Short URL for this page:

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

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

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

[image ALT: link to previous chapter]
Book V
Note D

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!


[image ALT: link to next chapter]
Book V
Chapter 22

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
Chapter XXI

The Third Siege of Rome


Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, III.35‑40 (pp427‑454)º

Capture of Perugia. Belisarius left the Imperial cause in Italy in a miserable condition. The garrison of Perugia, who for three years and more, notwithstanding the murder of the gallant Cyprian, had resisted the arms and solicitations of Totila,​1 549 were now overmastered, and before Belisarius reached Constantinople that high Etruscan fortress, taken by storm, not yielding to a surrender, had passed into the power of the Goths.

Mutiny of the garrison in Rome, 548. At Rome, the soldiers who had been placed in charge of the recovered City, with long arrears of pay due to them from the treasury, could endure no longer the spectacle of their commander Conon, renewing as they believed the greedy game of the cornº-traffic by which he and Bessas had enriched themselves during the second siege, and thus thriving upon their misery. Having risen in mutiny and slain their general they sent some of the Roman clergy as their ambassadors to  p541 Constantinople, claiming a full amnesty for their crime and discharge of the arrears of pay due to them from the State.​2 Should these demands not be complied with, they declared that they would at once surrender the City to the Goths. Of course the Emperor had no choice but to comply, and to promise to pay from his exhausted treasury the money kept back by fraud and reclaimed by massacre.

Totila presses the siege of Rome more vigorously, 549. This mutiny occurred several months before the recall of Belisarius. Now, after that event, Totila began to press the garrison of Rome more vigorously than he had done for the past two years. The cause which suddenly endowed the ancient capital of the world with so great importance in his eyes was a singular one, namely, his suit for the hand of a Frankish princess. Attitude assumed by the Frankish kings. Ever since the death of Clovis, and pre‑eminently since the outbreak of the Gothic war, the Frankish Kings had been advancing steadily towards a position of greater legitimacy than any of the other barbarian royalties; and this pretension of theirs had been upon the whole acquiesced in by the Eastern Emperor, anxious above all things to prevent the weight of the Frankish battle‑axe from being thrown into the scale of his enemies. Thus Justinian had formally sanctioned the cession made by the Ostrogoths of the south-east corner of Gaul to the Franks, and in doing so must inevitably have waived any shadow of claim which the Empire might still have been supposed to possess to the remaining nine-tenths of Gaul, the territory wrested from Syagrius, Alaric, and Godomar. Secure in this  p542 Imperial recognition of their rights and in the loyal support which, as professors of the Athanasian form of Christianity, they received from the Catholic clergy, the Frankish partner­ship of kings clothed the substance of their power with more of the form of independent sovereignty than any of the Teutonic conquerors, whether at Toulouse or at Ravenna, had yet cared, or dared, to assume. Sitting in the Emperor's seat in the lordly amphitheatre of Arles, the long-haired Merwing watched the chariot-race and received the loyal acclamations of the people. Now too the sons of Clovis began to coin golden money bearing their own image and superscription, whereas hitherto all the barbarian monarchs (including, says Procopius, even the King of Persia himself) had been content to see their effigy on coins of silver, while upon the solidi of the nobler metal appeared the rude resemblance of the Caesar of Byzantium.​3 It is singular to find already working in  p543 the middle of the sixth century a thought as to the superior legitimacy of Frankish conquest, which was not to bear fruit in visible deeds till two hundred and fifty years later, when Frankish Charles was hailed by the people of Rome as Imperator and Augustus.

Totila asks the hand of a Frankish princess in marriage. While these ideas of a right, in some way differing from the mere right of conquest, were working in the minds of the bishops and counsellors of the Frankish Courts, came Totila's messengers to one of the kings of the Franks, probably Theudebert of Metz,​4 asking on behalf of their master for his daughter's hand in marriage. Refusal. The Frankish King refused the request, saying that that man neither was nor would ever be King of Italy who, having once been in possession of Rome, could not hold it, but destroyed a part of the city and abandoned the rest to his enemies. What became of Totila's matrimonial suit in after days we know not: but at any rate the taunt stung him to  p544 the quick, and he determined that the world should recognise him as master not only of Italy, but of Rome.

Diogenes commandant of Rome. 549 The garrison of Rome now consisted of three thousand picked soldiers commanded by Diogenes, one of the military household of Belisarius, who had distinguished himself in sallies and on the battlements during the first siege of Rome. Under his able general­ship the utmost force of the garrison was put forth to repel the foe. Assault after assault was repulsed, and the baffled Totila was obliged to convert the siege into a blockade. Having taken Porto, he was able to make this blockade more rigorous than any which had preceded it. On the other side, in the very depth of her recent fall, the Eternal City found a new source of safety. Diogenes had sown great breadths of land within the walls with corn. The great City, once brimming over with human life and filled in Horace's days with the babble of all human tongues, was now a little, well-ordered, and prosperous farm. In the summer of 549, when Totila stood before her walls, the golden ears were waving in the wind on the heights of the lordly Palatine and along the by‑ways of the crowded Suburra.

Arrears of pay. Notwithstanding this advantage, however, the desperate bankruptcy of Justinian's government played the game of Totila. Either the arrears stipulated for by the murderers of Conon had not been sent, or they had not been fairly divided among the soldiers. The little band of Isaurians who kept guard at the Porta San Paolo (the archway which spans the road to Ostia) deeply resented the withholding of their pay, which, as they declared, was now several years in arrear. Deeply too had sunk into their hearts the story of the  p545 splendid rewards given by Totila to those of their countrymen who three years before had betrayed the City to the Goths. Even now from the walls they could see these men arrayed in splendid armour riding side by side with the Gothic captains.​5 Accordingly they opened secret negotiations with the besiegers, and promised on a certain night to open the Gate of St. Paul. Totila, who knew that he could reckon on no such sleepy supineness among the besieged as had enabled him to effect his previous entry, resorted to a stratagem. When the fated night came, he put a party of trumpeters on board two little boats, and ordered them, before the first watch was over, to creep up the river and blow a loud blast from trumpets as near as possible to the centre of the City. They did so. The Romans, not doubting that an attack was being made by the way of the river (perhaps just below the northern end of the Aventine Mount), left their various posts and all hurried to the threatened quarter. The Gate of St. Paul opened to the Goths. Meanwhile the Isaurian deserters opened the Pauline Gate, and the Gothic host, without trouble or loss of life, found themselves once more inside the City.

Escape of Diogenes. Of the garrison, many were slain by the Gothic soldiers in the streets, some fled northwards and eastwards, and succeeded in escaping from the sword of the barbarians; some, probably the most warlike of the host, headed by the brave Diogenes, rushed forth by the Porta San Pancrazio and along the  p546 Aurelian Way, hoping to reinforce the garrison which at Centumcellae (Civita Vecchia) was defending the last stronghold now left to the Empire in Central Italy. Totila, who anticipated this movement, had stationed a party of his best warriors in ambush on this road. The fugitives rushed headlong into the snare, and a fearful slaughter of them followed, from which only a very few escaped to Civita Vecchia. Among the few, however, was he whom Totila most desired to capture, their valiant leader Diogenes.

The Tomb of Hadrian defended. A gallant Cilician, who bore the name of his great countryman Paul, and who, after acting for some time as superintendent of the household of Belisarius now commanded a troop of cavalry under Diogenes, collected a band of four hundred horsemen, and with them occupied the Tomb of Hadrian and the bridge of St. Peter which was commanded by it. Statueless, battered by the storm of war, and bereft of nearly all its Imperial adornment, but still

'A tower of strength

That stood four-square to every wind that blew,'

rose the mighty Mausoleum. As soon as day dawned, the Goths advanced to the attack of the fortress, but owing to the peculiar character of the ground, could effect nothing, and perished by handfuls in the narrow approaches, where their crowded masses were exposed without cover to the shower of the Roman missiles. Seeing this, Totila at once called off his men, forbade all direct assault upon the Tomb, and gave orders to wait the surer work of hunger. Through the rest of that day and the following night the gallant followers of Paul remained without food. The next day they determined to kill some of the horses  p547 and feed upon their flesh; but repugnance to the strange banquet kept them till twilight still unfed. Then they said to one another, 'Were it not better to die gloriously than to linger on here in misery, and surrender after all?' They resolved accordingly to burst forth suddenly upon the besiegers, to slay as many as of them as possible, and die, if they must die, in the thick of battle. These strong men then, with sudden emotion, twined their arms around one another, and kissed one another's faces with the death-kiss, as knowing that they must all straightway perish.​6 Totila, seeing these gestures from afar and reading their import, sent to offer honourable terms of surrender. Either the garrison might depart unharmed to Constantinople, leaving their horses and arms behind them, and having taken an oath never again to serve against the Goths; or, if they preferred to keep their military possessions, and would enter his service, they should be treated in all things as the equals of their conquerors and new comrades. Surrender of the garrison. The despairing soldiers heard this message with delight. At first they were all for returning to Constantinople: then when they bethought them of the shame and the danger of returning unarmed and on foot over all the wide lands that intervened between them and the Emperor, and remembered how that Emperor had broken his share of the compact by leaving their pay so long in arrear, they changed their minds and elected to serve under the standards of the gallant Totila. Only two men remained faithful to the Emperor, Paul himself, and Mindes the Isaurian. They sought  p548 the King's presence and said, 'We have wives and children in our native land, and without them it is not possible for us to live. Send us therefore to Byzantium.' Totila knew them for true men, and giving them an escort and necessaries for the journey, started them on their road. There were still three hundred Roman soldiers, refugees at the various altars in the City. To them also Totila offered the same terms, and all accepted service under him.

Rome re‑edified. There was no talk now of destroying, but only of keeping and embellishing Rome. Totila caused abundance of provisions to be brought into the City. The scattered remnants of the Senatorial families were brought back from their Campanian exile and bidden to inhabit their old homes without fear. As many as possible of the buildings which he himself had hewn down and burned with fire were raised up again. And when the Gothic King sat in the podium of the Circus Maximus, dressed in his royal robes, and gave the signal for the charioteers to start from the twelve ostia, he doubtless remembered the taunt of the Frankish King, and felt with pardonable triumph that he was now at least undoubted King of Italy.

Totila's embassy to Justinian. Totila then sent a Roman citizen named Stephen to Constantinople to propose terms of peace and alliance between the two nations, which had now been for near fifteen years engaged in deadly struggle: but the Emperor, immersed in theology and still unwilling to own himself defeated, did not even admit the ambassador to an interview. Summons to Centumcellae (Civita Vecchia). On hearing of this rebuff Totila marched first to Centumcellae and summoned it to surrender, offering the garrison the same terms which had been granted to the defenders of Hadrian's  p549 Tomb. Diogenes replied that it was not consistent with his honour to surrender the stronghold entrusted to him, for so little cause shown, but that if by a given day he had received no succours from his master, Centumcellae should be evacuated. Thirty hostages were given on each side for the fulfilment of this compact, the Goths being bound not to attack during the stipulated interval, and the Romans not to defend beyond it; and then the Gothic army, accompanied by the Gothic fleet, consisting of four hundred cutters and many larger vessels captured from the Imperialists, moved off to the south.

Operations in the south of Italy. Vengeance upon ungrateful Sicily was the great desire of Totila's heart, as it had been three years before when he forbade the Roman deacon Pelagius even to name her pardon. Some work, however, had yet to be done on the mainland. Reggio, which was under the command of Thorimuth, one of the former defenders of Osimo, was assaulted, but so bravely defended that the siege had to be turned into a blockade. Tarentum was easily taken. Operations in the north of Italy. In the north, Rimini, once so stubbornly defended by John, was now betrayed into the hands of the Goths. From Ravenna, Verus the Herulian, whose drunken hardihood had once moved the mirth of Totila, made another of his wild sorties, in which he fell with many of his followers.

549‑550 Fall of Rhegium. Just at the end of 549, or the beginning of 550, Reggio fell, the garrison being compelled by famine to surrender. Even before this town, nearly the last stronghold left to the Empire in Southern Italy, had been won, Totila had crossed the Straits of Messina into Sicily. Sicily ravaged. His campaign here was one of plunder rather than conquest. All the chief cities of the  p550 island, Messina, Syracuse, Palermo, seem to have resisted his arms; and only four fortresses, the names of which are not given, submitted to him. But far and wide through the island the villas of the Roman nobles bore witness to the invader's presence. The whole of the year 550 and (apparently) part of 551 were occupied by these devastations. At the end of that interval the King, collecting all his booty, large troops of horses and herds of cattle, stores of grain, fruit, and every other kind of produce of which he had despoiled the Sicilians, loaded his ships with the plunder and returned to Italy. Spinus persuades Totila to evacuate Sicily. It was said that he had been partly persuaded to abandon Sicily by his own Quaestor, a citizen of Spoleto named Spinus, who had the misfortune to be taken prisoner at Catana. This man, of Roman, not Gothic kin, persuaded his captors to consent to his being exchanged for a noble Roman lady who had fallen into Totila's hands. They at first scouted the idea of so unequal a bargain, but consented upon his promising to do his best to induce Totila to depart from the island. On being liberated he painted to his master in lively colours the danger that the Imperial armament then assembling on the other side of the Hadriatic might make a sudden swoop upon the coast in the neighbourhood of Genoa and carry off the Gothic women and children tranquilly abiding in those northern regions and supposed to be out of the reach of war. Totila listened to the advice, which was probably sound enough, with whatever motive given, and desisting from his work of plunder, returned to his true base of operations in Italy, leaving garrisons in his four Sicilian fortresses.

Diogenes refuses to surrender Centumcellae. Meanwhile the appointed day for the surrender of  p551 Centumcellae had come and gone. Diogenes hearing, as everyone else in Italy had heard, rumours of the great army collected in Dalmatia under the Emperor's nephew Germanus, considered himself absolved from his promise, and refused to surrender the Mediterranean fortress. The thirty hostages who had been mutually given and received, returned in safety to their friends. Of the further fortunes of the valiant governor we have no information. Centumcellae was certainly surrendered to the Goths,​7 probably not later than the spring of 551: but Procopius has omitted to tell us the story of its final surrender and to inform us — what we would gladly have known — whether Diogenes experienced the generosity or the hot wrath of Totila.

Vacillation in the counsels of Justinian. All these expectations, however, of help from Byzantium were for the present disappointed. Belisarius was recalled, as we have seen, early in 549. During all the rest of that year and the next, and until the middle of 551, nothing effectual was done for the relief of the Italians, who were still loyal to the Empire. Strange weakness and vacillation marked the counsels of the Emperor. Appointment of Liberius to the command. The elderly Patrician Liberius, formerly ambassador from Theodahad to Justinian, a man of pure and upright character,​8 but quite unversed in war, was appointed to the command of the relieving army. Then his appointment was cancelled. Some months afterwards he was again appointed, and actually set sail for Syracuse, where  p552 he succeeded in effecting some temporary relief for the city, straitly besieged by the Goths. He had accomplished this work, and had sailed away to Palermo, before he learned that Appointment of Artabanes, 550. the wavering Emperor had again revoked his commission and entrusted the command of the Sicilian army to Artabanes the Armenian prince, though, as we shall shortly see, he had little reason for trusting his loyalty. The ships of Artabanes were dispersed by a fierce storm while they were rounding the promontories of Calabria, but the General himself with one ship succeeded in making his way through the tumultuous seas to the island of Malta.9

Expectation of the arrival of Germanus. Then for a time all other names were merged in the renown of Germanus, the nephew of Justinian, who collected a great army at Sardica, and from whom all men either hoped or feared a triumphant ending to the Italian war. How these expectations were disappointed, and what were some of the causes of the strange but not inexplicable vacillation of Justinian during these years of Totila's victorious progress, must be told in the next chapter.

The Author's Notes:

1 There are some local legends as to the Totila's siege of Perugia, commemorated by some curious pictures in the Pinacoteca; but I think these legends have no historical value.

2 Τὰς ξυντάξεις ὅσας δὴ αὐτοῖς τὸ δημόσιον ὤφειλε (De B. G. III.30). Observe that the Empire is still respublica, and bears a name derived from δῆμος.

3 As this passage has an important bearing on the relation of the Empire to the new royalties, it will be well to quote it at length: —

Procopius on the coinage of the barbarians. 'And now the Frankish rulers (οἱ Γερμανῶν ἄρχοντες) sit at Arles beholding the equestrian contest, and they have made a golden coin from the produce of the Gaulish mines, not bearing, according to custom, the image of the Emperor of the Romans, but their own. Although the King of the Persians has been accustomed to strike silver coins as he pleased, it has not been considered right for either him or any other barbarian king to stamp his own effigy on a stater of gold, even though the metal should be found in his own dominions: nor have they been able to make such coins pass current in exchange, though barbarians themselves should be the traffickers' (Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, III.33, p417).º

This passage is commented upon by Mr. C. F. Keary in his valuable paper on the Coinage of Western Europe (Numismatic Chronicle, 1878, p70). I have also before me a letter from Mr. Keary on the same subject. He observes that the reasons which withheld some of the barbarian kings from coining money with their own effigies were no doubt commercial rather than political. It was not because they dared not do so, but because, in most instances, they doubted if money so stamped would pass current as freely as the well-known Byzantine type. Theudebert of Metz was the first barbarian king who put his own name in full (not in a monogram) on gold coins. But even this was not the beginning of a regular series of Merovingian gold coins, which we do not find till after 585. Gold coins of the later Sassanid kings of Persia are exceedingly rare (none in the British Museum or India Office Collection after 458), and Procopius is probably right in saying that Roman solidi passed current very freely, perhaps exclusively, in Persia in his day. Only this was not because the Sassanid kings dared not coin gold money.

4 It does not appear to be stated who the King was: but the kings of Metz at this time had most intercourse with Italy. If it was Chlotochar his uncle, the princess sued for may have been Chlotsinda, afterwards wife of Alboin King of the Lombards.

5 The words of Procopius (ἅμα δὲ καὶ Ἰσαύρους ὁρῶντες τοὺς παραδόντας Ῥώμην τὰ πρότερα Γότθοις, κεκομψευμένους ἐπὶ μεγάλων τινῶν χρημάτων ὄγκῳ) point to some such visible display of the wealth of the deserters.

6 Ἀλλήλους τοίνυν ἐξαπιναίως περιπλακέντες καὶ τῶν προσώπων καταφιλήσαντες τὴν ἐπὶ θανάτῳ ἠσπάζοντο, ὡς ἀπολούμενοι εὐθὺς ἅπαντες.

7 Because it required to be besieged by Narses in 552. Probably it is on account of the interval which separated the composition of his third and fourth books that Procopius has forgotten to give us the end of the siege of Centumcellae.

8 See De Bello Gotthico, I.4 (p25).º

9 The description given by Procopius (III.40) of the voyage of Artabanes and his escape to Malta illustrates the voyage and shipwreck of St. Paul (Acts xxvii).

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 17 Jun 20