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Ch. 18, §§3‑4
This webpage reproduces a section of
History of the Later Roman Empire

by J. B. Bury

published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,
1923

The text is in the public domain.

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Ch. 18, §§6‑10

CHAPTER XVIII
THE RECONQUEST OF ITALY (I)

(Part 3 of 5)

§ 5. Siege of Rome (A.D. 537‑538)

The Romans soon learned to their deep chagrin that it was the intention of Belisarius to remain in their city and expose it to the hardships of a siege. With the small forces at his disposal, this was the only prudent course open to him. Taking up his quarters in the Domus Pinciana, on the Pincian Hill, in the extreme north of the city, the general immediately set about strengthening the fortifications. The great walls of Aurelian, which encompassed the city in a circuit of about twelve miles, had been repaired more than a hundred years ago, in the reign of Honorius, and recently by Theoderic.a But Belisarius found many dilapidations to make good, and he added some new fortifications. A wide ditch was dug on the outer side. The wall, as originally constructed, was well adapted for defence. A special feature was a covered way running round the inside of the wall to facilitate the passage of troops from one point to another. Some portions of this arched gallery still remain.83 Considering the vicissitudes through which Rome subsequently passed in a period of thirteen hundred years, the walls which the army of Belisarius defended are wonderfully preserved.84

At the same time measures were taken to supply the city with stores of grain imported from Sicily. But Belisarius appears not to have expected that Rome would be attacked by p181 a formidable army. He diminished his garrison by flinging out forces northward to seize commanding positions along the Flaminian Way — Narni, Spoleto, and Perugia, and some lesser strongholds. In the meantime Witigis had sent a considerable detachment to Dalmatia. Salona was besieged by land and sea, but the diversion ended in failure, and the province remained in Imperial hands.85 An attempt to recover Perugia was also defeated. But the confidence of the Goths rose when they realised the weakness of the forces with which Rome was held, and heard rumours of the discontent of the inhabitants at the military occupation of their city. The king decided to throw all his strength into the recovery of Rome, and he marched southward at the head of an army, which is thought by some to have numbered 150,000 warriors, most of them heavily armed, with horses protected by mail. The figure must be far in excess of the truth,86 but there can be no doubt that the Gothic host was large compared with the army of 5000 against which it was advancing. Belisarius was now dealing with a very different problem from that which had faced him in his campaign against the Vandals. He hastily recalled the generals, Bessas and Constantine, whom he had sent into Tuscany, bidding them abandon all their positions except Perugia, Spoleto, and Narni, in which they were to leave small garrisons.

Witigis did not delay to reduce these three places. The occupation of Narni was important.87 It forced the Gothic army, just as, more than a hundred years before, the army of Alaric had been forced, to diverge from the Flaminian Road to the east, to march through the Sabine country, and approach Rome by the Via Salaria, instead of marching by the Via p182Flaminia.88 When Witigis reached the Ponte Salario, where the road crosses the Anio, a few miles from the city, he found himself arrested by a fort which Belisarius had built on the bridge with the object of gaining time in order to procure more provisions.

But the garrison of the fort failed him. On the arrival of the Goths they decamped by night, and the enemy secured the bridge. Next day the general, ignorant of the cowardice of his men, rode towards the bridge with a thousand horsemen, and found that the Goths had crossed. A cavalry engagement ensued, in which Belisarius, carried away by the excitement of battle, indiscreetly exposed himself. Deserters knew his dark-grey horse with a white head, and urged the Goths to aim at him. But he escaped unwounded. There were severe losses on both sides, and the small Roman band was in the end forced to flee. They reached the Salarian Gate about sunset, and the sentinels, not recognising the general begrimed with dust of battle, and already informed by fugitives that he was slain, refused to open. Belisarius turned and charged the pursuers, who retreated, thinking that a new army had issued from the gate. He then succeeded in obtaining admission, and spent the p183 night in making arrangements for the defence of the city. Each gate was assigned to the charge of a different leader. One more incident occurred before the night was over. Witigis sent an officer to make a speech outside the Salarian Gate. This man, whose name was Wacis, reproached the Romans for their treachery to the Goths and for preferring the protection of Greeks,89 people, he said, who had never visited Italy before except in the capacity of actors or thieving mariners. No one made any reply to his outburst and he retired.

On the following day the siege began.90 It was to last a year and nine days, far longer than either of the belligerents anticipated. The Goths did not attempt to surround the whole circuit of the city. They constructed seven camps, one on the west side of the river, in the region of the Vatican, then known as the Campus Neronis. The other six were east of the Tiber, on the northern and eastern sides of the city.91 One of them was under the command of Witigis himself.92 Thus from the Porta Maggiore to the Porta S. Paolo and the river there was no leaguer. The whole circuit of the Aurelian Wall, including the Transtiberine region, was less than thirteen miles,93 so if Witigis had the p184 huge host which he is supposed to have led against Rome he would have had a man to every foot of the wall and an army of more than 10,000 to spare. He could not have decided that he had too few to blockade the city completely.94

The first operation of the Goths was to cut the numerous aqueducts which traversed the Campagna and supplied Rome with water from the Latin hills. The destruction of these magnificent works, although it caused some inconvenience, hardly affected the fortunes of the siege; but it had far-reaching consequences for the future of Rome.95 Since the third century B.C. the city had been excellently supplied with pure water, and new conduits had constantly been built to meet the growing needs of the inhabitants. For a thousand years after the act of demolition wrought by the Goths, the Romans were again, as in the early Republic, compelled to draw their water from the Tiber and the wells. The time-honoured habits of luxurious bathing, which had been such a conspicuous feature of their civilisation, came to an end. The aqueducts might easily have been restored at the end of the war, and doubtless this would have been done if Rome had again become an Imperial residence, but the comfort and cleanliness of the people were no object of care to the medieval popes, who regarded the ancient Thermae as part of the unregenerate life of paganism. The long lines of arcades which crossed the Campagna were allowed to fall into ruin.

The cutting of the aqueducts caused an immediate difficulty. There was no water to turn the cornº mills which supplied the Romans with bread. The inventive brain of Belisarius devised an expedient. Close to a bridge (probably the Pons Aelius) through whose arch the stream of the Tiber bore down with considerable force, he stretched from bank to bank tense ropes to which he attached two boats, separated by a space of two feet. Two mills were placed on each boat, and between the skiffs was suspended the water-wheel, which the current easily turned. A line of boats was formed, and a series of mills in the bed of the river ground all the corn that was required. The efforts of the p185 enemy to disconcert this ingenious device and break the machines by throwing trees and corpses into the water were easily thwarted by Belisarius; he stretched across the stream iron chains which formed an impassable barrier against all dangerous obstacles that might harm his boats or wheels.

The Romans chafed under the hardships which the first days of the siege brought upon them and which seemed likely to increase. Witigis, informed of their discontent by deserters, thought that Belisarius, under the influence of public opinion, might be induced to relinquish his plan of defending Rome if a favourable proposal were made. He sent envoys, whom Belisarius received in the presence of his generals and the senators. The Gothic spokesman enlarged on the miseries which the siege must inflict on the Romans, and offered to permit the Imperial army to leave the city unharmed and with all their property. The reply of Belisarius was a stern refusal. "I tell you," he said, "the time will come when you shall be glad to hide your heads under the thorn bushes and shall be unable to do so. Rome belongs to us of old. You have no right to it. It is impossible for Belisarius to surrender it, while he is alive."

A grand attempt to take the city by assault soon followed. The walls were attacked in various places, but everywhere the besiegers were repelled. The fighting was particularly severe near the Aurelian Gate, west of the Tiber, where the Goths attacked the great quadrangular Mausoleum of Hadrian, and the defenders, hard pressed, hurled statues down upon the enemy.96

Belisarius, though he openly expressed complete confidence, was well aware of the dangers and difficulties of his situation, and knew that success was hardly possible unless new troops came at once his aid. He wrote a letter to Justinian, in which he reported his operations and urged in the strongest language his need of reinforcements. "So far," he wrote, "all has gone well, whether our success be due to valour or to fortune, but in order that this success may continue, it behoves me to declare plainly what it behoves you to do. Though God orders all things as He wills, yet men are praised or blamed according to their success or failure. Let arms and soldiers be sent to us in such numbers that henceforward we may wage the war on terms of equality. Let the conviction penetrate your mind, O Emperor, that if p186 the barbarians overcome us now, we shall lose not only your dominion of Italy but the army also, and besides this we shall suffer the immense disgrace of failure, not to speak of the shame of bringing ruin on the Romans who preferred loyalty to your throne to their own safety. Understand that it is not possible to hold Rome long with ever so large a host. It is surrounded by open country and, not being a seaport, it is cut off from supplies. The Romans are now friendly, but if their hardships are protracted the pinch of famine will force them to do many things against their own wishes. For myself, I know that my life belongs to your Majesty, and I shall not be forced out of this place while I live. But consider how such an end to the life of Belisarius would affect your reputation."97

The Emperor had despatched reinforcements in December under Valerian and Martin, but they spent the winter months in Greece and had not yet arrived. On receiving the urgent appeal of his general, Justinian ordered them to proceed without delay, and prepared to raise a new armament. Meanwhile, on the day following the Gothic assault, Belisarius sent the women and children and the slaves who were not employed in garrison duties out of the city. Some travelled by boat down the Tiber, others departed by the Appian Way. The enemy made no attempt to hinder their departure. The artisans and tradespeople, whose occupation was almost gone, were drafted into the garrison, mixed with the regular soldiers, and paid a small wage for their services.98

Enraged, perhaps, at the failure of his attack, Witigis put to death the senators whom he kept at Ravenna as hostages, except a few who managed to escape. It was an act of barbarity which was seldom practised, and was as useless as it was cruel. At the same time he occupied Portus, at the mouth of the Tiber. This was a serious blow to the besieged, for Portus had for centuries been the port of Rome, with which it was connected by an excellent road and a towpath along the right bank of the p187 river, so that heavy barges laden with supplies could be towed up by oxen without the aid of oars or sails. The older harbour of Ostia, over against Portus, remained in the hands of the Romans, but there was no towpath, so that the river traffic from here depended on the wind. Moreover, when the Goths threw a garrison of a thousand men into Portus, boats could not anchor at Ostia, and were forced to put in at Antium, a day's journey distant.99 The secretary of Belisarius regrets that 300 men could not have been spared to secure Portus, which was so strong that even so few could have held it.

About three weeks later Martin and Valerian arrived with a force of 1600 cavalry, mostly Huns and Slavs, and they succeeded in eluding the Goths and entering Rome. Sorties were carried out after their arrival with uniform success, which Belisarius ascribed to the superiority of his well-trained mounted archers; and, if he could have had his way, he would have continued to wear down the enemy by constant small sallies, in which little was risked. But the army, rendered confident through their successes and convinced of their superiority to the barbarians, clamoured for a pitched battle, and their leader, wearied by their importunities, reluctantly yielded. A general action was fought in the north of the city, on both sides of the river, and the Romans, routed by sheer weight of numbers, were driven back within the walls.

Towards the end of June the besieged began to feel the pinch of hunger and disease. There was only enough corn to feed the soldiers, and the Goths tightened the blockade, hitherto conducted with remarkable negligence, by constructing a fortress at the junction of two aqueducts commanding the Appian and Latin Ways.100 The citizens101 urged Belisarius to risk a battle. p188 He refused, but held out promises that large reinforcements and supplies would soon arrive. The prospect of approaching relief was based only on rumour, and he sent his secretary Procopius to Campania to discover whether the report was true, to collect provision ships, and to send to Rome all the troops that could be spared from the garrisons of the Campanian towns. Procopius left Rome at night by the southern gate of St. Paul, and, eluding the Goths, reached Naples and executed his orders. Some time afterwards Belisarius sent Antonina to Naples, where, in a place of safety, she might help, with her considerable capacity for organisation, in the task of sending relief to Rome. She found that Procopius had already raised 500 soldiers and had loaded a large number of vessels with corn. But the reinforcements, so anxiously awaited, had not yet come, though they were on their way. They seem to have arrived in the month of November.102 3000 Isaurians disembarked at Naples and 1800 cavalry at Otranto. Of their commanders the most distinguished was John, the nephew of Vitalian, one of the bravest and most skilful officers who served under Belisarius.103

In the meantime the army of Witigis was suffering, as well as the Romans, from famine and disease. It was steadily declining in numbers when the discouraging tidings came that new forces were on their way to the relief of Rome. The 3000 Isaurians were sent by sea to Ostia, but John, the nephew of Vitalian, with his 1800 cavalry and the 500 who had been raised by Procopius, marched by the Appian Way, followed by a train of waggons laden with food. To prevent the Goths from intercepting them in force, Belisarius arranged a strong sortie on the p189 camp near the Flaminian Gate. It was completely successful; the Goths were utterly routed. This was the turning-point in the siege. Witigis despaired of taking Rome and sent envoys to Belisarius, the chief of whom was a distinguished but unnamed Italian.

The conversation between the general and the spokesman of the Goths is reported by Procopius, and, as we may safely assume that he had returned to Rome and was present at the interview, it is possible that he has given, at least partly, the tenor of the dialogue.

Envoy. We know and you know that the war has gone badly for both of us. It is stupid to persist in suffering with no prospect of relief, and it behoves the leaders of both belligerents to consider the safety of our men instead of their own reputations, and to seek a solution which will be fair both to themselves and to their enemy. We have therefore come with certain proposals. But we request you to interrupt us at once if anything we say appears unreasonable.104

Belisarius. I have no objection to the interview taking the form of a conversation. But I hope your proposals will be just and pacific.

Envoy. In coming against us, your friends and allies, with armed force, you Romans have acted unjustly. Remember that the Goths did not wrest Italy from the Romans, but Odovacar overthrew the Emperor and established a tyranny. Then Zeno, wishing to deliver the land,105 but being himself unable to subdue Odovacar, induced our king Theoderic, who was then threatening Constantinople, to punish Odovacar for the wrong he did to Augustulus and to undertake the government of Italy for the future. It was thus that we Goths were established in Italy, and we have observed the laws and the constitution of the Empire as faithfully as any of the Emperors of the past. Neither Theoderic nor any of his successors has ever enacted a law. We have shown scrupulous respect for the religion of the Romans. No Italian has ever been forcibly converted to Arianism, no Gothic convert has been forced to return to his old creed. We have reserved all the posts in the civil service for Italians, no Goth has ever been appointed. The Romans have had a yearly consul nominated by the Emperor of the East. But you, though for ten years you allowed Odovacar's barbarians to oppress Italy, are now attempting to take it from those who are legally in possession of it. Depart hence, with your property and the plunder you have seized.

Belisarius. You have spoken at length, and disingenuously. Theoderic was sent by Zeno against Odovacar, but not on the condition that he should himself be the master of Italy. For what would the Emperor have gained p190 in replacing one tyrant by another? The object was to restore Italy to the Imperial authority. Theoderic did well in his dealings with Odovacar, but acted wrongly in refusing to restore the land to its true lord. I will never hand over the Emperor's territory to any one else.

Envoy. Although all present know perfectly well that what we said is true, we have not come to bandy arguments. We are willing to surrender the rich island of Sicily, which is so important to you for the security of Africa.

Belisarius. We thank you. And we on our part are prepared to surrender to you the whole island of Britain, which belongs to us from of old and is far larger than Sicily. We cannot accept such a favour without giving an equivalent.

Envoy. Well, what do you say if we add Campania or Naples?

Belisarius. I have no powers to dispose of the Emperor's property.

Envoy. We would undertake to pay a yearly tribute to the Emperor.

Belisarius. I am only empowered to keep the land for its legal lord.

Envoy. Then we must send an embassy to the Emperor and negotiate with him. For this purpose we must ask you to conclude an armistice for a definite time.

Belisarius. Be it so. It shall never be said that I put obstacles in the way of a peaceful settlement.

We may take the later part of this conversation as a genuine report. Nor is it improbable that the Italian delegate of the Goths raised the question of the constitutional position of Italy and the legitimacy of the Ostrogothic government. If so, it is interesting to observe that both his argument and the reply of Belisarius misrepresented historical facts. On the Gothic side it was stated that Odovacar's offence, in the eyes of Zeno, lay in the dethronement of Romulus Augustulus, whereas Zenos regarded Augustulus as a usurper, and it was out of respect for the rights of Julius Nepos that he at first refused to recognise Odovacar. But he did recognise him subsequently, so that Odovacar, at least during the later years of his reign, was as little a "tyrant" as Theoderic himself. Belisarius distorted facts more seriously. He completely ignored the definite agreement concluded between Theoderic and the Emperor Anastasius. It was on this agreement that the legitimacy of Ostrogothic rule rested, and its existence invalidated the argument of Belisarius. It is not too much to read between the lines that Procopius himself considered that legally the Goths had a good case.

While Belisarius was receiving the envoys the reinforcements were arriving at Ostia. The same night he rode down to the port and arranged that the provisions should be transported up p191 the river and that the troops should march to Rome without delay. His confidence that the enemy would not interfere with the operations was justified by the event. The arrangements for an armistice of three months were then completed. Hostages were interchanged, and a guarantee was given that even if the truce were violated in Italy, the envoys should be allowed to return unharmed from Constantinople.

Rome was revictualled, but the Goths in their camps and fortresses were suffering from want of food. The secretary of Belisarius observes that the cause of this scarcity was the Imperial sea-power, which prevented them from receiving the imports on which Italy depended. The shortage of food decided Witigis to remove his garrisons from Portus, Centumcellae (CivitຠVecchia), and Album, and these places were promptly occupied by Imperial troops. The Goths complained of this action as a breach of the truce, but Belisarius laughed at them. He certainly put a free interpretation on the meaning of an armistice. He sent John, in command of 2000 troops, to spend the rest of the winter on the borders of Picenum, with instructions that, in case the enemy should break the truce, he was to swoop down on the Picentine territory, plunder it, and make slaves of the Gothic women and children.

About this time the attention of Belisarius was directed to the situation of northern Italy, where the inhabitants were watching the struggle with lively interest. Prominent citizens of Milan, along with Datius the archbishop, succeeded in reaching Rome, and begged him to send a small force to the north, assuring him that it would be an easy matter not only to hold Milan but also to procure the revolt of the whole province of Liguria. Belisarius consented to the plan, but he could not execute it during the truce, and the Milanese emissaries remained at Rome for the winter.

Soon after this a tragic incident occurred, which, if we may believe the secretary of Belisarius, was connected with domestic scandals in the general's household. When Witigis was preparing to march on Rome, Praesidius, a distinguished citizen of Ravenna, rode with a few servants to Spoletium with the purpose of joining the Imperialist cause. The only valuables he carried with him were two daggers with sheaths richly adorned with gold and gems. He halted at a church outside Spoletium, p192 which was then held by Constantine. This general heard about the precious daggers, and sent one of his followers to the church, who forced Praesidius to surrender his treasure. Praesidius went on to Rome, intent on complaining to Belisarius, but the emergencies and dangers of the siege hindered him from troubling the commander with his private grievance. As soon as the truce had been arranged he made his complaint and demanded redress. Belisarius urged Constantine to restore the weapons, but in vain. Then one day, as he was riding in the Forum, Praesidius seized his bridle, and loudly demanded whether it was permitted by the Imperial laws that when a suppliant arrived from the camp of the enemy he should be robbed of his property. Belisarius was compelled to promise that the daggers should be restored, and summoning Constantine to a private room, in the presence of other generals, told him that he must give up the daggers. Constantine replied that he would rather throw them into the Tiber. Belisarius called his guards. "I suppose they are to slay me," said Constantine. "Certainly not," said Belisarius, "but to force your armour-bearer to restore the daggers." But Constantine, believing that he was to die, drew his dagger and tried to stab Belisarius in the belly. Starting back, Belisarius seized Bessas and sheltered himself behind him, while Valerian and Ildiger dragged Constantine back. Then the guards came in, wrested the weapon from Constantine, and removed him. Some time afterwards he was put to death.

His execution was severely condemned by Procopius, who denounces it as the only impious act ever committed by Belisarius, and as an act out of keeping with his character, which was distinguished by fairness and leniency. This verdict is remarkable, for at no time would the capital penalty be considered an unjust severity in the case of an officer who attempted the life of his superior. But in his Secret History Procopius supplements the story and thereby explains his condemnation of the act. If we may believe what he there relates, Constantine was sacrificed to the hatred of Antonina. The scandalous anecdote is that when Belisarius had discovered in Sicily his wife's disgraceful intrigue with Theodosius,106 Constantine expressed his p193 sympathy with the injured husband, and observed, "If it were my case, I would have slain the woman and not the young man." The words were reported to Antonina, who bided her time for revenge. The affair of Praesidius brought her the opportunity to punish Constantine for his offensive words. Her persuasions induced Belisarius to order the execution, and, according to Procopius, the Emperor was seriously displeased at the death of such a capable general.

Soon after this incident the truce was unequivocally broken by repeated endeavours of the Goths to steal secretly into Rome. They planned to gain an entrance through the aqueduct known as the Aqua Virgo, near the Pincian Gate, but their explorations in the tunnel were revealed by the light of their torches. Another device was to drug the guards of a low section of the wall, on the north-western side of the city, with the help of two Romans, who were bribed. But one of them informed Belisarius and the scheme was frustrated. On another occasion the Goths openly attacked and were repelled. In retaliation for these acts Belisarius sent orders to John to descend upon the Picentine provinces. Some preparations for this eventuality had been made by the Goths. John was opposed by a force under Ulitheus, an uncle of the king, but the Romans were victorious, and Ulitheus was slain. This battle must have been fought somewhere in the southern province of Picenum,107 for John then marched to Auximum (Osimo). Finding that it had strong natural defences, he made no attempt to take it, but marched forward into the northern Picenum and reached Urbinum. He judged that Urbinum, like Auximum, might be difficult to capture, and went on to Ariminum. In leaving two fortresses held by the enemy in his rear, John disobeyed the express injunctions of his commander-in‑chief.108 But his disobedience had a useful result. He shrewdly foresaw that the seizure of Ariminum, which is only a day's march from Ravenna, would compel Witigis, fearing for the safety of the Gothic capital, to raise the siege of Rome. Ariminum offered no resistance, the garrison fled to Ravenna. John presently received a message from the Gothic queen. Matasuntha hated the husband to p194 whom she had been united against her will, and now she impetuously proposed to betray Ravenna and to marry John, though he must have been completely a stranger to her.

When the news of the fall of Ariminum reached Rome, the Goths immediately burned the palisades of their camps and prepared to depart. Belisarius did not allow them to go unharmed. He waited till about half their host had crossed the Milvian Bridge and then attacked them with all his forces. Their losses were considerable. Besides those who were slain in combat many were drowned in the Tiber. Thus the siege of Rome, which had lasted for a year and nine days, came to an end about the middle of March, A.D. 538. It had furnished Witigis with an opportunity to demonstrate his incompetence, and Belisarius to display his resourcefulness.

Small as his forces were, Belisarius seems throughout to have been sanguine that he would be able to overcome the resistance of the Goths. It had been, and was to be, a war of sieges; if the enemy had met him in the open field, after the arrival of the reinforcements, it is possible that he would have won a decisive victory, and the conquest of Italy might have been achieved almost as rapidly as the conquest of Africa. He was asked during the siege of Rome how it was that he was so confident, seeing the disparity in strength between the army of the enemy and his own. His reply was that he relied on the superiority of his tactic. "Ever since we first met the Goths," he said,109 "in small engagements, I studied the differences in our tactical methods for the purpose of adapting my tactic so as to make up for the inferiority of my numbers. I found that the chief difference is that almost all our Roman troops and our Hunnic allies are excellent horse-archers, whereas the Goths are totally unpractised in this force of warfare. Their cavalry are accustomed to use only lances and swords, while their bowmen are unmounted and go into battle under the cover of their heavy armed cavalry. And so, except in hand-to‑hand fighting, their cavalry have no means of protecting themselves against the missiles of the enemy and can easily be cut up, and their infantry are ineffectual against mounted forces." But no tactic, however able, would have succeeded against the Goths, p195 who were brave and well disciplined, if their army had been as vast as that which the historian alleges Witigis led against Rome.


The Author's Notes:

83 Near the Porta Asinaria.

84 A summary enumeration of the towers, battlements, and loopholes, from the Porta Flaminia to the Porta Metrovia, compiled (copied from an earlier document?) in the eighth century, is extant (text in Jordan, Top. der Stadt Rom, II.578).

85 The end of this expedition is not related by Procopius.

86 The figure, nevertheless, was given by Belisarius in his letter to Justinian (B. G. I.24); see below, p186. 150,000 Gothic warriors would mean a Gothic operation approaching 700,000. When they entered Italy the number of the Ostrogoths perhaps hardly reached 100,000, and they cannot have multiplied seven times in forty-five years. Moreover, if they had been so strong, it would have been out of the question to attempt to conquer them with the small forces of Belisarius. The figure is also disproved by the circumstances of the siege (see below, pp183 sq.). I am inclined to believe that the number mentioned by Belisarius represents an estimate of the total Gothic population of Italy.

87 Narnia is 54 Roman miles from Rome. Its situation is described in some detail by Procopius (I.17.8‑11), and the description is not irrelevant, as showing that even with a small garrison it could bar the progress of an army. One arch and some piers of the bridge of Augustus which Procopius mentions still remain.

88 The usual view has been that the Goths advanced by the Via Flaminia (regaining it somewhere presumably between Narnia and Ad Tiberim, now Magliano, where there was a bridge), and that the bridge where Belisarius placed the garrison was the Pons Milvius, now Ponte Molle, 2 miles from Rome. This view was held by Gibbon and maintained by Hodgkin. But it is certainly erroneous and inconsistent with the story. If the fighting had been at the Milvian Bridge the Roman fugitives would have returned to the Porta Flaminia, not to the Porta Salaria. The cause of the error is that Procopius does not name the bridge, but calls it simply Τιβέριδος τοῦ ποταμοῦ γεφύρα, "a bridge of the Tiber" (ib. xiii). Hence, as the Milvian was the only bridge which spanned the Tiber north of the city, it was naturally supposed to be meant. But Τίβερις is ambiguous in Procopius; it means (1) the Tiber, (2) the Anio. That it means the Anio in this passage is shown by the statement in the context (ib. xiv) that there are bridges over the river in other places (πολλαχόσε τοῦ ποταμοῦ), meaning, of course, in the neighbourhood of Rome. This is not true of the Tiber, which had only the one bridge outside the city; but it is true of the Anio, which is crossed, near Rome, by the Via Nomentana and the Via Tiburtina, as well as by the Via Salaria. In two other passages (B. G. III.10.23, and 24.31) Τίβερις clearly means the Anio. This was the view of Gregorovius, Rome in the Middle Ages, I.372; is accepted by Hartmann, Gesch. Italiens, I.295, n19; and has been defended in a special monograph by L. Fink, Das Verhältnis der Aniobrücken zur Mulvischen Brücke in Prokops Gothenkrieg, 1907. Procopius knew the localities, and the ambiguous use of Τίβερις cannot be due to ignorance. The explanation may be found in the modern name of the Anio, Teverone, and the use in Procopius be taken to show that the old name had passed out of common speech before his time.

89 Procopius reproduces the Latin name — Γραικοί (I.18).

90 For the chronology of the siege Procopius supplies the following data. It ended "about the spring equinox" in 538, and lasted 1 year and 9 days (II.10, p194). It began at the beginning of March (Μαρτίου ἰσταμένου, II.24, p122). In the Lib. pont. (Silverius), Feb. 21 is mentioned as the first day of the siege. It is not easy to reconcile this difference.

91 They can be located as follows: (1) just north of the Flaminian Gate, Porta del Popolo; (2) in the grounds of the Villa Borghese, to command the Salarian and Pincian Gates; (3) on the Via Nomentana, to command the Porta Nomentana; (4) and (5) on the Via Tiburtina, near San Lorenzo, and (6) farther south, on the Via Praenestina, to command the corresponding gates (P. Tiburtina and P. Labicana). It is possible that the Porta Pinciana had been closed and was reopened by Belisarius (see Jordan, Topogr. I.1., p352, cp. II. p578).

92 Τῶν δὲ δὴ ἄλλων Οὔττιγις ἡγεῖτο ἔκτος αὐτός. ἄρχων γὰρ ἦν ἔς κατὰ χαράκωμα ἔκαστον (B. G. I.19). Hodgkin (IV.148) says that Procopius is "rather vague here." Could he have been more explicit? During the siege the Goths profaned and damaged many tombs of Christian martyrs outside the walls. We know this from verses which were afterwards inscribed on the sepulchres when Pope Vigilius restored them. See Anth. Lat. Supp. I. Nos. 83, 87, 89, 99.

93 This includes the wall along the river from the P. Flaminia to the Pons Aurelius (Ponte Sisto). See Jordan, I.1.343‑344. It must be remembered that the Transtiberine portion of the Aurelian Wall enclosed only the Janiculum and the southern part of the modern Transtiberine town, reaching the river just north of the Ponte Sisto. The Gothic camp on this side of the river was far from the walls, and its principal purpose was to prevent the Romans from destroying the Milvian Bridge (so Procopius). It was under the command of Marcias, who had been the commander of an army in Provence, and arrived on the scene after the siege had begun.

94 Οὐχ οἶοί τε ὄντες ὅλῳ τῷ στρατοπέδῳ τὸ τεῖχος περιλαβέσθαι κύκλῳ, B. G. I.19.2.

95 Compare Hodgkin (IV. ch. vi), who gives an interesting account of the aqueducts, based on Lanciani's monograph Le acque e gli acquedotti di Roma Antica. There were eleven principal aqueducts, including that of Alexander Severus. Procopius says that there were fourteen (I.19).

96 It was supposed that the Gothic losses in dead on this day were 30,000.

97 I have reproduced a good part of this document because, if not a literal copy of the original letter, there is every reason to believe that Procopius, who may have written it himself, reproduced its actual tenor (B. G. I.24).

98 A scandal was created at this time by some persons who attempted to open the gates of the temple of Janus in the Forum. Since Rome had become Christian the temple had been kept shut in war as well as in peace. The efforts of the secret pagans (who remained undiscovered) failed to open the bronze doors, but damaged the bolts or hinges so that they would not shut tight.

99 On the decline of Ostia and rise of Portus see G. Calza, Gli scavi recenti nell' abitato di Ostia, in the Mon. antich. of the Acc. dei Lincei, XXVI 1920. Ostia had been a rich and prosperous city, as the excavated ruins show, till the beginning of the fourth century, for the Portus of Claudius across the Tiber had been simply the port of Ostia where all the business was transacted. The policy of Constantine brought Portus directly under the central administration at Rome, and the gradual decline of the old port set in. Cassiodorus (Var. VII.9), in describing the two towns as duo lumina, has in mind Ostia's ancient importance.

100 The medieval tower, known as the Torre Fiscali, about 3½ miles from Rome, marks the place.

101 Many had looked forward to the month of July as the term of their sufferings, on the faith of a Sibylline oracle which predicted that in that month the Romans would have a new king, and Rome would have nothing more to fear from the Getae. (p188) Procopius (I.24) reproduced the Latin words of the oracle, but they have been corrupted in the MSS. For attempts to restore the original see Bury (B. Z. XV.45), and H. Jackson (Journal of Philology, XXXIII.142), who rightly points out that the word before mense (which is quite clear in the MSS.) must have been quinto, not quintili, as has generally been assumed.

102 They cannot have arrived sooner, for they must have reached Rome in December, since after their arrival there the Goths immediately despaired and sent envoys to Belisarius (εὐθὺς μὲν ἀπεγίνωσκον τὸν πόλεμον (B. G. II.6 ad init.), and this was shortly before the winter solstice (II.7, p181). It seems to follow that Procopius cannot have been sent to Naples before September or October, though one would naturally infer from the narrative that he was sent in July (so Hodgkin, IV.246). But it cannot be supposed that he would have kept back for four months the 500 men whom he collected and who were sorely needed at Rome. Antonina appears to have been back in Rome before November 18, for she took part in the deposition of Pope Silverius (Lib. pont. lx Silv. p292): cp. below, p379.

103 He is called the "Sanguinary" in the Lib. pont. (ib.).

104 Προσήκει δὲ μὴ ξυνεχεῖ ρήσει (Braun's correction of ξυνεγχειρήσει) τοὺς λόγους ἀμφοτέρους ποιεῖσθαι, B. G. II.6. Procopius is evidently thinking of the dialogue between the Melians and Athenians in Thucydides (V.85).

105 Τιμωρεῖν μὲν τῷ ξυμβεβασιλευκότι (i.e. Romulus Augustulus) βουλόμενος.

106 H. A. 1, p10. It is to be noted that Procopius was not in Sicily when this scandal occurred. He was in Africa. See above, p143.

107 Picenum suburbicarium, of which the chief towns were Ancona, Auximum, Firmum, and Asculum.

108 Belisarius had ordered him to lay siege to any fortress that lay on his route, and if he failed to take it, not to advance farther. Procopius (II.10) justifies John's disobedience.

109 Procopius, B. G. I.27.26.


Thayer's Note:

a The Aurelian walls repaired under Honorius, Theoderic: see Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, Muri Aureliani.

Page updated: 14 Aug 11