francisco J. Amérigo, 1884
El Saco de Roma (painting by Francisco Javier Amérigo y Aparici, 1884)

Without a leader recognized by all troops, the standard three-day looting got out of control, and the troops robbed, raped, tortured and killed at will. Supporters of Charles V were not spared either. Churches, palaces and hospitals as well as the Vatican were looted and set on fire. Many, especially nobles and clerics, were forced to pay enormous ransom money to buy themselves out. Ordinary citizens were tortured to give up their valuables.

The profits of the other spurred Spanish, German and Italian troops on to further looting and extortion, and occasionally there was a fight for the booty between the real allies. Lured by the uncontrolled situation, other “loyal to the emperor” Italian associations poured into the city from the surrounding area to share in the booty.

Over ninety percent of the art treasures in Rome, including the goldsmiths of the churches, were looted during the looting. The value of the booty is estimated at around 10 million ducats .


After a siege of Castel Sant'Angelo for several weeks, Pope Clement VII capitulated on June 7, 1527. He had to hand over the fortresses Ostia , Civitavecchia and Civita Castellana , renounce the cities of Modena , Parma and Piacenza and pay 400,000 ducats and a ransom for the liberation of the prisoners. On December 6th, the besieged Castel Sant'Angelo was released and Clement VII moved to Orvieto .

Charles V came under heavy criticism from members of the League of Cognac because of the Sacco di Roma . He was accused of having ordered or at least tolerated the looting. He himself denied this publicly. He later wrote in his memorias:

"The main responsibility did not lie with him (i.e. Charles V), but with those who had forced him to defend himself and deploy such a large army that it turned out to be difficult to keep in check."

The sack of Rome was still very convenient for Charles V. The Holy League of Cognac was now without the support of the Pope, who also had to accept Charles V's conditions as a prisoner. Charles V not only strived for the dignity of the emperor, but also, in contrast to his predecessor Maximilian I , wanted it to be legitimized by the highest spiritual authority. The defeat of the Pope brought this goal closer to home.

Between 1528 and 1529, Charles V continued to assert himself against the League of Cognac: The French army, which failed to appear in 1527, appeared under Lautrec in 1528 - and was corrupted by the plague off Naples. On June 29, 1529, Charles V entered into the peace treaty of Barcelona with Clement VII . The Pope received many provinces for the papal state. The Swiss Guard was disbanded as part of this peace treaty. It was founded in 1548 by Paul III. restored. On August 5, 1529, the "Lady Peace" was negotiated, which ended the fight between Charles V and Francis I.

Politically defeated by Charles V and reinstated in his office with the Peace of Barcelona, ​​favored by donations and contracts and oppressed by the new external threat posed by the Turks , Clemens VII crowned Charles V on his 30th birthday on December 24th. February 1530 in Bologna as emperor.

The imperial army initially remained in Rome, also held together by the army of the League in the north. Multiple requests to withdraw to Lombardy were not followed. In the summer months of 1527, epidemics reduced both the population of Rome and the occupiers by roughly half. Once again brought under control by new leaders and payment of wages, the remaining 12,000 men moved on to Naples on February 17, 1528, following the army of the League.

The Swiss Guard still commemorates the dead at the Sacco di Roma on May 6 with the swearing-in ceremony of new recruits in Rome.


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Secondary literature

  • Antonio Di Pierro: Il sacco di Roma. 6 maggio 1527. L'assalto dei lanzichenecchi . Mondadori, Milan 2002, ISBN 88-04-50438-2 , ( Oscar storia 322), (ital.).
  • Rainer Brüning: The reporting of the battle of Pavia (1525), the Sacco di Roma (1527) and the siege of Vienna (1529) in contemporary pamphlets . 2 volumes. Univ. Mag., Hamburg 1987.
  • ER Chamberlin: The Sack of Rome . Batsford, London 1979, ISBN 0-7134-1645-9 .
  • André Chastel : The Sack of Rome 1527 . Translated by Beth Archer. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ us 1983, ISBN 0-691-09947-2 , ( The AW Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts 1977 = 26), ( Bollingen Series 35, 26).
  • Hans Delbrück : History of the art of war in the context of political history . Volume 4: Modern Times . de Gruyter, Berlin 1920.
  • Otto Habsburg : Karl V. Herold, Vienna a. a. 1967.
  • Judith Hook: The sack of Rome 1527 . 2nd edition. With a new Foreword by Patrick Collinson. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke 2004, ISBN 1-4039-1769-8 .
  • Hubert Jedin : The Popes and the Council in the Politics of Charles V. In: Hubert Jedin: Church of the Faith - Church of History. Selected essays and lectures . Volume 2: Council and Church Reform . Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) 1966, pp. 148-159.
  • Hubert Jedin: Handbook of Church History . Volume 4: Erwin Iserloh : Reformation, Catholic Reform and Counter-Reformation . Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) a. a. 1967.
  • August Korte: Charles V's council policy in the years 1538–43 . Niemeyer, Halle (Saale) 1905, ( publications of the Association for Reformation History 85, ISSN  0171-2179 ).
  • Alfred Kohler : Karl V. 1500- 1558. A biography . 2nd unchanged edition. Beck, Munich, 2000, ISBN 3-406-45359-7 .
  • Michael Mallett, Christine Shaw: The Italian Wars 1494-1559 , Pearson, Harlow 2012, ISBN 978-0-582-05758-6
  • Francesco Mazzei: Il sacco di Roma . Rusconi, Milan 1986, ISBN 88-18-12027-1 (ital.)
  • Ludwig Freiherr von Pastor : History of the Popes since the End of the Middle Ages , Volume 4, 2 parts; Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) 1928.
  • Friedrich Prinz : Sacco di Roma. The end of the Renaissance or God's judgment? Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich 1989, ( history and stories ).
  • Peter Rassow (ed.): Karl V. The Kaiser and his time. Cologne Colloquium 26.-29. Nov 1958 ; Böhlau, Cologne a. a. 1960.
  • Augustin Redondo (ed.): Les Discours sur le Sac de Rome 1527. Pouvoir et Littérature . Presses de la Sorbonne nouvelle, Paris 1999, ISBN 2-87854-190-1 , ( Modernité aux XVe - XVIIe Siècles 4), (Papers presented at a conference held Dec. 11-12, 1997, Sorbonne, Paris, France).
  • Volker Reinhardt : Bloody Carnival. The Sacco di Roma 1527 - a political catastrophe . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-534-21749-6 .
  • Michael Römling: An army is a large voracious animal. Soldiers in Spanish and Imperial services and the population of war-torn areas in Italy between 1509 and 1530 . Diss. Phil., Göttingen 2001, online (PDF; 2.86 MB) .
  • Bernhard Schimmelpfennig : The Papacy. From antiquity to renaissance . 3rd unchanged edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1988, ISBN 3-534-08355-5 ; WB forum 16
  • Hans Schulz: The Sacco di Roma. Charles V's troops in Rome. 1527-1528 . Niemeyer, Halle 1894, ( Hallesche Treatises on Modern History 32, ZDB -ID 501618-6 ).
  • Ferdinand Seibt : Karl V. The Emperor and the Reformation . Siedler, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-88680-338-4 .


Web links

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