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Book V
Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Book V
Chapter 14

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
p326
Chapter XIII

The Fall of Ravenna

Authority

Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, II.28‑30 (pp260‑276).

Guides: —

For the history of Cassiodorus, two excellent monographs, one by Thorbecke (Heidelberg, 1867), and the other by Franz (Breslau, 1872), the former dealing chiefly with the political, and the latter with the monastic life of Cassiodorus.

540 Preparations for siege of Ravenna. Osimo being taken, Belisarius collected all his energies for the siege of Ravenna. Ravenna, defended by a power having command of the sea, would have been practically impregnable; Ravenna, beleaguered by land and sea, had delayed Theodoric for three years before its walls, and had at length only surrendered on a capitulation which, if faithfully observed, would have left Theodoric but half a victory. Belisarius therefore, while making all his preparations for a siege, determined not to leave untried the path of negotiation, which in the present state of the Emperor's affairs, with Persia menacing and the Franks eager for mischief, might shorten this dangerous last act of the drama. Embassy of the Franks to Ravenna, met by ambassadors of Belisarius. The Franks, as the General had been informed, were sending their embassy to Witigis, proposing an  p327 alliance for the reconquest and division of Italy; and Belisarius sent his ambassadors to confront them there, and argue against Metz for Constantinople. At the head of the Imperial embassy was Theodosius, an officer of high rank in the semi-regal household of Belisarius, but whose guilty intimacy with Antonina, the mistress of that household, had already been spoken of by his retinue under their breath, and was at a later period to be blazed abroad in court and market-place, and to exercise a disastrous influence on the fortunes and character of the uxorious General.

Magnus and Vitalius in the valley of the Po. As was before said, Belisarius was not trusting wholly to negotiation. Magnus and Vitalius, with two large bodies of troops, were sent to operate on the two banks of the Po, and to prevent provisions from its fertile valley being introduced into Ravenna. Their efforts were marvellously seconded by a sudden failure of the waters of the river, which caused the Gothic flotilla, prepared for the transport of provisions, to be stranded on the banks and to fall a prey to the Roman soldiers. In a very short time the river resumed its usual course, and navigable once more, served the purposes of the besiegers as it had failed to serve those of the besieged.1 It was therefore in a city which was already feeling some of the hardships of scarcity, if not yet of actual famine, that the envoys of Belisarius and of Theudebert set forth their commissions.

Arguments of the Franks. The Franks declared that 'their master was even  p328 now sending 500,000 warriors over the Alps whose hatchets flying through the air would soon bury the Roman army in one heap of ruin. Theudebert had heard with sorrow of the sufferings of his good friends the Goths at the hands of the Romans, the natural and perfidious enemy of all barbarian nations. He offered them therefore victory if they would accept his companionship in arms, and a peaceable division of the land of Italy between them; or, on the other hand, if they were mad enough to choose the Roman alliance, defeat, ignominious defeat, to be shared with their bitterest and most irreconcilable foes.

Reply of the Byzantines. The ambassadors of Belisarius had an easy task in enlarging on the faithlessness of the nation of Clovis.

'Trust not for freedom to the Franks,

They have a king who buys and sells,'

could be said as truly by the Greeks in the sixth century as it was said to the Greeks in the nineteenth. The present depressed condition of the Thuringians and Burgundians showed too plainly what an alliance with this all‑grasping nation foreboded to those who were foolish enough to enter into such a compact. The corpses of all the brave Gothic warriors lately slain upon the banks of the Po attested the peculiar Frankish manner of helping distressed allies. What god they could invoke, or what pledge of fidelity they could give that had not already been forsworn and violated by them, the ambassadors could not conjecture. This last proposition, that the Goths should share all their lands with the Franks, was the most impudent of all their proceedings. Let Witigis and his subjects once make trial of it, and they would find,  p329 too late, that partnership with the insatiable Frank meant the loss of all that yet remained to them.

Witigis resolves to accept the Emperor's terms. When the ambassadors had finished their harangues, Witigis conferred with the leading men of the nation as to their proposals. Would that the debates of this Gothic Witenagemote had been preserved to us? We can, however, only record the result of their deliberations, which was, that the Emperor's offers should be accepted and the Frankish envoys dismissed. Parleys as to the terms of peace followed; but Belisarius, less generous or more wary than the Gothic King, when similar negotiations were going forward two years previously under the walls of Rome, refused to relax by a single sentinel the rigour of his blockade of Ravenna. Ildiger commanded the flying columns which manoeuvered on each bank of the Po, while Vitalius was sent into Venetia to force or persuade the cities of that province to resume their allegiance to the Empire. Conflagration of the Gothic magazines. During this pause in the contest the large magazines of provisions collected in Ravenna were destroyed by fire. In the Roman army it was generally believed that this was brought about by the bribes of Belisarius. The Goths differed in opinion from one another, some attributing the disaster to a stroke of lightning, others to domestic treachery, in connection with which the name of Matasuentha, the ill‑mated wife of Witigis, was freely mentioned. They scarcely knew which explanation of the event should fill them with the gloomier forebodings, since one indicated the faithlessness of man, the other the anger of Heaven.

Abortive attempt of Uraias to relieve Ravenna. The brave and loyal Uraias, hearing of the blockade of Ravenna, was about to march to its assistance with  p330 4000 men, partly natives of Liguria, partly Goths whom he had drawn from garrison duty in the various fortresses of the Cottian Alps. Unfortunately on their march the troops heard that the garrisons of these fortresses, at the instigation of Sisigis, the general upon the Frankish frontier, were surrendering themselves wholesale to a guardsman of Belisarius named Thomas, who had been sent with quite a small body of troops to receive them into the Imperial allegiance. Anxious for the safety of their wives and children, the soldiers of Uraias insisted on retracing their steps westward. They were too late: John and Martin, who were still stationed in the upper valley of the Po, hurried to the Cottian fortress before them, took the very castles in which the families of these soldiers were lodged, and carried them into captivity. With such precious pledges in the hands of the Romans, the barbarians refused to fight against them. They suddenly deserted the standards of Uraias, and seeking the encampment of John begged to be admitted as foederati into the Imperial service. Baffled and powerless, Uraias was obliged to retire with a few followers into the fastnesses of Liguria. Thus all hope of assistance from him for the blockaded city was at an end.

Embassy from Constantinople. About this time, probably early in the year 540, came two senators from Constantinople, Domnicus and Maximin, bearing the Emperor's offer of terms of peace. These terms were unexpectedly favourable to the Goths. Witigis was to be allowed to retain the title of King and half the royal treasure, and to reign over all the rich plains to the north of the Po; the other half of the royal treasure and all Italy south of the Po, with Sicily, were to be reunited to the Empire.  p331  Reasons for the favourable terms offered to the Goths. Such concessions, at this late period of the struggle, might well seem almost absurd to one who watched the fortune of the game in Italy alone. But the Emperor knew well the other and terrible dangers which threatened his dominions. A swarm of ferocious Huns were about to burst upon Illyria, Macedon, and Thrace, extending their ravages up to the very suburbs of Constantinople.2 Even more formidable than these transitory marauders was the more deeply calculated advance of the Persian potentate. Chosroës was moving to battle, stirred thereto in part by the representations of Witigis, in part by his own hereditary hatred of the Empire: and in June of this year he was to fall, with the pitiless fury of an Oriental despot, on the wealthy and luxurious city of Antioch. Decidedly Justinian had good reason for wishing to have his matchless general and as many as possible of his soldiers recalled from Italy. Decidedly he was right in offering easy terms to the Goths; and Italy might possibly have been spared some centuries of misery could those terms have formed the basis of peace.

Belisarius overrules his master. The obstacle came not from the Goths, who gave a joyful assent to the proposals of the ambassadors. It came from Belisarius, who had set his heart on ending the Italian war with a complete and dramatic success, and on leading Witigis, as he had already led Gelimer, a captive to the feet of Justinian. He refused to be any party to the proposed treaty; and the Goths, fearing some stratagem, would not accept it without his counter-signature. Murmurs were heard in the tents of the Imperial captains against the presumption  p332 of the General who dared to disobey the orders which proceeded from the sacred presence-chamber of the Emperor, and who was bent on prolonging the war for sinister purposes of his own. Council of war. Knowing that these injurious reports were flying about the camp, Belisarius called a council of war, at which he invited the presence of the ambassadors. He said to his discontented subordinates, with apparent frankness, 'No one knows better than myself the great part which chance plays in war, and how a cause apparently quite hopeless will sometimes revive, and prove after all victorious. By all means let us take the best possible advice in debating so important a subject as the proposed treaty. Only one thing I must protest against. No man must hold his peace now, and then lie in wait to censure me after the event. Let every one speak his opinion now, on the question whether we can recover the whole of Italy or whether it is wiser to abandon part of it to the barbarians; and, having spoken it, let him stand by it like a man.' Thus adjured, the generals without exception stated that they thought it politic to let the treaty of peace go forward, upon the proposed conditions. Belisarius desired them to sign a paper to that effect, and they signed it.

Increasing famine in Ravenna. While these deliberations were going on in the Imperial camp, the scarcity was growing into famine within the city. Sore pressed by hunger, yet determined not to surrender unconditionally to the Emperor, fearing, above all things, to be transported from their own beloved Italy to the distant and unknown Constantinople, The Goths would make Belisarius Emperor of the West. the Goths conceived the extraordinary idea of offering to their victor, to Belisarius, the Empire  p333 of the West. Even Witigis supported this proposal, and besought the great General to accept the proffered dignity. The scheme had a certain brilliant audacity about it, and was the most striking testimony ever offered to the strategical genius of Belisarius. Yet it probably seemed less strange and (if we may use the word by anticipation) less romantic to contemporaries than it does to us. All the traditions of the Ostrogoths, except for the thirty years of Theodoric's reign, pointed to the Empire as the natural employer of armies of Gothic foederati. Even Theodoric, in his mode of working the machinery of the state, had shown himself an Emperor of the West in everything but the name. A Teutonic kingdom in Roman lands was still a comparatively new and untried thing, while an Empire fought for by Gothic arms was a familiar conception.

How Belisarius received the offer. The feelings with which Belisarius received this startling proposition were probably of a mingled kind. As Procopius says, 'he hated the name of an usurper with perfect hatred, and had bound himself by the most solemn oaths to the Emperor to attempt no revolution in his lifetime.' He probably looked upon himself as the destined successor of his master, should he survive Justinian, and he knew what ruin the revolutionary attempts upon the purple, made by successful generals, had wrought for the Empire. On the other hand, he saw that a feigned compliance with the wishes of the Goths would at once open to him the gates of Ravenna, and, possibly, the thought was not altogether absent from his mind that it might be desirable at any moment to turn that feigned compliance into reality.

 p334  The other generals ordered to disperse. In order to keep his hands clear, he ordered the generals of the party which still called itself anti-Belisarian to disperse in various directions in order to obtain provisions for the army. These generals were John and Bessas, Narses the Less, and Aratius; and they were accompanied by Anastasius, the recently-appointed Praetorian Prefect of Italy.3 Second council of war. Before they went, he convoked another council of generals and ambassadors, and asked them what they would think of the deed if he succeeded in saving all Italy for the Empire and carrying all the Gothic nobles, with their treasures, captive to Constantinople. They replied that it would be a deed past all praise, and bade him by all means to accomplish it if he could. The Gothic offer apparently accepted. He then sent private messengers to the Goths offering to do all their will. The Gothic envoys returned with their vague talk of peace for the multitude and their secret proposals for Belisarius's own ear. He willingly stipulated that the persons and property of the Goths should be held harmless, but postponed till after the entry into Ravenna, the solemn oath (the coronation oath, as we should term it), by which he was to pledge himself to reign as the impartial ruler of Goths and Romans alike. The suspicions of the barbarians were not excited even by this postponement. They imagined that he was hungering and thirsting for empire, and never supposed that he himself would throw any difficulties in the way of winning it.

Entry into Ravenna. Of all the many dramatic situations in the life of  p335 the great general — and they are so many as to excite our marvel that no great poet has based a tragedy on his story — the most dramatic was surely his entry into Ravenna in the spring of 540.4 The Roman fleet, laden with cornº and other provisions, had been ordered to cast anchor in the port of Classis. Thus, when the gates were opened to admit Belisarius, he brought with him plenty to a famine-stricken people. Then he rode through the streets of the impregnable Queen of the Lagoons, with the Gothic ambassadors by his side, and the all‑observing Procopius in his train. Musings of Procopius. Much did the secretary ponder, as he rode, on one of his favourite themes of meditation, that hidden force — he will not call it Providence, and perhaps dare not call it Fate — which loves to baffle the calculations of man, and give the race not to the swift, the battle not to the strong, but to the others of its own apparently capricious selection. The streets were crowded with tall and martial Goths, far surpassing in number and size the Roman army, and through them marched the little band of Belisarius, under-sized, mean-looking men, but conquerors. The Goths, still confiding in what the new Emperor of the West would do for them, felt not nor admitted the shame; Anger of the Gothic women. but the quick instinct of the women told them that their husbands were disgraced by such an ending to the war. They spat in the faces of the barbarians, and, pointing to the insignificant-looking men who followed the ensigns of the Senatus Populus Que Romanus', 'Are these the  p336 mighty heroes,' said they, 'with whose deeds you have terrified us?' Are these your conquerors? Men can we call you no longer, who have been beaten by champions such as these.'

Belisarius drops the mask. The exact time when Belisarius dropped the mask and let the barbarians see that he was not their Emperor, but still only the general of Justinian, is not clearly indicated. Probably the process of disillusion was a gradual one. At the moment of his triumphal entry he doubtless allowed himself to be saluted as Caesar, but any thoughts which he may have entertained of keeping his promise to the Goths and actually assuming the purple vanished.

'His honour rooted in dishonour stood,

And faith unfaithful, kept him falsely true.'

The city not plundered. On one point, however, he did keep the compact to which he had sworn. There was no plunder of the city, and the Goths were allowed to retain all their private property. But the great hoard of the kings, stored up in the palace, all that the wisdom of Theodoric and the insatiate avarice of Theodahad had accumulated, was carried away to Constantinople. Some of it may perchance have remained in the treasure-vaults of the palace of the Eastern Caesars till Baldwin and Dandolo with their Franks and Venetians, the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade, wrenched open the doors of those mysterious chambers, nearly seven centuries after the accession of Justinian. Treatment of King and nobles. Witigis himself was treated courteously, but kept for the present in ward, till he could be taken in the conqueror's train to Constantinople. Some of his greatest nobles were selected to accompany him. The  p337 mass of the Gothic warriors, at least such of them as dwelt south of the Po,5 were told to return to their own lands. The Roman soldiers and the men of Roman extraction thus became actually the majority in the former capital of the Goths.

Fortunes of Ravenna. In this way did the strong and stately city of Ravenna come again under the sway of a Roman Caesar, the stronghold of whose dominion in Italy it was destined to remain for more than two centuries,6 till Aistolf the Lombard in 752 reft it from Byzantium, to be himself despoiled of it a few years later by Pepin the Frank.

Cities of Venetia. Most of the other cities of North-eastern Italy which contained Gothic garrisons, Treviso, Cesena,7 and many others, surrendered at once to the Imperial forces on hearing of the fall of Ravenna. Verona and Pavia seem to have been the only cities of any importance still held by the unsubdued Gothic warriors. Ildibad at Verona. In Verona the command was vested in a brave chief named Ildibad, nephew of Theudis, King of the Visigoths in Spain. This man refused to transfer his allegiance to the Emperor, though Belisarius, by detaining his children captives in Ravenna, had it in his power to put sore pressure upon him. Uraias at Pavia. In Pavia the noble Uraias, nephew of Witigis, still commanded.

When the hope that Belisarius would play an independent part as Emperor of the West faded from the hearts of the Gothic warriors, the bravest of them  p338 flocked to Pavia and sought an audience with Uraias. With tears such as valiant men may shed, they thus addressed him:

'Of all the evils which have befallen the nation of the Goths thou, O Uraias! art the chief cause, through thy very worthiness. For that uncle of thine, so cowardly and so unfortunate in war,8 would long ago have been thrust aside by us from the throne, even as we thrust aside Theodoric's own nephew Theodahad, if we had not looked with admiration on thy prowess, and believed that thou wert in truth at the helm of the state, leaving only the name of kingship to thine uncle. Now is our good-nature shown to have been folly, and the very root of all the evils that have come upon us. Hosts of our best and bravest, as thou knowest, O dear Uraias! have fallen on our Italian battle-fields. Our proudest nobles, with Witigis and the Gothic hoard, are being carried off to Constantinople by Belisarius. Thou and we alone remain, a feeble and miserable remnant, and we too shall soon, if we live, share the same fate. But we can die, O Uraias! and it is better for us to die than to be carried captive with our wives and our little ones to the uttermost ends of the earth. Be thou our leader, and we shall do something worthy of our renown before we find a grave in Italy.'

Refusal of Uraias. Uraias replied, that he too, like them, preferred death to slavery, but that the kingship he would not take, since he would seem to be setting himself up as  p339 a rival to his uncle. He strongly advised them to offer it to Ildibad, a man of bravery and might, and one whose relationship to Theudis, the Visigothic King, might at this crisis prove serviceable to their cause. Ildibad King. The advice seemed good to the Gothic warriors, who at once repaired to Verona and invested Ildibad with the purple robe of royalty.9 Though accepting the kingly office, he urged his new subjects not yet to abandon all hope of persuading Belisarius to fulfil his plighted word and ascend the Western throne by their assistance, in which event Ildibad would willingly return into a private station.10 Last appeal to Belisarius. One more effort accordingly they made to shake the loyalty of their conqueror. All Italy knew that he was under orders to leave Ravenna; to take charge of the Persian war, said some; accused by his brother generals of treasonable designs, said others. There was some truth in both assertions. Justinian needed Belisarius on the banks of the Euphrates, but he also feared him in the palace at Ravenna. The Gothic envoys appeared in the presence of Belisarius: they reproached him for his former breach of faith; they upbraided him as a self-made slave, who did not blush to choose the condition of a lackey of Justinian when he might, in all the dignity of manhood, reign as Emperor of the West over brave and loyal warriors. They besought him even yet to retrace his steps. Ildibad  p340 would bring his new purple and gladly lay it at the feet of the monarch of the Goths and Italians. Reproaches and blandishments were alike in vain. The Roman General refused to strike a single stroke for Empire in the lifetime of Justinian. The Envoys returned to Ildibad. May, 540. Belisarius, in obedience to his master's orders, quitted Ravenna; and with his departure, which coincided with the end of the fifth year of the war, ended the first act of the Byzantine reconquest of Italy.

Retirement of Cassiodorus from official life. At this point also we take our final leave of one whose name has been of continual occurrence through many chapters of this history, the late Praetorian Prefect, Cassiodorus. Since the election of King Witigis he had not, apparently, taken any conspicuous part in public affairs.11 Amid the clash of arms his persuasive voice was silent: and with the two races, Goth and Roman, exasperated against one another by memories of battle, massacre, and the privations of terrible sieges, he recognised but too plainly that the labour of his life was wasted. The united commonwealth of Goths and Romans was a broken bubble, and he might as easily call up Theodoric from the grave as recall even one of the days of that golden age when Theodoric was king.

Something, however, might yet be done to save the precious inheritance of classical antiquity from the waves of barbaric invasion which were now too obviously about to roll over Italy, from Byzantium's mercenaries, the Lombard and the Herul, as well as  p341 from the Frankish neighbour who had learned with too fatal aptitude the road across the Alps. This service — and it was the greatest he could have rendered to humanity — Cassiodorus determined to perform while he passed the evening of his life in monastic seclusion in his native Bruttii, at his own beloved Scyllacium.

Approximate date of this event. It was probably in the year 539 or 540 that the veteran statesman laid aside the insignia of a Praetorian Prefect and assumed the garb of a monk. The chief reason a for choosing the earlier year, and for supposing Cassiodorus not to have continued till the bitter end in the service of Witigis, is that had he been present on the memorable day when Belisarius and his men entered Ravenna, he would probably have met and conversed with Procopius. In that case his noble character, and the important part which he had played for a generation in the Ostrogothic monarchy, would surely have impressed themselves on the mind of the historian, and prevented that strange omission which he has made in writing so fully about Theodoric's kingdom and never mentioning the name of Cassiodorus.

His treatise on the Soul. In any event the late chief minister was close upon the 60th year of his age when he retired to Squillace. His mind during the last few dreary years had been ever more and more turning to the two great solaces of a disappointed man, Literature and Religion. After he had completed the collection of his Various Epistles12 he had, upon the earnest entreaty of his friends, composed a short treatise on the Nature of the Soul. The philosophy of this treatise is not  p342 new, being chiefly derived from Plato;13 and the philology, as displayed in some marvellous derivations at the outset of the treatise, if new, is not true.14 But there are some striking thoughts in this little essay, as, for instance, on the ineffable love which the soul bears to her dwelling-place the body, fearing death for its sake though itself immortal, dreading the body's pain from which she cannot herself receive any injury. But the most interesting passage, coming from so old and astute a statesman as Cassiodorus, is one in which he naïvely attempts to describe the outward signs by which we distinguish evil men from the good.

Characteristics of the wicked. 'The bad man's countenance, whatever be its natural beauty, always has a cloud resting upon it.15 In the midst of his mirth a deep and secret sadness is always waiting to take possession of him, and appears on his countenance when he deems himself unobserved. His eye wanders hither and thither, and he is ever on the watch to see what others think of him. His conversation is by fits and starts: he takes up one subject after another and leaves his narratives unfinished without apparent cause. He has a look of worry and pre‑occupation in his idlest hours, and lives in perpetual fear when none is  p343 pursuing him. Seeking greedily for all the pleasures of life, he is incurring the penalty of eternal death; and endeavouring to prolong his share of the world's light he is preparing himself the shades of eternal night.'

Was Cassiodorus when he drew this striking picture describing the way in which the memory of the murdered Amalasuntha tormented the soul of Theodahad?

Characteristics of the good. 'The good man, on the other hand, has a certain calm joyousness in his countenance, earned by many secret tears. His face is pale and thin, but suggests the idea of strength. A long beard gives venerableness to his aspect: he is very clean, without a trace of foppery. His eyes are clear, and brighten naturally when he addresses you. His voice is of moderate tone, not so low as to be akin to silence, nor swoln into the harsh bluster of the bully. His very pace is ordered, neither hurrying nor creeping. He does not watch another's eye to see how it is regarding him, but holds simply straightforward on his way. Even the natural sweetness of his breath distinguishes him from the evil man, who seeks to hide the fumes of wine by the sickening scent of artificial perfumes.'16

Cassiodorus at Squillace. The time was now come for Cassiodorus openly to enter that monastic state towards which, as we can perceive from this ideal portraiture of a good man, his own aspirations had for some time been tending. Leaving the lagunes of Ravenna, the pine-wood and  p344 the palace of the Ostrogothic kings, where so many of the hours of his middle life had been spent, he returned to his first love, his own ancestral Scyllacium, its hills, its fish-ponds, its wide outlook over the Ionian sea. Here upon his patrimonial domain he founded two monasteries. Hermitage of Castellum. High up on the hill, and perhaps surrounded by the walls of the older and deserted city,17 was placed the secluded hermitage of Castellum, destined for those who preferred the solitary life of the rigid anchorite to the more social atmosphere of the monastic brotherhood. Monastery of Vivarium. The latter and more popular type of convent was represented by the monastery of Vivarium, situated by the little river Pellena, and on the edge of the fish-ponds of which Cassiodorus has already given us so picturesque a description.18 Here the old statesman erected for the monks, who soon flocked round him, a building which, though not luxurious, was better supplied with the comforts of life than was usual with institutions of this kind, at any rate in the first fervour of monasticism. These are the terms in which Cassiodorus himself describes the place, in a treatise dedicated to his monks:19 —

'The very situation of the Vivarian monastery invites you to exercise hospitality towards travellers and the poor. There you have well-watered gardens and the streams of the river Pellena, abounding in fish, close beside you. The stream. A modest and useful stream, not overwhelming you by the multitude of its waters,  p345 but on the other hand never running dry, it is ever at your call when needed for the supply of your gardens. The fish-ponds. Here, by God's help we have made in the mountain caverns safe receptacles for the fish which you may catch from the stream. In these they can swim about and feed and disport themselves, and never know that they are captives, till the time comes when you require them for your food. The baths. We have also ordered baths to be built, suitably prepared for those who are in feeble health; and into these flows the fair transparent stream, good alike for washing and drinking. We hope therefore that your monastery will be sought by strangers rather than that you will need to go elsewhere to seek delight in strange places. But all these things, as you know, pertain to the joys of the present life, and have nought to do with the hope of the future which belongs to the faithful. Thus placed here, let us transfer our desires to those things which shall cause us to reign there with Christ.'

Again, after describing in attractive terms the happy labours of the antiquarii in the copying-room of the monastery, he goes on to speak of the permitted luxury of comely book-binding, and of his mechanical contrivances for promoting the regular employment of the monastic day.

Book-binding. 'To these we have also added workmen skilled in covering the codices, in order that the glory of the sacred books may be decked with robes of fitting beauty. Herein we do in some sort imitate that householder in our Lord's parable who, when he had asked the guests to his supper, desired that they should be clothed in wedding garments. By these workmen we have caused several kinds of  p346 binding to be all represented in one codex,20 in order that the man of taste may choose that form of covering which pleases him best. Mechanical lamps. We have also prepared for your nocturnal studies mechanical lamps, self-trimming and self-supplied with oil, so that they burn brightly without any human assistance. Sun‑dial. And in order that the division of the hours of the day, so advantageous to the human race, may not pass unobserved by you, I have caused one measurer of time to be constructed in which the indication is made by the sun's rays, Water-clock. and another, worked by water, which night and day marks regularly the passage of the hours. This is also of use in cloudy days, when the inherent force of water accomplishes what the fiery energy of the sun fails to perform. Thus do we make the two most opposite elements, fire and water, concur harmoniously for the same purpose.'

The monastery to be a theological school. From these few passages it will be seen what was the spirit in which Cassiodorus founded the monastery of Vivarium. Religion and learning were to be the two poles upon which the daily life of the community revolved. He himself tells us21 that he had earnestly striven to persuade Pope Agapetus to found a great theological school at Rome, like those which were then flourishing at Alexandria and Nisibis.22 The wars and tumults which had recently  p347 afflicted the kingdom of Italy made the fulfilment of this design impossible; and Cassiodorus thereupon resolved that his own retirement from the field of political life should be the commencement of a vigorous and sustained effort to stem the tide of ignorance and barbarism which was flowing over Italy. Hitherto the monk retiring from the world had been too much inclined to think only of the salvation of his own individual soul. Long hours of mystic musing had filled up the day of the Egyptian anchorite. Augustine and Cassian, men so widely divergent in their theological teaching, had each contributed something towards the introduction of healthy work into the routine of monastic life; and Benedict, with whose life and career we shall soon have to concern ourselves in greater detail, had wisely ordained in his rule that a considerable part of the day should be devoted to actual toil. Still, all this had reference only to manual labour. Cassiodorus makes the monastery a place of intellectual labour. It was the glory of Cassiodorus that he, first and pre‑eminently, insisted on the expediency of including intellectual labour in the sphere of monastic duties.23 Some monks, he freely admitted, would never be at home in the cloister library, and might better devote their energies to the cloister  p348 garden. But there were others who only needed training to make them apt scholars in divine and human learning, and this training he set himself to give them. This thought — may we not say this divinely suggested thought? — in the mind of Cassiodorus was one of infinite importance to the human race. Here, on the one hand, were the vast armies of monks, whom both the unsettled state of the times and the religious ideas of the age were driving irresistibly into the cloister; and who, when immured there with only theology to occupy their minds, became, as the great cities of the East knew too well, preachers of discord and mad fanaticism. Here, on the other hand, were the accumulated stores of two thousand years of literature, sacred and profane, the writings of Hebrew prophets, Greek philosophers, Latin rhetoricians, perishing for want of men at leisure to transcribe them. The luxurious Roman noble with his slave-amanuenses multiplying copies of his favourite authors for his own and his friends' libraries, was an almost extinct existence. With every movement of barbarian troops over Italy, whether those barbarians called themselves the men of Witigis or of Justinian, some towns were being sacked, some precious manuscripts were perishing from the world. Cassiodorus perceived that the boundless, the often wearisome leisure of the convent might be profitably spent in arresting this work of denudation, in preserving for future ages the intellectual treasure which must otherwise have inevitably perished. That this was one of the great services rendered by monasticism to the human race, the most superficial student of history has learned: but not all who have learned  p349 it know that the monk's first decided impulse in this direction was derived from Theodoric's minister Cassiodorus.

Cassiodorus not Abbot. The veteran statesman seems to have wisely abstained from making himself actual Abbot of either of his two monasteries. To have done so would have plunged him into a sea of petty administrative details and prevented him from thinking out his schemes for the instruction of the men who had gathered round him.24

Writings of Cassiodorus in his old age. Cassiodorus (as has been said) was probably about sixty years of age when he retired from Ravenna and when this 'Indian summer' of his life, so beautiful and so full of fruit for humanity, began. His own writings after this time were copious, and though they have long since ceased to have any scientific value, they are interesting as showing the many-sided, encyclopaediac character of the attainments of him who had been all his life a busy official. Commentary on the Psalms. A voluminous commentary on the Psalms was the work on which he probably prided himself the most, and which is now the most absolutely useless. Historia Tripartita. In the so‑called 'Historia Tripartita,' he and his friend Epiphanius wove together, somewhat clumsily, into a single narrative the three  p350 histories of Church affairs from the Conversion of Constantine to the days of Theodosius II given by Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. Complexiones. In the 'Complexiones' he comments upon the Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Apocalypse: and here it may be remarked in passing, that he includes the Epistle to the Hebrews among the writings of the Apostle Paul, apparently without a suspicion that this had not always been the received view in the Roman Church. De Institutione Divinarum Litterarum. In his book 'De Institutione Divinarum Litterarum,' from which some quotations have already been made, he gives his monks some valuable hints how to study and how to transcribe the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers. Some precepts for the regulation of their daily life are also included herein, and upon the whole the book seems to approach nearer to the character of the Rules of Cassiodorus25 than any other that he has composed. De Artibus ac Disciplinis liberalium Litterarum. In the 'De Artibus ac Disciplinis liberalium Litterarum' he treats of the seven liberal arts, which are Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, and Astronomy. It is characteristic of the writer that Rhetoric and Dialectic, the two great weapons in the armoury of a Roman official, are treated of at considerable length, while of the other five arts only the slenderest outline is furnished.

De Orthographia (written about 573). Lastly, when the veteran statesman had already reached the ninety-third year of his age, he composed for his faithful monks a somewhat lengthy treatise on  p351 Orthography. They said to him, 'What does it profit us to know what the ancients wrote or what your sagacity has added thereto, if we are entirely ignorant how we ought to write these things, and through want of acquaintance with spelling cannot accurately reproduce what we read in our own speech?' He accordingly collected for their benefit the precepts of ten grammarians, ending with his contemporary Priscian,26 as to the art of orthography. One of the greatest difficulties even of fairly educated Romans at that day seems to have been to distinguish in writing between the two letters b and v, which were alike in sound. This difficulty, which is abundantly illustrated by the errors in inscriptions in the Imperial age, is strenuously grappled with by Cassiodorus, or rather by the authors from whom he quotes, and who give long and elaborate rules to prevent the student from spelling libero with a v, or navigo with a b.

End of his life. Amid these literary labours, in the holy seclusion of Squillace, we may suppose Cassiodorus to have died, having nearly completed a century of life. Even in 573, when he wrote his treatise on Orthography, he had already long overpassed the limit of time prescribed for the present volume. It was then twenty years after the final overthrow of the Ostrogothic monarchy. The Lombards had been in Italy five years. Narses was dead, Alboin was dead, Justinian's successor had been for eight years upon the throne. Yet still the brave and patient old man, who had once been the chief minister of a mighty realm, toiled on at his self-imposed task. The folly of his countrymen, the hopelessly  p352 adverse current of events, had prevented him from building up the kingdom of Italy: they could not prevent him from conferring a priceless gift on mankind by rescuing the literature of Rome from the barbarians for the benefit of those barbarians' progeny.


The Author's Notes:

1 In his reflections on this event, which he says never happened before or after, Procopius remarks as to the all‑mastering power of Fortune: δήλωσιν ἄντικρυς ποιουμένη ὅτι δὴ αὐτὴ πρυτανεύσει ἀμφοτέροις τὰ πράγματα (De B. G. II.28).

2 See Procopius, De Bello Persico, II.4 (p167).

3 It is generally supposed that Belisarius only played with the Goths in this business of his election: but unless he had some thoughts of possibly accepting their offer, I do not see why he should have sent these officers away.

4 Agnellus (Liber Pontificalis, 62) says that Belisarius entered Ravenna 'in mense Martio.' Though his chronology is here wrong in the years, there seems to be something worth attending to in his indication of months and days.

Thayer's Note: in Holder-Egger's edition, in mense Madio; which is more likely to be May than March.

5 Ὅσοι ἐντὸς Πάδου ποταμοῦ ᾤκηντο. Ἐντὸς seems always to mean on this side of the Po, as reckoned from Rome.

6 Except for a very short occupation by the Lombard King Liutprand. (See vol. VI, p482.)

7 The language of Procopius as to the time of the surrender of Cesena is not quite clear, but the point is an unimportant one.

8 Οὕτως ἄνανδρόν τε καὶ ἀτυχὴ ἐξηγούμενον. This passage is one of those which I think justify us in looking upon Witigis as not only a blunderer but a coward, at any rate in the later part of his career. I suspect that the worry of the siege of Rome unnerved him.

9 ᾯ δὴ τὴν πορφύραν περιβαλόντες. The letter of Cassiodorus (Var. I.2) shows that this is not a mere rhetorical phrase, but that the Gothic kings were in fact clad in purple.

10 Ildibad's accession speech in Procopius (p275) is vapid and rhetorical, a strange contrast to the stirring and pathetic words addressed by the Gothic nobles to Uraias. I cannot but entertain the belief that these at least are truly reported.

11 For an account of the five letters written by Cassiodorus for Witigis between 536 and 538, see my 'Letters of Cassiodorus,' 49‑50, and 444‑448.

12 About 538 (?).

13 Through Claudianus Mamertus, a friend of Sidonius, says Ebert (I.489).

14 Anima is derived from the Greek ἄναιμα, 'bloodless,' because the soul is not dependent on flesh and blood. Animus is from ἄνεμος, 'wind,' because thought is as swift as the wind. Mens is from μήνη, 'the moon,' because, though exposed to various changes, the mind eventually returns to its own full-orbed perfection (p1282, ed. Migne).

15 'Malis nubilus vultus est in qualibet gratia corporali' (p1298).

16 Some of the touches in this ideal portrait suggest, as Ebert has pointed out (I.489), an approach to the mediaeval painters' manner of representing saintliness.

17 I speak doubtfully because the topography of Squillace does not seem to have been yet fully elucidated. Lenormant seems to prove that the Roman and the modern city are practically on the same site, but that the Greek city was at some distance.

18 See vol. III p317.

19 De Institutione Divinarum Litterarum, cap. xxix.

20 'Quibus multiplices species facturarum in uno codice depictas (ni fallor) decenter expressimus' (De Inst. Div. Litterarum, cap. xxx). Apparently the different bindings were all represented by facsimiles in this one codex.

21 In the Preface to the Institutio Divinarum Litterarum.

22 'Sicut apud Alexandriam multo tempore fuisse traditur institutum, nunc etiam in Nisibi Civitate ab Hebraeis sedulo fertur exponi.' This hint about a recently established Rabbinical school at Nisibis (within the limits of the Persian empire) is of great interest, especially in connection with the origin of Mohammedanism.

23 This is well brought out by Franz (M. A. Cass. Senator, p42): 'Das Verdienst, zuerst die Pflege der Wissenschaften in den Bereich der Aufgaben des klösterlichen Lebens aufgenommen zu haben, kann man mit vollem Rechte für Cassiodorius in Anspruch nehmen.' Franz has drawn up an interesting imaginary catalogue of the Library at Vivarium from the hints furnished by the works of Cassiodorus.

24 In the De Institutione (cap. xxxii) he addresses the abbots Chalcedonius and Geruntius, apparently the heads of the two convents of Castellum and Vivarium. The description which is often appended to the name of Cassiodorus, 'Abbot of Viviers,' is doubly incorrect. He was not an abbot; and there is no conceivable reason for giving the French form of the name of his favourite monastery. Probably the second mistake has arisen from the fact that Ste. Marthe's Life of Cassiodorus, written in French near the end of the seventeenth century, was the book by which, a hundred years ago, he was best known to the world.

25 Why do we not say 'Regula Sancti Cassiodori'? It is a mystery why so excellent a man, of orthodox creed and one of the founders of the monastic system, should not have been deemed worthy of canonisation.

26 'Ex Prisciano grammatico, qui nostro tempore Constantino­poli doctor fuit . . . . ista collecta sunt' (cf. vol. III pp401‑2).


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