[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Ch. 19, §1‑3
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of the Later Roman Empire

by J. B. Bury

published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has not been proofread.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Ch. 19, §9‑12


(Part 2 of 4)

§ 4. Second Siege of Rome (A.D. 546)

It was towards the end of A.D. 545 or early in A.D. 546 that Totila began to besiege Rome in person and with vigour. He had already cut off sea-borne supplies by a considerable fleet of light ships stationed at Naples and in the Liparaean Islands. The whole province of Campania seems to have been subject to the Goths, who, we are told, both here and in the rest of Italy, left the land to the Italians to till peaceably, only requiring them to pay the taxes which would otherwise have been exacted by the Emperor.​21 Of the two ports at the mouth of the Tiber, Ostia was in the possession of the Goths, while Portus was held for the Emperor by Innocent. It will be remembered that during the former siege by Witigis, the position was just the reverse; the Romans were in Ostia, the Goths in Portus.

Belisarius despatched Valentine and Phocas, one of his guards, with 500 men by sea to reinforce the garrison of Portus. The troops in Rome numbered 3000, and if Bessus, their commander, had co-operated actively with the leaders at Portus, it might have been possible to secure the passage of foodships up the Tiber. But he refused to allow any of his men to hazard a sortie. Valentine and Phocas, with their small forces, attempted a surprise attack on the Gothic camp, but they fell into an ambuscade which Totila, informed of their plan by a deserter, had set for them. Most of the Romans, including the two leaders, perished.

Not long afterwards Pope Vigilius, who was staying at Syracuse on his way to Constantinople, sent a flotilla of corn-ships to feed the starving city. The Goths saw them approaching  p237  and posted an ambush.​22 The garrison of Portus, who could see the movements of the enemy from the walls, waved garments and signalled to the ships to keep away from the harbour and land elsewhere, but the crews mistook the signals for demonstrations of welcome, and sailing into the trap which had been laid for them were easily captured and slain. A bishop who accompanied the convoy was seized and interrogated by the king. His replies were unsatisfactory, and Totila, convinced that he was lying, punished him by cutting off his hands.

The pressure of hunger in Rome was now so severe that it was decided to ask Totila for a truce of a few days, on the understanding that, if no help arrived before it expired, the city would be surrendered. One of the Roman clergy, the deacon Pelagius, who was afterwards to fill the chair of St. Peter, undertook the mission. As representative of the Roman see at Constantinople he had ingratiated himself in the favour of Justinian, he enjoyed a high reputation in Italy, and had won popularity by employing his considerable wealth to relieve the sufferings of the siege. Totila received him with the courtesy due to a man of his character and influence, but made a speech, if we can trust the historian, which had the effect of preventing any attempt at negotiation.

"The highest compliment I can pay to an ambassador," such was the drift of the king's statement, "is candour. And so I will tell you plainly at the outset that there are three points on which I am resolved and will entertain no parley, but otherwise I will gladly meet any proposals you may make. The three exceptions are: (1) I will show no mercy to the Sicilians; (2) the walls of Rome shall not be left standing; (3) I will not give up the slaves who deserted to us from their Roman masters on the promise that we should never surrender them." Pelagius did not conceal his chagrin at these reservations and departed without making any proposals.

 p238  It is difficult to suppose that this interview has been quite correctly recorded. Why should Totila have introduced the subject of Sicily, which had no apparent bearing on the surrender of Rome, unless it had been first introduced by Pelagius? If the report of Procopius is true so far as it goes, we must suppose that it is incomplete and that he has omitted to say that the ambassador opened the conversation by mentioning certain conditions for eventual surrender among which were the three points as to which Totila said he could make no concessions.

It is intelligible that Pelagius should have availed himself of this opportunity, whether with or without the authorisation of Bessas, to attempt to safeguard the Sicilians. For it is probable that Totila had made no concealment of his intention to punish them for what he regarded as their black ingratitude to the Goths. They had enjoyed a privileged position under Theoderic and his successors; for no Goths had been settled in the island. But when Belisarius landed they had welcomed him with unanimous enthusiasm, and smoothed the way for his conquest of Italy. Their conduct rankled in the minds of the Goths, and they might well shiver at the thought of the chastisement awaiting them when Totila should have his hands free after the capture of Rome.

The vindictiveness displayed by Totila towards Sicily seems to have been the reason which induced Pelagius to break off the negotiation without pressing for the truce which he had been sent to arrange. His failure drove the citizens to despair. Some of them appeared before Bessas and his officers and implored them either to give them food to keep them alive or to allow them to leave the city or to kill them. They received a cold, unsympathetic reply. "We cannot agree to any of your suggestions. The first is impossible, the second would be dangerous, the third criminal. But Belisarius will soon be here to relieve the city." Throughout the siege Bessas and his subordinate commanders had been profiting by the dire necessity of the inhabitants to fill their own purses. At first they had plenty of cornº in their magazines, and they sold it to the richer people at an exorbitant price.​23 Those who could not afford to buy had  p239  to content themselves with bran at a quarter of the price. The mass of the populace fed on cooked nettles, and when the supplies of corn and bran ran short, nettles became the food of all. On this fare, occasionally supplemented by the flesh of a dog or a rodent, they died, or, wasting away, moved about like ghosts. At last the heart of Bessas was moved by the offer of a sum of money to allow the civilians to leave the city. Nearly all took advantage of the permission. Many fell into the hands of the Goths and were cut to pieces, and of the rest it is said that the greater number dropped by the wayside exhausted and died where they lay. "The fortunes of the Senate and Roman people had come to this."24

The next event was the landing of Belisarius at Portus. It was his intention on the arrival of John with reinforcements at Dyrrhachium to proceed immediately with all the forces he had to the relief of Rome. But John urged that it would be better to drive the Goths first out of Calabria and southern Italy, which they did not hold strongly, and then march on Rome. The result of these deliberations was a compromise.​25 The generals divided their forces. The voyage of Belisarius, who, accompanied by Antonina, first set sail with part of the army, was interrupted by adverse winds which compelled him to put in at Otranto. This port was still being besieged by the Goths, who, on the approach of his fleet, fled to Brundusium, where John presently landed and put them to rout. This victory meant the definite recovery of Calabria. John then marched northwards into Apulia and took Canusium, then southwards into Bruttii, where he defeated the Gothic general who was in command at Rhegium. He appears to have been determined, for other than military reasons,​26 not to join Belisarius, who was impatiently expecting him on the Tiber; for we cannot suppose that he was deterred from fulfilling his promise by a body of 300 cavalry which Totila had sent to Capua.

Having established himself at Portus, Belisarius decided that his forces were too weak to attack the Gothic camp with any  p240  chance of success, and that the only thing he could attempt was to provision the city. To prevent foodships from ascending the river, Totila had thrown across the stream, some miles above Portus, a wooden boom,​27 with a tower at either end in which guards were stationed, and below it he had stretched an iron chain from bank to bank. To overcome this obstacle, Belisarius bound together two broad boats on which he constructed a wooden tower higher than the towers of the boom, and on the top he placed a boat filled with pitch, sulphur, resin, and other combustibles. He loaded with provisions and manned with the best of his soldiers two hundred dromons or light warships, on the decks of which he had erected high wooden parapets pierced with holes through which his archers could shoot. When all was ready he stationed some troops near the mouth of the Tiber, in case the enemy should attack Portus. He left Isaac the Armenian in charge of Portus, entrusting Antonina to his care, with strict instructions not to leave the place on any plea, not even if he should hear that Belisarius had been slain. Other troops were ordered to advance along the right bank of the Tiber to co-operate with the ships, and a message had been sent to Bessas bidding him distract the enemy by a sortie. It was the one thing which Bessas was determined not to do.

Belisarius embarked in one of the dromons, and the double barge was slowly urged or hauled upstream.​28 Unhindered by the enemy, who did not appear, they reached the iron chain. Here they had to deal with some Goths who had been set on either bank to guard it. Having killed or put them to flight, they hauled up the chain and advanced against the boom, where they were confronted by more serious resistance, for enemy soldiers rushed from their encampments to help the guards in the towers. The double barge was then guided close to the tower on the right bank,​29 the combustibles were set alight, and the boat was dropped on the tower. The tower was immediately wrapt in flame, and the two hundred Goths inside were consumed. Meanwhile the archers in the dromons rained arrows on the Gothic forces which had assembled on the bank till these, terrified at once by the conflagration and by the deadly shower,  p241  turned and fled. The men of Belisarius then set fire to the boom, and the way to Rome was clear.

But in the very moment in which he was rejoicing that his difficult enterprise, so skilfully planned and executed, was crowned with success, horsemen galloped up the road from Portus with the tidings that Isaac the Armenian was in the hands of the enemy. Belisarius lost his presence of mind. He did not wait to ask for details. He leaped to the conclusion that Portus had been captured, that his wife had fallen into the hands of the Goths, that he and his army had lost their base and refuge; and he decided that the only thing to be done was to return at once with all his forces and attempt to recover Portus before the enemy had time to organise its defence.​30 The dromons sailed down the river, to find Portus unharmed and Antonina safe.

What had happened was this. The news of the breaking of the chain and the conflagration of the tower had come — perhaps it was signalled — to the ears of Isaac. He could not resist the temptation of doing something to win glory for himself, and, in flat disobedience to the express orders of his general, he left the fortress, crossed to the other bank of the channel, and, taking a hundred of the cavalry which Belisarius had posted on the Isola Sacra, attacked a Gothic encampment which was under the command of Roderick.​31 The enemy were taken by surprise and retired; Roderick himself was wounded. But as Isaac and his men were plundering the camp, they were in turn surprised by the Goths who returned to attack them. Many were slain and Isaac was taken alive. Roderick died of his wound, and Totila, who valued him highly, avenged him by putting Isaac to death.

The misfortune might have been retrieved if Belisarius, on discovering his mistake, had promptly retraced his course upstream, before the enemy had time to replace the boom or construct new obstacles. But he had not the heart to make another attempt. The shock had been so great and the disappointment so grievous that his physical strength collapsed.  p242  Envious fortune seemed to have snatched the cup from his lips, and he must have felt that, if Isaac's unpardonable disobedience had originated the misfortune, it would have had no serious consequences but for his own precipitate action. He fell ill and a dangerous fever supervened.

It was not long after this that Rome was captured. Bessas as well as the soldiers grew negligent of the routine work on which the safety of a besieged city depends. Sentinels slept at their posts, and the patrols which used to go round the walls to see that watch was kept were discontinued. Four Isaurians, whose nightly post was close to the Asinarian Gate, took advantage of this laxity to betray the city. Letting themselves down from the battlements by a rope, they went in the darkness to the camp of Totila and offered to open the gate. He agreed to pay them well for their treachery and sent two of his followers back with them to report whether the scheme was practicable. But he did not altogether trust them, and it was not till they had twice returned to urge him to the enterprise that he finally decided to make use of their help. On the appointed night four strong Goths were hauled up by the Isaurians, and cleaving the wooden bolts of the gate with axes they admitted their king and the army (December 17, A.D. 546).32

Bessas and the greater part of the garrison, with a few senators who still had horses, fled through another gate (perhaps the Flaminian). Bessas in his haste left behind him all the treasure which he had spent a year in wringing from the starving citizens. Of the civilian population there were only about 500 left. These took refuge in churches, and sixty of them were killed by the Gothic soldiery when Totila let his troops loose to slay and plunder. He went himself to pray in St. Peter's, where Pelagius, holding the Bible in his hands, accosted him with the words, "Spare thy people, my lord." Totila, thinking of their last meeting, said, "Now, O Pelagius, thou hast come to supplicate me." "Yes," was the reply, "as God has made me thy servant. But henceforth spare thy servants, my lord." Totila then issued an order to stay the slaughter, but he allowed the Goths to plunder at their will, reserving the most valuable treasures for himself. The fact that no acts of violence to women disgraced the capture of Rome redounded to his glory.

 p243  Totila hoped that this success would end the war. He despatched Pelagius and another Roman to Constantinople bearing a letter to the Emperor, to the following effect:

"You have already heard what has happened to Rome, and you will learn from these envoys why I have sent them. We are asking you to accept yourself and accord to us the blessings of that peace which was enjoyed in the time of Anastasius and Theoderic. If you consent, I will call you my father and we Goths will be your allies against all your enemies."

It is clear from this letter that Totila's idea was not to establish a completely independent power in Italy, like those of the Germanic kingdoms in Gaul and Spain, but to restore the constitutional system which had been in force under Theoderic and Athalaric. The capitulations of A.D. 497 were to be renewed, the Imperial authority was still to be nominally supreme. The ambassadors were instructed to intimate that, if the offer of peace were rejected, Totila would raze Rome to the ground and invade Illyricum. Justinian did not detain them long. He sent them back with a curt answer that as full powers for conducting the war and concluding peace had been committed to Belisarius, Totila might apply to him.33

In the meantime the slow but steady progress of the Imperial cause in southern Italy, where, if John had not taken any risks or achieved any striking success, Lucania had been detached from Gothic rule, demanded Totila's presence in the south. He did not want to lock up a garrison in Rome or to leave it for his enemies to reoccupy, and he decided to demolish it. He began by pulling down various sections of the walls,​34 and was about to burn the principal buildings and monuments when envoys arrived with a letter from Belisarius, who was recovering from his illness at Portus. The tenor of the letter is reported thus:

"As those to whom a city owes the construction of beautiful buildings are reputed wise and civilised, so those who cause their destruction are naturally regarded by posterity as persons devoid of intelligence, true to their own nature. Of all cities under  p244  the sun Rome is admitted universally to be the greatest and most important. She attained this hill-town not suddenly nor by the genius of one man, but in the course of a long history throughout which emperors and nobles by their vast resources and employing skilful artists from all parts of the world have gradually made her what you see her to‑day. Her monuments belong to posterity, and an outrage committed upon them will rightly be regarded as a great injustice to all future generations as well as to the memory of those who created them. Therefore consider well. Should you be victorious in this war, Rome destroyed will be your own loss, preserved it will be your fairest possession. Should it be your fortune to be defeated, the conqueror will owe you gratitude if you spare Rome, whereas if you demolish it, there will be no reason for clemency, while the act itself will have brought you no profit. And remember that your reputation in the eyes of the world is at stake."

This is an interesting document, whether it reproduces closely or not the drift of the actual letter of Belisarius. Totila read that letter again and again; it gave him a new point of view; and the remonstrance of civilisation finally defeated in his breast the barbarous instincts of his race. He bade the work of vandalism cease.

§ 5. Reoccupation of Rome, Siege of Rossano, and Recall of Belisarius (A.D. 547‑549)

The greater part of the Gothic army was left, at a place called Algedon, about eighteen miles west of Rome,​35 to watch Belisarius and prevent him from leaving Portus. With the rest Totila marched southward and soon recovered Lucania, Apulia, and Calabria, except Otranto and Taranto, in which John entrenched himself.​36 Then leaving a detachment of 400 men in the hill-town of Acherontia,​37 on the borders of Apulia and Lucania, he marched northwards. Was his design to surprise Ravenna, as the historian  p245  intimates, or to re-establish his command of the Flaminian Way, which was threatened by a recent success of the Imperialists? They had recovered Spoletium.

But grave news from Rome compelled him to postpone his purpose. He had left Rome uninhabited, its walls partly destroyed, and all the gates removed. Belisarius, whose health was now returned, visited the desolate city and decided to occupy it and put it in a state of defence.​38 The plan seemed wild, but it was carried out. He transferred his army from Portus to Rome, where he was able to establish an abundant market, as there was no longer any obstacle to the importation of food from Sicily. The market attracted the people of the surrounding districts to come and settle in the deserted houses, and in less than four weeks the portions of the wall which the Goths had pulled down had been roughly reconstructed, though without mortar. New gates, however, could not be made so quickly, for lack of carpenters, and when Totila appeared in front of a gateless fortress he expected to capture it with ease. Belisarius placed in the gateways men of notable valour. Two days the Goths spent themselves in furious attacks, suffering great losses, but failed to carry any of the gates. After an interval of a few days, during which they cared for their wounded and mended their weapons, they renewed their assault. Totila's standard-bearer fell mortally wounded, and there was a fierce fight over the corpse. The Goths recovered the standard, but their whole army presently retreated in disorder. They were soon flying far afield pursued by the victors. Rome for the time was saved.​39 Belisarius furnished it with new gates and sent the keys to the emperor.

This was the first check that Totila had experienced. While he won battles and captured cities, his followers regarded him as a god, but now in the hour of defeat they forgot all he had done and were immoderate in their criticism. The nobles reproached him bitterly with his blunder in leaving Rome in such a condition that the enemy could occupy it; he should either have utterly destroyed it or held it himself. But though there was open discontent, there was no thought of revolution. Having demolished the bridges across the Tiber, except the  p246  Milvian, Totila withdrew to Tibur, which he refounded and made his headquarters.

In the course of summer he went to press the siege of Perusia, which Gothic troops had been blockading for some time past and which was now distressed by shortage of food. But his attention was soon diverted to the south, which was to be the scene of the principal operations of the war during the winter. He had interred in Campania those senators and their families whom he had carried off after the capture of Rome. The general John, who had been engaged in besieging Acherontia, determined to rescue them while Totila was still occupied in the north. Moving rapidly, he defeated a squadron of Gothic cavalry at Capua, and successfully delivered many of the Roman captives,​40 whom he immediately sent by sea to the safety of Sicily. It was a blow to Totila, for he regarded those prisoners as hostages who might be useful hereafter, and he marched hastily and stealthily from Perusia, with 10,000 men, into Lucania, where John was encamped. It was a complete surprise, and few of his enemies would have escaped if he had not committed the blunder of attacking the camp by night, for he outnumbered them by ten to one. But in the darkness about 900, including John, were able to escape, and 100 were slain. The prisoners taken were very few. Among them was an Armenian general, Gilak, who could speak no language but his own, and knew only one Greek word, stratêgos, "general." The only intelligible answer which his captors could extract from him was Gilakios stratêgos. They put him to death a few days later.

The importance of holding Calabria had been realised by John, and Belisarius appears to have anticipated before the end of the year (A.D. 547) that the main operations in spring would probably be in that region. Justinian, urged by his appeals, sent reinforcements of more than 2000 men at the beginning of the winter.​41 Early in the year, Belisarius committed the charge of Rome to Conon and sailed for Sicily with 900 men. Proceeding thence up the eastern coast of Bruttii he found his voyage impeded by strong north winds, and instead of making for Tarentum, as he had intended, he landed at Croton, an unwalled  p247  town. As the neighbourhood could not furnish provisions for his army, he sent his cavalry northward into the mountains to forage, expecting that if they met the enemy in the narrow defiles they would be able to repulse them.​42 Totila was there with his army bent on taking the hill-town of Ruscianum — the modern Rossano — in which John had placed a garrison.​43 The disparity in numbers was immense, yet the small body of horse inflicted a severe defeat on the Gothic host, of whom more than 200 fell. But the Goths enjoyed a speedy revenge. The Romans, elated by their victory, neglected their night watches and did not pitch their tents in one place, so that Totila was able to surprise and nearly exterminate them. On hearing the news, Belisarius, his wife, and infantryº "leapt" into the ships​44 and reached Messina in one day. Totila laid siege to Rossano (probably in May).

Soon afterwards a new contingent of about 2000 arrived in Sicily from the East. Much larger forces were needed against a leader of Totila's capacity; Belisarius was weary of conducting a war in which, though he might gain local successes, he was never strong enough to take full advantage of them; and he  p248  had decided that Antonia should return to Constantinople and implore the Empress to use all her influence to secure the sending of such an army as the situation required. They proceeded together to Otranto, and there she embarked on a journey which was to prove fruitless, for she arrived to find that Theodora was dead.45

The garrison of Rossano, in dire need of food but expecting aid from Belisarius, promised Totila that they would surrender on a certain day,​46 if no relief arrived, on condition that they should be allowed to depart in safety. The commanders of the garrison were Chalazar, a Hun, and the Thracian Gudilas. The attempts of Belisarius and John to bring help were frustrated, and they then hit on the plan of forcing Totila to raise the siege by diverting his attention elsewhere. Belisarius sailed to Rome, and John with Valerian — a general who had been sent to Italy six months before​47 — set out to relieve the fortresses in Picenum, which enemy forces were besieging. But Totila was bent upon the capture of the Bruttian fortress, and he contented himself with despatching 2000 cavalry in the rear of John.

The garrison of Rossano, confident that help was approaching, failed to keep their promise; the appointed day passed; and then, when they knew they could no longer hope, they threw themselves on Totila's mercy. He pardoned them all except Chalazar, whom he shamefully mutilated and put to death. Those soldiers who were willing to become Gothic subjects remained in the place; the rest were deprived of their property and went to Croton.48

Rome needed the presence of Belisarius. Some time before, the garrison had mutinied and slain Conon their commander. They had then sent some clergy to Constantinople to demand a free pardon for the murder and the payment of their arrears, with the threat that they would deliver the city to the Goths if these conditions were not accepted. The Emperor accepted them. Belisarius then arrived. He saw to it that the city was  p249  furnished with a good supply of provisions in case it should be again besieged, and he probably weeded out the garrison. When he left Italy for ever, early in A.D. 549, Rome was held by 3000 chosen troops, under the command of Diogenes, one of his own retainers, whose intelligence and military capacity he trusted.

Antonina had procured without difficulty her husband's recall. Theodora's death meant the ascendancy of the party which was attached to Germanus, and the enemies and critics of Belisarius could now make their influence felt. What had this great general accomplished in five years? He had simply navigated about the coasts of Italy, never venturing to land except when he had the refuge of a fortress. Totila desired nothing so much as to meet him in battle, but he had never taken the field. He had lost Rome, he had lost everything.​49 He might vanquish a general of mediocre capacity like Witigis, but it was a different story when he had to do with a foe of considerable talent and unflagging energy like Totila. Belisarius might have much to say in extenuation of his failure, but the broad fact was that he had failed. Knowing that there was no chance of his receiving such reinforcements as might enable him to retrieve his reputation, he was glad to bid farewell to Italy.

Soon after his departure, Perusia fell, after a siege of four years.50

§ 6. Third Siege of Rome (A.D. 549)

In the summer after the departure of Belisarius, the king of the Goths appeared for the third time before the walls of Rome.​51 He was determined to capture it, but he had abandoned all those thoughts of destroying it which had moved him when he first laid siege to it. He had laid to heart the letter of the Imperial general, which other opinions had perhaps reinforced;​52 he had come to realise — as Theoderic and Alaric had realised — the meaning of Rome.

The garrison was valiant, and the commander Diogenes had made provident preparations for an eventual siege. As there was only a small population now, besides the garrison, there were large areas of waste land in the city, and these were sown  p250  with grain. When repeated attempts of the Goths to storm the walls were foiled by the valour of the soldiers, Totila resigned himself to the prospect of a long blockade. It was uncertain whether relief forces would arrive from the East under a new commander-in‑chief, but as he had captured Portus, he was in a much more favourable position for conducting a blockade than he had been three years before.

The blockade lasted a long time, but the city fell into his hands at last. The circumstances of the previous capture were repeated. Isaurian treachery again delivered Rome to the Goth. Some Isaurian soldiers, who were keeping watch in the south of the city at the Porta Ostiensis — which was already known by its modern designation from the Church of the Apostle Paul — discontented because they had received no pay for years, and remembering the large rewards which Totila had bestowed on their fellow-countrymen, offered to open the gate. On a pre-arranged night, two barques​53 were launched in the Tiber, probably to the north of the Porta Flaminia.​54 They were rowed down as close to the city as possible, and then trumpeters who had been embarked in them sounded a loud blast. The alarm was given, and all sections of the garrison rushed to the defence of the walls in the threatened quarter, in the north-west. Meanwhile the Gothic army had been quietly assembled in front of the gate of St. Paul; the Isaurians unlocked it, and the army marched in (January 16, A.D. 550).55

It was easy to anticipate that any of the garrison who succeeded in escaping would make for Centumcellae, the only fortress that remained to the Imperialists in the neighbourhood of Rome,  p251  and Totila had posted some troops along the western road to intercept fugitives. The precaution was effective; a few escaped the ambush, among whom was Diogenes. In Rome itself there was great slaughter, but a band of four hundred cavalry led by Paul, who had belonged to the household of Belisarius and was the right-hand man of Diogenes, occupied the Mausoleum of Hadrian and the adjacent Aelian Bridge. Here they held out for two days. Totila expected that the cravings of hunger would compel them to surrender, and kept troops posted on the eastern bank. They thought of eating their horses, but could not make up their minds to taste the unaccustomed food. On the evening of the second day they resolved to court a heroic death, to make a dash against the enemy and fall fighting. They embraced one another, said their last adieux, and prepared for the charge. Totila was watching them and divined their intention. He knew that desperate men, who had devoted themselves to death, would decimate his army. He therefore sent a messenger offering that if they would lay down their arms and take an oath never to fight against the Goths again, he would let them depart unharmed for Constantinople, or if they would fight for him, he would treat them on a perfect equality with the Goths. The offer was gladly accepted. At first all elected to go home, but on further reflexion they changed their minds. They could not bring themselves to undertake the long journey without horses or arms, they feared its perils, and if they had any hesitation about going over to the enemy, they remembered that the Imperial treasury had withheld their pay for years. Only Paul himself and one other resisted the lure of the barbarian and returned to Byzantium.

Totila had no longer any thought of destroying Rome or of leaving it undefended. His position was much stronger than it had been three years before, and he had come to realise the prestige which the possession of the Imperial city conferred in the eyes of the world.​56 He was now bent on rebuilding and repopulating it. He sent for the senators and other Romans who were still kept under guard in the fortresses of Campania.57

He was planning to carry the war into Sicily, but he first made  p252  a new proposal of peace, just as he had done after his former capture of Rome. On this occasion his envoy was not even admitted to the presence of the Emperor, who had just appointed a new commander-in‑chief to succeed Belisarius. He had thought of entrusting the conduct of the war to his cousin, Germanus, but changed his intention and selected Liberius, the Roman senator, who fourteen years before had come to him as an envoy of Theodahad, and since then had remained in his service.​58 It was a curious appointment, for Liberius, who had served in civil capacities under Odovacar and Theoderic, had no military experience, and he was now an octogenarian; the ground of his nomination must have been that as an Italian he would inspire the Italians with confidence.

Totila meanwhile was making preparations for his next campaign. He collected a fleet of 400 ships of war and some large merchant vessels, which he had recently captured from the enemy, to convey his troops across the Sicilian Straits. It was perhaps about the end of March that, having presided at horse-races in the Circus Maximus, he left Rome. Before marching southwards he turned aside with the hope of reducing Centumcellae, which was now under the command of Diogenes. This valiant officer refused to surrender until he had communicated with Constantinople, but agreed that, if by a certain date no reinforcements should arrive, he would leave the city to the Goths. Totila consented, hostages were interchanged, and the Gothic army marched to Rhegium, which it may have reached early in May.59

§ 7. Proposed Expedition of Germanus (A.D. 549‑550)

On the southern coasts of Italy the most important places still held for the Empire were Hydruntum, Rhegium, Tarentum, and Croton. The Goths now laid siege to Rhegium and captured Tarentum. Without waiting for Rhegium to fall, Totila crossed to Messina, which he failed to take. But he was at last able to gratify one of the dearest desires of his heart and wreak vengeance upon the Sicilians for the welcome they had given  p253  Belisarius fifteen years before. His army ravaged the island without resistance. Meanwhile Rhegium, which was short of provisions, surrendered.

The news of these menacing successes seems to have made a greater impression at Constantinople than the recent capture of Rome. The Emperor reverted to his former plan of sending Germanus to the West as commander-in‑chief. But Germanus could not start until he had collected an army sufficiently strong to end the war, and in the meantime Liberius was despatched to defend Sicily. He had hardly set sail before it was recognised that he was too old and inexperienced, and Artabanes,​60 who was appointed Master of Soldiers in Thrace, was sent to supersede him.

Germanus was now regarded as the probable heir to the Imperial throne. The death of Theodora had removed the adverse influence which might have withheld the Emperor from favouring his claim.​61 He had already established his reputation by suppressing the Moorish rebellion of Stutzas, and he was ambitious of enhancing it by recovering Italy and succeeding where Belisarius had failed. As the prestige of the dynasty was involved, the Emperor was prepared to spend money in a less stinting spirit than he had shown hitherto in the conduct of the Italian war; and Germanus had considerable private resources which he did not hesitate to devote to the collection of troops. The raising of an army for services not connected with the defence of the frontiers had come to be the task of the commander who was to lead it. None of the standing troops in the East could be withdrawn, although some of the cavalry squadrons stationed in Thrace might be spared. Germanus, with his sons, Justin and Justinian, busily recruited volunteers in the highlands of Thrace and Illyricum, and bands of barbarians from the Danubian regions flocked to his standards. The king of the Lombards promised a thousand heavily armed warriors. The private retainers of many generals left their less illustrious masters to attach themselves to the service of Germanus.

But besides these preparations for a vigorous military offensive,  p254  the plan of Germanus included what might be called a moral offensive, on which he counted much and with good reason. He contracted a Gothic marriage. He took as his second wife the queen Matasuntha. As the reluctant consort of Witigis she had been once queen of the Goths, but it was as the granddaughter of king Theoderic and sister of king Athalaric that she had the strongest claims on their loyalty and affection. If her mother had brought her up in the ways of Roman civilisation, she was of the purest Amal lineage, and Germanus might confidently hope that the effect of his coming as her husband, and presumably in her company, would be to undermine the allegiance of many of the Goths to Totila, or at least to embarrass their minds in such a way as to impair their military vigour. They would feel that they were fighting no longer merely against Greeks, but against the granddaughter of their greatest king. And they would calculate that, as Germanus was marked out to succeed to the Empire on Justinian's death, Matasuntha would presently share the Imperial throne.62

When the news of the marriage reached Italy it seems to have produced the effect which was anticipated. Many Goths began to ask themselves whether it would be well to continue their resistance. And the reports which arrived of the Imperial preparations for prosecuting the war affected the numerous soldiers who had deserted the Roman cause to serve under Totila. They managed to send messages to Germanus that as soon as he landed in Italy they would go over to him and fight again under the standards they had abandoned. Diogenes, who had agreed to surrender Centumcellae on a certain day, declared himself absolved from the covenant because Germanus was coming.

But Germanus was not to come. He was at Sardica, and his army was ready. It was the autumn of A.D. 550.​63 He had announced that he would start in two days, when he suddenly fell sick, and the disease proved fatal. His death meant much.  p255  It meant particularly the destruction of the hopes which were swaying opinion in Italy both among Italians and Goths.64

§ 8. Negotiations with the Franks (A.D. 550‑551)

The plans for the prosecution of the war were disconcerted by the death of the commander-in‑chief, and Justinian appointed no one to replace him for some time. But in the meantime it was arranged that John, the nephew of Vitalian, who was now the Master of Soldiers in Illyricum, and was to have served under his father-in‑law, Germanus, should, with his brother-in‑law, Justinian, lead the army to Italy. John had proved himself an able soldier, and if he and Belisarius had been able to work cordially together, it is probable that the duration of the war would have been considerably curtailed. He was not appointed to the supreme power because it was felt that he did not possess the requisite prestige to command the obedience of the other generals.

When the troops were collected in Dalmatia it was late in the year, and it was thought better to spend the winter there than to march immediately to Venetia. There was no sufficient supply of ships at Salona to transport the army across the Hadriatic.

Meanwhile Totila had been wreaking his vengeance upon Sicily. When he was besieging Syracuse, Liberius arrived, and seeing that he was not strong enough to help the city he sailed on to Panormus. Artabanes, who, as we saw, had been appointed to replace Liberius, was already on his way, but his ships were caught off the coast of Calabria by a storm which drove them  p256  back to Greece. The Goths succeeded in capturing only four fortresses, probably places of secondary importance, in which they placed garrisons, and having lived in the island for many months,​65 they returned to Italy laden with booty and provisions.

During the summer and autumn of this year (A.D. 550) the Imperial generals in Italy were inactive, though the absence of Totila in Sicily was an opportunity for an enterprising leader. Then the news arrived that the Emperor had appointed the Armenian eunuch Narses to the supreme command. The appointment was universally welcomed. Narses, the Grand Chamberlain, appears to have been one of the most popular ministers at Justinian's court. He was celebrated for his generosity, he did not make enemies, and such was his reputation for piety that it was believed that the Virgin Mother herself watched over his actions and suggested the right moment for engaging in battle.​66 He was a friend of John, whom, as it will be remembered, he had followed Belisarius to rescue at Rimini, and of whose loyal co-operation he was assured. This fact, we may conjecture, had a good deal to do with his appointment. Narses had the qualities of a leader, but he had not much military experience; the advice of John would remedy this deficiency.

John had been ordered to await the arrival of the now commander-in‑chief at Salona, but Narses was delayed on his way, at Philippopolis, by an invasion of Kotrigur Huns,​67 and it was probably late in A.D. 551 that he arrived in Dalmatia.

Fortune had steadily favoured the Goths for the last four years. In A.D. 547 the Imperialists held in central Italy Ravenna, Ancona, and Ariminum, Spoletium and Perusia, Rome itself with Portus, Centumcellae; in the south Otranto, Taranto, the province of Bruttii, and Sicily. In A.D. 551 the only important places they held on the mainland were Ravenna, Ancona, Otranto, and Croton, while in Sicily they had lost four strongholds; and Totila, on returning from Sicily, had sent an army to besiege Ancona. This tide of success was now about to turn.

 p257  Ever since Totila had crossed the Po after has accession, the war had been waged entirely to the south of that river, and the conditions which prevailed in northern Italy are obscure. Here the situation was complicated by the intervention of a third power. As all at forces of the Ostrogoths were demanded by the struggle in the south, the Franks had seized the opportunity to extend their power into Italy. Theodebert, who followed the progress of the war attentively, had occupied the province of the Cottian Alps, a part of Liguria, and the greater part of Venetia.​68 The only important cities which the Goths still retained seem to have been Verona and Ticinum. Some time afterwards a treaty was concluded between the Franks and Goths, by which Totila acquiesced in the provisional occupation by the Franks of the territory which had been seized, and the two powers agreed, in case the war ended with a Gothic victory, to make a new permanent arrangement.​69 Far-reaching plans are attributed to Theodebert. He was incensed at Justinian's assumption of the titles Francicus and Alamannicus, with the implication that the Franks and their subjects the Alamanni had been subjugated and were vassals of the Empire, and he expressed his formal independence by issuing gold coins with his own bust and his own name.​70 He was the first German king to venture on this innovation, which from a commercial point of view was hazardous. It was said that he formed the project of leading the German nations, the Lombards, the Gepids, and others through the Illyrian countries and attacking Constantinople itself.

We possess one diplomatic document, belonging to this period, which records the Italian conquests of the Franks. The Emperor had written to Theodebert requesting information as to the extent of his dominions, and Theodebert's reply has been preserved,​71 in which he enumerates Pannonia and the northern parts of Italy among the countries which he has subjugated.

After his capture and abandonment of Rome in A.D. 547,  p258  Totila had proposed to espouse the daughter of one of the Merovingian kings who is not named, but we are entitled to presume that he was Theodebert. The offer was refused, on the ground that Totila would never succeed in the subjugation of Italy, seeing that he had shown himself so foolish as to let the great capital slip from his hands.​72 This criticism helped to open the Ostrogoth's eyes to the importance of Rome. In the following year, Theodebert died and was succeeded by his son Theodebald.​73 To him Justinian sent an ambassador to complain of the encroachments of his father in northern Italy, to demand the evacuation of the cities, and to request him to fulfil the promises of Theodebert and co-operate in the Italian war.​74 Theodebald promptly sent an embassy to Constantinople.​75 The course of the negotiations is unknown, but the Franks remained in Italy.

The Author's Notes:

21 Ib. 131; this statement, however, is in direct contradiction with 9.3, where the provincials are said to have been robbed of their lands by the Goths and of their movable property by the Imperial soldiers.

22 It is not clear what the Ῥωμαίων λιμήν was, behind the walls of which (τῶν τειχῶν ἐντος) the Goths concealed themselves (ib. 15.10), and into which the foodships sailed, according to Procopius. Probably he misconceived the topography. The ships were making for the harbour of Porto, and were captured near the mouth of the channel which divides Porto from the Isola Sacra. This appears to be the interpretation of Hodgkin, op. cit. IV.526. It is difficult to see how the Goths could have hidden themselves in the harbour of Porto (which was presumably under the control of the garrison) as Martroye assumes (op. cit. 446). As to the presence of Vigilius in Sicily see below, p385.

23 About 58 shillings a bushel (7 solidi for a medimnus, i.e. 6 modii or about 1½ bushels). Occasionally a stray ox was captured in the vicinity of the walls and was sold for over £30. Hodgkin (op. cit. iv.532) misunderstands Procopius (III.17.12) and supposes this happened only once.

24 B. G. III.17.25.

25 Hodgkin's interpretation of what happened is probably right (iv.535).

26 In H. A. 5.13‑14, Procopius explains John's conduct as due to the fear that Antonina, acting under the instructions of Theodora, might attempt to compass his death. His marriage with the daughter of Germanus had been opposed by Theodora, and Procopius asserts that she threatened to destroy him.

27 γέφυρα.

28 Procopius does not say how. Hodgkin supposes that it was tugged by some of the dromons.

29 Evidently this side was chosen by Belisarius because his troops on shore could assist.

30 Ἐπιθησόμενος μὲν ἀτάκτοις ἔτι τοῖς πολεμίοις οὖσι, B. G. III.19.31.

31 Apparently in the Isola Sacra, probably opposite Ostia. Hodgkin assumes that it was at Ostia (which Procopius does not mention), but this would have involved crossing the river between Isola Sacra and Ostia. Nothing is said of this.

32 Contin. Marcell., sub 547. John Mal. xviii p483 says μηνὶ Φεβρουαρίῳ.

33 It may be conjectured that Procopius, directly or indirectly, gathered a good deal of his information about the siege of Rome from this embassy. We are not told whether Totila did make overtures to Belisarius. The envoys may have been back in Italy in the first half of February.

34 Procopius estimates the razed portions as about one-third of the whole circuit — probably an excessive estimate (Hodgkin, iv.566).

35 The name Ἀλγηδών (? Alcedum) is otherwise unknown. Martroye (op. cit. 466) thinks it may be identified with Castel Malnome, not far from Porto. Mount Algidus, which lies east of Rome, is out of the question.

36 Tarentum was unwalled, and he fortified only that part of it which lay on the isthmus. Totila probably departed for the south towards the end of February. We have to allow time for the return of the envoys who were despatched in December to Constantinople.

37 Celsae nidum Acherontiae (Horace); now Acerenza.

38 In April. For Totila left Rome towards the end of February, and it remained uninhabited for forty days (Cont. Marcell.s.a.).

39 Probably in May 547.

40 From Cont. Marcell. sub 548, one would infer that only some of the women were rescued; nonnullas liberat senatrices.

41 Among these, more than 1000 guards (doryphoroi and hypaspistai) under Valerian, Master of Soldiers in Armenia, III.27.3.

42 In Itin. Antonini the distance of Rossano from Thurii is given as 12 Roman miles. Procopius gives its distance from the port of Thurii as 60 stades (nearly 9 miles). The name of the port was Ruscia (III.28.8 Ῥουσκια ἐστὶ τὸ Θουρίων ἐπίνειον, 30.12 ἐπὶ Ῥουσκίαν ἀνήγοντο); the inland territory behind it was called (castrum) Ruscianum. Procopius designates the fort as τὸ ἐπὶ Ῥουσκιανῆς φρουρίον (29.21, and 30.19), or τῷ Ῥουσκιανῷ φρουρίῳ (30.5, so one MS., but the other omits Ῥ. and it may be a gloss). In 30.2 εὐθὺ Ῥουσκιανῆς κατὰ τάχος ἔπλει, the text need not be altered, as "sailed straight to the Ruscian territory" is good sense. Haury, wrongly assuming that Rusciana was that name of the port, has perversely corrected the readings of the MSS. in three places (in 28.8 he reads Ῥουσκιανή, in 30.12 Ῥουσκιανὴν, and in 30.5 ἐν τῷ ἐπὶ Ῥουσκιανῆς φρουρίῳ). Martroye has made the opposite mistake and called the fort Ruscia. The port of Thurii can hardly have been so far from that town as the sea-board near Ruscia (cp.  Nissen, Ital. Landesk. II.2, p923).

43 Procopius names two passes between Bruttii and Lucania, Labūla, and Petra Sanguinis (πέτρα Αἵματος, III.28.7). The former may mean the east coast road (cp. Nissen, op. cit. p926). The latter must be on the inland road coming down from Neruli (=Rotonda, on the Laus) and Muranum (=Morano) to Interamnium, which corresponds to Castrovillari, and is situated on the two brooks which unite to form the Sybaris (now the Coscile). The road went on to Capraria (now Tarsia, east of Spezzano) and Consentia. The boundary between E. Lucania and E. Bruttii was the Crathis; on the west, I suspect that the division lay along the N-S road from Neruli to Interamnium.

44 Ἐς τὰς ναῦς ἐσεπήδησεν. Procopius gives the distance from Croton to Messina as 700 stades, about 92 English miles, which is virtually correct.

45 She died on June 28; see above, p66.

46 Μεσούσης μάλιστα τῆς τοῦ θέρους ὤρας is generally taken with ἐνδώσειν in III.30.5. If so, it cannot mean, as it ought, the summer solstice. I think that it should be taken with ὡμολόγησαν, and that the bargain was made about the end of June.

47 See above, p246, n2.

48 Eighty in number. The garrison consisted of 300 Illyrian cavalry and 100 foot soldiers. There were also in the place many Italians of good family; these Totila punished by confiscating their property.

49 Procopius, B. G. III.35.1, 2, repeated with additions in H. A. 5.1‑6 and 17.

50 A.D. 545‑549.

51 At the beginning of the 15th year of the war (Proc. B. G. III.36.1), i.e. end of June or early in July, 549.

52 Cp. below, § 8, p258.

53 Μικρὰ πλοῖα, "little boats," is the reading of L (the Laurentian MS.), and is probably right, but K (the Vatican MS.) has π. μακρά (long boats or war-vessels).

54 This conjecture seems more likely than that of Hodgkin, who supposes that the boats were launched south of the city and ordered "to creep up the river and blow a loud blast from their trumpets as near as possible to the centre of the City" (p615). In this case the garrison would have supposed that the attack was to be made, as Hodgkin says, near the Aventine. The vague words of Procopius are consistent with either interpretation; but he says nothing about "the centre of the city"; on the contrary, his words are ἐπειδὰν τοῦ περιβόλου ἄγχιστα ἤκωσι (III.36.9) and ἐπεὶ τῆς πόλεως ἄγχι ἐγένοντο (ib. 12). As it was just as easy for Totila to raise the false alarm in the north, it seems highly improbable that he would have chosen to attract all the soldiers of the garrison to the Aventine, which is quite close to the Gate of St. Paul.

55 Cons. Ital. p334. The year given here is 549, but we should doubtless read p. c. Basilii viiii. =550 (see Körbs, op. cit. p54).

56 See below, p258.

57 B. G. III.36.29; 37.3. This shows that all the captives had not been rescued by John in 547.

58 See above, c. xviii p164. He was a Patrician, and had been appointed Prefect of Alexandria, c. 541; see below, p380.

59 The distance of Cività Vecchia from Rome is about 75 kils.; from Rome to Rhegium less than 700.

60 Artabanes had recently been implicated in a conspiracy; see p67 above.

61 He was never formally designated, and Justinian never committed himself. But everything points to the fact that it was generally taken for granted that he would succeed, and that Justinian was contented that this opinion should prevail.

62 Wroth has an interesting conjecture on the coins of Matasuntha (bearing her name in monogram), which are generally assumed to have been issued in 536‑540, when she was queen of Witigis. Pointing out that there is nothing Italian about the coins, he conjectures that they may have been minted at Constantinople in 550. The issue of such coins would have been a very natural way of asserting the queen's claim to the Ostrogothic throne.

63 Perhaps in September. Cp. Körbs, op. cit. 48‑49.

64 Matasuntha bore a posthumous son who was called by the name of his father, and is mentioned in the Getica of Jordanes (which seems to have been composed in A.D. 551, or at latest 552, before the issue of the war for Italy was decided). The words of Jordanes are (§ 314): post humatum patris Germani natus est filius idem Germanus, in quo coniuncta Aniciorum gens cum Amala stirpe spem adhuc utriusque generi domino praestante promittit. The exact connexion of Germanus with the Anician gens is unknown; Mommsen conjectured that his mother might have been a daughter of Juliana Anicia, daughter of the Emperor Olybrius and Placidia. From the fact that Jordanes looked upon this infant as the hope of the Ostrogothic race, Schirren (De ratione quae inter Iordanem et Cassiodorum intercedit) drew the hardly justifiable conclusion that the motif of the book was political — to promote the idea of reconciling Goth and Italian under the rule of Germanus.

65 The dates of Totila's arrival in Sicily and his departure are not marked very clearly by Procopius, but we can deduce from the data that he must have reached the island in May and left it before the end of the year.

66 Evagrius, H. E. IV.24.

67 See below, p303. Narses had left Constantinople about June acc. to our text of John Malalas xviii p484; but Theophanes, who was copying Malalas, says April (A.M. 6043).

68 Procopius, B. G. III.33.7; IV.24.4 and 6‑8. The Romans still held coast places in Venetia.

69 Procopius, ib. 9‑10 and 27.

70 Agathias, I.4. Procopius, ib. III.33. Cp. Keary, Coinages of Western Europe, p22.

71 Epp. Mer. aeui, III; Epp. Austras. 20. Theodore and Solomon are mentioned as the Imperial envoys to the Frank court.

72 Procopius, III.37.1‑2.

73 Gregory of Tours, Hist. Fr. iii.36 (for date, 37 ad fin.), says he died of a long illness; Agathias, I.4, says he was killed, hunting, by a wild bull.

74 The date of this embassy (which Hodgkin assigns to 551) cannot be inferred from the fact that Procopius notices it after the embassy of Totila in 551 (IV.24.11); for here he digresses, à propos of the Franks, and goes back to Theodebert. I have little doubt that the embassy was sent in 549‑550, when the preparations were afoot for the expedition of Germanus, and that it bore to Theodebald Justinian's congratulatory letter on his accession, in which the Emperor took occasion to say hard words of his father's conduct, and to which Theodebald's reply is preserved (Epp. Austras. 18).

75 It may be conjectured that it was on this occasion that Theodebald attached some Angles to his embassy, to show the Emperor that his authority extended to Britain. See Procopius, iv.20,10. These Angles doubtless supplied Procopius with the material for his curious account of that island.

Page updated: 12 Jun 20