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Book V
Chapter 19

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
Note D

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
Chapter XX

The Re‑occupation of Rome


Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, III.22‑30 (pp372‑405).º

For the later history of Belisarius, the close of the Fifth Book of Agathias, the younger contemporary and continuer of Procopius: Theophanes (758‑816), and the authorities quoted in the Note at the end of the chapter.

546‑547 After the capture of Rome a space of a month or two elapsed marked by no great operations on either side.1

Totila marches into Lucania. Totila, as has been said, marched into Lucania dragging the Senators in his train. By their orders the peasants (coloni) upon the senatorial estates laid down their arms, and Lucania was for a time recovered by the Goths. The Senators were then sent to rejoin their wives and children in the cities of Campania,  p506 where they dwelt under a strong Gothic guard. Totila pitched his camp first on the high hill of 'windy Garganus,' jutting out into the Hadriatic Sea. Here, according to Procopius, he occupied the very same lines of entrenchment which had been defended by the troops of Hannibal during the Second Punic War.2

Spoleto lost to the Goths. Spoleto, which had been won by the treachery of Herodian, was lost to the Goths by the treachery of Martian, a feigned deserter who won the favour of Totila, obtained the command of the fortress which had been made out of the amphitheatre adjoining the town, and handed it over to some Imperial troops invited thither from Perugia.3 By the loss of this position the Goths' free use of the Flaminian Way was doubtless somewhat interfered with.4

John at Tarentum. John sallied forth from his stronghold at Hydruntum and occupied Tarentum, which, though situated on the sea‑coast, by its position at the head of its own gulf afforded nearer access into the heart of Apulia. He prudently narrowed his line of defence,5 abandoning  p507 all that part of the town which lay outside the isthmus, and here took up a position of considerable strength. Totila, as a counter-move, quartered four hundred men at Acherontia,6 a high hill-city on the borders of Lucania and Apulia, a well-chosen position for the over-awing of both provinces. He then marched away towards the north, to menace Ravenna, but was soon recalled by tidings as unwelcome as they were unexpected.

Rome in her desertion. For the space of six weeks or more after its evacuation by Totila, Rome had been left, we are told, absolutely empty of inhabitants.7 Few comparatively of the cities and towns in her world-wide dominion had to pass through this strange experience of an absolute cessation of life which had beat in them for centuries. This breach in the continuity of her history, short as it was, makes Rome the companion in adversity of Eburacum and Deva and the other 'waste Chesters' of our own island, and puts her to that extent in a different category from cities like Paris, Lyons, and we may perhaps add Augsburg and Cologne, in which the daily routine of civil life has gone on without  p508 interruption from the first or second century after Christ till modern days.

Belisarius visits Rome and decides to re‑occupy it. As soon as Belisarius was able to rise from the bed on which his fever had prostrated him at Portus, he was possessed with a desire to see for himself the extent of ruin at Rome; and then there gradually took shape in his mind a scheme for the recovery of the City, so bold and original that it at first seemed like a dream of delirium, but was soon recognised by those who beheld its accomplishment as a master-stroke of genius.8 His first reconnaissance of the City, made with only one thousand soldiers, was interfered with by the Goths from Mount Algidus, who were, however, defeated in the skirmish which followed. On his second visit, made with all the troops under his command, except a small garrison left at Portus, the march was accompanied without any such interruption. He had decided in his own mind that the rents in the line of defence made by Totila, though great, were not irreparable. All his own soldiers, and all the people from the country round who flocked into Rome, attracted both by the spell of her undying name and by the abundant market for provisions which the General immediately established there, were set to work to rebuild the breaches in the walls. There was no lime; there could be no pretence of regularity in the work. Great blocks of tufa from the old wall of Servius, where these were nigh at hand,9 where they were not, rubble of any kind that could be had, were thrust into  p509 the interstices. The fosse which had been dug for the first siege was fortunately still unfilled, and a rough palisade of stakes was now added to the fosse.10 So eagerly did all work that in the space of fifteen days the whole circuit of the walls was in some fashion or other repaired; only the gates which Totila had destroyed could not be replaced for want of skilled workmen in the City. So great and so rapid a work of national defence, accomplished by the willing labour of soldiers and citizens, had perhaps never been seen, since B.C. 402 Dionysius in twenty days raised those mighty fortifications which we still see surrounding, but at how great a distance, the dwindled city of Syracuse.11

Totila returns and attacks the garrison of Rome. When Totila heard the news of the re‑occupation of Rome he marched thither with all the speed of anger and mortification. His army bivouacked along the banks of the Tiber, and at sunrise on the day after their arrival, with wrath and clamour attacked the defenders of the wall. The battle lasted from dawn till dark, and was fought with all the obstinacy which the one party could draw from their rage, the other from their despair. To make up for the absence of gates, Belisarius stationed all his bravest champions in the gateways, there, like Horatius, to keep the foe at bay by the might of their arms alone. His less trustworthy troops, and perhaps some of the civic population, were ranged upon the walls, and from their superior elevation dealt deadly damage on the barbarians.  p510  He is repulsed. When night fell the besiegers withdrew from the attack, forced to confess to one another that it was a failure. While they were tending their wounded, and repairing their broken weapons, the Romans were further strengthening their defence by planting caltrops (tribuli) in all the gateways. These instruments, minutely described by Procopius, were made of four spikes of wood or iron, so fastened together at one end that however the tribulus was thrown, there would always be three of the spikes resting securely on the ground and the fourth projecting upwardsa — an effectual precaution, as Robert Bruce proved at Bannockburn, against a charge of hostile cavalry.

Second attack. Next day the Goths again made a fierce assault, and were again repulsed. The besieged made a vigorous sally, but pursuing too far were in some danger of being surrounded and cut to pieces. They were rescued, however, by another sally ordered by Belisarius, and the barbarians retired.

Third attack. Some days passed, and again the Goths rushed with fury to the walls. Again the Roman champions sallied forth — from the absence of gates it was probably hard to resist without making a sortie — Successful sally of the Romans. and again they got the best of the conflict. The standard-bearer of Totila fell stricken by a mortal blow, and the royal ensign drooped in the dust. Then followed a Homeric contest round the dead man's body. The barbarians by a sword-stroke through the wrist succeeded in rescuing the left hand, which still grasped the standard, and was adorned with a gay armlet of gold. The rest of the body was seized and stripped of its armour by the Romans, who retired with little loss to the City, while the Goths fled in disorder.

 p511  It was too clear that Rome was indeed lost. The fateful City was again held by the invincible General, and all the past labours of the barbarians were in vain. Bitterly did the Gothic chiefs now reproach their King for not having either rased the City to the ground or occupied it in force. A few weeks before they had all been chanting the praises of 'the wise, the unconquered King, who took city after city from the Romans, and then marring their defences, sprang forth again like a hero to fight in the open field.'12 Such however, as the historian sadly remarks, is the inconsistency of human nature, and it is not likely that men will ever act more nobly.13

Totila retires to Tibur (Tivoli). Slowly and reluctantly did Totila leave his rival in undisputed possession of the great prize. He retreated to Tivoli, breaking down all the bridges over the Tiber14 to prevent Belisarius from following him. The city and citadel of Tibur which the Goths had before destroyed were now rebuilt by them, and received their arms and their treasure. If Rome could not be retaken, at least Belisarius might be kept in check from this well-placed watch-tower. Possibly while the bulk of the Gothic army took up its quarters on the hill, in sight of the Sibyl's Temple and within hearing of the roar of Anio, their King may have lodged in the vast enclosure in the plain below, a city rather than a palace, which goes by the unpretending name of 'the Villa of Hadrian.'

 p512  Meanwhile Belisarius, free from molestation, caused gates to be prepared and fitted into the empty archways round Rome. The keys of Rome sent to Justinian. They were bound with iron and fitted with massive locks, the keys of which were sent to Constantinople. Amid all his anxieties Justinian could once more feel himself Emperor of Rome. May, 547. And so ended the twelfth year of the war and the third year of the second command of Belisarius.

The possession of Rome of less importance than it seemed. There are times when the Muse of History seems to relax a little from the majestic calm with which she tells the story of the centuries. A smile appears to flicker round her statuesque lips as she tells of Cleon forced to go forth to war against Sphacteria, and returning, contrary to the expectation of all men, with his three hundred Spartan prisoners; of the Genoese besieging Venice, and themselves sealed up in Chioggia; of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade setting out to fight with the infidels and destroying the Christian Empire of Constantinople. With even such a quiver of amusement in her voice does she describe Belisarius slipping, like a hermit-crab, into the shattered shell of Empire which was called Rome, and making it in so few days into a fortress which he could hold against all the onsets of the angry Totila. It seems doubtful, however, whether the exploit was worth all the trouble and risk which attended it. The importance now attached to the possession of Rome was chiefly a matter of sentiment: its re‑occupation had little practical effect on the fortunes of the war.

Limits of Gothic and Roman occupation. It may be fairly inferred, from the not very precise information given us by Procopius, that at this time the north and centre of Italy were almost entirely in  p513 the possession of the Goths. The only exceptions appear to have been Ravenna and Ancona on the northern Hadriatic, Perugia in Tuscany, Spoleto in Umbria, and Rome with her neighbour Portus. Samnium, Campania, and Northern Apulia were for the most part strongly held by the Goths. Calabria was so far dominated by the ports of Otranto and Taranto that it might be considered as a possession of the Emperor's. In Lucania, the hostile family of Venantius were perpetually endeavouring to rekindle the flames of loyalty to the Empire. Bruttii probably, and Sicily certainly, obeyed the generals of the Emperor.

Justinian starves the war. One reason for the languid and desultory character of the war was the determination of the Emperor to spend no more money upon it than he could possibly help. From the slender remains of loyal Italy, Belisarius had to squeeze out the funds necessary for the support of his own army and that of John, not neglecting, it is to be feared, to add to his own stores in doing so.15 Discord in the Imperial army. Another cause was the evident want of hearty co‑operation between the two generals, due to the fact that one belonged to the party of Germanus and the other to that of Theodora, at the court of the Emperor. Totila's Apologia. This discord between John and Belisarius was referred to with satisfaction by Totila in a long harangue which he delivered to his  p514 soldiers before marching off to form the siege of Perugia. In it he frankly admitted that he knew that they looked upon him with dissatisfaction for not having hindered the re‑occupation of Rome; confessed, in substance if not in express words, that this was a blunder; but pleaded that he had not shown himself deaf to the teachings of experience, and urged that the step taken by Belisarius was one of such extreme rashness, that, though it had been justified by success, he could not, by the laws of war, have been expected to anticipate it.16

John makes a dash into Campania. Not long after this harangue the Gothic King lost his other great prize of war, the Senator-hostages in Campania. John, who had for some time been vainly besieging Acherontia, made a sudden dash into that province, marching night and day without stopping. He had reached Capua, and might have effected his purpose without bloodshed, had not Totila, with a kind of instinctive apprehension of some such design, also sent a detachment of cavalry into Campania. The Gothic horsemen, who had been marching rapidly, reached Minturnae (close to the old frontier of Latium and Campania and about forty miles from Capua), but were in no fit state for marching further that day. The least fatigued of the horsemen — about four hundred in number — were mounted on the freshest of the horses and pushed forward to Capua, where they stumbled unawares upon the whole of John's army. Skirmish at Capua. In the skirmish that ensued this little band was naturally worsted. The survivors, few in number, galloped back to Minturnae, scarcely able to describe  p515 what had befallen them, but the streaming blood, the arrows yet fixed in the wounds, told the tale of defeat plainly enough. Hereupon the whole body of cavalry retreated in all haste from Minturnae, and when they reached Totila, gave him an exaggerated account of the number of the enemy, in order to excuse their own precipitancy.

The Senators recovered. John meanwhile proceeded, unhindered, to liberate the Senators and their wives from captivity. Of the senatorial ladies and their children he found the tale complete: for many of the fathers and husbands had escaped to Belisarius at Portus, and consequently needed no deliverance. There was one Roman noble, Clementinus by name, who fled to a church in Capua for refuge from the unwelcome rescuers. He feared the vengeance of the Emperor for his too ready surrender to the Goths of a fort in the neighbourhood of Naples, and absolutely refused to accompany the army of John. Another Roman, Orestes by name, who had filled the office of Consul, and whom we heard of at the capture of Rome as a refugee at the altar of St. Peter's, longed to accompany the army of deliverance, but could not, being unable to find a horse to bear him to their camp. All the rescued prisoners were straightway sent to the safe harbourage of Sicily, together with seventy Roman soldiers, formerly deserters to the army of Totila, who had now returned to their old allegiance.

Totila's march along the Apennines. Great was the vexation of Totila when he learned that he had lost these valuable hostages. Determining at least to be revenged, and knowing that John, who had retreated into Lucania, would carefully watch all the roads leading to his camp, he marched rapidly  p516 along the rugged heights of the Apennines, till at nightfall he was close to the camp of the enemy. He had ten thousand men with him, John but one thousand. If he could but have restrained his impatience till daybreak, he might have enclosed his enemy as in a net: but in his rage and haste he gave the signal for attack at once, and thereby lost much of the advantage of his superiority in numbers. John's camp surprised. About a hundred of the Romans were slain, some of them still only half-awake, but the rest escaped. Among the latter were John and the Herulian chief Arufus, who seems to have been his right hand in this enterprise. Among the few prisoners was an Armenian general, Gilacius by name, who, though in the service of the Emperor, knew no tongue but his native Armenian. The Gothic soldiers, fearful in the confusion of the night of killing one of their own friends, asked him who he was, to which he could make no reply but Gilacius Strategos (Gilacius the General), over and over again repeated. By often hearing the honourable title Strategos, he had just succeeded in learning the name of his own dignity. The Goths, who soon perceived that he was no officer of theirs, took him prisoner; and we regret to find that, not many days after, the unfortunate Oriental, 'who knew neither the Greek nor the Latin nor the Gothic language,' was put to death by his Teutonic captors. John retreats to Otranto. John with the remains of his army succeeded in reaching Otranto, and again shut himself up in that stronghold.

Two years of desultory fighting. 547 to 549 For two years after this skirmish no event of great importance occurred, but, as far as we can judge from the not very lucid narrative of Procopius, the Imperial cause slowly receded. Weak reinforcements from Constantinople. Justinian sent indeed fresh  p517 troops to Italy, but only in driblets,17 and commanded by incapable generals. Verus the drunkard. Incapable through want of self-restraint was the fierce Herulian Verus, who was constantly in a state of intoxication. He landed at Otranto, marched with his three hundred followers to Brindisi, and encamped near that town. Seeing his sea force thus encamped in an undefended position, Totila exclaimed, 'One of two things must be true. Either Verus has a large army, or he is a very unwise man. Let us go, either to make trial of his strength or to punish him for his folly.' He advanced, easily routed the little band commanded by the drunken Herulian, and would have driven them into the sea but for the sudden and accidental appearance of Byzantine ships in the offing, bearing Warazes and eight hundred Armenians.

Valerian the coward. Incapable, from utter lack of courage and every soldierly quality, was Valerian, who had held the high post of Magister Militum in Armenia, but was transferred to Italy with more than one thousand men to co‑operate with John and Belisarius. Dec. 547-
May, 548
He lingered for months at Salona, afraid of the storms of the Hadriatic. Then, when a council of war was held at Otranto, and a march northwards into Picenum was resolved upon, he would not face the perils and hardships of the march, but took ship again and sailed tranquilly to Imperialist Ancona, where he shut himself up and  p518 hoped for better days. Evidently he was one of those generals whose chief care is to keep their own persons out of the stress of battle.

Defence of Roscianum. The only interest of these two campaigns lies in the defence of Roscianum (now Rossano). The story of this place takes us back — it is true, by a circuitous route, to the very dawn of Hellenic history. Story of Sybaris. At the westernmost angle of that deep hollow in the foot of Italy which is named the Gulf of Tarentum stood, in the eighth century before the Christian ear, the mighty Achaian city of Sybaris. The wealth derived from the splendid fertility of her soil (though now her ruins lie hidden in a fever-haunted morass), as well as from a profitable commerce with the shepherds on the Apennines behind their city, enabled the aristocrats of Sybaris early to acquire that reputation for unbounded luxury which has made their name proverbial. It was Smindyrides, a citizen of Sybaris, who was the first utterer of the complaint concerning the crumpled rose-leaf in his bed, and who declared that the sight of a peasant working in the fields overwhelmed him with fatigue. The neighbour and rival of Sybaris was the city, also populous and powerful, of Crotona, which stood at the south-east angle of the Gulf of Tarentum. Thither, in the sixth century before Christ, fled the languid aristocrats of Sybaris, expelled by a popular rising, and by a tyrant the child of revolution. That tyrant, Telys, insolently demanded the surrender of his enemies, but the demand was refused by the citizens of Crotona, trembling indeed before the power of Sybaris, but nerved to great deeds in the cause of hospitality by the exhortations of their guide and philosopher, Pythagoras. In the battle which ensued,  p519 the multitudinous host of the Sybarites was defeated by the army of the southern city, commanded by the mighty Milo of Crotona, famous for ever as an athlete, and yet also a disciple of Pythagoras. The Crotoniates advanced, sacked the rival city, and, so it is said, turned the river Crathis over its ruins, that none might know where Sybaris had once stood.

All this happened in the year 510 B.C., the same year in which, according to tradition, the Tarquins were driven from Rome.

Story of Thurii. Nearly seventy years later (B.C. 443) the Athenians, on the earnest entreaty of the descendants of the Sybarites, sent a colony to the desolate spot; and in the near neighbourhood of the obliterated city rose the new settlement of Thurii, best known in history from the fact that Herodotus was one of its original colonists and spent his old age within its walls. But either because the mouth of the river Crathis had become unnavigable, or for some other reason, it had been found necessary to establish the docks and harbour of Thurii close to the promontory of Roscia, twelve miles south of the old city. Building of Roscianum. In the hills, some seven or eight miles west of these docks, the Romans built a strong fortress which bore the name of Roscianum, and is represented by the modern city of Rossano, with an archbishop and twelve thousand inhabitants.18

 p520  Refugees at Roscianum. In Roscianum was now collected a considerable number of wealthy and noble Italians, refugees from that part of Italy which was occupied by the barbarians. Conspicuous among them was Deopheron, son of Venantius and brother of Tullianus, a member of a family animated by bitter hostility to the Gothic rule. John had sent from his army for the defence of Roscianum three hundred Illyrians, under the command of Chalazar the Hun, an excellent soldier, who seems to have been recognised as head over the whole garrison. Belisarius had only been able to spare one hundred foot-soldiers for the same service.

Skirmish and defeat of the Goths. Early in 548 Belisarius, who with his martial wife had sailed round to Crotona, sent a further detachment of soldiers to relieve Roscianum. They met, apparently by accident, a smaller force sent by Totila to attack it. In the skirmish which followed the Goths were completely defeated and fled, leaving two hundred of their number dead upon the plain. While the victors were lapped in all the security of success, leaving the passes unguarded, pitching their tents wide at night, and wandering afar for forage by day, suddenly Totila, with three thousand men, burst upon them from the mountains. Victory of Totila. Vain was the might of Phazas, the brave Iberian from Caucasus, upon whose quarters the blow first descended, to turn the tide of battle. He fell fighting bravely in the midst of a band of heroes. Much fear came upon the Romans when they knew him to be dead, for they had expected great exploits from him in the future. Barbatian, one of the body-guard of Belisarius, who had shared the command with Phazas, fled with two of his comrades from the field, and brought the grievous news to his master.  p521  Flight of Belisarius. Belisarius, who seems to have been alarmed for the safety of Crotona itself, leaped on shipboard — probably Antonina accompanied him — and sailed for Messina, which, so fair was the wind, he reached in one day, though distant ninety miles from Crotona.

Ineffectual attempt to relieve Roscianum by sea. Hard pressed by Totila after this ineffectual attempt to relieve them, the garrison at length agreed to surrender Roscianum if no help should reach them by the middle of summer (548). The appointed day had just dawned, when they saw on the horizon the friendly sails of the Byzantine ships. Belisarius, John, and Valerian had met in council at Otranto, and had decided to send a fleet to the help of the beleaguered city. The hopes of the garrison being raised by this sight, they refused to fulfil their compact. A storm, however, arose, which the captain dared not face on that rock-bound coast, and the ships returned to Crotona. Many weeks passed, and again the Byzantine ships appeared in the offing. The barbarians leaped upon their horses and moved briskly along the shore, determined to dispute the landing. Totila placed his spearmen here, his bowmen there, and left not a spot unoccupied where the enemy could land. At that sight the Romans' eagerness for the fight vanished. They let down their anchors; they hovered about, beholding the docks and Roscianum afar off; at length they weighed anchor and sailed back to Crotona.

Surrender of Roscianum. Another council of war was held. The generals resolved to try to effect a diversion. Belisarius was to revictual Rome, the others were to march into Picenum and attack the besieging armies there. It was upon this occasion that Valerian distinguished himself by not marching, but sailing to the friendly  p522 shelter of Ancona. But all these operations were in vain. Totila refused to be diverted from the siege of Roscianum; and the unfortunate garrison, who had only been tantalised by all the attempts to succour them, sent Deopheron and a Thracian life-guardsman of Belisarius named Gudilas to cry for Totila's mercy on their unfaithfulness. To Chalazar the Hun, whom he looked upon as the chief deceiver, the King showed himself unpitying. He cut off both his hands and inflicted on him other shameful mutilations before he deprived him of life. The rest of the garrison were admitted to the benefit of the old capitulation. The lives of all, and the property of as many as chose to accept service under the Gothic standard, were left uninjured. The result was that all the late defenders of Roscianum, but eighty, gladly enlisted with the barbarians. The eighty loyal soldiers made their way in honourable poverty to Crotona. Not one of the Italian nobles lost his life, but the property of all was taken from them.

Humiliating position of Belisarius, June, 548. Belisarius had now been for more than four years in Italy, and, chiefly on account of the miserable manner in which his efforts had been seconded by his master, he had but a poor account to render of his exploits during that time. 'He had never really grasped the land of Italy during this second command,' says Procopius, who cannot forgive the triumph of Antonina, and who seems to delight in trampling on the fragments of his broken idol. 'He never made a single regular march by land, but skulked about from fortress to fortress, stealing from one point of the coast to another like a fugitive; and thus he really gave the enemy boldness to capture Rome, and one might  p523 almost say the whole country.'19 His one really brilliant exploit, the re‑occupation of Rome, had not, as we have seen, materially affected the fortunes of the war. It was time certainly that he should either be enabled to achieve something greater, or else quit Italy altogether. Mission of Antonina to Constantinople. Antonina accordingly set out for Constantinople to obtain from her patroness an assurance of more effectual succour than the Imperial cause in Italy had yet received. When she arrived she found that an event had occurred which changed the whole aspect of affairs at the court of Justinian. Death of Theodora. On the 1st of July, 548, Theodora, the beautiful and the remorseless, died, after a little more than twenty‑one years of empire. When we read that the cause of her death was cancer,20 of an exceptionally virulent type, even our remembrance of the misdeeds of Theodora is well-nigh swallowed up in pity for her fate.

Antonina breaks off the engagement between her daughter and the grandson of Theodora. Antonina, on arriving at Constantinople and hearing of the death of her Imperial friend, at once decided on the necessary changes in her tactics. For the last six or seven years tedious negotiations had been carried on between the two ladies for the marriage of a grandson of Theodora with Joannina, only child of Belisarius, and heiress of all his vast wealth. Long had Antonina, while seeming to consent to this match, secretly opposed it. And now, though her daughter's heart was entirely given to her young betrothed, perhaps even her honour surrendered to him, the cold schemer relentlessly broke off the engagement. We hear nothing  p524 more of the fate of either of the lovers; but it seems probable that the daughter of Belisarius died before her father.21

Antonina obtains the recall of Belisarius. As for the Italian expedition, Antonina recognised the impossibility of now obtaining from the parsimonious Emperor the supplies of men and money without which success was impossible. Germanus, noblest and most virtuous of all the Emperor's nephews, would be now indisputably the second person in the state, and if any laurels were to be gathered in Italy they would without doubt be destined for him. She confined herself therefore to petitioning the Emperor for the lesser boon of the recall of her husband, and this favour was granted to her. Early in the year 549 Belisarius returned to Constantinople, with wealth much increased but glory somewhat tarnished by the events of those five years of his second command. Justinian, upon whom the hand of Chosroës was at that time pressing heavily, had some thought of employing him again in the Persian War, but though he was named Master of the Soldiery 'per Orientem,' we find no evidence of his having again taken the field for that enterprise. He also held the rank of general of the household troops,22 and he took precedence of all other Consuls and Patricians, even those who had held these dignities for a longer period than himself.

Latter days of Belisarius. To end our notice of the career of the great General it will be necessary to travel a little beyond the period properly covered by this volume.

 p525  Hunnish invasion of Thrace. In the year 559 great alarm was created in the provinces of Moesia and Thrace by the tidings that the Kotrigur Huns had crossed the frozen Danube. What relation the tribe who were called by this uncouth name may have borne to the countrymen of Attila it might be difficult to say. They seem to have acknowledged a closer kinship with the Utigur Huns who dwelt alongside of them north of the Danube than with any other race of barbarians; but the attitude of the two clans to one another was not friendly, and the favour shown by the authorities at Constantinople to the Romanising Utigurs was one of the pretexts upon which the more savage Kotrigurs took up arms against the Empire.

Under the command of their King Zabergan the horde of savage horsemen swept across the ill‑defended plains of Moesia and through the Balkan passes into Thrace. Thence, like Alaric of old, Zabergan sent one division of his army southwards to the cities of Greece, the inhabitants of which were dwelling in fancied security. Another division ravaged the Chersonese, and hoped to effect a passage into Asia. The third division dared to move towards the Imperial City itself. To their own astonishment doubtless they found their progress practically unopposed. The wall of Anastasius, the breakwater which has so often turned back the tide of barbaric invasion, was not at this time in a state capable of defence. Earthquakes had levelled parts of it with the ground, and the Emperor, who had despatched conquering expeditions to Carthage and Rome, and imposed his theological definitions on a General Council, wanted either the leisure or the money needful for the obvious duty of  p526 repairing this line of fortifications. Over the crumbling heaps pressed King Zabergan and his seven thousand horsemen. Wherever they went they spread terror and desolation. Two captives of illustrious rank fell into their hands, — Sergius, the Magister Militum per Thracias, and Ederman, son of that Grand Chamberlain Calopodius whose name twenty-seven years before had been uttered with shouts of execration by the Green party in the Hippodrome at Constantinople.23 On the ordinary inhabitants of this district — the Home Counties as we should say of the Byzantine Empire — the hand of these savage spoilers fell very heavily. A vast crowd of captives were dragged about with them in their wanderings. Nuns torn from the convent had to undergo the last extremity of outrage from their brutal conquerors. Pregnant women, when the hour of their distress came upon them, had to bring forth their little ones on the highway, untended, unpitied, and unsheltered from the gaze of the barbarians. The children born in these terrible days were left naked on the road as the squalid host moved on to some fresh scene of devastation, and were a prey to dogs and vultures.

The Huns penetrate within seventeen miles of Constantinople. Amid such scenes of terror the savage Kotrigurs reached the little village of Melantias on the river Athyras, eighteen miles from Constantinople, a point on the road to Hadrianople about seven miles further from the capital than the celebrated suburb of San Stefano, to which in our own time the invaders from across the Danube penetrated.24 There was universal  p527 terror and dismay in the sovereign city, and men eagerly asked one another what force there was to resist the invader. The mighty armies of the Empire, which in her prosperous days had amounted to six hundred and forty-five thousand men, had dwindled in the time of Justinian to one hundred and fifty thousand.25 And of this diminished force some were in Italy, some in Spain; some were watching the defiles of the Caucasus, and some were keeping down the Monophysites in Alexandria. The number of real fighting men available for the defence of the capital was so small as to be absolutely contemptible. The Scholarii. There was, however, a body of men, the so‑called Scholarii,26 the Household Troops of the Empire, who, like the life-guards of a modern sovereign, should have been available for the defence not only of the palace, but of the capital also. But eighty years of indiscipline had ruined the efficiency of a body of troops which under Theodosius and his sons had contained many men, of barbarian origin indeed, but the bravest soldiers in the army. Zeno, we are told, had commenced the downward  p528 course by filling the ranks of the Scholarii entirely with his own pampered Isaurian countrymen. Since then the progress of decay had continued. To wear the gorgeous costume of a scholarius, to have access to the palace, and to be employed about the person of the Emperor had seemed so desirable to the rich citizens of Constantinople that they had offered large sums to have their names entered on the muster-rolls. The Emperors, especially Justinian, hard pressed for money, had gladly caught at this means of replenishing their coffers: and thus it came to pass that at this crisis of the nation's need a number of splendidly-dressed luxurious citizen-soldiers, entirely unused to the hardships and the exercises of war, were, with one exception, all that could be relied upon to beat back the wild hordes of Zabergan.

Alarm of Justinian. That exception was a little body of veterans, not more than three hundred in number, who had served under Belisarius in Italy. To them and to their glorious commander all eyes were now turned. The Emperor, now probably in the seventy-seventh year of his age, and no longer sustained by the proud spirit of the indomitable Theodora, was seized, apparently, with such fear as had prostrated him during the insurrection of the Νικα. He gave orders that all the vessels of gold and silver should be stripped from the churches in the suburbs and carried within the City. He bade the Scholarii, and even the Senators themselves,27 assemble behind the gates of the wall  p529 with which Theodosius II had encompassed Constantinople. And, last mark of the extremity of his fear, he consented to invest Belisarius with the supreme command, notwithstanding the unslumbering jealousy with which he regarded the greatest of his servants.

Belisarius called to take the chief command. Belisarius, who seems, notwithstanding his illustrious offices, to have been virtually living in retirement since his return from Italy, accepted the charge laid upon him and donned the breastplate and helmet which had been for ten years unworn. Though still only in middle life (for, if our computation of his birth-year be correct, he was but fifty-four, and he cannot possibly have been more than two or three years older),28 he seemed to those around him already outworn with age.29 The terrible anxieties of even his most triumphant campaigns, the strain of the long siege of Rome, the fever at Portus, above all the exquisite misery of the quarrel with Antonina, had aged him before his time.

His plan of campaign. But with the familiar sensation of the helmet and the breastplate worn once more came back much of the martial energy of former days. Leaving perhaps the dainty Scholarii to man the walls of Constantinople, he went forth with his three hundred veterans, with all the horses that he could collect from the Circus and from the Imperial stables, and with a crowd of rustics eager to taste what they supposed to be the pleasures of war under the command of the unconquered  p530 Belisarius. The General accepted their service, determining to avail himself of their numbers to strike terror into the enemy, but to give them no chance of actually mingling in the fray. He pitched his camp at the village of Chettus,30 bade the peasants draw a deep dispatch round it, and, as of old at the relief of Rimini, kindled his watch-fires on as broad a line as possible, that the barbarians might form an exaggerated idea of his numbers. Seeing that his veterans were indulging in too contemptuous an estimate of their enemy, and already counting the victory as won, he addressed them in a military harangue, in which he explained that while he fully shared their convince that victory was possible, it was so only on the condition of strict obedience to his orders. Nothing but Roman discipline strictly observed could enable their little band to triumph over the savage hosts of Zabergan.31

Still intent on deceiving the enemy as much as possible, he ordered his rustic followers to cut down trees and trail them about in the rear of every column of his troops, so raising a cloud of dust which masked their movements, and gave them the appearance of a mighty multitude. Then, when two thousand of Zabergan's horsemen advanced towards him, by a skilful disposition of his archers in an adjoining wood, he so galled the enemy with a well-directed shower of arrows on both flanks, that he compelled them to  p531 narrow their front and charge him at that part of his line where he knew that his hardy veterans would repel them. And during the whole time of the engagement the rustics and the citizens of Constantinople were ordered, not to fight, but to keep up such a shouting and such a clash of arms against one another as might convey to the minds of the barbarians the idea that a desperate encounter was going on somewhere near them.

Victory over the Huns. These tactics, quaint and almost childish as they seem to us, proved successful. The advancing Huns were vigorously repulsed by the handful of Italian veterans; they were dismayed by the shouting and the clash of arms; they turned to fly, and in flight forgot their Parthian-like accomplishment of discharging arrows at a pursuing foe. Belisarius did not dare to follow them far lest he should reveal the weakness of his little band; but four hundred slaughtered Huns, and the hot haste in which Zabergan returned to his camp, sufficiently showed that victory rested with the Imperial troops. Constantinople at any rate was saved. The Huns marched back to the other side of the wall of Anastasius, and renounced the hope of penetrating to the capital.

Recall of Belisarius. The victory might have been made a decisive one had Belisarius been continued in the command, but as soon as Constantinople was delivered from its pressing danger, that jealousy of the great General, which had become a second nature with the aged Emperor, resumed its sway. Belisarius was curtly and ungraciously ordered to return to the City, and the Kotrigurs, as soon as they heard that he was no longer with the army, ceased to retreat. The rest of the Hunnish  p532 campaign need not here be described. It was ended by the payment of a large sum of money by Justinian, nominally as ransom for Sergius and the other captives, but really as a bribe to induce the Kotrigurs to return to their old haunts by the Danube. Their hostile kinsmen the Utigurs fell upon them in their homeward march, and inflicted upon them such grievous slaughter that they never after ventured on an invasion of the Empire. Both of these offshoots of the great Hunnish stock were in fact soon uprooted and destroyed by the irruption of the terrible Avars.

His return to Constantinople. Belisarius in his return to Constantinople was hailed with shouts of joy by the common people, who beheld in him their deliverer from all the horrors of barbarian capture. For a little time his appearance in the streets and in the Forum was as veritable a triumph as when he returned from the siege of Ravenna. Soon, however, the jealous temper of the sovereign, the calumnies of the courtiers, the envy of the nobles, who seem never to have been reconciled to his rapid elevation, prevailed over the enthusiasm of the populace, and Belisarius became again, as he had been for ten years previously, a man who, though possessed of wealth, of renown, and of nominal rank, was devoid of any real influence in State affairs.

Belisarius accused of conspiring against Justinian, 562. Three years after his victory over Zabergan, Belisarius was accused of connivance at a conspiracy against the life of Justinian.32 The conspiracy, which was set  p533 on foot by one Sergius (a person of obscure rank,33 and not to be confounded with the Magister Militum who had been taken captive by the Huns), was apparently an affair of no political importance, a mere villainous scheme to murder a venerable old man during his siesta: and being revealed by a loquacious confederate to an officer of the Imperial household, was suppressed without difficulty. In their fall, however, the detected murderers endeavoured to drag down the great General. 25 Nov. They declared that Belisarius himself had been aware of the existence of the conspiracy, and that his steward,34 Paulus by name, had taken an active part in their deliberations.35 The accused men being arrested, and probably put to the torture, confessed that Belisarius was privy to the plot. 5 Dec. 562. On the fifth of December the Emperor convoked a meeting of the Senate, to which he proceeded in state, accompanied by the patriarch Eutychius. He ordered the confessions to be read in the presence of the assembly. Belisarius disgraced. Belisarius, on hearing himself accused, showed not so much of indignation as of misery and self-abasement.36 Justinian, though his anger was hot against the General, suffered him to live, but took away his guards and his large retinue of servants, and ordered him to remain in his house under surveillance. This state of things lasted  p534 for seven months. 19 July 563, restored to favour. On the nineteenth of July in the following year the veteran General was restored to all his former honours and emoluments, and received again into the favour of Justinian, who had probably satisfied himself that the accusation which he had previously believed was a mere calumny invented by ruined and desperate men.

Death of Belisarius, Mar. 565. Nearly two years after this, Belisarius died, preceding his jealous master to the grave by about eight months. His wife Antonina, according to one late and doubtful authority, also survived him, but retired after his death into religious seclusion.37 His property, that vast wealth for the sake of which he had endured so much humiliation and allowed so many stains to rest on his glory, was appropriated, perhaps after the death of his widow, to the necessities of the Imperial Treasury.38

 p535  Legend of his blindness and beggary. Such, as far as we can now ascertain it, is apparently the true story of the disgrace of Belisarius and his final restoration to the favour of Justinian. But another story, that which represents him as blinded and reduced to beggary, and sitting as a mendicant at the gates of Constantinople, or even of Rome,39 has obtained very wide currency, partly through the genius of Marmontel, who naturally laid hold of so striking a reverse of fortune to give point to the romance of Bélisaire. The authority for this story, as will be seen in the following note, is of the poorest kind, and dates only from the eleventh or twelfth century. It is a very probable suggestion that in the five or six hundred years which intervened between the hero's death and first appearance of this story in literature, popular tradition had confounded his reverses with those of his contemporary John of Cappadocia, who was really reduced to beggary, but not to blindness. Yet the idea of so terrible a fall from so splendid a position has fastened itself too deeply in the popular mind to be ever really eradicated, let it be disproved as often as it may. In the future, as in the past, for one reader who knows of the capture of Gelimer or the marvellous defence of Rome, there will be ten who associate the great General's name with the thought of a blind beggar holding a wooden box before him, and crying in pathetic tones 'Date obolum Belisario.'

The Author's Notes:

1 The notes of time given by Procopius for the eleventh year of the war (546‑547) are exceedingly indistinct. But Marcellinus Comes tells us that Totila, by the craft of the Isaurians, entered Rome on the 17th of December [546]. As he speaks of Rome lying desolate forty days after Totila's devastations, we may probably put its recapture by Belisarius about the 9th of February, 547, allowing fourteen days for Totila's occupation of the City.

2 Ἐν τῷ Ἀννίβα τοῦ Λίβυος χαρακώματι στρατοπεδευσάμενος, ἡσυχῆ ἔμενεν. I have not found that any other writer speaks of an encampment of Hannibal on Mount Garganus. Is it possible that Procopius is thinking of Totila's other camp on Mount Algidus, which is not far from the site still pointed out as that of the Campo di Annibale, near Monte Cavo?

3 The commander of these troops at Perugia was now 'Oldogandon the Hun.'

4 Not absolutely taken from them, since, for this part of the way, there was the alternative route by the uplands of Mevania.

Thayer's Note: Here as elsewhere in his book, it is clear that Hodgkin shows himself much less familiar with Umbria than with other parts of Italy. Mevania (Bevagna) sits in one of the lower parts of Umbria, at the edge of the plain left by the Lacus Umber drained by the Romans: if we choose to qualify as "uplands" an area of the generally mountainous Umbria, this isn't the one.

Hodgkin's main point, however, is that there was an alternative Via Flaminia, and this is true. A direct route from Terni (Interamnia) to Foligno (Fulginae) would take us over a range of high hills, the Monti Martani, so instead, the Romans built two roads to detour around the obstacle: the eastern branch of the Flaminia, at about midway of which we find the important town of Spoleto (Spoletium), and a western branch on which the most important town, then as now, was Mevania although it is almost at the northern end of that branch.

So we might identify the two branches of the Flaminia in shorthand fashion as Spoletium and Mevania, but to suggest that the latter traverses more mountainous terrain is seriously misleading: the highest point on either branch, and to a significant degree, is in fact at Somma, on the Spoleto branch, a pass at 680m above sea level which even today is considered somewhat dangerous, especially in the winter. The flatter and easier road, in the sense that it slopes more evenly, is the Mevania branch, although it's somewhat longer.

5 Procopius's description of John's proceedings at Tarentum (p376)º is illustrated in an interesting way by the alterations in the camps on the Roman Wall in Northumberland, where gateways have been blocked up or reduced in size in order to make the camps tenable by a smaller force than that for which they were at first intended.

6 The 'bird's nest of lofty Acherontia,' as Horace calls it, is situated in the neighbourhood of Mons Vultur, and about fifteen miles from the poet's birth‑place, Venusia. His description of himself (Sat. II.i.34‑35) —

'Lucanus an Appulus anceps,

Nam Venusinus arat finem sub utrumque colonus' —

would be even more applicable to an inhabitant of Acherontia.

7 'Suffering not a single person to remain in Rome, but leaving her absolutely desolate,' are the words of Procopius. 'After which devastation,' says Marcellinus Comes, 'for forty days or more Rome was so desolate that no one, either man or beast, remained there.'

8 Βελισαρίῳ δὲ τόλμα προμηθὴς τότε γέγονεν, ἀρχὴν μὲν μανιώδης δόξασα εἶναι τοῖς τε ὁρῶσι καὶ ἀκούουσι πρῶτον, ἐκβᾶσα δὲ ἐς ἀρετῆς ἔργον ὑψηλόν τε καὶ δαιμονίως ὑπέρογκον.

9 Procopius does not mention this fact, but it is abundantly evident to any one who examines the walls that such a transference has taken place at some time, and no time is more likely than that with which we are now dealing.

10 Again we have to notice the combination of ditch and palisade, so well illustrating the German term Pfahlgraben.

11 Diodorus, XIV.18.

12 I have expanded the words of Procopius, but I think he means us to understand that such was the burden of the Gothic songs.

13 Ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν καὶ τοὺς τοιαῦτα οὐχ οἷόν τέ ἐστι μὴ οὐχὶ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐς ἀεὶ ἁμαρτάνεσθαι, ἐπεὶ καὶ φύσει γίγνεσθαι εἴωθε.

14 Except the Ponte Molle, which was too near to the City for him to destroy it.

15 Procopius in the Anecdota (cap. 5) says: 'Never did Belisarius show himself so keen after ignoble gain as at this time, having received no supply of money from the Emperor, but spoiling without mercy the inhabitants of Ravenna and Sicily and any other places which might be in the obedience of the Emperor, forcing them to render accounts to him for all their past lives' [that is, no doubt, for taxes and public moneys which had passed through their hands].

16 This speech seems to me to have more of Procopius and less of Totila in it than most of its kind.

17 Somewhat more than 2000 men were sent in the autumn of 547, viz. a few men under Pacurius son of Peranius, and Sergius nephew of Solomon; 300 Heruli under Verus; 800 men under Warazes the Armenian; more than 1000 under Valerian, Magister Militum of Armenia. Again (in the summer of 548), 2000 infantry were sent to Sicily, apparently to form a reserve for the Italian army.

18 Following the writer in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, I speak with some uncertainty as to these topographical details. The sites of Sybaris and Thurii are both doubtful, and the language of Procopius (p396)º is not very clear. The statement in the Itinerary of Antonine, 'A Turiis ad Roscianum M. P. XII,' is the most precise piece of information that we have.

19 De Bello Gotth. III.35 (p427).º

20 'Theodora Augusta Chalcedonensis Synodi inimica cancri plaga corpore toto perfusa vitam prodigiose finivit' (Vict. Tunnun. ap. Roncalli, II.372).

21 This may be inferred from the fact that the fortune of Belisarius after his death went into the Imperial Treasury.

22 Τῶν βασιλικῶν σωματοφυλάκων ἄρχων (De Bell. Gotth. IV.21). Probably this is equivalent to 'Magister Militum in Praesenti.'

23 See vol. III p557. We get these names from Theophanes. I have added 'per Thracias' to the title of Sergius, conjecturally. It occurs in the Notitia.

24 Both San Stefano and Melantias (now Buyûk Tchekmadgé) are described in Walsh's Journey from Constantinople (1828). The modern name of Melantias signifies 'Great Bridge,' and is derived from the extraordinary length of the bridge over the Athyras, which consists of twenty‑six arches.

Thayer's Note: In that book, I've only been able to find Melantias (pp58‑59).

25 As this is an important passage for the statistician, I will quote it in the very words of Agathias: Τὰ γὰρ τῶν Ῥωμαίων στρατεύματα, οὐ τοσαῦτα διαμεμενηκότα ὁπόσα τὴν ἀρχὴν ὑπὸ τῶν πάλαι βασιλέων ἐξεύρηται, ἐς ἐλαχίστην δέ τινα μοίραν περιελθόντα, οὐκέτι τῷ μεγέθει τῆς πολιτείας ἐξήρκουν. Δέον γὰρ ἐς πέντε καὶ τεσσαράκοντα καὶ ἑξακοσίας χιλιάδας μαχίμων ἀνδρῶν τὴν ὅλην ἀγείρεσθαι δύναμιν, μόλις ἐν τῷ τότε εἰς πεντήκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν [χιλιάδας] περιειστήκει (Hist. V.13; pp305‑6, ed. Bonn).

26 Perhaps the Vexillationes Palatinae and Legiones Palatinae of the Notitia Orientis (cap. v).

27 We get this fact from Theophanes: Καὶ περιεφύλαττον τὰς πόρτας πάσας τοῦ τείχους τοῦ Θεοδοσιακοῦ αἱ Σχολαί, καὶ οἱ Προτέκτορες, καὶ οἱ Ἀριθμοὶ καὶ πᾶσα ἡ Σύγκλητος. The Ἀριθμοὶ (Numeri) represent the rank and file of the ordinary troops. I cannot state the exact relation between Scholae and Protectores, who must both have been of the Household troops.

28 Since he was ὑπηνήτης, a beardless stripling, in 526, thirty-three years before the Hunnish invasion.

29 Κεκμηκὼς ἤδη ὑπὸ τοῦ γήρως.

30 I do not find any identification of this site, but it was probably about half‑way to Melantias.

31 It is interesting to compare this oration, feeble and diffuse as it is, with the speeches reported by Procopius. The style is very inferior, but the thoughts are substantially the same that we meet with in many of those speeches.

32 We get all our information as to this conspiracy from Theophanes (pp201‑2, ed. Paris, 1655). It must be remembered that he begins his years with the commencement of the Indiction (1st Sep.), and consequently the disgrace of Belisarius in December and his restoration to favour in the following July are included in the same year.

33 He was grandson of the Curator Aetherius. The Curator was probably not higher in rank than Clarissimus.

34 Curator.

35 For some reason which is not explained the plot seems to have been chiefly concocted by silversmiths. Marcellus, Isaac, and Vitus, all conspirators, or accused of being so, were also all Αργυροπράται.

36 So I think we must understand the words of Theophanes: Καὶ ἀκούσας Βελλισάριος μεγάλως έβαρήθη.

37 If Antonina was living at this time she must have been, according to Procopius's statement, eighty‑two years old (since he makes her sixty in 543). The only authority for her survivorship of Belisarius is the Anonymous author of Antiquitates Constantino­politanae (in Banduri's Imperium Orientale, part I, p37, ed. Paris), who, in describing the Church of St. Procopius, says that it occupied the site of the Palace of Vigilantia erected by Justinian, and that 'Antonina, the wife of Belisarius the Magister, who was Mistress of the Robes (ζωστὴ) to Theodora the wife of Justinian, after her widowhood fixed her residence here with Vigilantia, and by her persuasion the Church of St. Procopius was erected.' But this might possibly mean after Antonina's first widowhood. By Vigilantia is probably meant the sister of Justinian and mother of the Emperor Justin II.

38 'And the property of this man went into the Imperial palace of Marina' (Theophanes, p203). Ducange (Const. Christiana, Lib. II, VII) says that this place was built by Marina, daughter of Arcadius, and concludes from this passage that it was at the time of Justinian converted into a receptacle for the treasures of the Empire [perhaps, rather, turned into an office where the business of the Treasury was transacted].

39 I have seen a statement, the author of which I cannot remember, that the Pincian Gate of Rome was named the Belisarian because there Belisarius sat and begged.

Thayer's Note:

a For an illustration of a caltrop and the main ancient citations, see the article Tribulus in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

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