In the first fury of the civil wars, what wrong had Troy committed to deserve a destruction at the hands of Fimbria, the worst scoundrel on Marius’ side, more savage and cruel than that formerly wrought by the Greeks? In the earlier calamity, many took to flight and many others were taken captive and allowed to live, at least in slavery. But, Fimbria issued an order to spare no one, and then fired the entire city with everyone in it. All this Troy had to suffer—not from the Greeks incensed by Trojan wickedness, but from the Romans, who had reaped success from Troy’s misfortune. The gods who guarded them both brought no aid to avert disasters; rather, to tell the truth, they were utterly powerless to do so.
Did the gods, even at that time, ‘depart and leave the temples and altars bare’—gods who had kept the city standing after it had arisen from the ashes and ruins in which the Greeks had left it? But, if they had already departed, I would like to know why. I find the conduct of the inhabitants as laudable as that of the gods is blameworthy. The Trojans had closed the gates against Fimbria in order to hold the city intact for Sulla. That is why Fimbria not merely fired the city, with its inhabitants, but utterly wiped it out. Sulla was still leader of the more respectable party, and he was still making every effort to deliver the republic by force of arms. He had not yet sensed the tragic outcome of these auspicious beginnings. Could the people of that city have done anything more proper, honorable, loyal, and more worthy of their kinship with Rome than to hold the city for the more patriotic Roman party and to shut its gates in the face of the betrayer of the Roman state?
How tragically this loyal act turned out for the Trojans, let the champions of the gods observe. It is urged that the gods deserted the adulterers and left Troy to the torches of the Greeks so that, from its ashes, a chaster Rome might arise. Then, why did they later desert the same city when it was bound to Rome by ties of kinship, and had not risen in revolt against Rome, its noble daughter, but had kept its faith staunchly and devotedly with its more legitimate party? Why did they then leave it to be wiped out, not by the valorous Greeks, but by the vilest creature that ever bore a Roman name?
If the gods frowned on the cause which was upheld by Sulla’s party and which made the unfortunate Trojans hold the city with closed gates, why did the gods promise and predict such happy prospects for this same Sulla? Do they not reveal in this their true colors as flatterers of the fortunate rather than defenders of the downcast. Hence, not even then was it because the gods departed that Troy was overthrown. For the demons, ever ready to deceive, did all they could.
Together with the city, all the statues of idols went down in ashes and ruins except the statue of Minerva. According to Livy, this remained intact in spite of the total destruction of her temple. This was not that it might be said in their praise: ‘ye patron gods that always Troy protect,’ but that it might not be urged in their defence that ‘the gods departed and left temples and the altars bare.’ They were allowed to save that statue, not as proof of their power, but of their presence there.
After the tragic lesson of Troy, was it a wise decision to entrust the protection of Rome to the gods of Ilium? It may be answered that, by the time Troy fell before Fimbria’s onslaught, the gods had already taken up their permanent abode in Rome. How, then, explain the preservation of Minerva’s image? If they were in Rome when Fimbria razed Troy, I presume they were in Troy when the Gauls seized and set fire to Rome itself! Having extremely sharp ears and extremely fast legs, at the scream of the geese they were back in a flash to protect at least the Capitoline Hill, which had escaped capture. Too bad that the warning to return was heard too late to save the rest of the city!
Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII