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Book V
Chapter 14

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 16

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
p376
Chapter XV

The Elevation of Totila

Authority

Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, III.1‑9.

Confusion in Italy after the departure of Belisarius. No stronger proof of the superiority of Belisarius, both as a general and a ruler, could be afforded than the disasters which befell the Imperial cause in Italy after his departure. There can be little doubt that Justinian's chief reason for recalling him was the fear that he might listen to some such proposition as that made to him by the Goths during the siege of Ravenna and might claim independent sovereignty. The fact that he was not sent against Chosroës till the spring of 541 proves that jealousy was Justinian's main motive, and heavily was he punished for that jealousy by the subsequent course of the war. Italy appeared to be recovered for the Empire when Belisarius entered Ravenna in triumph. Six months more of the great fearful's presence in the peninsula would probably have turned that appearance into a reality. But as it was, the stone of Sisyphus had only just touched the topmost angle of the cliffs. When Belisarius went, it thundered down again into the plains. The struggle had all to be fought over again, and twelve years of war, generally disastrous to the Imperial arms, had to be  p377 encountered before Italy was really united to the Roman Commonwealth.

Officers who returned with Belisarius. The officers who accompanied Belisarius on his return to Constantinople were Ildiger his son-in‑law, Valerian, Martin, and Herodian. All of these generals except Herodian, who was speedily sent back to Italy, distinguished themselves in the Persian war.1

Officers who remained in Italy. The chiefs of the army who were left in Italy were John the nephew of Vitalian, John 'the Glutton,' Bessas the Goth, Vitalius, and Constantian 'the Count of the Imperial Stables.'2 The last two had commanded in Dalmatia, till the cessation of the Gothic resistance in that quarter allowed them to be transferred to Italy.

No General-in‑chief. Among all these generals there was none placed in supreme command. Constantian as commandant of Ravenna, and Bessas, either at this time or soon after governor of Rome, were placed in two of the most prominent positions in the country. John's military record was the most brilliant, and probably with all his faults he would, if appointed General-in‑chief, have soon brought the war to a successful termination. But no — the studious Emperor was not going to encounter again the same agony of jealous apprehension which had caused each successive bulletin from Belisarius to be like a stab in his heart. Forgetful therefore of the fine old Homeric maxim,

'Ill is the rule of the many: let one alone be the ruler,'3

 p378  he left the generals with an equality of authority to hold and govern Italy each according to his own ideas.4 Naturally, these ideas were in each case to plunder as much and to fight as little as possible. The bonds of discipline were soon utterly relaxed, and the rapacious, demoralised army of the Emperor became formidable to the peaceful provincials, but to no one else.

Financial oppression. Now too the power of that terrible engine of oppression, the Byzantine taxing-system, began to make itself felt in Italy. Justinian's first care with all his conquests was to make them pay. With an extravagant wife, a pompous and costly court, with that rage for building which seems to be engendered by the very air of Constantinople, with multitudes of hostile tribes hovering round his frontiers who required constant bribes to prevent them from exposing the showy weakness of his Empire, with all these many calls upon him Justinian was perpetually in need of money; and the scourge, the rack, the squalid dungeon, as we have seen in the last chapter, were freely used in order to obtain it. That odious analogy to a great Roman household which had now thoroughly established itself in the once free commonwealth of Rome, and which made the Emperor a master and his subjects slaves, seemed to justify any excess of rapine. If we could scrutinise the heart of the Dardanian peasant's son who sat on the throne of the Caesars, we should probably find that his secret thought was something like this: 'It is the business of my generals to conquer for me new provinces. The inhabitants of those provinces  p379 become my slaves, and must pay whatever I command them. It is my privilege to spend the money which I condescend to receive from them exactly for such purposes as I choose.'

Justinian's failure as an economist. With these high notions of prerogative in his mind, Justinian became one of the most ruinous governors to his Empire that the world has ever seen. The reader need not be reminded of the dreary story of fiscal oppression which in Constantinople, in Africa, in Lydia, has already met his view.5 The eighteen new taxes with fearful and unheard‑of names, the stringently-exercised rights of preëmption, the cruel angaria which, like the French corvées, consumed the strength of the peasant in unremunerated labour, all these made the yoke of the Emperor terrible to his subjects. And yet, as was before pointed out, notwithstanding this extreme rigour in collecting the taxes, the reproductive expenditure of the Empire was not attended to: the aqueducts were not kept up, the cursus publicus or public post, the best legacy received from the flourishing days of the Empire, was suffered to fall into irretrievable ruin. Everywhere the splendour of the reign of Justinian — and there was splendour and an appearance of prosperity about it — was obtained by living upon the capital of the country. Everywhere, by his fiscal oppression as well as by his persecuting attempts to produce religious conformity, he was preparing the provinces of the East, pale, emaciated, and miserable, for the advent of the Moslem conquerors, who, within a century of his death, were to win the fairest of them, and were to hold them even to our own day.

 p380  The Logothetes in Italy. In order to deal with the fiscal questions arising in the newly-recovered provinces, Justinian appears to have created a special class of officers, who bore the name of Logothetes, and whose functions correspond to those which with us are exercised by an auditor or comptroller. Doubtless some such machinery was necessary to enable the Emperor to take up the financial administration of two great countries, somewhat entangled by the supremacy of Vandal and Ostrogothic kings (however true it might be that the subordinate officers in the revenue department had remained Roman), and also to appraise at their just value, often to reduce, the large claims which the soldiers by whom the conquest had been wrought would make against the Imperial treasury. Some such machinery was necessary, but it should have been worked with a due regard to the eternal principles of justice and to the special and temporary expediency of winning the affections of a people who for two generations had not seen the face of an Imperial tax‑gatherer.

Alexander 'the Scissors.' Both justice and expediency, however, were disregarded by the freshly appointed Logothetes, and especially by the chief of the new department. The man, Alexander by name, received the surname of Psalidion or the Scissors, from a bitter joke which was current about him among the oppressed provincials, who declared that he could clip the gold coins that came into his hands without injuring their roundness, and reissue them without risk of detection. He, like all the other Logothetes, was paid by the results of his work, receiving one‑twelfth of all that by his various devices he recovered for the Imperial Treasury. From a very humble station in life he soon rose to great  p381 power and accumulated enormous wealth, which he displayed with vulgar ostentation before the various classes of men whom his exactions were grinding into the dust.

Alienation of the soldiery. The first of these classes were the soldiers, for the Logothete was the natural enemy of the soldier, and Justinian deemed himself now secure enough in his hold on Italy to kick down the ladder by which he had risen. Every offence against the public peace — and the wild swarms of Huns, Isaurians, Heruli, whom Belisarius had brought into Italy, when his strong hand was removed, no doubt committed many such offences — had to be atoned for by a heavy fine to the Imperial treasury, one‑twelfth of which went of it the coffers of Alexander the Logothete. The endeavour to punish was praiseworthy, but it would have been wise to employ some sharp military punishment in cases of signal offence, and above all, to make the generals feel that they were responsible for the good conduct of their men, rather than to create the general feeling that while the Logothete was rolling in wealth the soldiers whose stout hearts had reconquered Italy were shrinking into a poor, despised, and beggared remnant, and would undertake no more daring deeds for the Emperor who had requited them with such ingratitude.

Promotion stopped. Not in Italy only, but throughout the Empire, another form of embezzlement practised by the Logothetes told terribly upon the efficiency of the army. The system of payment of the soldiers at this time was one of advance according to length of service. The young soldier received little, perhaps nothing besides his arms and his rations. The man who had seen  p382 some years' service and who was half way up on the rolls of the legion was more liberally dealt with. The veteran who would shortly leave the ranks received a very handsome salary, out of which he was expected to provide for his superannuation fund and to leave something for his family. Of course, promotion to these more favoured positions depended on the retirement or death of those who occupied them. But the Logothetes, intent on curtailing the soldier's allowance for the Emperor's profit and their own, hit upon the expedient of keeping the highly paid places full of phantom warriors. A veteran might have died a natural death, retired from the service, or fallen in battle, but still his name was borne on the rolls of his legion; and thus an excuse was afforded for keeping the middle-aged and elderly combatant still upon the lowest scale of pay. Procopius hints that Justinian himself connived at a system so grossly unfair to the soldiers and so absurdly deceptive as to the real strength of the army.6

The Greek nationality scorned. Among the various frivolous pretences for abridging the soldier's pay or cancelling his right to promotion we hear with surprise that one was derived from their Greek nationality. 'They were called Greeks, as if it was quite out of the question for one of that nation to show anything like high courage.'7 This passage shows us, what we might have expected, that these exactions were tried more frequently on the docile native soldier than on the fiery and easily unsettled barbarian auxiliary. It also brings before us the  p383 officials of the great monarchy by the Bosporus, men who were themselves Greek in their names, their language, and their ideas, still acting the part of pure-blooded Roman governors, and affecting to speak of the men who were in fact their countrymen with the old Roman disdain, the disdain which was not altogether unreasonable in the conquerors of Pydna and Cynoscephalae.

Wrongs of the provincials. Having filled the soldiery with a burning sense of wrong, Alexander proceeded to alienate as thoroughly as possible the Roman inhabitants of Italy, whose good-will had so greatly aided the progress of Belisarius. All Italians who had had any pecuniary transactions with the Gothic kings, or had held office under them, were called upon to produce a strict account of all monies had and received, even though such monies had passed through their hands forty years ago in the early days of Theodoric. Very possibly the easy-tempered King and his Gothic nobles had not been served with absolute fidelity by the sharp Italian officials. 'But what concern is that of yours?' they naturally enquired. 'It is not the Emperor who suffered: nay, rather, we might have thought that we were serving the Emperor by every aureus that we withheld from the most powerful of his foes.' But now was again exemplified the elasticity which marked all the reasonings of the Imperial cabinet on the subject of the Gothic domination in Italy. When that domination appeared to be hopelessly overthrown, Byzantium reverted to the theory which it had so often played with, that Theodoric and his successors had been the lawful governors of Italy under Anastasius, Justin, and  p384 Justinian, that they had been by no means usurpers, but regular viceregents, and therefore that an action for embezzlement (de pecuniis repetundis) would lie in the Emperor's name against all officials of the Ostrogothic Kings who had not faithfully discharged their trust. But this theory was not popular in Italy; and enforced as it was by grasping Logothetes, regardless of all principles of justice as to the kind of evidence which they required for transactions long past and forgotten, it swelled the chorus of discontent which was arising in all parts of the peninsula against the tyrant who had been hailed as a deliverer.

The Gothic cause revives. By all these causes the smouldering embers of the Gothic resistance were soon fanned into a flame. When Belisarius left Italy, Ildibad held only one city, Pavia, and had but one thousand soldiers. Before the year was ended,8 all Liguria and Venetia, that is all Italy north of the Po, recognised his sway, and an army of considerable size (largely composed of deserters from the Imperial standard) was under his orders. All the generals but one watched this sudden development of the Gothic power with apathy. Autumn, 540 (?) Vitalius alone, who was lately commanding in Dalmatia and now in Venetia, moved with his hordes of Herulian auxiliaries against Ildibad. Defeat of Vitalius. A great battle followed near Treviso — not many miles from the little trembling colony of salt-manufacturers at Venice — and this battle was disastrous for the Imperialists. Vitalius himself with difficulty escaped. Theudimund son of Maurice and grandson of Mundus  p385 the Gepid,9 a young lad who thus represented three generations of Imperial defeat, was in imminent peril of his life, but just succeeded in escaping, along with Vitalius. Wisand, King of the Heruli, lay dead upon the field.

Dissensions between the wife of Ildibad and the wife of Uraias. The tidings of this victory, which were soon carried to Constantinople, made the name of Ildibad of great account in the mouths of all men. Domestic dissensions, however, soon cut short a career which promised to be of great brilliance. If Uraias the nephew of Witigis could forget, his wife could not, that the Gothic crown had been offered to him and that Ildibad reigned by virtue of his refusal. This lady, who was conspicuous among all her countrywomen for beauty and for the wealth which she lavishly displayed, was one day proceeding to the baths with much barbaric pomp of raiment and retinue. At the same moment the wife of Ildibad happened to pass, in mean attire and with scant attendance; for Ildibad had lost his possessions as well as his children by the fall of Ravenna, and there had been no time as yet to form another royal board. The wife of the chief who would not reign offered no obeisance to the wife of the actual King, and even allowed it to be seen that she was jeering with her attendants at that honourable poverty. The insult, and the burning tears with which his wife told the tale, maddened the heart of Ildibad. Death of Uraias. He began to traduce his benefactor, accusing him of disloyalty to the national cause, and before long caused him to be assassinated.

Assassination of Ildibad, May (?), 541. From that day Ildibad's hold on the hearts  p386 his countrymen was gone, and he also soon fell a victim to the hand of an assassin. One of his guards, named Wilas, a Gepid by birth, was betrothed to a young maiden whom he loved with passionate ardour. During his absence on some military duty the King, either from forgetfulness or caprice, conferred the hand of the damsel on another of his followers. From the moment that he heard the tidings, Wilas, maddened with the wrong, vowed his master's death; and he found many willing accomplices, for the blood of Uraias cried for vengeance. There came a day when Ildibad was feasting right royally in his palace, with all his guards in bright armour standing round him. The King stretched forth his hand to grasp some delicate morsel: but, overcome apparently by the wine that he had drunk,10 fell forward on the couch. Wilas saw his opportunity, stepped forward, drew his sword, and severed his master's neck at one blow. With amazement and horror the bystanders saw the head of Ildibad roll upon the festive board, even while his fingers yet clutched the morsel that was never to be eaten. Nothing is said as to any punishment of the murderer.

Eraric the Rugian chosen King. The death of Ildibad occurred about May, 541, a year after the departure of Belisarius and six years from the commencement of the war. He was succeeded by Eraric the Rugian, whose precarious royalty was, however, never fully acknowledged by the remnant of the Gothic nation. It will be remembered that a part of the Rugian people had  p387 followed the standards of Theodoric into Italy and had shared his victories and his revenge over their deadly enemy Odovacar. Notwithstanding the subsequent treachery of Frederic their King, the bulk of the little nation remained faithful subjects of the Ostrogothic royalty, but though they loyally did his bidding in battle they remained a separate nationality, marrying only the women of their own tribe, and probably having justice administered by their own chiefs.11 This fragment of a nation, in the distress and discouragement of their Gothic friends, aspired to give a king to the whole confederacy: a pretension almost as audacious as if in the party disputes at the close of the reign of Queen Anne the Huguenot refugees had signified their willingness to place one of their number on the throne of Great Britain.

Reign of Eraric, May to October (?), 541. Eraric reigned only five months, during which time he performed not a single noteworthy action against the enemy, but devoted his chief energies to those illusory negotiations with Constantinople which were the natural resource of a barbarian king doubtful of the loyalty of his subjects. Negotiations between Eraric and Justinian. He called together a general assembly of the Goths, and proposed to them to send ambassadors to Justinian, offering peace upon the same terms which had been suggested to Witigis: all Italy south of the Po to be the Emperor's, the rest to belong to the Goths. The assembly approved, and  p388 the ambassadors set forth on their journey; but it is scarcely necessary to state that they bore also a secret commission by virtue of which Eraric offered to sell his people and the whole of Italy to Justinian upon the usual terms, the Patriciate, a large sum of money, and a splendid establishment at Constantinople.

Dissatisfaction of the Goths. But in the mean time the hearts of all the Gothic people, sore for the loss of Ildibad, from whose mighty arm they had expected deliverance, and impatient at the feeble gropings after a policy of this Rugian kinglet whom accident had set over them, They turn to Baduila (Totila), nephew of Ildibad. were turning with more and more of hope and loyalty to one still remaining scion of the house of Ildibad. This was his nephew Baduila, a man still young for command,12 but one whose courage and capacity had already been much talked of at the council-table and the banquet. At the moment of his uncle's murder he was in command of the garrison at Treviso: and when he heard the tidings of that lamentable event, thinking that it was all over with Gothic freedom, he sent messengers to Ravenna offering to surrender his stronghold on receiving pledges from Constantian for the safety of himself and his soldiers. The offer was gladly accepted, the day for the surrender fixed, the Roman generals looked upon Treviso as already theirs, when the whole aspect of the case was changed by a deputation  p389 from the discontented Goths offering the crown to Baduila. He is made King instead of Eraric, who is slain. The young chief told them with perfect openness all that had passed between him and Constantian, but agreed, if the Rugian adventurer were removed before the day fixed for his capitulation, to cancel his agreement with Ravenna and to accept the dangerous honour of the kingship. The negotiations of Eraric with the Emperor, both those which were avowed and those which were only suspected, no doubt hardened the hearts of the Gothic patriots against him and weakened their zeal: and thus it came to pass that in the autumn of 541, long before the messengers had returned from Constantinople, Eraric had been slain by the conspirators and the young Baduila had been raised on the shield as King.

Double form of his name, Baduila and Totila. The unanimous testimony of the coins of the new King proves that Baduila was that form of his name by which he himself chose to be known.13 From some cause, however, which has not been explained, he was also known even to the Goths14 as Totila, and this name is the only one which seems to have reached the ears of the Greek historians. It is useless now to attempt to appeal from their decision, and the  p390 name Totila is that by which he will be mentioned henceforward in this history.

Totila's character. The new King wielded the Ostrogothic sceptre for eleven years, a longer period than any of his predecessors since the great Theodoric. Coming to the help of his countrymen when their cause seemed sunk below hope, he succeeded in raising it to a height of glory such as even under Theodoric himself it had scarcely surpassed. Though almost the last, he was quite the noblest flower that bloomed upon the Ostrogothic stem, gentle, just, and generous, as well as a valiant soldier and an able statesman. Though he first appears before us, engaged in somewhat doubtful transactions, breaking his agreement with Constantian and counselling the death of Eraric, he is upon the whole one of the best types of the still future age of chivalry that the Downfall of the Empire can exhibit: and in fact we may truthfully say of him in the words of Chaucer:

'He was a very perfite gentil knight.'

The generals reprimanded by Justinian. The tidings of the ill‑success of the Imperial arms and of the death of Eraric were conveyed to Justinian, who sent a severe reprimand to the generals for their supineness and misgovernment. Stung by this rebuke, having assembled a council of war at Ravenna, at which all the chief generals were present as well as Alexander the Logothete, they resolved to besiege Verona, the key to Totila's Venetian province, and as soon as that city was taken to press on to Pavia and extinguish the Gothic monarchy in its last asylum. The plan was strategically sound, and its failure was only due to the really ludicrous rapacity of the generals. An army of 12,000 men, under the command  p391 of eleven generals,15 advanced into the wide and fertile plains south of Verona, where their cavalry could operate with great advantages against the enemy. Designs on Verona. Moreover, a nobleman of the province of Venetia named Marcian, who dwelt near to Verona and favoured the Imperial cause,16 sent word to the generals that he had bribed one of the sentinels to open a gate of that city to the Imperial forces. The generals, not feeling absolutely sure that this offer was made in good faith, invited volunteers for the dangerous task of commanding a small picked force, which should advance in front of the army and be admitted under cover of night within the walls of Verona. Artabazes volunteers to enter the city. No one was willing to undertake the duty but Artabazes, a Persian,17 who in the Eastern campaign of 541 had attached himself to the fortunes of Belisarius and had been sent by him to serve in the Italian war. Having selected one hundred and twenty of the bravest men in the army18 he advanced at dead of night to the walls, and was admitted inside the gate by the sentinel, faithful in his treachery; his followers then slew the surrounding guards and mounted to the  p392 battlements. The Goths, finding out what had happened, threw up the game, retired through the northern gate to one of the hills overlooking the town, and there passed the night.

The enterprise fails. With the smallest fraction of military capacity the important city of Verona would now have been recovered for the Emperor. But the eleven generals having started with the bulk of the army at the appointed time, began, when they were still five miles distant, to dispute as to the division of the spoil. The quarrel was at length adjusted, but meantime the sun had risen, and there was broad daylight over the old amphitheatre, over the swirling Adige, over the streets and market-places of Verona. The Goths from their hill-side took in the whole position of affairs, and saw by what an insignificant band they had been ousted from the city. Rushing in again by the northern gate, of which they had not given up possession, they drove Artabazes and his band to take refuge behind the battlements of the southern portion of the wall.19 At this moment the Roman army and the eleven generals arrived under the walls and found all the gates barred, and all the circuit of the city, except one small part, occupied by their foes. Vainly did Artabazes and his friends shout to them for help. They withdrew with all speed, and the little band whom they thus left to their fate had no resource but to leap headlong from the battlements. The greater number were killed by the fall. A few who had the good-fortune to alight on smooth soft ground escaped. Among these latter was Artabazes, who, when he  p393 reached the camp, inveighed bitterly against the cowardice and incapacity of the generals, which had brought so promising an enterprise to disaster.

The generals march to Faenza. Recognising the failure of their design to reconquer Venetia, the whole army crossed the Po and mustered again near Faventia, a town on the Aemilian Way, about twenty miles20 south-west of Ravenna. This place still survives in the modern Faenza, a bright little city of the plain, nestling under the shadow of the Apennines. Its early advances in the ceramic art have made the name of faïence familiar to all French dealers in earthenware.

Totila marches after them. When Totila learned what had passed at Verona he set forth with his whole army in pursuit of the Roman generals. So dwindled, however, was the Gothic force, that those words 'the whole army' still described a force of only five thousand men. The counsel of Artabazes not taken. While he was still on the northern bank of the Po, Artabazes, who had not ridden in vain beside Belisarius to battle, and who is the only soldier whose deeds shed a brief lustre across this part of the annals of the Imperial army, implored his brother generals to attack the barbarians in the act of crossing, so that they might have only one part of the Gothic force to deal with at once. He truly said that they need not trouble their minds about the alleged ingloriousness of such a victory. In war success was everything, and if they defeated the foe, men would not narrowly scrutinise the means by which they had overcome. But the generals, having each his own scheme for conducting the campaign, could accept no common plan of action, not even the obvious one suggested by Artabazes, but remained  p394 inactive in the plain of Faenza, for which course they had, it must be admitted, one excuse, in that they thereby barred the Aemilian Way against the southward progress of the invader.

Totila's speech to his soldiers. Here then Totila, having crossed the Po without opposition, met the many-generalled forces of the enemy. In a most spirit-stirring speech he called upon his soldiers for one supreme effort of valour. He did not dissemble the difficulties of their situation. The Romans if defeated could take shelter in their fortresses, or could await reinforcements from Byzantium; but they had no hope. Defeat for them meant ruin, the utter ruin of the Gothic cause in Italy. But, on the other hand, victory earned that day would bring with her every promise for the days to come. Blundering and defeat had reduced the army of the Goths from two hundred thousand men to one thousand, and their kingdom from the fair land of Italy to the single city of Ticinum. But then, one victory gained by the gallant Ildibad had multiplied their numbers five-fold, and had given them for one city all the lands north of the great river. Another victory now, with the blessing of God on their endeavours, with the favour and sympathy of all the Italians wearied out by the exactions of the Byzantine tax‑gatherers, might restore to them all that they had lost. And such a victory they might surely win against the recent dastards of Verona.

Battle of Faenza. After this harangue Totila selected three hundred men, who were to cross the river21 at a point two miles  p395 and a‑half distant and fall upon the rear of the enemy when the battle was joined. Then the two armies set themselves in battle array; but before the fight began, one of those single combats in which the barbarians in both armies delighted, and which seem more congenial to the instincts of mediaeval chivalry than to the scientific discipline of the old Imperial legion, occupied the attention of both armies. Single combat between Wiliaris and Artabazes. A Goth, mighty in stature and terrible in aspect, Wiliaris by name, completely armed, with helmet and coat of mail, rode forth into the space between the two armies, and, Goliath-like, challenged the Romans to an encounter. All shrank from accepting the challenge except the gallant Persian, Artabazes. Couching their spears at one another the two champions spurred their horses to a gallop. The Persian's spear penetrated the right lung of the Goth. Instant death followed, but the spear in the dead man's hand, having become jammed against a piece of rock below him, prevented him from falling and gave him still the erect attitude of life. Artabazes pressed on to complete his victory, and drew his sword to smite his enemy through his coat of mail, but in doing so, by some sudden swerve of his horse, his own neck was grazed by the upright spear of the dead Wiliaris. It seemed a mere scratch at first, and he rode back in triumph to his comrades: but an artery had been pierced, the blood would not be stanched, and in three days the gallant Artabazes was numbered with the dead. Thus did a dead man slay the living.

Defeat of the Imperial army. While Artabazes, out of reach of bow‑shot, was vainly endeavouring to stanch his wound, the battle  p396 was going ill with the Romans. Totila's three hundred men appearing in the rear were taken for the vanguard of another army, and completed the incipient panic. The generals fled headlong from the field, one to take refuge in one city, another in another. Multitudes of the soldiers were slain, multitudes taken prisoners and sent to a place of safety; and all the standards fell into the hands of the enemy, a disgrace which, Procopius assures us, had never before befallen a Roman army.22

Totila in Tuscany, April (?), 542. Totila now found himself strong enough to strike boldly across the Apennines — probably taking, not the Flaminian but the Cassian Way — and so try to gain a footing in Tuscany. With this view he sent a detachment of soldiers23 to besiege Florence. Fiesole, on its inaccessible height, he probably deemed too difficult for his little army. Florence besieged. Justin, who had distinguished himself in these regions three years before, was now commandant of the Imperial garrison of Florence; but, fearing that he was too weak in men and provisions to hold out long, he sent messengers by night to Ravenna to ask for relief. A force, probably a strong force, was sent to his aid under the command of his old friend and colleague Cyprian, together with John and Bessas. At the approach of this large body of troops the Goths raised the siege of Florence and retreated northwards up the valley of the Sieve, which still bears in popular usage the name by which Procopius calls it, the valley  p397 of Mugello.24 It was thought unadvisable by the Imperial generals to risk an engagement with their whole force in the gorges of the mountains, and it was decided that one of their number, with a picked body of troops, should seek out and engage the Goths, while the rest of the army followed at their leisure. Battle of Mugello. The lot fell on John the venturesome and precipitate, who, nothing loth, pushed on up the rocky valley. The Goths had stationed themselves on a hill, from which with they rushed down with loud shouts upon the foe. There was little wavering in the Roman ranks. John, with loud shouts and eager gestures, encouraged his men, but one of his guardsmen, a prominent figure in the ranks, was slain; and in the confused noise of the battle it was rumoured that John himself had fallen. Then came wild panic: the Roman troops swept down the valley, and when they met the solid squadrons of their fellow-soldiers, and told them the terrible tidings of the death of the bravest of the generals, they too caught the infection of fear and fled in disgraceful and disorderly flight. Many were slain by the pursuing Goths. Some having been taken prisoners, were treated with the utmost kindness by the politic Totila, and even induced in large numbers to take service under his standard. But others went galloping on for days through Italy, pursued by no man but bearing everywhere the same demoralising tidings of rout and ruin, and rested not till they found themselves behind the walls of some distant fortress, where they might at least for a time breathe in safety from the fear of Totila.

 p398  Central and Southern Italy opened to the Goths by this battle. Such, according to Procopius, was the battle, or rather the headlong rout, of Mugello. He was not an eye‑witness of the scene, and one is inclined to conjecture that he has overrated the element of mere panic and underrated the strategic skill of the Goths, who had apparently posted themselves on some coign of vantage among the hills from which they could inflict deadly injury on the foe, themselves almost unharmed. But, whatever were the details of the fight, it seems to have opened the whole of Central and Southern Italy to Totila. Cesena, Urbino, Montefeltro,25 Petra Pertusa, all those Umbrian fortresses which it had cost Belisarius two years of hard fighting to win, were now lost to Justinian. Totila pressed on into Etruria. There no great fortress seems to have surrendered to him, and he would not repeat the error of Witigis by dashing his head against the stone walls of Rome. Totila in Samnium and Campania. He therefore crossed the Tiber, marched southwards through Campania and Samnium, easily took Beneventum, and rased its walls, that no Byzantine host might shelter there in time to come. The stronghold of Cumae with a large store of treasure fell into his hands. In the same place was a little colony of aristocratic refugees, the wives and daughters of the Senators. Totila treated them with every mark of courtesy, and dismissed them unhurt to their husbands and fathers, an act of chivalry which made a deep impression on the minds of the Romans. All the southern provinces of Italy, Apulia, Calabria, Bruttii, and Lucania, were overrun by his troops. Not all the  p399 fortresses in these parts were yet his, but he collected securely and at his ease both the rent of the landowner and the revenue of the Emperor. The oppressions of the Logothetes had revealed to all men that one great motive for the Imperial re‑conquest of Italy was revenue; and Totila, by anticipating the visit of the tax‑gatherer, stabbed Justinian's administration in a vital part. The barbarian auxiliaries could not be paid: desertions from the Imperial standard became more and more frequent; all the prizes of valour were seen to glitter in the hand of the young Gothic hero, who, encouraged by his marvellous success, determined to wrest from the Emperor the firstfruits of Belisarius's campaigns in Italy. Totila besieges Naples. He sat down before the walls of Naples, which was held by a garrison of a thousand men, chiefly Isaurians, under the command of Conon.

Inaction and timidity of the Imperial generals. This sudden transformation of the political scene took place in the summer of 542. And what meanwhile were the Imperial generals doing? Without unity of action or the semblance of concerted plan they were each cowering over the treasure which they had succeeded in accumulating, and which was stored in the several fortresses under their command. Thus Constantian had shut himself up in Ravenna; John, not slain but a fugitive from Mugello, in Rome; Bessas at Spoleto; Justin at Florence (which had not, after all, fallen into the hands of the Goths); and his friend Cyprian at Perugia. Like islands these high fortresses occupied by the Imperial soldiers stand out above the wide-spreading sea of Gothic re‑conquest. Even the victorious Totila will not be safe till he has reduced them also to submission.

 p400  Maximin appointed General-in‑chief. The terrible news of the re‑establishment of the Gothic kingdom in Italy filled Justinian with sorrow at the thought of all his wasted men and treasure. Not yet, however, was he brought to the point of entrusting the sole command to Belisarius: that remedy still seemed to him worse than the disease. He would end, however, the anarchy of the generals by appointing one man as Praetorian Prefect of Italy,26 who should have supreme power over all the armies of the Empire within the peninsula. This was a wise measure in itself, but the holder of the office was badly chosen. Maximin, the new Prefect,27 was quite inexperienced in war, of a sluggish and cowardly temper; and though the generals under him, Herodian the commander of the Thracians28 and Phazas nephew of Peranius, who came from the gorges of the Caucasus and commanded a brave band of Armenian mountaineers, knew somewhat more about the business of war, their martial energy was deadened by the feebleness of their chief.

Demetrius endeavours to relieve Naples. This new appointment was made apparently in the autumn of 542. The timid Maximin, afraid to face the unquiet Hadriatic in November, lingered, upon one pretence or another, on the coast of Epirus. All the time the distress of Conon and the beleaguered garrison of Naples was growing more severe. Demetrius,  p401 another officer of the old army of Belisarius, who had been despatched from Constantinople after Maximin, perhaps to quicken his movements, sailed to Sicily and there collected a large fleet of merchantmen, which he filled with provisions, hoping by the mere size of his armament to overawe the Goths and succeed in revictualling Naples. Had he sailed thither at once his bold calculation would probably have been verified: but unfortunately he wasted time in a fruitless journey to Rome, where he hoped to enlist volunteers for the relief of the besieged city. The discontented and demoralised soldiers refused to follow his standard, and after all he appeared in the Bay of Naples with only his provision-ships and the troops which he himself had brought from Constantinople.

The other Demetrius in Naples. When the fleet of Demetrius was approaching the bay a little boat appeared, in which sat his namesake, another Demetrius, a Cephalonian seaman whose nautical skill had been of the highest service to Belisarius in his Italian and African voyages. This man was now Financial Administrator29 of the city of Naples for the Emperor. He had good reason to wish for the success of his namesake the general, since when Totila first summoned the citizens to surrender he had assailed the stately and silent barbarian with such a torrent of voluble abuse as only a foul-mouthed Greek could utter. He had now come, at great hazard of his life, to inform the general of the distress of the beleaguered city and to quicken his zeal for its relief.

 p402  Totila defeats the relieving squadron. But, during the ill‑advised journey to Rome, Totila also had obtained information of the movements and character of the relieving squadron. He had prepared a fleet of cutters,30 lightly loaded and easily handled, and with these he dashed into the fleet of heavy merchantmen as soon as they had rounded the promontory of Misenum and entered the Bay of Naples. The unwieldy and feebly-armed vessels were at once steered for flight. All of the ships, all of their cargoes, most of the men on board, were taken. Some of the soldiers were slain; a few who were on board the hindermost vessels of the fleet were able to escape in boats. Among these fugitives was Demetrius the general. His cruelty to the Neapolitan Demetrius. His namesake, the unhappy sailor-orator, fell into the hands of Totila, who ordered his abusive tongue and the hands that had been probably too greedy of gold to be cut off, and then suffered the miserable man to go whither he would. A cruel and unkingly deed, not worthy of the gallant Totila.

Maximin lingers at Syracuse. Meanwhile the Prefect Maximin arrived with all his armament in the harbour of Syracuse. Having reached the friendly shore he would not again leave it, though all the generals sent messages urging him to go to the assistance of Conon. But, at length, fear of the Emperor's wrath so far overcame his other fears that he sent his whole armament to Naples under the command of Herodian, Demetrius, and Phazas, tarrying himself quietly at Syracuse. January (?), 543. The storm. By this time the winter was far availed and sailing was indeed dangerous. A tremendous storm sprang up just as  p403 the fleet entered the Bay of Naples. Phazas the Armenian seems to have at once abandoned all hope, and fled before the storm. The rowers could not draw their oars out of the water, the deafening roar of the wind and waves drowned the word of command if any officer had presence of mind enough to utter it, and, in short, all the ships but a very few were dashed on shore by the fury of the gale. Of course in these circumstances their crews fell a helpless prey to the Goths who lined the coast.

Demetrius taken prisoner. Herodian and Phazas with a very few others escaped. Demetrius, this time, fell into the hands of the enemy. With a halter around his neck he was led in front of the walls of the city, and was then compelled — but a man who called himself the countryman of Regulus should not have yielded to such compulsion — to harangue the citizens in such words as Totila dictated. The speech was all upon the necessity of surrender, the impossibility of resisting the Goths, the powerlessness of the Emperor, whose great armament had just been shattered before their eyes, to prepare another for their deliverance. Cries and lamentations filled all the city when the inhabitants, after their long sufferings bravely borne, heard such counsels of despair coming from the lips of a Roman general standing in such humiliating guise before them. Totila's soothing words to the Neapolitans. Totila, who knew what their frame of mind must be, invited them to the battlements and there held parley. He told them that he had no grudge in his heart against the citizens of Naples, but, on the contrary, would ever remember their fidelity to the Gothic crown and the stout defence which they had made against Belisarius seven years  p404 before, when every other city in Italy was rushing into rebellion. Neither ought they on their part to bear any grudge against him for the hardships which the siege had caused them, and which were all part of the kindly violence by which he would force them back into the path of happiness which they had quitted. He then offered his terms: leave to Conon and his soldiers to depart whithersoever they would, taking all their possessions with them, and a solemn oath for the safety of every Neapolitan citizen.

Surrender of Naples. The terms were generous, and both citizens and soldiers, pressed by hunger and pestilence,31 were eager to accept them. Loyalty to the Emperor, however, made them still consent to the surrender only in the event of no help reaching them within thirty days. Totila, with that instinct of repartee which shone forth in him, and which was more like a Greek than a Goth, replied, 'Take three months if you will. I am certain that no succours in that time will arrive from Byzantium.' And with that he promised to abstain for ninety days from all attacks upon their fortifications, but did not repeat the blunder of Witigis, in allowing the process of revictualling to go forward during the truce. Disheartened and worn out with famine, May, 543. the citizens surrendered the place long before the appointed day, and Naples again became subject to Gothic rule.

Totila's care in feeding the citizens. On becoming master of the city, Totila showed a thoughtful kindness towards the inhabitants, such as, in the emphatic words of Procopius, could have been  p405 expected neither from an enemy nor a barbarian.32 To obviate the evil consequences of overfeeding after their long abstinence, he posted soldiers in the gates and at the harbour with orders to let none of the inhabitants leave the city. Each house was then supplied with rations of food on a very moderate scale, and the portion given was daily and insensibly increased till the people were again on full diet. Generous treatment of Conon and his men. Conon and his soldiers were provided with ships, which were ordered to take them to any port that they might name. Fearing to be taunted with their surrender if they went to Constantinople, they elected to be taken to Rome. The wind, however, proved so contrary that they were obliged to return on shore. They feared that the Gothic King might regard himself as now absolved from his promises and might treat them as foes. Far from it: he summoned them to his presence, renewed his promises of protection, and bade them mingle freely with his soldiers and buy in his camp whatever they had need of. As the wind still continued contrary, he provided them with horses and beasts of burden, gave them provisions for the way, and started them on their road for Rome, assigning to them some Gothic warriors of reputation by way of escort. And this, though his own heart was set on taking Rome and he knew that these men were going to swell the ranks of her defenders.

Fortifications of Naples dismantled. In conformity with his uniform policy (borrowed perhaps from the traditions of Gaiseric), he then dismantled the walls of Naples, or at least a sufficient portion of them to make the city, as he believed,  p406 untenable by a Roman army. 'For he preferred ever to fight on the open plain, rather than to be entangled in the artifices and mechanical contrivances which belong to the attack and defence of besieged cities.'

Totila's severity towards a Gothic criminal. About this time an event happened which showed in a striking light the policy of Totila towards the Italians. A countryman of Calabria appeared in the royal tent, demanding justice upon one of the Gothic King's body-guard who had violated his daughter. The offence was admitted, and the offender was put in ward till Totila should decide upon his punishment. As it was generally believed that this punishment would be death, some of the men of highest rank in the army came to implore the King not to sacrifice for such a fault the life of a brave and capable soldier. With gentle firmness Totila refused their request. He pointed out that it is easy to earn a character for good-nature by letting offenders go unpunished, but that this cheap kindness is the ruin of good government in the state, and of discipline in the army. He enlarged on his favourite theme, that all the vast advantages with which the Goths commenced the war had been neutralised by the vices of Theodahad; and on the other hand, that, by the Divine favour and for the punishment of the rapine and extortion of their foes, the Gothic banner had in a marvellous way been raised again from the dust in which it had lain drooping. Now, then, let the chiefs choose which they would have, the safety of the whole Gothic state or the preservation of the life of this criminal. Both they could not have, for victory would be theirs only so long as their cause was good. The nobles were convinced by his words, and no murmurs were heard when,  p407 a few days later, the ravisher was put to death and his goods bestowed on the maiden whom he had wronged.

Demoralisation of the Imperial army. Such was the just rule of the barbarian King. Meanwhile the so‑called Roman officers, shut up in their several fortresses, seemed intent only on plundering the country which they could not defend. The generals feasted themselves at gorgeous banquets, where their paramours, decked with the spoils of Italy, flaunted their mercenary beauty. The soldiers, dead to all sense of discipline, and despising the orders of such chiefs, wandered through the country districts, wherever the Goths were not, pillaging both villa and praedium, and making themselves far more terrible to the rural inhabitants than the Goths from whom they professed to defend them. Thus was the provincial, especially he who had been a rich provincial, of Italy in evil case. Totila had appropriated his lands and was receiving the revenues which they furnished, and all his moveable property was stolen from him by the soldiers of John or Bessas.

544 Despairing message to Justinian. The state of the country became at length so intolerable that Constantian, the commandant of Ravenna, wrote to the Emperor that it was no longer possible to defend his cause in Italy; and all the other officers set their hands to this statement. Of this state of discouragement among his enemies Totila endeavoured to avail himself by a letter which he addressed at this time to the Roman Senate.

Totila's letter to the Senate. 'Surely', he said, 'you must in these evil days sometimes remember the benefits which you received, not so very long ago, at the hands of Theodoric and Amalasuntha. Dear Romans!33 compare the memory of those rulers  p408 with what you now know of the kindness of the Greeks towards their subjects. You received these men with open arms, and how have they repaid you? With the griping exactions of Alexander the Logothete, with the insolent oppressions of the petty military tyrants who swagger in your streets. Do not think that as a young man34 I speak presumptuously, or that as a barbarian king I speak boastfully when I say that we are about to change all this and to rescue Italy from her tyrants. I make this assertion, not trusting to our own valour alone, but believing that we are the ministers of Divine justice against these oppressors, and I implore you not to side against your champions and with your foes, but by such a conspicuous service as the surrender of Rome into our hands to wipe out the remembrance of your past ingratitude.'

Totila's letter placarded in Rome. This letter was entrusted to some of the captive Romans, with orders to convey it to the Senate. John forbade those who read the letter to return any answer. Thereupon the Gothic King caused several copies of the letter to be made, appended to them his emphatic assurances, sealed by solemn oaths, that he would respect the lives and property of such Romans as should surrender, and sent the letters at night by trusty messengers into the City. When day dawned the Forum and all the chief streets of Rome were found to be placarded with Totila's proclamation. The doers of the deed could not be discovered, but John,  p409 suspecting the Arian priests of complicity in the affair, expelled them from the City.

Totila besieges Rome and Otranto. Finding that this was the only answer to his appeal, Totila resolved to undertake in regular form the siege of Rome. He was at the same time occupied in besieging Otranto, which he was anxious to take, as it was the point at which Byzantine reinforcements might be expected to land, in order to raise the standard of the Empire in Calabria. He considered, however, that he had soldiers enough for both enterprises, and, leaving a small detachment to prosecute the siege of Otranto, he marched with the bulk of his army to Rome.

Justinian decides to send Belisarius again to Italy. Now at length did Justinian, with grief and sighing, come to the conclusion that only one man could cope with this terrible young Gothic champion, and that, even though the Persians were pressing him hard in the East, Belisarius must return to Italy.

But, before we begin to watch the strange duel between the veteran Byzantine General and the young Gothic King, before we turn the pages which record another and yet another siege of Rome, we must devote a little time to the contemplation of the figure of one who, more powerfully than either Belisarius or Totila, moulded the destinies of Italy and Western Europe. The great Lawgiver of European monasticism died just at this time. Let us leave for a space the marches and countermarches of Roman and Barbarian, and stand in spirit with the weeping monks of Monte Cassino by the death‑bed of Benedict of Nursia.


The Author's Notes:

1 Was Ildiger involved in the disgrace of Belisarius in 543? We do not seem to hear of him after this date.

2 'Comes Sacri Stabuli.' The predecessor of the Grand Connestable of the French monarchy.

3 Οὐκ ἀγαθὸν πολυκοιρανίη· εἷς κοίρανος ἔστω (Iliad, II.204).

4 It seems probable that there was some territorial division between the different commands, but what it was Procopius does not inform us.

5 See vol. III pp554‑555; vol. IV p26.

6 Procopius, Anecdota, 24 (pp133, 134).º

7 Ἐπικαλοῦντες τοῖς μὲν ὡς Γραικοὶ εἶεν, ὥσπερ οὐκ ἐξὸν τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς τὸ παράπαν τινὶ γενναίῳ γενέσθαι (Proc. loc. cit.).

8 Apparently, but the notes of time are not very distinct here.

9 See p17.

10 Procopius does not say this, but his words seem to imply it: Ὁ μὲν οὖν τὴν χεῖρα ἐπιβαλὼν ἐς τὰ βρώματα ἐπὶ τῆς στιβάδος πρηνὴς ἔκειτο.

11 Οἱ δὲ Ῥογοὶ οὗτοι ἔθνος μέν εἰσι Γοτθικόν, αὐτόνομοί τε τὸ παλαιὸν ἐβίουν. Θευδερίχου δὲ αὐτοὺς τὸ κατ’ ἀρχὰς προσεταιρισαμένου ξὺν ἄλλοις τισὶν ἔθνεσιν, ἔς τε τὸ γένος ἀπεκέκριντο καὶ ξὺν αὐτοῖς ἐς τοὺς πολεμίους ἅπαντα ἔπρασσον. γυναιξὶ μέντοι ὡς ἥκιστα ἐπιμιγνύμενοι ἀλλοτρίαις, ἀκραιφνέσι παίδων διαδοχαῖς τὸ τοῦ ἔθνους ὄνομα ἐν σφίσιν αὐτοῖς διεσώσαντο (Procop. De B. Gotth. III.2).

12 I think we have no precise indication of Totila's age at his accession. We know, however, that he was the nephew of Ildibad, who was the nephew of Theudis, who was apparently a somewhat younger contemporary of Theodoric. Probably therefore he was not born earlier than 515, and was about five or six and twenty when he became King.

13 Friedlaender (Die Münzen der Ostgothen, 46‑51), after enumerating several types of silver and copper coinage bearing the name of D(ominus) N(oster) Baduila Rex, says emphatically, 'The name of Totila occurs on not a single coin.'

14 I think the fact that Jordanes uses and prefers this form justifies us in making this assertion. He begins by saying (De Regn. Successione, 379), 'Malo Italiae Baduila juvenis nepus (sic) asciscitur Heldebadi.' A few lines later we find, 'Totila qui Baduila hostile opus in Italia peragit:' and after this he is always Totila in Jordanes. It may be noticed that Jordanes once makes the accusative Totilam, and twice Totilanem.

15 Ἄρχοντες δὲ αὐτῶν ἕνδεκα ἦσαν (Proc. III.3). I am not quite sure that Gibbon is right in inferring from this passage that the number of generals in Italy with supreme and equal powers was eleven. All the supreme generals might not share the expedition to Verona, and all the ἕνδεκα ἄρχοντες need not have been supreme generals.

16 There cannot be much doubt that Marcian was of Roman, not Gothic origin, though this is not expressly stated by Procopius.

17 Probably an inhabitant of Armenia, the Afghanistan of the two empires, in which there was always both a Roman and a Persian party.

18 Not 'one hundred Persians' (Gibbon, V.215, ed. Smith). They were ἐκ τοῦ παντὸς στρατοπέδου ἀπολεχθέντες.

19 Probably a covered way ran round the inner side of the wall, as in the fortifications of Rome.

20 Procopius's estimate, 120 stadia, is rather under the mark.

Thayer's Note: The actual straight-line distance between the two cities (measured from their respective cathedrals) is 29.0 km, or 19.6 Roman miles, over very flat terrain. By the customary standard reckoning of 8 to 7⅔ stadia to the mile that distance would be equivalent to 150 to 157 stadia. But the apparent length of the stadion, in the text of Procopius as we have received it, varies widely, ranging from 5.9 to well over 10 to the Roman mile; taking the lower value would give us roughly 116 stadia: it is therefore impossible to come to any conclusion. See my note on stadia and miles (to Procopius, B. G. I.11.2).

21 What river? Not the Po, which is nearly sixty miles north of Faenza. Probably the Anemo (now Lamone), which flows in a north-easterly direction past the town. But the want of clearness in topographical detail makes it probable that Procopius was not an eye‑witness of this engagement.

22 But this must surely be a mistake. At the Caudine Forks and at Carrhae, to mention no other defeats of the Romans, all the standards must have been lost.

23 Under the command of Bleda, Roderic, and Uliaris. The first name reminds us of the brother of Attila, the second, of the last Visigothic King, the third of the just slain Wiliaris.

24 Ἀνεχώρησαν εἶχε χωρίον Μουκέλλην ὄνομα. For some reason or other this name Mugello has disappeared from our modern maps.

25 The names of Urbino and Montefeltro are given on the authority of Marcellinus Comes.

26 Apparently the office had been vacant since the departure of Belisarius.

27 Probably the same Maximin who had been sent as ambassador to Witigis in 540 (see p330).

28 Herodian was left in charge of Naples after its surrender. He also distinguished himself at the siege of Rimini. It was perhaps on account of some special devotion to Belisarius that he returned with that general to Constantinople in 540.

29 I use a vague term, not knowing into what title of the Notitia to translate the ἐπίτροπος of Procopius.

30 Dromones.

31 Πολλὴ γὰρ ἀνάγκη αὐτοὺς τοῦ λοιμοῦ ἐπίεζε. The Latin version has (inaccurately), 'Urgente famis necessitate.'

32 Φιλανθρωπίαν ἐς τοὺς ἡλωκότας ἐπεδείξατο οὔτε πολεμίῳ οὔτε βαρβάρῳ ἀνδρὶ πρέπουσαν.

33 Ὦ φίλοι Ῥωμαῖοι.

34 Ὑμῶν δὲ οἰέσθω μηδεὶς μήτε ὑπὸ νέου φιλοτιμίας τὰ ὀνείδη ταῦτα ἐς αὐτοὺς φέρεσθαι. This expression (νέου) confirms us in the belief that Totila was at this time (544) not over thirty; and that he was therefore probably born at earliest about 515.


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