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Book V
Chapter 21

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 23

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
Chapter XXII

The Expedition of Germanus


Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, III.31‑32 (pp405‑416; 449‑451).º

For the life of Germanus Postumus, Theophylact (about 600 to 629) and Theophanes (758-816).

Character of Germanus, nephew of Justinian. The noblest and probably the eldest-born of the nephews of the childless Emperor, he who, as far as any one could be said to inherit in an elective monarchy, might be called the heir-presumptive of Justinian, was Germanus. An active and warlike general, he had struck terror into the Sclavonian marauders by the striking success of his campaign against them in the year of his uncle's accession. He had afterwards, as we have seen, been successfully engaged in quelling the mutiny in Africa.​1 In his civil career he had equally won the approbation of his countrymen. Of a grave and dignified demeanour, both in the Palace and the Forum, yet ever ready to listen to the cry of the needy, and willing to give freely or to lend large sums without interest as the nature of the case required; an upright judge, a gracious and courteous  p554 host, keeping open house every day for the foremost citizens of Byzantium, yet studiously separating himself from the factions of the Circus and the Agora; such, according to Procopius (who, after his quarrel with Belisarius, transferred all his devotion to the Imperial nephew), was the warrior and statesman Germanus. By his wife Passara, who had died several years before the time which we have now reached, he had two sons, Justin and Justinian. The former was Consul in 540, the year of the fall of Ravenna, and while clothed with that dignity followed his father to battle against Chosroës.​2 The latter, like his brother often employed against the Sclavonian and Gepid troublers of the Empire, was also a valiant soldier and the useful lieutenant of his father.

Ill‑favour shown to him at the Court. But Germanus, though thus richly endowed with all qualities which should have made him a pillar of the throne of Justinian, perhaps we should rather say, because endowed with these qualities, was annoyed by a perpetual, if petty, persecution on the part of the Empress Theodora. The military talents of his sons were seldom made use of; those who wished to stand well at Court avoided his friendship; his daughter remained unmarried till the rough soldier John dared to incur a temporary displeasure for the sake of so brilliant an alliance and married the great-niece of the Emperor. The most recent grievance of Germanus had reference to the wealth of his lately deceased brother Boraides, who, leaving to his widow and only daughter so much only as was absolutely necessary to prevent his testament from being declared invalid, directed that all the rest of his large property should pass to  p555   p556 Germanus.​3 This disposition was probably made in order to strengthen the claims of that branch of the family on the succession to the Imperial throne: and, probably for the very same reason, Justinian, or Theodora, intervening, ordered that the widow and daughter should be the sole legatees.

1 July, 548. The death of Theodora might have been expected at once to place her enemy Germanus in a position of undisputed eminence at Court. Grievances of Artabanes. Just at this time, however, some of the stored‑up resentments of earlier years fermented into a conspiracy which well-nigh brought about the ruin of Germanus. There were at Constantinople two natives of Persarmenia,​4 princes of the Arsacid line, who had risen high in the Imperial service, but each of whom had his own bitter grievance against Justinian and Theodora. Artabanes, who in 545 stabbed the usurper Gontharis at Carthage and restored Africa to the Emperor,​5 claimed one reward for his conspicuous services, the hand of Justinian's niece Praejecta,​6 whom he had both avenged and rescued by his daring deed. She, in her gratitude, was willing, nay, eager thus to reward him, but there was one fatal obstacle. Artabanes had a wife already, whom he had put away and well-nigh forgotten, but  p557 who, now that his fortunes were brightening, showed no sign of forgetting him. This woman sought the succour of Theodora, whose chief redeeming virtue it was that she could not close her ears to the cry of a woman in distress. Theodora insisted upon Artabanes taking back his long-discarded wife, and gave Praejecta to another husband. The tall, stately, silent Armenian rose high in the favour of the Emperor; he became Magister Militum in Praesenti, General of the Foederati, and at last Consul; but all these honours and emoluments could not deaden his sense of the wrong which he conceived himself to have endured, in that he had lost the woman whom he loved and was daily in the company of the woman whom he hated.

Grievances of Arsaces. While Artabanes, as all men knew, was thus brooding over his matrimonial grievance, his fellow-countryman Arsaces diligently fanned the flame of his resentment. The reasons for the discontent of Arsaces were more discreditable than those which had alienated Artabanes. He had been detected in treasonable negotiations with Chosroës, and had been punished, not by the sentence of death which he richly deserved, but by a slight flogging and by being paraded through the City on a camel with the marks of his chastisement still upon him. This clemency was wasted on the fierce Oriental, and he now was for ever at the ear of Artabanes, accusing him of inopportune bravery, and timidity which a woman would be ashamed of. 'You slew Gontharis though he was your friend and you were a guest at his banquet. And now you scruple about killing Justinian, the hereditary enemy of your race, and him who has done you this grievous thing. And yet to any one who will reflect on the matter for  p558 a moment, the assassination of Justinian will seem to be a very simple and easy action, and one that no one need fear to attempt. There he sits till far into the night in his unsentinelled library, with a few doting priests around him, wholly intent on turning over the precious rolls which contain the Christian oracles. You have nothing to fear from the relatives of the Emperor. Germanus, the most powerful of them all, is smarting under wrongs more grievous even than ours; and he and his gallant young sons, I doubt not, will eagerly join in our conspiracy.' Arsaces draws Artabanes into conspiracy against the Emperor's life. By such arguments as these, Artabanes was at length induced to enter into the plot, which was then communicated to another Armenian, Chanaranges by name, a handsome and volatile young man, who had no particular grievance against the Emperor, but was willing to join with a light heart in this glorious scheme for murdering an unguarded and elderly man in the midst of his theological studies.

Justin, son of Germanus, sounded. The next step was to secure the adhesion of Germanus and his family, and for this purpose the elder son Justin, a youth with the first manly down upon his lips, was sounded by Arsaces. After swearing a tremendous oath that he would reveal what was about to be told him to no man save his father only, the young man was first artfully reminded of all the grievances which his father, his brother, and he had received at the hands of Justinian, ending with the crowning injustice of withholding from them the inheritance of his uncle Boraides. 'Nor,' said Arsaces, 'are these injuries likely soon to come to an end. Belisarius, your enemy, is ordered home from Italy. He is reported to be even now half‑way through Illyria.  p559 When he comes, you will find that you are treated even more contemptuously than before.' And with that, Arsaces in a whisper revealed to him the design to kill his uncle the Emperor; and gave the names of Artabanes and Chanaranges as already privy to the plot.

Justin tells Germanus. The young Justin turned giddy with contending emotions as the deed, so wicked and yet opening up the possibility of such a welcome change in his condition, was disclosed to him; but the nobler passion of horror at the crime prevailed, and in a few curt words he told the tempter that neither he nor his father could ever be accomplices in such a deed. He then departed and told his father what he had heard. Germanus, perplexed at the tidings and seeing danger round him on every hand, violated his son's oath by unfolding the whole matter to his friend Marcellus, Captain of the Palace-guards.

Germanus consults Marcellus. Marcellus was a man of somewhat austere character, careless of money, of pleasure, and of popularity, but a lover of justice; one whom his natural taciturnity and almost churlishness of temper made a singularly faithful confidant.​7 The advice, the dangerous advice, as it proved, which he gave, was not to hurry the conspirators into crime, nor to run the risk of a counter-accusation by making an immediate disclosure to the Emperor, A trap laid for the conspirators. but to draw them on to a confession of their villainy in the presence of an unsuspected witness, and  p560 thus to make certain that punishment should fall only on the guilty. This treacherous scheme of unmasking treachery was accordingly adopted. The young Justin was told to re‑open the negotiations which he had abruptly closed. Arsaces was now dumb concerning the plot, but Chanaranges, full of eagerness for the conspiracy, desired nothing better than to have a conversation first with Justin and then with his father respecting it. On a given day, therefore, he repaired by appointment to the palace of Germanus. In the triclinium where they met, a thick muslin curtain hung from the ceiling to the floor, veiling the couch on which the master of the house was wont to recline at the banquet. It veiled also, though Chanaranges knew it not, the crouching form of Leontius,​8 a man with the highest reputation for justice and truthfulness — according to the standard of Byzantium in the sixth century — who had been selected, apparently with no reluctance on his part, for the honourable office of eaves-dropper.

This was the purport of the conversation of Chanaranges as to the plans of the conspirators. 'We have reflected that if we slay Justinian while Belisarius is still on his way to Constantinople, we shall be no nearer our purpose of setting you, O Germanus! on the throne. For Belisarius will then certainly collect an army in Thrace to avenge the murder of the Emperor, and when he appears before the gates of the City we shall have no means of repelling him. We must therefore wait till he has actually arrived, and is  p561 closeted with the Emperor in the palace. Then, late in the evening, we will resort thither with daggers in our hands and slay Justinian, Belisarius, and Marcellus all at once. After that we can dispose of matters as we will.'

Germanus takes two other noblemen into his confidence. When Marcellus heard from Leontius of this atrocious proposition, he still, for some mysterious reason, postponed reporting it to the Emperor. Germanus however, truly perceiving that the mere fact of listening unmoved to such a conversation must subject him to the most odious imputations, took two other great officials into his confidence. These were Constantian, late general in Dalmatia and governor of Ravenna, and Buzes, the unhappy ex‑consul who had been kept for twenty-eight months in a dark dungeon by Theodora, but who appears to have been still loyal to her Imperial spouse.

Marcellus discloses the secret. Tidings soon came of the near approach of the returning Belisarius. Then at length the taciturn Marcellus informed his master of the danger impending over both their lives. Artabanes and some of his confidential officers were put to the torture, The Senate summoned. and the Senate was summoned to the Palace to read and to deliberate upon the depositions thus obtained. Of course the names of Germanus and Justin were among the first mentioned by the criminals in their agony. When these names were read out, many faces in the assembly were turned with horror and amazement to Germanus; and it seemed as if nothing could save him from immediate condemnation. Germanus honourably acquitted. When he told the whole story, however, and called on Marcellus, Leontius, Constantian, and Buzes as vouchers for its truth, the tide of opinion turned, and the Senate by an  p562 unanimous vote acquainted acquitted Germanus and his son of all evil designs against the Republic.9

Anger of Justinian against his nephew. Not so, however, the Emperor. When the Senators went in to the Presence Chamber to report the result of their deliberations, he burst into a torrent of angry invective against his nephew for his tardiness in bringing him tidings of the plot. Two of the nobles, in order to curry favour with the Emperor, affected to sympathise with his views, and thus hounded him on to yet more violent expressions. The rest of the Senate stood trembling and silent, ashamed to condemn and afraid to acquit Germanus. Appeased by Marcellus. At this crisis the stern rugged character of Marcellus shone forth in all its nobleness. He loudly asserted that all the blame, if blame there was, for the delay must rest upon his shoulders; that Germanus had consulted him at the earliest possible moment, and that he from motives of policy had insisted that Justinian should not then be told of the plot. He thus at length succeeded in mollifying the wrath of the Emperor against his nephew, earning himself great praise from all men for his fearless truthfulness.

Lenient treatment of the conspirators. The clemency of Justinian's nature was shown in a conspicuous manner towards those who had planned his murder. Artabanes was for the time deprived of his office, but, as we have seen, received next year an important command in Sicily. All the conspirators were kept for a time in honourable confinement in the Palace, not in the public gaol, and even this punishment was probably not of long duration.

The cares of Justinian. A ruler who knew that his life was in danger from  p563 plots such as that of Arsaces might be excused for some vacillation in the choice and the promotion of his generals. Other cares were also pressing upon the wearied brain of Justinian, and making even the recovery of Italy seem a light matter in comparison with them. The sneer of the Armenian about the midnight hours spent in turning over theological treatises in the company of doting priests was not undeserved. Justinian was now, and had been for the last five years, deep in the controversy of 'The Three Chapters.' When Pope Vigilius, who had been summoned to Constantinople for this very purpose, together with the other Roman refugees, the Patrician Gothigus​10 at their head, pressed upon him the necessity of a vigorous effort for the deliverance of Italy, he replied, in substance, that the affairs of Italy should have his attention when he had succeeded in reconciling the contradictions of Christians as to their common faith.​11 A long adjournment certainly of his performance of the humbler duties of a ruler.

The Lazic war. There were also other wars going on in the Empire, some much nearer home than that of Italy, which distracted the energies of Justinian. The eternal contest with Persia was at this time transferred to the eastern end of the Black Sea, to the region now known as  p564 Mingrelia, where from 549 to 557 what was called the Lazic war was being waged with varying fortunes, but upon the whole with a preponderance of success on the side of the Romans.

The Gepids and Lombards. North of the Danube there was discontent, and a dangerous spirit of enterprise abroad among the fierce neighbours of the Empire. Where the Drave and the Theiss flow into the Danube, the Gepidae and Lombards were fiercely disputing with one another, imploring the intervention of Justinian, and then joining to attack his general when he entered their land. Invasion of the Sclavonians, 549. Further east, in the country which we now call Wallachia, the Sclavonians, long despised and comparatively harmless, were becoming a terrible scourge of the Empire. In the year 549 three thousand of these barbarians crossed the Danube, marched to the Hebrus, defeated Roman armies more numerous than their own, took captive the Roman General Asbad — one of the sumptuously-equipped Candidati, the pampered guardsmen of the Emperor — and after cutting off long strips of skin from his back, burned the miserable man alive. Then they pressed on to Topirus on the coast of the Aegean, nearly opposite the isle of Thasos, and only twelve days' journey from Constantinople. They drew forth the garrison by a feigned flight, took the city, ransacked its treasures, slew the men to the number of fifteen thousand, and carried off all the women and children into captivity. Thus they spread throughout Illyria and Thrace, ravaging the lands and torturing the inhabitants with fiendish cruelty. The terrible punishment of impalement, with which the Danubian lands have since been fatally familiarised, inflicted by men of another race than the Sclavonian, now makes  p565 appearance, and is described by Procopius with ghastly accuracy and vivid power. At length, drunk with their debauch of blood, the Sclavonians retreated across the Danube, driving the endless files of their weeping captives before them, and leaving all Thrace and Illyria full of unburied corpses.

Second Sclavonic invasion, 550. Two more invasions of these barbarians followed in the next year. It was thought by some that Totila had hired them to harass Justinian and prevent his attending to the affairs of Italy: but men who had been able to gratify their savage passions with so little labour or danger to themselves were not likely to require much pressing to undertake another raid into the feebly-defended Empire.

Germanus at length appointed commander-in‑chief for the Italian war. It will thus be seen that there was some reason why Justinian (stripped as he was by death of his bold and strenuous partner Theodora) should hesitate and delay and waver in his counsels with reference to the war in Italy. The name of Germanus as commander-in‑chief for this war had been proposed shortly after the recall of Belisarius. Then the Emperor changed his mind and appointed the elderly and unwarlike Liberius. This appointment, as we have seen, had soon been cancelled, again made and again revoked. Now, probably at the beginning of 550, Justinian, while sending Artabanes to Sicily, took the bold and wise step of declaring Germanus, as Belisarius had been declared, commander with absolute powers for the whole war against Totila and the Goths.​12 He gave him a large army, and instructions to add to it by raising new levies in Thrace and Illyria. More to the surprise of  p566 his councillors, he unloosed his purse-strings and sent his nephew a large store of treasure. To this Germanus, whose heart was set on restoring Italy, as he had already restored Africa after the rebellion of Stutza to the obedience of the Empire,​13 added large sums from his own private fortune. The fame of so popular a commander, and the unwonted abundance of money at head-quarters, soon attracted large numbers of eager recruits, especially from among the barbarians of the Danube. All these flocked to Sardica (now the Bulgarian capital, Sophia), where Germanus had set up his standard. Officers of Germanus. His son-in‑law, the valiant and unscrupulous John, was of course with him. With him too were his martial sons Justin and Justinian, eager to embrace the long-desired opportunity of showing their prowess in war. There was Philemuth King of the Heruli, who had fought under Belisarius in his first Italian command: and there — a name of ill‑omen for the Roman power in Italy — were one thousand heavy-armed soldiers of the Lombard nation.

Germanus marries Matasuentha. The most potent, however, of all the allies of Germanus, the one who most daunted the hearts of the Goths, already dispirited at the thought of so great a commander coming against them, was his newly-wedded wife. This was none other than Matasuentha, widow of King Witigis and granddaughter of the great Theodoric. Again was the Amal princess married to a husband considerably older than herself;​14 but there are some slight indications that this union was more to her taste than that with the humbly-born Witigis.  p567 At any rate, she was now a member of the Imperial family, and, as her countryman Jordanes proudly records, a legitimate Patrician.​15 The three references made to this marriage by the Gothic historian,​16 who wrote within two years after its celebration, show the great importance attached to it by his nation, and entirely confirm the statement of Procopius​17 as to the depression which came over the soldiers of Totila at the thought of fighting with one who was now in a certain sense a member of the family of the great Theodoric.

Germanus beats back the Sclavonians. Both hopes and fears, however, springing out of the appointment of Germanus to the supreme command were alike to be proved vain. The first of the two Sclavonic invasions of the year 550, in which the marauders penetrated as far as Naissus in Servia, alarmed the Emperor, who sent orders to Germanus to suspend his westward march and succour Thessalonica, which was threatened by the barbarians. The terror of his name, and the remembrance of the great deeds which he had wrought twenty years before in the Danubian lands, sufficed to turn the Sclavonians from their purpose and to divert their march into Dalmatia. In two days more the army would have resumed its interrupted journey towards Italy: Death of Germanus (autumn, 550). but suddenly Germanus was attacked by disease — possibly  p568 a fever caught during his marches over the corpse-strewn valleys of Thrace — and after a very short illness he died.

The picture drawn of this prince has necessarily been taken from the pages of his partisan Procopius, who very likely has painted in too bright colours the character of his patron: but after making all necessary allowance for this partiality, it seems impossible to deny that here was a man of great gifts, of many noble qualities, and of splendid possibilities. As with a rising English statesman who dies before he attains 'Cabinet-rank,' the premature death of Germanus has prevented him from leaving a great name in history. Had it fallen to his lot to defeat Totila, to restore the Western Empire, to bequeath its crown to a long line of descendants boasting a combined descent from Theodoric and Justinian, the name of Germanus might be at this day one of the most familiar landmarks on the frontier line between ancient and modern history.

Birth of Germanus, posthumous son of Germanus by Matasuentha. In a few lines we must trace the subsequent history of the family of Germanus, since that is now the sole remaining branch of the family of Theodoric. After the death of her husband, Matasuentha bore a son, who was named after his father, Germanus. In this infant the hopes of Jordanes were centred when he wrote his Gothic history. It has been suggested​18 that there was a scheme on the part of a nationalist Italian party headed by Vigilius to proclaim this infant as heir to Theodoric, or Emperor of the West, and obtain his recognition by Justinian, wearied out  p569 as he was by the war. The 'De Rebus Geticis' of Jordanes is thus supposed to have been a sort of political pamphlet written in the interest of this combination. The theory is an ingenious one, but seems to lack that amount of contemporary evidence which would make it anything more than a theory. Jordanes. In any case, however, it is interesting to note that we have now reached the date of the composition of the treatises of Jordanes, with the contents of which we have become so familiar. The death of Germanus and the birth of his posthumous son are the last events of importance recorded by that writer, and it is clear that both the 'De Regnorum Successione' and the 'De Rebus Geticis,' or, as Mommsen prefers to call them, the 'Romana et Getica Jordanis,' were written in the year 551.

History of Germanus Postumus. As for Germanus Postumus, the child of Matasuentha, he appears to have played a respectable, if not a highly distinguished part, as a great nobleman of Constantinople. His daughter married Theodosius, son of the Emperor Maurice; and in the tumults which ended the reign of that Emperor, the popularity of Germanus caused him to be spoken of as a suitable candidate for the Imperial purple. The rumour of such a project nearly cost him his life, owing to the suspicious fears of Maurice. On the fall of that Emperor, the fierce and illiterate soldier who succeeded him, Phocas, made a show of offering the diadem to Germanus, but the latter, knowing well how precarious would be the life of an Emperor elected under such conditions, wisely declined the proffered dignity. When the cruel character of the tyrant who thereupon ascended the throne had exhibited itself, and  p570 his unfitness for the diadem was made clear to all men, Germanus made two attempts to dethrone him, by reviving the old loyalty of the Blue Faction to the house of Maurice, and appealing to the compassion of the populace on behalf of Constantina, widow of that Emperor. The first of these attempts cost him his official position, for he was ordered to cut off his hair and become a priest. The second cost him, and those on whose behalf he was conspiring, their lives. Constantina and her three daughters were slain with the sword upon the very spot where Maurice and his five sons had been put to death three years before; and Germanus with his daughter (the widow of the young Theodosius) were beheaded upon the little island of Prote in the Sea of Marmora, five miles south of Chalcedon. There, within sight of the towers and domes of Constantinople, associated for ever with the fame of Justinian, so often gazed upon with wonder by the young Theodoric, perished the two in whose veins flowed the blended blood of Emperor and King, the last descendants that History can discern of the glorious lineage of the Amals.

The Author's Notes:

1 See p36.

2 Marcellinus Comes (p327, ed. Roncalli).

3 Οὔσης δὲ αὐτῷ γυναικός τε καὶ παιδὸς μιᾶς τοσαῦτα τὴν παῖδα ἐκέλευεν ἔχειν ὅσα ὁ νόμος ἠνάγκαζε. The share which a testator's children were entitled to claim if the will was not to be declared inofficiosum was one‑fourth under the Code of Justinian, afterwards enlarged by the Novels to one‑third, or if there were more than five children to one‑half (Moyle, I.270).

4 The part of Armenia which fell to the lot of Persia at the partition.

5 See p39, n. 2.

6 Widow of Areobindus who was slain by Gontharis.

7 This is the character given of him by Procopius ( De B. G. III.32, p412).º It seems clear that he cannot be the same person as the Marcellus 'Argentarius' who joined in the conspiracy of Sergius against the Emperor's life in 563. See p533, n. 3.

8 Leontius was son-in‑law of Athanasius who was sent as ambassador to Theodahad in 535. Mr. Bryce suggests that he may be the same as the Leontius who was employed on the Digest.

9 Αὐτοῦ τε καὶ τοῦ παιδὸς ἀπεψηφίσαντο ἅπαντες, ἅτε οὐδὲν ἐς τὴν πολιτεῖαν ἡμαρτηκότων.

10 So Procopius writes the name (III.35, p429). As he has before mentioned Cethegus (III.13, p328), and there is no variation in the MSS. at either place, I do not see how we can alter the former name into the latter as some writers have done.

11 Procopius virtually asserts this, but does not put the words into the Emperor's mouth: Βασιλεὺς δὲ Ἰταλίας μὲν ἐπηγγέλλετο προνοήσειν αὐτός, ἀμφὶ δὲ τὰ Χριστιανῶν δόγματα ἐκ τοῦ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον διατριβὴν εἶχεν, εὖ διαθέσθαι τὰ ἐν σφίσιν ἀντιλεγόμενα σπουδάζων τε καὶ διατεινόμενος μάλιστα (III.35; p429).

12 Αὐτοκράτορα δὲ τοῦ πρὸς Τωτίλαν τε καὶ Γότθους πολέμου Γερμανὸν κατεστήσατο τὸν αὑτοῦ ἀνεψιόν.

13 See p36.

14 We may perhaps fix the birth of Germanus approximately at A.D. 500; that of Matasuentha at 520.

15 'Et Vitigi excedente humanis, Germanus Patricius . . . eandem [Mathasuentam] in conjugio sumens, patriciam ordinariam fecit' (De Rebus Geticis, XIV). Is there not here a reference to the fact that she was already Patricia of a somewhat lower grade in consequence of Witigis having been dignified with the title of Patrician? (See De Reb. Get. LX.)

16 Cap. XIV, XLVIII, and LX.

17 De B. G. III.39 (p448).

18 By Schirren ('De Ratione quae inter Jordanem et Cassiodorum intercedit,' p90).

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