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Book V
Chapter 17

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

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 19

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
Chapter XVIII

The Second Siege of Rome


Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, III.10‑20 (pp315‑362).º The reader will observe at every turn how much less definite and vivid is this part of the narrative than the previous portions where Procopius spoke as an eye‑witness.

Guides: —

My descriptions of Portus and Ostia are founded partly on personal observation and partly on Lanciani's 'Scavi di Ostia,' Rome, 1881, and Grossi and Cancani's 'Descrizione delle rovine di Ostia Tiberina e Porto,' Rome, 1883.

May, 554. Preparations of Belisarius. Belisarius, on receiving the charge of the Italian war, tried to persuade some of the soldiers enlisted for the Persian campaign to serve under his banners, but the magic of his name was gone, and all refused. He therefore had to spend some time moving to and fro in Thrace, where, by a large expenditure of money — his own money probably — he succeeded in raising some young volunteers.

Junction with Vitalius. Vitalius, whose commands had been hitherto chiefly in Dalmatia and Venetia, and who now held the high position of Magister Militum per Illyricum, met him at Salona; but the united forces of the two generals numbered only 4000 men. The first expedition directed  p456 by them was a decided success. Relief of Otranto. The garrison of Otranto,​1 hard pressed by the besieging Goths, had consented to surrender on a certain day if no help arrived previously. Valentine, whom the reader may perhaps remember as the groom of Photius who was raised from the ranks as a reward for his splendid bravery during the siege of Rome, was now sent by sea to relieve the outworn and enfeebled defenders of Otranto, and to substitute fresh and vigorous soldiers in their place. Arriving only four days before the stipulated day of surrender, and falling suddenly on the unsuspecting Goths, he succeeded in cutting his way through them to the citadel. The disappointed besiegers shortly after raised the siege and returned to Totila. Valentine also, having accomplished his commission and having left a whole year's supply of provisions in the lately beleaguered town, returned to Salona.

Belisarius at Ravenna. Belisarius now moved up the coast to Pola in Istria, and from thence crossed to Ravenna. His own opinion was in favour of an immediate march to Rome,​2 but Totila's forces were interposed in a menacing manner along the backbone of Italy from Campania to Calabria, and Vitalius persuaded him against his better judgment to make Ravenna his base of operations; Ravenna, which alike in the days of Honorius, of Odovacar, and Witigis, had been proved to be admirable as a hiding-place, but poor as a basis for offensive war.

Totila in the neighbourhood of Rome. Totila meanwhile, who, by means of a fictitious deputation bearing letters professedly written in the name  p457 of the Roman commander of Genoa and asking for help, had cleverly, if somewhat unscrupulously, obtained information as to the real size of the new army of re-conquest, felt that he could afford to despise it, and proceeded in a leisurely manner to tighten his grasp on Rome. Tivoli was taken, owing to some dispute between the inhabitants and the Isaurian garrison, and all the citizens, as we hear with regret, were put to the sword, the massacre being accompanied by circumstances of unusual atrocity.​3 The Tiber was watched to prevent provisions being borne down its stream into the city:​4 and a fleet of small swift sailing ships, stationed at Naples and the Lipari Islands, captured nearly all the vessels which from the south sought to make the harbour of Ostia, bringing cornº from Rome.

Belisarius's address to the citizens of Ravenna. Belisarius, on entering Ravenna, (an entry how unlike that moment of supreme triumph when he marched into the same city four years previously), delivered an address to the inhabitants, Gothic as well as Roman, in which, while freely admitting the mistakes that had been made since his departure from Italy, he expressed the Emperor's unabated kindness and love towards all his subjects of whatever race, and earnestly entreated them to use all their influence with their friends to induce them to leave the service of the 'tyrant' Totila. The harangue, however, fell flat upon  p458 the listeners, who had learned in the last few years how little the kindness of the Roman Emperor was better than the tyranny of the barbarian. No defections from Totila's army resulted from this appeal.

Thorimuth and Vitalius in the Aemilia. Thorimuth, one of the guardsmen of Belisarius — we again begin to hear of the military household of the General — was next sent into the province of Aemilia, to try his fortune with the cities in that rich and populous district. Vitalius with his Illyrian troops accompanied him, and for a time their efforts were successful. Fort after fort surrendered, and they were able to take up a strong position (probably their winter-quarters) in the important city of Bologna. Then a strange event took place, and one which well illustrates the intrinsic worthlessness of these Justinianic conquests. The Illyrian foederati withdraw from Bologna. The Illyrians determined that they would serve no longer in Italy, and, withdrawing with swift secrecy from Bologna, marched back into their own land. The Emperor was very wroth, but after their ambassadors had set their case before him he could hardly retain his anger. They had in fact two excellent reasons for deserting. They had served for years in Italy without receiving any pay from the bankrupt treasury; and a great army of Huns was at that very moment wasting their homes and carrying off their wives and children into slavery. Totila, hearing of the defection of the Illyrians, tried to intercept the retreat of Vitalius and Thorimuth, but was outgeneralled and sustained a trifling defeat. None the less, however, had Bologna, and probably the whole province of Aemilia, to be evacuated by the Imperial troops.

Relief of Osimo. The same brave guardsman Thorimuth, with two  p459 comrades Ricilas and Sabinian, was next sent at the head of 1000 men to relieve the garrison of Osimo, which rock-cradled city was now being held as stubbornly for the Emperor as, six years before, it had been held for Witigis. They succeeded in entering the city by night, and apparently in supplying it with some fresh store of provisions. Ricilas however, in a fit of drunken hardihood, threw away his life in a fight which he had foolishly provoked, and from which he was somewhat ignobly trying to escape. Then came the necessary work of withdrawing from the city, in order not to aid the blockaders by adding to the number of mouths to be fed within its walls. The Imperial troops defeated. Totila was informed by a deserter when the withdrawal was to take place, occupied an advantageous position about three miles from Osimo, fell upon them in the confusion of their midnight march, slew two hundred of them, and captured all their baggage and beasts of burden. The rest of the relieving army, including Thorimuth and Sabinian, escaped across the mountains to Rimini.​a

Procopius forgets to inform us of the after-fortunes of the garrison of Osimo. They must, however, have surrendered, eventually, to the Goths, since seven years later the place was undoubtedly held by Gothic soldiers.5

Pesaro re‑fortified. The next exploit of Belisarius was a clever reconstruction of the defences of Pesaro. This little Hadriatic city, eighteen miles south of Rimini, had, together with her sister city of Fano, been dismantled by Witigis in order to prevent its occupation by the Byzantines. The gates had been destroyed and half of the circuit of the walls pulled down. Now, however,  p460 Belisarius, who was anxious to secure the town for the sake of the good foraging-ground for cavalry which surrounded it, sent messengers by night to take exact measurements of the height and width of the gateways. Gates made to fit these openings and bound with iron were then sent by sea from Ravenna, and were soon erected by the soldiers who had been recently commanded by Thorimuth. The walls were rebuilt in any fashion, stones or clay or any other material that was at hand being used for the purpose,​6 and Pesaro was once more a walled city, which Totila assaulted, but assaulted in vain.

May, 545 A twelvemonth had now elapsed since Belisarius received the charge of the Italian war and what results had he to show? Otranto and Osimo relieved, and Pesaro re‑fortified: this was not a very splendid account of a year's work of the famous Belisarius: and against these successes had to be set Tivoli captured and the strings of the net drawn perceptibly tighter round Rome by the leisurely operations of the contemptuous Totila. Belisarius keenly felt the impotence to which he was reduced, and broke his promise to Justinian to ask for no money for the war, — if such a promise was ever made, — by sending to Constantinople the following piteous epistle: —

Letter of Belisarius to Justinian. I have arrived in Italy, O best of Emperors! in great want of men, of horses, of arms, and of money. A man who has not a sufficient supply of these will  p461 hardly, I think, ever be found able to carry on war. 'Tis true that after diligent perambulation of Thrace and Illyria I was able to collect some soldiers there; but they are few in numbers, wretched in quality, have no weapons in their hands worth speaking of, and are altogether unpractised in fighting. As for the soldiers whom I found in this country, they are discontented and disheartened, cowed by frequent defeats, and so bent on flight when the foe appears that they slip off their horses and dash their arms to the ground. As for making Italy provide the money necessary for carrying on the war, that is impossible; to so large an extent has it been reconquered by the enemy. Hence we are unable to give to the soldiers the long over‑due arrears of their pay, and this consciousness of debt takes from us all freedom of speech towards them. And you ought, Sire!​7 to be plainly told that the larger part of your nominal soldiers have enlisted and are now serving under the banners of the enemy. If then the mere sending of Belisarius to Italy was all that was necessary, your preparations for the war are perfect: but if you want to overcome your enemies you must do something more than this, for a General without subordinates is nothing. First and foremost, it behoves you to send me my own guards, both mounted and unmounted;​8 secondly, a large number of Huns and other barbarians; and thirdly, money to pay them withal.'

 p462  John sent to Constantinople. This letter, so pathetic, but yet so outspoken, was sent to Constantinople by the hands of John the nephew of Vitalian, who solemnly promised a speedy return. Everything, however, seemed to combine against the unfortunate commander of the Italian war. He marries the niece of Justinian. John saw a favourable opportunity for advancing his own interests by a brilliant marriage, and while Belisarius languished at Ravenna, the Byzantine populace were admiring a splendid pageant, the wedding festival of John and the daughter of Germanus, the great-niece of the Emperor Justinian.

Belisarius leaves Ravenna. So the year wore on. Belisarius felt more keenly than ever the mistake which he had made in shutting himself up in Ravenna, far from Rome, the real key of the position. Leaving Justin (who seems to have quitted his charge at Florence or possibly had been unable to hold that city against the Goths) to take the chief command at Ravenna, the General re‑crossed the Hadriatic to form a new army at Durazzo. He meets John at Dyrrachium. There, in course of time, he was met by the bridegroom John, raised doubtless above all fear of rebuke for his tardiness by the splendour of his new connection. With him came the Armenian General Isaac,​9 and they brought under their standards an army, apparently a considerable army, of Romans and barbarians.

Steady progress of Totila. Meanwhile Totila, in this year 545, was steadily advancing, strengthening his position in Central Italy, tightening his grip on Rome. Fermo and Ascoli, two cities of Picenum, were taken; Spoleto, perhaps the most important city on the Flaminian Way, was surrendered  p463 by its governor Herodian; men said too easily surrendered, because Herodian feared an investigation which Belisarius was about to institute into some irregularities of his past life.​10 Assisi (how little did men of that day think of the wealth of associations which in after ages would cluster round the name!) was more loyally defended for the Emperor by the valiant Goth, Siegfried,​11 but he was slain in a sally and Assisi opened its gates to Totila. The neighbouring citadel of Perugia still held out, but its garrison was weakened and discouraged by the assassination of their brave commander Cyprian by one of his body-guard, who, if Procopius's story be correct, was bribed by Totila to commit this crime.​12 Uliphus, the murderer, took refuge in Totila's camp. We shall meet him once again, in the last days of the war, and mark his punishment.

Totila formally lays siege to Rome. At length, in the autumn probably of 545, Totila marched to Rome and formally commenced the siege of the city. Both in the Campagna and everywhere else throughout Italy he was careful to respect the property of the tillers of the soil. All that he expected of them was that they should pay into his hands the rent which the Colonus would otherwise have remitted to his patron, and the taxes which the free husbandman  p464 (if such there were) would have paid to the Imperial logothete. No money was to be sent to Constantinople; all that would have gone thither was to go to the Gothic King; and in return for this, the corn and the cattle of the peasant were to be left untouched, the honour of his wife and his daughter to be held inviolate. Such was the motto of Totila, and it is not surprising that the Italian peasant viewed with indifference, if not with actual pleasure, the extension of his kingdom, nor that his own army, paying for everything which it consumed, lived in comparative comfort, while Famine was coming ever nearer and nearer before the eyes of the inhabitants of the beleaguered City.

Discouragement in Rome. A sally, against the orders both of Bessas the Commandant of Rome and of Belisarius himself, had been undertaken by Artasires the Persian and Barbatian the Thracian (two of the General's guardsmen whom he had sent to Rome in order to keep up the spirits of the inhabitants), but had completely failed, and great discouragement was the result. Already perhaps a movement was being begun to escape from the hardships of a long siege by an early surrender. At least we are told that Cethegus, a man holding the rank of Patrician and Princeps Senatus, was brought before a council of generals, charged with treasonable designs. Nothing apparently could be proved against him, but he was permitted, or ordered, to depart from Rome, and repaired to Civita Vecchia.13

 p465  546 Valentine and Phocas sent to Porto. The year 546 had probably begun when Belisarius, still unable himself to repair to the scene of action, sent Valentine to Porto, at the mouth of the Tiber, to assist the troops which were posted there under the command of Innocentius in harassing the besieging army, and to clear the river for the passage of provision-ships up to Rome. With Valentine was sent Phocas, one of the General's mounted guards, and an exceedingly brave and capable soldier. They had five hundred men under their command. It was decided that these new troops should make an attack upon the camp of the enemy, which was to be seconded by a simultaneous sally from the city. Bessas however, the Imperial Commandant of Rome, though warned of the intended movement, refused to allow any of the three thousand men under his command to join in it. The attack therefore, though fairly successful, achieved nothing, and the assailants returned to Porto neither the better nor the worse for what they had done. They sent an upbraiding message to Bessas, and warned him that on a given day and hour they would repeat the attack, which they implored him to support by a vigorous sortie. Bessas the governor of Rome will not co‑operate with the troops at Porto. Bessas, however, whose understanding of his duty seems to have been entirely summed up in the modern phrase 'masterly inactivity,' again refused to imperil any of his men for such an enterprise. A deserter from the army of Innocentius warned Totila of the coming attack, and consequently, when the Imperialist troops issued from the walls of Porto, they soon found themselves in a Gothic ambuscade. Most  p466 of the five hundred fell, and their leaders with them. Death of Valentine. So perished the brave groom of Photius, whom we first saw stemming the tide of battle which surged round Belisarius and his dark roan horse, hard by the Milvian Bridge. Since then his name has much been in the mouths of men. Now his aforetime master, an emaciated and heart-broken monk, kneels beside the cradle at Bethlehem, and he lies upon the desolate Campagna, outside the walls of Porto, cloven by a Gothic broad-sword.

Corn-ships sent by Vigilius. Soon after this, some ships laden with corn for the Roman people were sent by Pope Vigilius, who was at this time, for reasons which will afterwards appear, residing in the island of Sicily. The Goths saw the ships coming, and guessing their errand arranged an ambush, probably from that side of the Tiber which washes the Isola Sacra, between Porto and Ostia. The Romans from their battlements saw the whole stratagem — every one who has climbed the bell-tower of Ostia or of Porto knows how far the sight can travel over that unbroken alluvial plain — and made vigorous signs, by waving their garments and pointing with their hands, to prevent their friends from choosing that channel and urge them to land at some other point of the coast. Unfortunately the signals which were meant to discourage were interpreted as enthusiastic encouragement and acclamation. The corn-ships came sailing on, right into the Portensian channel, and close past the Gothic ambuscade. The corn-ships boarded by the Goths. They were at once boarded, their cargoes appropriated for the Gothic army, and a bishop who was on board, and whose name by a curious coincidence happened to be also Valentine, was straitly interrogated as to the position of affairs in  p467 Sicily. Detecting him in returning false answers to his questions, the King, with a flash of barbarian rage blazing out from beneath the restraints of reason and self-discipline, ordered the lying ecclesiastic's hands to be cut off and let him go whither he would.

May, 546 Placentia surrendered to the Goths. About this time, two years after the re‑appointment of Belisarius, the important city of Placentia, one of the keys of the Aemilian Way, was surrendered to the Goths after nearly a year's siege, in which the defenders had endured terrible hardships from famine, being at length reduced, it was whispered, to feed upon human flesh. The reduction of the important city of Placentia was a great gain to Totila, who could now move his troops freely between Pavia, the heart of the Gothic resistance, and the valleys of the Arno and the Tiber.

Famine in Rome. By this time in Rome also the pressure of famine was beginning to be sorely felt, and the citizens — perhaps without the knowledge, perhaps against the wish of Bessas — decided to send an embassy to Totila, to see if terms could be arranged for a truce, and for the eventual surrender of the City, if help came not by a given day. Pelagius sent as ambassador to Totila. The envoy chosen was the deacon Pelagius, a man who had resided long in Constantinople on terms of close friendship with the Emperor, who had recently returned to Rome with large stores of wealth, which he had generously employed in relieving the distresses of the poorer citizens. Nine years after this time, on the death of Vigilius, he was to be installed in the chair of St. Peter. Already during the long absence of Vigilius he wielded an influence little less than Papal in the Eternal City.

Totila's speech. Totila received the generous deacon with great outward show of reverence and affection, but before he  p468 began to set forth his request, addressed him with courteous but decided words:

'We Goths feel as strongly as the Romans the duty of showing every possible respect to the office of an ambassador. In my opinion, however, that respect is better shown by an early and frank statement of what can and what cannot be conceded, than by any number of honeyed words, holding out hopes which the speaker does not mean to gratify. Three excepted topics. Let me therefore at once and plainly tell you that there are three things which it is useless for you to request. On any other subject I will hear you gladly, and if possible grant your petition.

1. Sicily. 'The first is pardon for the inhabitants of Sicily. It is impossible for us to forget the flourishing condition of that island, the very granary of Rome, which Theodoric, in reliance on the honour of its people and in answer to their earnest request, consented to leave unoccupied by Gothic garrisons. What was the reward of this generous confidence? As soon as the Imperial armament appeared in the offing, an armament which it was easily within their power to have resisted, they sent no tidings of its approach to the Goths, they did not occupy one of the strong places in the island, but at once, like runaway-slaves seeking a new master, they crowded down to the shore with suppliant hands and said, "Our cities are yours, we are faithful subjects of the Emperor." This was the turning-point in the fortunes of our nation. It was from this island that the enemy sallied forth as from a fortress to occupy any part of Italy that they pleased. It was by the assistance of the Sicilians that they gathered those vast stores of corn which enabled them for a whole year to stand a blockade in Rome. These are not  p469 injuries which the Goths can ever forget: therefore ask for no pardon for the Sicilians.

2. The walls of Rome. 'The second point is the preservation of the walls of Rome. Behind these walls our enemies sheltered themselves for a year, never venturing to meet us in the open field, but wearing out our noble army by all sorts of tricks and clever surprises. We should be fools to allow this kind of stratagem to be practised against us hereafter: and moreover, the citizens of Rome will gain by the demolition of their walls. No more deadly assaults, no more of the yet deadlier blockades for them in future. Safe and quiet in their unwalled city they will await the arbitrament of battle, which will be waged on some other field between the opposing armies.

3. The fugitive slaves. 'The third point is the surrender of the slaves who have fled to us from their Roman owners. We have received these men on a solemn promise that we will never give them up to their former masters. We have allowed them to stand alongside of us in the battle. If after all this we were to abandon them to the mercy of their lords, you yourselves would know that there was no reliance to be placed on the promises of men so faithless and so ungrateful.'

Such in substance was the speech of Totila,​14 a speech which, though too vindictive in its reference to the Sicilians, contained much unanswerable argument from the Gothic stand-point. Reply of Pelagius. The Deacon Pelagius did not attempt to answer it, but made a short and ill‑tempered  p470 speech to the effect that courtesy to an ambassador was only a mockery if he had no chance of obtaining what he asked for. For himself he would rather receive a slap in the face and return to those who sent him with some one of his requests granted, then be received with ever so great a show of politeness and return unsuccessful. He declined to make any request whatever to Totila, in face of the prohibition to touch on the three reserved points, and would only remark that if the King determined to wage a truceless war on the unhappy Sicilians, who had never borne arms against him, there was little hope of mercy for the Romans in whose hands he had seen the spear. He would have nothing more to do with the embassy, but would leave the matter in the hands of God, who was not unaccustomed to punish those who behaved themselves arrogantly towards a suppliant.

The Roman citizens make supplication to Bessas. With heavy hearts the Roman citizens saw Pelagius return from the mission which his own peevishness had made a fruitless one. In large numbers they thronged to the house — perhaps the Pincian Palace, perhaps one of the old Imperial Palaces over­looking the Forum — which served as a Praetorium, and where abode the representatives of the Emperor. The council of officers before whom they laid their sad case was presided over by Bessas and Conon; Bessas the Thracian Ostrogoth who had defended the Porta Maggiore against his countrymen in the earlier siege, Conon the leader of Isaurians, who three years before had found himself forced by pressure, such as the citizens were now bringing to bear, to surrender Naples to Totila. In terms of abject misery the citizens of Rome put up their prayer to these iron-hearted men. 'We do not  p471 appear before you as your fellow-countrymen, as members of the same great commonwealth, as men who willingly received you within our walls, and have fought side by side with you against a common enemy. Forget all this: imagine that we are captives taken in war, imagine that we are slaves. Yet even the slave is fed by his master. And only for this do we pray, for food enough to keep us alive. If you cannot or will not do this, manumit us, give us leave to depart hence, and so save yourselves the trouble of digging graves for your servants. If that again be impossible then kill us outright. Sudden death will be sweet in comparison with this lingering torture, and you will be quit of many thousand murmuring Romans by one blow.'

Reply of Bessas. Bessas and the generals round him gravely replied to this passionate outburst, that they could adopt none of the three courses suggested: that it was quite impossible to supply rations to the non‑combatant dwellers in Rome, that it would be prejudicial to the Emperor's interests to allow the citizens to depart, and that to kill them all would be an unholy deed. Belisarius and the new army from Constantinople would reach Rome before long, and they must patiently await their arrival.

Forestalling and regrating by the generals. It was evidently the determination of Bessas and his brother officers, who, it must be remembered, were for the most part men of barbarian origin themselves, to look with absolute indifference on the misery of the mere citizens of Rome, nay, even to trade upon it for their own advantage. A large supply of corn had been accumulated in the magazines, but this was all strictly reserved for the soldiers. A wealthy Roman,  p472 however, might buy at famine prices from a soldier such part of his ration as he did not require, nay, it was believed that even Bessas and Conon were not above enriching themselves by this ungenerous traffic.​15 The quotations in this terrible market rose and rose, till at last the Roman patrician had to pay at the rate of four hundred and forty-eight shillings for a quarter of wheat.​16 Destitution of the citizens. The less wealthy middle-class citizens paid a fourth of this price for bran; and, made Spartans by necessity, looked upon the coarse bread into which it was baked as the sweetest and most delicate of food. Animal food was of course hardly ever to be procured. Once some men of the life-guard of Bessas found an ox outside the walls, which they sold for the comparatively moderate price of £30 sterling.​17 Fortunate was the Roman deemed who came upon the carcase of a horse or other beast of burden, and could thus once more have the delight of chewing flesh. For the great mass of needy citizens the staple article of food was the nettles which grew freely under the walls and in the many ruined temples and palaces of Rome. To prevent the leaves from stinging the lips and throat, they were cooked with great care, and in this way a tantalising semblance of nourishment was given to the craving stomach. These nettles before  p473 long became the universal food of all classes. No more aurei were left in the girdle even of the patrician, no household goods which he could barter for food, and, worst of all, even the soldiers' rations were growing scantier, so that neither buyers nor sellers existed to form a market. The flesh of the citizens was all wasted away, their skin was dark and livid, they moved about like spectres rather than men, and many while still walking among the ruins and chewing the nettles between their teeth suddenly sank to the earth and gave up the ghost.

The cry of the children. One unhappy Roman, the father of five children, found himself surrounded by his little ones, who plucked at his robe and uttered those two terrible words, 'Father! bread!' A sudden and terrible serenity came over his face, and he said to them, 'My children! follow me." They followed in the hope that he had some unknown store of food. He walked rapidly to one of the bridges over the Tiber, mounted the parapet, veiled his face with his robe, his children all the while looking on, and plunged headlong in the stream. Death, even a coward's death, leaving his little ones alone with their misery, was better than hearing any longer that heart-rending cry.

The non‑combatants allowed to depart. At length, when creatures generally deemed unfit for food, such as dogs and mice, had become unattainable luxuries; when men were staying the hunger pang with the most loathsome substances; when stories of cannibalism were becoming more and more frequent and well-authenticated, and when still Belisarius came not; at length the hard heart of Bessas relented, and he agreed for a large sum of money to allow the non‑combatants to leave Rome. A few  p474 escaped unhurt through the enemy's outposts. Many were pursued and slain. Yet more perhaps died of the effects of the famine, on the road or on ship-board, before they had arrived at their journey's end. 'To so low a point,' says Procopius, thinking doubtless of the four fateful letters which were once carried in triumph round the world,​18 — 'to so low a point had fallen the fortunes of the Senate and the People of Rome.'19

Belisarius and John differ as to the plan of the campaign. What meanwhile delayed the advance of Belisarius to the relief of the beleaguered city? In the council of war which was held at Durazzo​20 he had earnestly pleaded that this was the most pressing duty of the Imperial generals, and that in order to effect it they should embark the whole army on ship-board, when with a favouring breeze they might in five days reach the mouth of the Tiber. His rival John, on the other hand, pointed to the insecure tenure by which the Goths held Calabria​21 and the South of Italy, and maintained that their true policy was to land at one of the southern ports, receive those countries back again into the Imperial allegiance, and then by a rapid march through Samnium and Campania take Totila in the rear and raise the siege of Rome. As neither general could convince the other, and Belisarius could  p475 not force the husband of Justinian's great-niece to obey him, a compromise​22 was agreed upon, which was perhaps worse than either plan pursued singly. While Belisarius and the Armenian Isaac with one part of the troops​23 set sail for the Tiber, John with the remainder was to prosecute the campaign in Calabria and, as soon as might be, meet his comrades under the walls of Rome.24

Belisarius in Calabria, Belisarius first set sail, and meeting with contrary winds, was forced to take shelter in the harbour of Otranto. The Goths, who had returned to the siege of that place, fled when they saw his fleet approaching, and halted not till they reached Brindisi, at the distance of fifty miles. From thence they sent messengers to tell their King of the invasion of Calabria. Totila sent word to them to hold on as long as they could, but meanwhile relaxed not the vigilance of his blockade of Rome. at Porto. Soon the wind changed, and Belisarius, after a favourable voyage, reached Portus at the mouth of the Tiber.

John lands in Calabria. Soon afterwards John crossed the Hadriatic Gulf, and, as good luck would have it, landed not far from  p476 Brindisi. A Gothic scout who had been taken prisoner begged for his life, and promised in return to guide him to the enemy. 'First of all,' said the Imperial General, 'show me where the horses pasture. Accordingly the man led him to a green plain where the horses of the Goths were feeding. On each horse's back leaped a Byzantine foot-soldier, and then they galloped to the camp of the unsuspecting foe. Victory of Brundisium. An utter rout followed, and this defeat opened the whole province of Calabria to the Imperialists. Canusium opened its gates to them, and hither came Tullianus son of Venantius, long ago governor of Bruttii and Lucania under Theodoric. Tullianus fearlessly spoke of the oppressions wrought by the Emperor's generals in Italy, oppressions which had compelled the inhabitants of these provinces, much against their will, to accept the yoke of the Goths, Arians and barbarians though they were, as the less intolerable of the two evils. Now, however, if John would promise to prevent the ravages of his soldiery, Tullianus would use his influence to obtain the speedy submission of the two provinces. Bruttii and Lucania recovered for the Empire. The promise was given, and by the good offices of Tullianus, Bruttii and Lucania were speedily recovered for the Empire.

John comes no further towards Rome. Here, however, John's advance towards Rome stopped. Three hundred horsemen sent by Totila to Capua were sufficient to check his further progress, notwithstanding the urgent messages of Belisarius, who bitterly complained that he who had been allowed to select the bravest men in the army, 'and all of them barbarians,' should allow himself to be checked by a little body of three hundred men. The qualification thus emphasised by Belisarius shows  p477 clearly enough how little the citizens of the Roman Empire had to do with winning the Empire's battles. Victory near Rhegium. John now turned southwards, and inflicted a crushing defeat on Recimund, who, with an army of Goths, Moors and deserters from the Imperial ranks, was holding Reggio for Totila, to prevent any succours being sent from Sicily to the mainland.​25 But this victory had little effect on the main course of the war. While the great duel was going on around the towers of Rome, John in his Apulian camp was only a listless spectator of the agony of the Empire.

Belisarius at Porto. The narrative now turns to Belisarius, who, from Porto as his base of operations, is about to make an attempt for the relief of Rome. At the risk of a little repetition it will be well to give a somewhat detailed description of the two harbours of Rome, which, after several alternations of prosperity and decay, are both now practically deserted, Portus and Ostia.

Description of Ostia. Let us take Ostia first, though it makes the less conspicuous figure in our present narrative. It is situated on the south of the Tiber, on the left bank, that is to say, of the left-hand channel of the stream. The excavations of recent years have been fruitful in results for the archaeologist, and it may be doubted whether any other ruins, except those of Pompeii, enable us more vividly to reproduce the actual appearance of a Roman city. We see the broad road lined with tombs, leading up to the city-gate: we see the narrow streets paved with large flat stones on which the wheel-marks of the Roman biga are yet visible: we see the semicircular area and columns of a theatre:  p478 we see the steps and part of the portico of the stately Temple of Vulcan: we see the chambers of an Imperial palace in which Antoninus Pius perhaps spent his summers, and among them one little chapel, dedicated, probably in the second century, to the worship of Mithras, the Eastern Sun‑god. Almost more interesting, as enabling us more vividly to picture the commercial life of the city, are the magazines, in one of which are still to be found some dozen or so of dolia, earthenware hogsheads once filled with wine or oil, now empty and buried up to their necks in the fine sand of the Tiber.

[image ALT: missingALT]

Several such storage areas have been found at Ostia; this is part of one of the smaller ones. The photographer seen in this picture (1998) is Jan‑Theo Bakker, webmaster of Ostia-Antica.Org, by far and away the best and largest website on the ancient port; the field of dolia that Hodgkin had in mind was probably the one in Regio I, the Caseggiato dei Doli (I.IV.5).

Here too is a well-preserved gateway once leading into a court-yard lined with warehouses, and bearing on the keystone of the arch the sculptured resemblance of a Roman modius,​26 as a reminder, perhaps, to the merchant, of the duty of giving just measure to all his customers. Not far off is a stone on which some public notice, possibly the regulation of the market, has been affixed. Everywhere we feel that we are tracing the lineaments of a great city of commerce, though one that has been dead for centuries.

One thing disappoints us in Ostia, and yet in our disappointment helps to explain its present desolation. We miss the sea. Alteration of the coast-line. We have read in Minucius Felix how at Ostia the three friends who were about to hold high converse on Fate and Providence and the nature of the gods, first walked along the yielding sand, and watched the boys playing 'duck and drake' with their smooth stones rebounding from the Mediterranean waves. We have read how three centuries later Monica and Augustine sat upon the same shore  p479 and gazed over the same expanse of sea, as the mother talked with her recovered son of the joys of the heavenly kingdom. But the Ostia of to‑day gives us no help in picturing either of these scenes. The sea has retreated to a distance of three miles from its walls: we see only the flat and desolate Campagna, the muddy Tiber, the grass-grown mounds of the deserted city.

The Sacred Island. Now let us leave Ostia and turn our steps to Portus. A ferry-boat takes us across the Fiumara, as the broad, sluggish, turbid southern channel of the Tiber is called. Then a walk of two miles across the sandy expanse of the Isola Sacra brings us to the northern channel. The island called the Isola Sacra, which is now, owing to the recession of the coast-line, five or six times as large as it was in the days of Procopius, was then, though solitary, fair as the garden of Venus, full of roses and all fragrant flowers, says an enthusiastic geographer of the fourth century.​27 Now, a few low trees provide the inhabitants with fire-wood, and a poor and coarse grass affords pasture to the not always inoffensive herds of buffaloes. A celebrated temple stood here dedicated to the Great Twin Brethren, but even its site is now forgotten. At the  p480 end of the path however, just opposite Porto, we come to the ancient tower which marks the spot where once stood the church of Saint Hippolytus, the cathedral church of Portus, separated from the city by the Tiber channel, and rightly named after the most famous bishop of that see, whose great work, a Refutation of all Heresies, has in our own day been recovered for ecclesiastical literature.28

Porto Moderno. Again crossing in a ferry-boat the waters of the Tiber, but this time the northern channel, we reach the village of Porto Moderno. The modern successor to Portus as a Mediterranean harbour is the little town of Fiumicino, two miles further down the stream. There we find a small wooden pier projecting into the sea, a few ships discharging their cargoes, a row of tall lodging-houses all filled during a few weeks in spring by the crowd of bathers from Rome, all empty and deserted in September from fear of the everywhere brooding malaria. Here, in this so‑called Porto Moderno, which was really called into existence by Pope Gregory IV​29 a few years before the birth of our Alfred the Great, hard by the then ruined Portus of the Emperors, there are a modernised church, a mediaeval castle, in one room of which are collected the Latin inscriptions discovered in the neighbourhood: not much else to interest the archaeologist, except a fallen column, once no doubt forming part of the elder Portus, on which, rudely carved perhaps by the  p481 knife of one of his soldiers, appear five letters of the name of the glorious Vandal, Stilicho.30

Site of the ancient Portus. We take a few steps northwards and find ourselves looking upon a piece of water which as it recedes from us becomes shallower, changes into rushes, into marsh, into firm land. We soon observe a certain regularity along its sides, and find that it is in fact a regular hexagon, each side nearly 300 yards long. Trajan's harbour. Yes, this is the celebrated hexagonal harbour of Trajan. Long rows of massive warehouses, in which were stored the rations of Egyptian and Sicilian corn for all the people of Rome, were once mirrored in its waters: even yet some huge blocks of masonry remain to show how solid was their building. The greatest ships of the ancient world, ships of commerce and of war, laden with corn or with legions, have glided in by the deep canal which is now represented only by a little brook that a child could step over, and have manoeuvred easily in the capacious dock which is now a reedy fish-pond. At each angle of the hexagon rose a column, crowned with a statue. On our right hand, full fronting the opening by which the ships entered the basin, stood a colossal statue of the founder himself,​31 the mighty Emperor Trajan. Now, almost on the same spot, one may see the neat villa of the present owner of Portus and Ostia and all the intervening and surrounding country, the Prince Torlonia. A fine herd of horses grazes on the margin of the pool: the frogs  p482 fill the air with their harsh melody: other signs of life there are none.

Harbour of Claudius. Outside of the hexagonal basin, that is to the north-west of it, was formerly the yet larger harbour of Claudius, with a pier curving round to the north-east, the work of Theodoric. This is now even more blended with the desolate Campagna than the work of Trajan. The name of Claudius is great at Portus as it is in the valley of the Anio. It was from this port that his fleet sailed for the conquest of the 'almost world-severed' island of Britain. The northern channel which he cut for the river had the double effect of making the new harbour possible and of removing the inundations with which Father Tiber had been wont to visit the city of his sons. A fair inscription, which was found some fifty years ago in the excavations of Cardinal Pallavicini and has been placed by his orders on the side of the modern carriage-road to Porto, records these beneficent labours of the dull-witted Emperor.32

State of Ostia and Portus at the time of Belisarius. We have yielded perhaps too long to the melancholy fascination of these scenes, once filled with the lively hum of commerce, echoing to the voice of sailors from every country on the Mediterranean, and now abandoned to the bittern and the cormorant. We must return to the sixth century and look upon them as they were seen by Belisarius. Ostia in his time was  p483 no doubt far fallen from her former greatness, impoverished by five centuries of competition with the superior advantages of Portus; but it was still a considerable commercial city: and Portus, except so far as the war itself had injured its commerce, was probably well-nigh as busy as in the days of Claudius. The great magazines stood there, all waiting for the corn-supplies of the Roman people, if only the light cruisers of Totila would allow them to be filled. The walls with which Constantine had enclosed the city and harbour, now mere grass mounds over which the horses gallop in their play, were then defensible fortifications, probably from twelve to fifteen feet high. Within the enclosure of these walls, which were about a mile and a‑half in length, and flanked by the river and the sea, lay the army of Belisarius, who now again, as in his earlier campaigns, was accompanied by the martial Antonina. It is important to remember that difference between the position of the combatants in 537 and in the present siege. Then, Ostia was held by the Romans, and Portus was a Gothic stronghold. Now, Portus is the one place of vantage left to the Romans in the neighbourhood of the capital, and Ostia is occupied by a Gothic garrison.

The river barred. The town of Portus was nineteen Roman miles from Rome.​33 About four miles above it, where the river was narrowest, Totila had caused a boom to be placed to block the passage of ships bearing provisions to the starving city. This boom consisted of long beams of timber lashed together and forming a kind of floating bridge. It was protected by a wooden tower at either end, and was yet further strengthened by an  p484 iron chain stretched across from shore to shore a little below it, in order to prevent the boom from being broken by the mere impact of a hostile vessel.

Preparations of Belisarius for forcing the passage. The counter-preparations of Belisarius were very complete. Having lashed together two broad barges, he erected a wooden tower upon them sufficiently high to overtop the bridge. Trusting nothing to chance, he had the measurements of the bridge taken by two of his soldiers who feigned themselves deserters. To the top of the tower a boat was hoisted filled with a combustible mixture, pitch, sulphur, rosin, an anticipation of the dreaded 'Greek fire' of later ages. Surrounding the barges, and partly towing them, was a fleet of two hundred swift cutters​34 laden with corn and other necessaries for the starving Romans, but also bearing some of the bravest of his soldiers, and turned into ships of war by high wooden ramparts on the decks, pierced with loop-holes for the archers. Detachments of infantry and cavalry were also stationed at all the points of vantage on the bank to support the operations of the ships, and especially to prevent any advance of the enemy upon Portus.

Isaac of Armenia in charge of Portus. Having made these preparations, Belisarius entrusted the defence of the sea‑port, containing as it did all his stores, his reserve troops, and above all his wife, to Isaac of Armenia, with a solemn charge that come what might, and even should he hear that Belisarius himself had fallen before the foe, under no conceivable circumstances was he to leave the post thus committed to him. At the same time he sent word to Bessas to support his movements by a vigorous sortie from the city against the Gothic camps. Bessas will not co‑operate. This message however,  p485 like so many others of the same kind, failed to shake the 'masterly inactivity' of the governor of Rome. The Goths had full leisure that day to concentrate their whole attention on the operations of Belisarius.

Successful attack on the Gothic bridge. With some labour the rowers urged the laden cutters up the river. The Goths, confiding in the strength of their bridge and chain, remained quiet in their camps. Soon they found out their error. The archers from the cutters dealt such havock among the Gothic guards on either shore that resistance was quelled and they were able to sever the chain​35 and sail on in triumph up to the bridge. Now the Goths perceived the danger and swarmed down upon the bridge. The fighting here became terrific. Belisarius, watching his opportunity, steered the floating tower close up to the Gothic fort commanding the north end of the bridge, which stood close to the water's edge. The boat laden with Greek fire was set alight and skilfully thrown into the very middle of the fort, which was at once wrapped in flames. In the conflagration two hundred of the Gothic garrison, headed by Osdas, the bravest of the brave, all perished. Encouraged by this success, the archers on board the dromones sent a yet thicker shower of arrows at the Goths on the shore. Terror seized the barbarian ranks; they turned to flee; the Romans began to hew the timbers of the bridge to pieces; the revictualling of the hungry city seemed already accomplished.

Isaac ruins all by an unsuccessful attack on Ostia. Seemed only. By one of those tricks of Fate upon which our historian delights to moralise, in the very moment when he seemed to have won her, Victory  p486 flitted away out of the grasp of Belisarius. A rumour, perhaps a premature rumour, of the success of the morning's operations, especially of the severing of the chain, reached the ears of Isaac at Portus. Forgetful of his general's solemn charge, and only envious of having no share in the glory of the triumph, he sallied forth with a hundred horsemen, crossed the Insula Sacra, and suddenly attacked the Gothic garrison of Ostia, who were commanded by the gallant Roderic. In the first skirmish Roderic was wounded, and his soldiers, whether from fear or guile, turned and fled. The Imperialists entered the camp and found a store of money and other valuables therein, which they began to plunder. While they were thus engaged the Goths returned in greater numbers, easily over­powered the hundred Romans, slew that greater number of them, and took the rest, among whom was Isaac himself, prisoners.

Belisarius bewildered by the tidings of Isaac's failure. The mere failure of this foolish attack would have been it itself no great disaster. But as adverse Fortune would have it, a messenger escaped from the field and bore the tidings to Belisarius at the bridge. 'Isaac is taken.' 'Isaac taken,' thought the General, 'then Portus and Antonina are taken too.' At this thought, says the historian, 'he was bewildered with fear, a thing which had never happened to him in any previous peril.' Yet even this bewilderment is for us the most convincing proof that they were chains of love, not of fear, which yet bound him to Antonina. His retreat and subsequent illness. He at once gave the signal for retreat, in the hope that by a speedy return he might surprise the victorious barbarians and rescue Portus from their grasp. When he reached the seaport (which it is to be remembered  p487 was only four miles from the scene of action), found all safe there, and recognised by what folly of his subordinate and what mis‑reading of the game by himself he had been cheated out of an already-assured victory, he was seized with such deep chagrin, that his bodily strength perhaps already weakened by the unwholesome air of the Campagna, quite broke down. He sickened with fever, which at one time caused his life to be despaired of, and for some months he was unable to take any active share in the conduct of the campaign.

Two days after this battle Roderic the governor of Ostia died and Totila, enraged at the loss of his brave comrade, put his feeble Armenian captive to death — a deed not worthy of his fame.36

Demoralisation of the garrison in Rome. Meanwhile, in Rome, there was a daily increasing demoralisation among the soldiers of the garrison. Procopius attributes this entirely to the avarice of Bessas, who according to him was so intent on his traffic in corn at famine-prices to the few still remaining citizens, that he neglected all the duties of a general, and purposely refused to co‑operate with Belisarius, knowing that the more the siege could be prolonged, the richer he would grow. It is almost certain that there is some exaggeration here. Bessas was a sufficiently capable soldier to know that if no watch were kept on the walls the city would be taken, and that then even the treasure for the sake of which he had committed so many crimes would with difficulty  p488 be saved from the enemy. Perhaps the true explanation of his conduct is this. He saw the fame which Belisarius had acquired by his year-long defence of Rome and determined to rival it. The secret of that success had been the refusal to spend the strength of the soldiers on useless sorties, and Bessas showed that he had laid that lesson to heart. But there were two reasons for his failure. In Totila he had to deal with a very different adversary from the blundering Witigis, with an adversary who was also determined to waste none of his strength on useless assaults, who never hurried himself, but who by a slow, patient, scientific blockade consumed the life of Rome. And, what was even more important, the noble heart of Belisarius had saved him from that crime of callous indifference to the sufferings of non‑combatants which Bessas forsooth gloried in, as showing his soldier-like disregard of all that did not bear on the success of the great game, but which really lost him the great game itself. No doubt he enriched himself by sales of corn at famine-prices to the Senators. None of these barbarian and semi-barbarian generals of Byzantium had any refined feelings of honour where money was concerned. But this can hardly have been his sole thought. He had a plan for the defence of Rome which he thought he could work out independently of the welfare or the sufferings of the citizens. And in that thought he was wrong even from the military point of view. Without the loyal help of the great mass of citizens it was impossible to keep the vast circuit of the walls effectually guarded, and one unguarded spot, on one dark night, might make all other precautions useless.

 p489  Procopius on the conduct of Bessas. So much by way of necessary protest before quoting the words of Procopius.

'Neither in the attack on the bridge, nor at any previous time, would Bessas assist as he was required to do. For he had still some corn stored up, since the supplies previously sent to Rome by the magistrates of Sicily had been intended both for the soldiers and the citizens; but he, giving forth a very small quantity to the citizens, kept the largest part concealed, nominally on behalf of the soldiers, but really that he might retail it to the Senators at a high price. Of course therefore the end of the siege was the thing which he least desired.'​37

'By his transactions in corn Bessas was growing ever richer, since the necessity of the buyers allowed him to fix the price according to his own fancy. Being wholly immersed in this business, he took no thought as to the watch upon the walls or any other measure of precaution, but if the soldiers chose to be remiss he allowed them to be so. Hence there were but few sentinels on the walls, and those very careless about their duty. The sentinel on guard at any given time might indulge, if he pleased, in long slumbers, since there was no one set over him to call him to account. There were none to go the rounds, as aforetime, to challenge the sentinels and ascertain what they were doing. Nor could any of the citizens assist in this work of vigilance; for, as I have before said, those who were now left in the City were very few in number and terribly reduced in strength.'​38

According to the view suggested above, these last words of the historian contain the gist of the whole  p490 matter. The rest of the description does but pourtray the condition of a garrison demoralised by being set to perform a duty hopelessly beyond their powers.

Porta Asinaria. The Asinarian Gate — by which it may be remembered Belisarius entered Rome in December 536 — yet stands, with its two round towers, behind the Church of the Lateran, one of the finest monuments of the great defensive work of Aurelian and Honorius. The gateway itself is blocked up, and the mediaeval Porta S. Giovanni, a few yards to the east of it, now opens upon the great highway to Albano, Capua, and Naples. Notwithstanding this alteration, however, there is still a lofty and well-preserved piece of the ancient wall, and nowhere do we find a better specimen than here, of the galleries through which the sentinels went their rounds, of the loopholes through which the archers shot, of the battlements by which the more exposed warriors above were partially defended. Treachery of the Isaurian sentinels. Upon this part of the wall there was a vigilia of four Isaurian soldiers, who, tired of the siege, disgusted with their failing food, and mindful very probably of the kindness with which Totila had treated them after the capture of Naples,​39 resolved to betray the City to the Gothic King. Letting themselves down by ropes from the battlements, they sought the camp of the barbarians and unfolded their design to Totila. He thanked them warmly, offered them large sums of money if the City should be put in his power, and sent two of his guards to view the place where the Isaurians kept watch. The men climbed up by the ropes, inspected  p491 the fortifications, heard all that the Isaurians had to say, and returned to report favourably of the project. Totila's caution. There was something about the Isaurians' demeanour, however, which had roused the King's suspicion, and a second and even a third visit from them (their return being each time accompanied by some of his own followers to examine the walls) was necessary before he would trust his army in their hands. This extreme caution on the part of the daring Totila had well-nigh proved fatal to the scheme. It chanced that the Roman scouts brought as captives into the City ten Gothic soldiers, who, being interrogated as to what Totila was meditating next, were foolish enough or disloyal enough to disclose, what had now become the talk of the camp, that he hoped to get possession of the city by the help of some Isaurians. Happily, however, Bessas and Conon paid no further attention to the story, which was perhaps too vague to guide them to the very Isaurians who were meditating treason.

The Asinarian Gate opened to the Goths, 17 Dec. 546.​40 When the third deputation, headed by a kinsman of Totila himself, had returned, reporting favourably of the Isaurians' proposal, the King at length made up his mind to accept the venture. At nightfall the whole Gothic host, fully armed, was drawn up outside the Asinarian Gate. Four Goths, men conspicuous for valour and strength, mounted by ropes to the place where the friendly Isaurians were on guard, the other Roman sentinels being all wrapped in slumber. As soon as they were within the walls they hastened to the gateway. With rapid well-directed blows from their axes they severed the great bar of wood which  p492 kept the gates closed, and shattered the iron locks, the keys of which were of course in other keeping.​41 The work must have been speedily done, for the noise of blows like those would break the sleep of even the most over-wearied sentinels. Then they opened wide the gates, and without difficulty or opposition, without striking a blow except at bolts and bars, the whole Gothic army marched in.

After all, it seemed, the hundred and fifty thousand warriors who in the long siege left their bones under the grass of the Campagna had not died in vain. The 'hoarded vengeance' of ten years might at length be reaped. The Goths were again in Rome.

The Author's Notes:

1 Hydruntum.

2 De Bello Gotthico, III.13 (p329).

3 'The Goths killed all the inhabitants with the priest of the place, in a manner which I shall not describe, although I know it, that I may not leave memorials of inhumanity to a later age,' says Procopius, setting herein a good example to some modern journalists.

4 But Procopius confuses the Tiber and the Anio when he states (III.10) that the capture of Tivoli enabled Totila to block the former river.

5 Compare De Bello Gotthico, IV.23 (p584, l. 17, ed. Bonn).

6 Ἐν τε τῷ ἀσφαλεῖ γενομένους ὅσα τοῦ περιβόλου καταπεπτώκει ὅτῳ δὴ ἀνῳκοδόμησαν τρόπῳ, λίθους τε καὶ πηλὸν καὶ ἄλλο ὁτιοῦν ἐμβαλλόμενοι. The passage is interesting, as throwing some light on the hasty reconstruction of the walls of Rome in the following year, and also on such evidently 'tumultuary' work as the strange Heidenmauer at Wiesbaden.

7 ὦ δέσποτα.

8 This passage in the De Bello Gotthico confirms the statement in the Anecdota as to the breaking up of Belisarius's body-guard and its distribution among the eunuchs of the palace. This is one of several minute points of correspondence which prove the genuineness of the Anecdota.

9 Brother of Narses (not the Eunuch Narses), and Aratius. Visitors to Ravenna will be reminded of the tomb of a much later Isaac, the Exarch, and 'the great ornament of Armenia.'

10 Λογισμοὺς γὰρ αὐτῷ Βελισάριος τῶν βεβιωμένων ἠπείλησε πράξειν. Perhaps the examination related to some embezzlement of the public treasure, but it is not easy to get this meaning out of the words.

11 I cannot help thinking that the Σισίφριδος of Procopius is a mis‑rendering of this well-known name.

12 The importance of Cyprian's death is shown by Totila's allusion to it two years later in his harangue to his troops (De Bell. Gotth. III.25, p386).

13 Then called Centumcellae. Readers of Dahn's 'Kampf um Rom' will be interested in this, the only mention by Procopius, of the Cethegus who figures so largely in the pages of that romance. Cethegus was Consul in 504, Magister Officiorum probably about 521. After the third siege of Rome he escaped (as we are told by the author of the Life of Vigilius in the Liber Pontificalis) to Constantinople. See Usener's Anecdoton Holderi, pp6‑8.

14 No doubt the phraseology of this speech is thoroughly Procopian, and it must be looked upon in great measure as a rhetorician's exercise: but there is every reason to think that the three points enumerated were really reserved by Totila.

15 To have actually sold the corn out of the magazines at these starvation-prices and put the money into their own pockets would have perhaps been too daring an act of embezzlement. More probably the generals drew an unnecessarily large annona from the public store and then sold the surplus to starving Romans.

16 Seven aurei (no doubt 'solidi aurei') for one medimnus (= a bushel and a half).

17 Ἀπεδίδοντο Ῥωμαίοις πεντήκοντα χρυσῶν.

18 S. P. Q. R.

19 Ῥωμαίων μὲν οὖν τῇ τε βουλῇ καὶ τῷ δήμῳ ἐκεχωρήκει ἐς τοῦτο ἡ τύχη.

20 Procopius almost invariably calls Dyrrhachium (Durazzo) by its earlier name, Epidamnus.

21 I of course use Calabria always in the classical sense, for the end of the Apulian province, not in its modern sense, which is nearly equivalent to Bruttii. The ancient Calabria was the heel, the modern is the toe, of Italy.

22 The language of Procopius (De B. G. III.18; p350) does not expressly assert that this plan was a compromise, but I think it leaves us at liberty to infer it.

23 How were the troops divided and what was their total number? I do not find the answer to these questions in Procopius. One of the many proofs that he does not write this part of his history as an eye‑witness is the deficiency of accurate information on points like these.

24 In the Anecdota (cap. V) Procopius asserts that John, who by his marriage with the daughter of Germanus had enrolled himself in the opposite court-party to that of Theodora, was afraid of being assassinated by the contrivance of Antonina, and for that reason would never join forces with Belisarius.

25 Reggio was probably taken at this time, as it had to be recaptured by Totila in 549 (see p549).

26 Peck-measure.

27 Aethicus in his Cosmographia: 'At the 6th [16th] milestone from the City the Tiber parts into two streams, making the island between Portus Urbis and the city of Ostia, whither the Roman people with the Prefect of the City or the Consul goes forth to celebrate sacred rites with solemn festivity. The island thus made by the Tiber is so green and pleasant that never, in winter or summer, does it fail to supply admirable grass for pasture. In spring it is so filled with roses and other flowers that for its abundance of tints and odours this island is called "ipsa Libanus (?) almae Veneris." ' I take this quotation from Cluverius's Italia Antiqua, p879.

28 It is thought by some that the title 'Sacra,' which was borne by the island already in the time of Procopius (De Bell. Gotth. I.26), was given to it from this church. Others think it was from the festivals held upon it in honour of Castor and Pollux (Descrizione delle rovine, &c., 39, 40).

29 827‑844.

30 The letters are shaped thus: ST'L¯C. The column is on the left-hand side of the gateway looking towards Ostia. Of course the theory that they were carved by a soldier of Stilicho is mere conjecture.

31 The head of this statue is now in the Vatican, in the Sala del Meleagro.

32 The inscription runs thus:

Ti · Clavdivs · Drvsi · f · Caesar

avg · Germanicvs · Pontif · Max

trib · potest · VI · cos · III · design · IIII · imp · XII · p · p

fossis · dvctis · a · Tiberi · operis · portvs

cavssa · emissisqve · in · mare · vrbem

invndationis · pericvlo · liberavit.

33 Equivalent to 17½ English miles.

34 dromones.

35 Did they employ divers? Procopius does not mention them.

36 If, as is very probable, the slain Goth was the same Roderic of whom Pope Gregory speaks (cap. xiv) as a constant attendant upon the King's person, we can understand the especial resentment of the latter at the death of his faithful servant.

37 De Bell. Gotth. III.19º (pp356‑7).

38 Ibid. III.20 (p360).

39 It will be remembered that the garrison of Naples was composed of 1000 Isaurian soldiers under Conon, and that Totila graciously assisted them on their journey to Rome. (See p405).

40 We get this date from two sources; the day and month from Marcellinus Comes, the year from Procopius.

41 Καὶ τό τε ξύλον πελέκεσι διαφθείρουσιν, ᾧπερ ἐνέρσει τοίχου ἑκατέρου ἐναρμοσθέντι τὰς πύλας ἐπιζευγνύναι εἰώθεισαν, τά τε σιδηρᾶ ξύμπαντα, οἷς δὴ τὰς κλεῖς ἀεὶ οἱ φύλακες ἐμβαλλόμενοι ἔκλειόν τε τὰς πύλας καὶ κατὰ τὴν χρείαν ἀνέῳγον.

Thayer's Note:

a There are no mountains on any reasonably direct route between Osimo and Rimini, and very few hills of the slightest consequence.

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