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Book V
Chapter 23

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Book V
Note E

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
p609
Chapter XXIV

Narses and Totila.

Authority

Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, IV.21‑32 (pp569‑627).º

551 Disgust of Justinian at the slow progress of his arms in Italy. Immersed in theology and intent on the damnation of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Justinian would gladly have forgotten the affairs of Italy. Sixteen years ago he had sent his soldiers and his invincible General on an expedition which he perhaps hoped would prove, like the Vandal campaign, not much more than a military promenade. Victory had come far more slowly in Italy than in Africa, and in the very moment of his triumph the prize had slipped from his grasp and the whole work had to be done over again. Ever since Totila was raised upon the shields of the Goths, ill‑success, scarcely varied by one or two streaks of good-fortune, had attended the Imperial arms, and now only four points on the coast — Ravenna, Ancona, Hydruntum, Crotona — owned allegiance to the Empire. As a source of revenue, the country for whose re‑annexation such large sums had been expended was absolutely worthless; and on the other hand, whenever the Imperial Architect  p610 wished to erect a new church or fortress in Thrace or Asia Minor to commemorate his name and to be described with inflated rhetoric in the De Aedificiis of Procopius, the finance-minister, if he were an honest man, was sure to remind him of the long arrears of pay due to the starving troops in Italy, and of the absolute necessity that any money that could be spared should be remitted to Ravenna. Thus it came to pass that Justinian already in 549 was sick of the very name of Italy, and would have been willing to sit down satisfied with its loss, but that, as already stated, Vigilius and the other Roman refugees incessantly pressed upon him with their petitions for help, and their not unreasonable complaints of the ruin which his policy, if it was to stop short at this point, would have brought upon them.

Narses appointed General in‑chief. There was, then, to be another expedition to Italy. Germanus being untimely dead and Liberius hopelessly incapable, the question arose who should be the new commander of the forces. John the nephew of Vitalian, who had passed the winter of 550 at Salona, had the military talent necessary for the post, but, notwithstanding his recently-formed connection with the Imperial house, he was still too little superior to the other generals by character or position to make it probable that they would accord to him that unquestioning obedience, the want of which had already proved so fatal to the Emperor's interests. In these circumstances Justinian decided to offer the command of the new Italian expedition to his Grand Chamberlain Narses, who eagerly accepted it. The choice of this man, an eunuch, in the seventy-fifth year of his age, one whose life had been spent in the enervating  p611 atmosphere and amid the idle labours of an Imperial presence-chamber, would have seemed the extremity of madness to the stout soldiers of the Republic by whom the title Imperator had first been worn. Yet, in truth, this choice proved to be another instance of Justinian's admirable knowledge of men, and great power (when he gave his intellect fair play) of adapting his means to the required ends. Narses (who lived for more than twenty years after the date we have now reached), though short in stature and lean in figure, evidently still possessed good health, and faculties quite undimmed by age. In his previous campaign in Italy, fourteen years before, he had shown no small strategic talent, and he had for ever secured the grateful affection of the stout soldier John, who would now willingly concede to him an obedience such as any other general would demand in vain. The two together, Narses as the wily much meditating brain, and John as the vigorous swiftly smiting arm, might be expected to do great deeds against even the gallant Totila. And throughout Italy, wherever the Roman armies might move, recovering cities or provinces for the Empire, the presence of a man who came straight from the Sacred Majesty of the Emperor, and had been for the past twenty years or more a Cabinet-minister (as we should say) of the highest rank, would command the unhesitating and eager obedience of all that official hierarchy whose instinct it was to obey, if it could only be assured that its orders came direct from Imperial Power.

His popularity. The announcement that the Eunuch was to command the Italian army was received with a shout of applause  p612 by all who hoped to share in the expedition. Narses, unlike many previous eunuchs at the Imperial Court, had always been conspicuous for his free-handed generosity. Many a barbarian soldier of fortune had already found himself opportunely enriched by the Grand Chamberlain's favour.1 These longed to show their gratitude by the alacrity of their service; while to those who had not yet experienced his benefits the 'lively sense of favours to come' proved an equally powerful stimulus to action. His piety. With the zealous Catholics also throughout the Empire the appointment of Narses was in the highest degree popular, since his piety towards God and his devotion to the Virgin Mother were notorious throughout the Court, as they soon became notorious throughout the army. It was believed by his soldiers that the Illustrious Cubicularius had supernatural visitations from the Mother of God, and that she announced to him by some secret but well-known sign the favourable moment for his troops to move forward to battle.2 Such a belief was, in the existing temper of men's minds, by itself a powerful aid to victory.

His control of the Imperial purse. Above all, Narses, as being one of the innermost governing council of the Empire, could ensure that his expedition should not be starved, as the second expedition of Belisarius had been starved, into failure. There was no talk now, as there had been then, of the General himself providing the sinews of war. The Imperial exchequer was now freely drawn upon. The long-standing arrears of the soldiers' pay were  p613 discharged. Liberal offers were made to all newcomers: and soon the usual motley host which called itself a Roman army was gathering round the Eunuch's standards, full of martial ardour for the fray, full of martial cupidity for the plunder of Italy.

Narses hindered by a Hunnish invasion. It was a satire on the policy of Justinian that Narses, eager to reach Salona on the Hadriatic coast and there assemble his army, was actually stopped at Philippopolis in Thrace3 by a horde of Hunnish savages — probably the Kotrigur Huns whose raids have already been alluded to — who had penetrated into the Empire and were ravaging far and wide the Thracian villages. Fortunately, however, for the Italian expedition, the Hunnish torrent parted itself into two streams, one of which pursued its journey towards Constantinople, while the other moved southwestward to Thessalonica. Between the two hordes Narses adroitly made his way across Macedonia to Salona, where he spent the remainder of the year 551 in organising an army for the invasion of Italy.

Effect on Totila of the news of the appointment of Narses. The news that this supreme effort was to be made for his overthrow quickened the energy of Totila, and at the same time increased his efforts to win the favour of the Roman people. While closely pressing both by sea and land the siege of Ancona, in order that the Imperialists might have no base of operations in all the long interval from Ravenna to Crotona, he also, as has been already said, brought back many of the captive Senators to Rome, and encouraged them to repair the desolations which he had himself caused, and which, we are told, were most conspicuous in the part of the City that lay on the west of the Tiber.  p614 The King's care for the rebuilding of the City gained him some little favour from the Romans, who, in the estimation of Procopius, surpassed all other populations in love for their City and pride in its adornment;4 but the Senators, paupers and still feeling themselves like captives, wandered ghost-like amid the scenes of their vanished splendour, and had neither the spirit nor the resources to assist, themselves, in the work of restoration.

Fleet sent to coast of Greece. As we have seen in previous chapters, Totila had paid more attention to his fleet than any of the Ostrogothic Kings who preceded him, and was by no means disposed tamely to yield to Byzantium the dominion of the seas. Three hundred ships of war5 were sent by him to cruise off the western coast of Greece, omitting no opportunity of plundering and distressing the subjects of the Empire. Their crews ravaged the island of Corcyra and the little islets near it, landed in Epirus, and laid waste the territory round the venerable fane of Dodona and Augustus's more modern City of Victory,6 and then, cruising along the coast, fell in with and captured some of the ships that were carrying provisions to the army of Narses at Salona.

Siege of Ancona by the Goths. The siege of Ancona was, however, the chief operation in which Totila's forces were engaged: and that city, sore pressed both by sea and land, saw itself apparently on the eve of surrender to the Goths. Valerian, who seems to have been responsible for the government and defence of Ancona, was at this time staying  p615 at Ravenna, and finding himself unable to afford any effectual help with the forces which he had collected there, sent messengers to John at Salona with an earnest exhortation to avert the ruin to the Emperor's affairs which must result from the capture of so important a sea‑port. Valerian persuades John to attempt to raise the siege. John was convinced, and ventured, in defiance of the express orders which he had received from the Emperor, to despatch a squadron for the relief of Ancona. Valerian met him at Scardona7 on the coast of Illyria, and concerted measures for the coming expedition, and soon the two generals, with fifty ships under their orders, crossed the Hadriatic and anchored off the little town of Sena Gallica (the modern Sinigaglia),8 sixteen miles north-west of Ancona. On the other side the Goths had forty-seven ships of war, which they filled with some of their noblest soldiers and with which they sailed to meet the enemy, under the command of two admirals, Giblas and Indulph.9 The latter officer was one who had once been a soldier in Belisarius's own body-guard, but, like so many of his comrades, disgusted by the Imperial ingratitude, had deserted to the standards of Totila. Scipuar, who had been joined in command with these two officers, remained with the rest of the army to prosecute the siege of Ancona by land.

Preparations for sea‑fight off Sinigaglia. Off Sinigaglia then the two fleets anchored, and both sides prepared for action. John and Valerian haranguing their troops insisted on the immense importance of raising the siege of Ancona and the hopelessness of their own position if they allowed the Goths  p616 on this day to obtain the command of the sea. Indulph and Giblas scoffed at the new audacity of the accursed Greeks who had at last ventured forth from the creeks and bays of Dalmatia in which they had so long been hiding. A feeble and unwarlike race, born to be defeated in battle, this sudden display of rashness on their part was the result of mere ignorance, but must be at once repressed by Gothic valour before it had time to grow to a dangerous height.10

Victory of the Imperial fleet. Notwithstanding these vaunting words, the Greeks, those children of the sea, who, from the days of Cadmus, had spread their sails to every breeze that ruffled the Aegean, vanquished the Goths, those hereditary landsmen, whose forefathers had roamed for centuries in the Sarmatian solitudes. The wind was light, and as ship grappled ship the battle assumed the appearance of a hand-to‑hand encounter by land rather than a sea‑fight. But the Goths, deficient in that instinctive sympathy between the sailor and his ship which belongs to a nation of mariners, failed to keep their vessels at proper distances from one another. Here a wide-yawning interval invited the inroad of the enemy; there several ships close together became a terror to their friends, and lost all power of manoeuvring. The orders of the generals became inaudible in the hubbub of angry voices as each Gothic steersman  p617 shouted to his fellow to leave him ampler sea‑room. Intent on averting collision with their countrymen by poles and boat-hooks, the Goths were unable to attend to the necessities of the battle. Meanwhile the Imperial mariners, who had kept their ranks in perfect order, were perpetually charging into the gaps in the line of the barbarians, surrounding and cutting out the ships which were left defenceless, or keeping up a storm of missiles on those parts of the line where the hostile ships were thickly entangled with one another, and where the interlacing masts showed like net‑work to the eye of a beholder.11 The barbarians fell into the torpor of despair, and saw the chance of victory float away from them without making an effort to turn the tide. Then to torpor succeeded panic, and they steered their ships for headlong flight, flight which delivered them yet more utterly into the hands of the Romans. Indulph indeed with eleven of his ships succeeded in escaping from the scene of action; but, despairing of further resistance by sea, landed his men in the first harbourage and burned his ships to prevent their falling into the power of the enemy. All the other Gothic ships were either sunk or taken by the Romans, and Giblas himself was taken prisoner.

The siege of Ancona raised. The Goths who had succeeded in escaping from the scene took the dismal tale of defeat to the army before Ancona, who at once raised the siege and retreated to the shelter of rock-built Osimo. John and Valerian then appeared upon the scene, occupied and perhaps plundered the recent Gothic camp, abundantly revictualled  p618 Ancona, and then returned to Salona and Ravenna respectively, having by this achievement struck a heavy blow at the power and yet more at the self-confidence of the Goths in Italy.

Loss of Sicily. About the same time another disaster befell the Gothic cause. The respectable but feeble Liberius was removed from the government of Sicily, and Artabanes the Armenian was appointed in his stead. Avenger of Areobindus, governor of Carthage, Master of the Soldiery, aspirant to the hand of Justinian's niece, conspirator against Justinian's life,12 in all the varied phases of his career, whether loyal or disloyal, Artabanes had always shown courage and capacity; and he now abundantly justified the generous confidence reposed in him by the forgiving Emperor. He attacked the Gothic garrisons in Sicily with such vigour and blockaded so effectually those who would not meet him in the field that they were all speedily forced to surrender, and Sicily was lost to the Goths.

Ineffectual attempt of the Imperial forces on Sardinia. John, the governor of Africa,13 endeavoured to rival the exploits of Artabanes by sending an expedition to subdue Corsica and Sardinia. These islands, on account of their long subjection to the Vandals, were looked upon as forming part of the African province and as naturally following its fortunes,14 but the result of the maritime supremacy of Totila during the last few years had been to annex them to the Ostrogothic kingdom. The armament which the Carthaginian governor now despatched to Sardinia commenced in  p619 regular form the siege of Cagliari; but the Gothic garrison, which was a powerful one, sallied forth from the city and inflicted such a severe defeat on the besiegers that they fled headlong to their ships, and the reconquest of the two islands had to be for the time abandoned.

Relations of the Goths and Franks. Notwithstanding this slight gleam of success, the defeat at Sinigaglia, which left the Imperial fleet mistress of the sea, threw Totila and his nobles into a state of deep dejection. We learn at this point of the story that their hold upon the north of Italy had for some years been insecure, if it had not been altogether lost. The Franks of the Sixth Century, according to Procopius, adopted the ungenerous policy of always turning their neighbours' troubles to profitable account, by seizing their most precious possessions when they were engaged in a life and death struggle with some powerful enemy.15 In pursuance of this policy Theudebert, grandson of Clovis, had descended into the valley of the Po (probably in the early years of Totila's heroic reign), and had annexed to his dominions, or at least had made subject to tribute, the three provinces of Liguria, Venetia, and the Cottian Alps, or, to speak in the language of modern geography, the whole of Piedmont and Lombardy.16 The Goths, knowing that it was hopeless for them to contend at once against the Empire and the Franks, acquiesced for a time in this usurpation, and even made a kind of league of amity with Theudebert,  p620 the question of the precise apportionment of his Italian territory being by common consent adjourned till the war with the Empire should be ended.

Totila's overtures to the Emperor. Gladly would Totila now have ended that war by some peaceful compromise. With Northern Italy in the power of the Franks, with Central and Southern Italy reduced well-nigh to a desert by seventeen years of war, he was prepared to relinquish all claim to the comparatively uninjured portions of Sicily and Dalmatia, to pay a large tribute for the portion of Italy which was left to him, and to form a league of perpetual alliance with the Empire. It can hardly be doubted that for the Eastern Emperors themselves, from the mere Byzantine point of view, as well as for Italy and the world, such an arrangement would have been better than what was really in store for them if it was rejected, — the truceless enmity of the savage Lombard. But Justinian, even when most weary of his Italian enterprise, would listen to no proposals for abandoning de jure any one of his claims. He hated the very name of the Goths, and longed to extirpate them from the soil of the Empire. Thus all the many embassies of Totila, whatever the terms proposed, never returned with a message of peace.

Justinian's embassy to the Franks. About this time, however, the Emperor himself had recourse to an embassy in order to detach the Franks from the Gothic alliance. King Theudebert was now dead, having been accidentally killed while hunting wild bulls in a forest;17 and to his son Theudebald, a feeble and sickly youth, Leontius the senator,18  p621 ambassador of Justinian, addressed his remonstrances and his requests. And certainly the complaints of their former ally, addressed to the Franks of that day, seem to have had some foundation in truth. 'Justinian,' said the ambassador, 'would never have undertaken his enterprise against the Goths without the promise of your co‑operation, for which he paid large sums of money. You refused your promised assistance and stood aside while we with vast labour and peril conquered the country, which you then most unjustly invaded, appropriating some of its provinces. We might blame, but we rather beseech you for your own sakes to depart out of Italy; for ill‑gotten gains such as these will bring you no prosperity. You say that you are in alliance with the Goths: but the Goths have been your enemies from the beginning, and have waged against you one unceasing and unrelenting war. Just now, through fear, they condescend to be your flatterers, but if they once get clear of us, you will soon find out what is their feeling towards the Franks.'19 The ambassador concluded by exhorting Theudebald to undo what his father had done amiss, by firmly renewing the former alliance between the Franks and the Empire.

Reply of the Frankish King. Theudebald piteously replied that his father could not have been the clever robber of his neighbours' property whom the ambassadors described, since he himself was by no means wealthy. He thought the Emperor would have been rather pleased than otherwise to see his enemies the Goths despoiled of three important provinces, and he could truly say that if he  p622 could be proved to have taken anything from the Empire he would straightway restore it. He then commissioned a Frank named Leudard to return as his envoy with Leontius to Constantinople; but nothing seems to have resulted from the visit of the ambassador.

Crotona relieved. With these negotiations the winter of 551 wore away. Early in the spring of 552 occurred the relief of Crotona, so long the base of the Imperial operations in the south of Italy. Its garrison, hard pressed by the Goths, sent a message to Artabanes, the governor of Sicily, that unless speedily relieved they must surrender the city. Artabanes at the time was unable to help them, but Justinian himself, hearing of their distress, sent orders to the detachment which guarded the pass of Thermopylae to set sail with all speed for Italy and raise the siege of Crotona. Strange to say, so great was their despatch and so favourable the breezes that they appeared in the bay before the arrival of the day fixed for the surrender of the city. The sight of the ships filled the besiegers with terror. They fled in all directions, eastwards to Tarentum, and southwards to the very edge of the Straits of Messina; and the Gothic governors of some of the other towns of Southern Italy, Tarentum itself and the 'lofty nest of Acherontia,'20 began to treat for the surrender of those places to the Imperial generals.

Composition of the host of Narses. Deep discouragement everywhere was creeping over the hearts of the defenders of the throne of Totila, and meanwhile the great and well-equipped host which Narses had been so long preparing at Salona was at  p623 last on its way. The sum total of the Imperial army does not seem to be given us by our historian, but we hear something of the multifarious elements of which it was composed. The two armies of Justinian and of his father-in‑law Germanus formed the nucleus of the host, but besides these there was the other John, nicknamed the Glutton, with a multitude of stout Roman soldiers. There was Asbad, a young Gepid of extraordinary bravery, with four hundred warriors, all men of his own blood. Heruli. There was Aruth, a Herulian by birth but Roman by training, by inclination, and by marriage, who led a large band of his countrymen, men who especially delighted in the perils of the fight. Philemuth, also a Herulian, perhaps of purer barbaric training, who had served in many previous campaigns in Italy, was followed by more than three thousand men of the same wild and wandering race, all mounted on horseback. The young Dagisthaeus, probably also of barbarian origin, was released from the prison into which he had been thrown on account of his miserable mismanagement of the war waged with Persia in the defiles of Mount Caucasus,21 and was allowed to have another chance of vindicating his reputation as a general and his loyalty as a subject of the Emperor. In the same army was to be found a Persian prince himself, Kobad, nephew of Chosroës, grandson and namesake of the great King who had waged war with Anastasius. The prince, whom in his youth conspirators had sought to seat on the throne of the Sassanidae, had been condemned to death by his merciless uncle, and had been only saved by the  p624 humane disobedience of the General in Chief (or Chanaranges) to whom the murderous order had been entrusted, and who eventually paid for his compassion with his life. Many of his countrymen, refugees like himself from the tyranny of Chosroës, followed Kobad to the war in a strange land and in defence of a stranger's claims.

Lombards in the army of Narses. We have left to the last the most important in the eyes of posterity of all this motley horde of chieftains. Audoin, King of the Lombards, rode in the train of Narses at the head of two thousand five hundred brave warriors, who had for their personal attendants more than three thousand men also skilled in war. The mention of these two classes shows us that we are already approaching the days of the knights and squires of chivalry. We hear not much, it is true, of the actual deeds of Audoin in the following campaign, but his importance for us consists in the fact that he is the father of the terrible Alboin, who, sixteen years after the time which we have now reached, will on his own account be crossing the Alpine wall and descending with his savage horde into that fertile plain which thenceforward will to all ages be known as Lombardy. Thus continually do we see the Roman foederatus becoming the conqueror of Rome. Thus did Theodosius lead Alaric in his train over the Julian Alps and show him the road to Italy.

Huns. Huns in great numbers, squalid and fierce as ever, but useful soldiers when deeds of daring and hard endurance were needed, urged on their little steeds at the sound of the Imperial bugles. It was indeed a strange army to be charged with asserting the majesty of the Roman Empire and reuniting to it the  p625 old Hesperian land. Could a Cincinnatus or a Regulus have looked upon those will tribes from beyond the Danube and those dark faces from beside the Euphrates, all under the supreme command of an eunuch from under the shadow of Mount Ararat, he would assuredly have been perplexed to decide whether they or the soldiers of Totila had less claim to the great name of Roman.

But ethnological considerations such as these were beside the mark. A common passion, the hope of the spoil of Italy, fused all these discordant nationalities into one coherent whole. The purse-strings of the Emperor were loosened; and over the whole army hovered the genius of the deep-thoughted Narses, willing to part freely with the treasures of his master, and his own, if only his shaking hand might pluck the laurels which had been denied, in the vigour of middle age, to the mighty Belisarius.

March of the army. The Imperial army marched round the head of the Hadriatic Gulf: but when it came to the confines of Venetia it found the passage barred by order of the Frankish King. The real reason for this hostile procedure was that for the moment it seemed a more profitable course to keep, than to break, the oaths which the Franks had sworn to the Goths; but the pretext alleged, namely, the presence of the Lombard auxiliaries, foes to the Frankish name, in the army of Narses, had probably also some genuine force. Already these races, which for the following two centuries were to contest with one another the right to plunder Italy, eyed one another with jealous hostility, each foreseeing in the other an unwelcome fellow-guest at the banquet.

 p626  Nor were the Franks the only enemies who intervened between the Imperial host and the friendly shelter of Ravenna. Teias at Verona. More to the west, Teias, one of the bravest of the young officers of Totila, barred the way at Verona against any invader who should seek to enter by the Pass of the Brenner. At the same time, as he hoped, he had so obstructed the bridges over the intricate rivers and canals of Lombardy as to make it impossible for Narses to pass him without fighting a pitched battle.

Clever device for transporting the troops round the head of the Hadriatic. Narses, as Totila was well aware, did not possess a sufficiently large flotilla to transport his army directly across the head of the Hadriatic Gulf from the mouth of the Isonzo to Classis; but in his perplexity his skilful lieutenant, John, who was well acquainted with the country between Aquileia and Ravenna, suggested to him an expedient by which the few ships which he had might render signal service to the army. The scheme was this: for the soldiers to march close to the sea, where the country, intersected as it is by the mouths of the Piave, Brenta, Adige, and Po, would offer no field for the hostile operations of the Franks, and to use the ships, which were to accompany them within signalling distance, for the transport of the soldiers across the river-estuaries, perhaps also in some cases across the actual lagoons. This difficult operation was successfully effected; the flank, both of the Frankish generals and of Teias, was turned, and Narses with all his army reached Ravenna in safety. Justin, who had been left in charge of Ravenna by Belisarius, and Valerian, the recent victor at Sinigaglia, joined their forces, which were apparently not very numerous, to those of Narses.

 p627  Message from Usdrilas. After a stay of nine days at Ravenna there came an insulting message from Usdrilas, who was holding Rimini for the Goths: 'After your vaunted preparations, which have kept all Italy in a ferment, and after trying to strike terror into our hearts by knitting your brows and looking more awful than mortal men, you have crept into Ravenna and are skulking there, afraid of the very name of the Goths. Come out, with all that mongrel host of barbarians to whom you want to deliver Italy, and let us behold you, for the eyes of the Goths hunger for the sight of you.' Narses, on reading these words, laughed at the insolence of the barbarian, but set forward nevertheless with the bulk of his army, leaving a small garrison under Justin at Ravenna.

March to Rimini. On his arrival at Rimini he found that the bridge over the Marecchia — that noble structure of Augustus which was described in an earlier chapter22 — was effectually blocked by the enemy.23 While the soldiers of Narses, some of whom had crossed the river, were looking about for a ford convenient for the passage of the bulk of the army, Usdrilas, with some of his followers, came upon them. A skirmish followed, in which, by a rare stroke of good fortune, the Herulians in the Imperial army slew Usdrilas himself. His head, severed from his body, was brought into the camp of  p628 Narses, and cheered both General and soldiers by this apparent token of divine favour upon their enterprise. The General, however, determined not to stay to prosecute the siege of Rimini, but availed himself of the discouragement of the enemy, caused by the death of Usdrilas, to throw a pontoon bridge across the Marecchia and proceed on his march southwards. 'For he did not choose,' says Procopius, 'to molest either Ariminum or any other post occupied by the enemy, in order that he might not lose time and fail in his most important enterprise by having his attention diverted to minor objects. . . . . After passing Ariminum' [and, we may add, Fanum,] 'he departed from the Flaminian Way and struck off to the left. For the position of Petra Pertusa, which I have described in a previous book of my history, and which is exceedingly strong by nature, having been occupied long before by the enemy, rendered the Flaminian Way altogether impassable to the Romans. Narses, therefore, being thus obliged to quit the shortest road, took that which was available.'24

Line of march chosen by Narses. We see, from this passage of Procopius, that again, as in previous stages of the war, the possession of Petra Pertusa (the Passo di Furlo)25 exercised an important influence on the movements of the combatants. As it was now in the hands of the Goths, Narses was compelled to leave the broad highway of Flaminius and to keep southwards along the Hadriatic Gulf till he could find a road which would take him into the Via Flaminia at a point on the Romeward  p629 side of the Passo di Furlo. Such a road, as I read his movements, he found before he reached Sinigaglia. Taking a sharp turn to the right near the mouth of the Sena (Cesano), he would be brought, by a march of about thirty‑six miles up the valley formed by that stream and across the uplands, to the town of Cales (Cagli).26 Here the Imperial army would be once more upon the great Flaminian Way, having in fact turned the fortress of Pertusa, but they would be still among narrow defiles, where the road is often carried by narrow bridges over rocky streams. An attack at this part of their course might have easily thrown the army into disorder, and we may be sure that Narses and his chief officers would breathe more freely when, after fourteen miles' march up a sharp ascent crossing and re‑crossing the torrent of the Burano, they came at length, at the posting-station Ad Ensem, to the crest of the pass, and saw a broader and less difficult valley spreading below them to the south. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of this posting-station (represented by the modern village of Scheggia),27 Narses probably encamped and prepared for battle, being aware of the near neighbourhood of the Gothic host. The words of Procopius, who states that the camp was pitched 'upon the Apennine mountains,' and yet 'upon a level spot,'28 describe with great accuracy the exact situation of Scheggia.

 p630  Meanwhile Totila, after receiving the news of the untoward events which had happened in Venetia, tarried for some time in the neighbourhood of Rome to give the soldiers of Teias, now outflanked and useless, time to rejoin his standards. When all but two thousand of these had arrived he started upon the northward march, through Etruria and Umbria. His movements were quickened by hearing of the death of Usdrilas and the ineffectual attempt of the garrison of Rimini to arrest the progress of the invaders. Knowing that the pass of Furlo was blocked, he was probably uncertain as to the precise point at which Narses would seek to traverse the great Apennine wall that intervened between him and Rome. Scanning doubtless with eagerness every possible outlet through the mountains he had reached the little town of Tadinum.29 Further north he had not been able to penetrate, before Narses arrived upon the crest of the pass.30

Character of the battle-field. Here then, upon the Flaminian Way, but high up in the heart of the Apennines, must be fought the battle which was to decide once and for ever the embittered quarrel between the nation of the Ostrogoths and Eastern Rome. The place is worthy to be the theatre of great events. It is close to the 'House of two Waters,'31 from which flows on one side a stream that  p631 eventually swells the waters of the Tiber and passes out into the Tyrrhene Sea, on the other the torrent of the Burano, which pours itself through rocky defiles northwards to the Hadriatic. The valley itself is a sort of long trough sloping gradually towards the south. On the eastern side, with their summits for the most part invisible from this point, rise some of the greatest mountains of the Apennine chain, snow-crowned Monte Cucco, Monte Catria with its grand buttress, Monte Corno, Monte Strega looking like a witch's hand with five skinny fingers pointing upward to the sky. On the opposite side of the valley, upon our right as we look towards Rome, rises a lower but more picturesque range of hills. These sharp serrated summits, so clearly defined against the sunset sky, are Monte S. Ubaldo and Monte Calvo, the mountains of Gubbio. At their base, hidden from us because on the other side of them lies the little city of Gubbio, dear to scholars for its precious Eugubine Tables which enshrine the language of ancient Umbria, and dear to painters for the frescoes of Nelli, one of the most reverent of the artists of Umbria.

Difficulty of ascertaining the exact site. The distance between Scheggia and Tadino is about fifteen miles, agreeing closely enough with the distance of one hundred stadia which, according to Procopius, intervened at first between the camps of the two generals. But a more precise identification of the site of the battle I am not able to furnish. I have no doubt that it was fought south of Scheggia and north of Tadino; but Procopius, whose campaigning days were over, and who was evidently not himself present at the battle, does not, I fear, enable us to fix the site more accurately than this.

 p632  Message from Narses to Totila. As soon as Narses had encamped his army he sent an embassy to Totila, strongly recommending him to lay down his arms and abandon the hopeless task of resisting, with his handful of disorderly followers, the whole might of the Roman Empire. If, however, the ambassadors perceived him still bent on battle they were to ask him to name the day. Totila haughtily rejected the counsels of his foe, and when asked upon what day he proposed to fight, replied, 'In eight days from this time.' Narses suspected a stratagem and prepared for battle on the morrow. He had read his enemy's mind aright. On the very next day Totila suddenly appeared with his whole army and encamped at the distance of two bowshots from the Imperialists.

The key of the position. A hill of moderate height (probably an outlier of the main Apennine range) looked down upon both armies, and commanded a path by which the Imperial host might be taken in rear. The possession of this hill was at once seen to be a matter of great importance to either side, but Narses was beforehand with Totila in seizing this coign of vantage. Struggle for its possession. Fifty picked foot-soldiers were sent to occupy it during the night, and when day dawned the Goths, from their encampment opposite, saw these men drawn up in serried array, and having their front protected by the bed of a torrent running parallel to the only path, before alluded to. A squadron of cavalry was sent to dislodge them, but the Romans kept their rank, and by clashing upon their shields so frightened the horses of the Goths that they were able to lay low many an embarrassed rider with their spear-thrusts. The cavalry fell into helpless confusion, and retired discomfited. Again and again with fresh squadrons of  p633 horse did Totila attempt to dislodge them, but the brave Fifty kept their ground unbroken. The honours of this fight fell pre‑eminently to two men, by name Paulus and Ausilas, who stepped forth, Horatius-like, before their comrades to bear the stress of battle. They laid their scimitars on the ground and drew their bows, slaying a horse or man with each discharge, so long as there was an arrow in their quivers. Then drawing their swords they lopped off one by one the spear-heads which the Goths protruded against them. By these repeated strokes the sword of Paulus was at length so bent as to become quite useless. He threw it on the ground and, with his unarmed hands, seized and broke no fewer than four of the spears of the enemy. This desperate valour more than anything else daunted the Gothic assailants and compelled them to abandon their attempt upon the hill where the Fifty were posted. Paulus was rewarded after the battle by being made one of the guardsmen of Narses.

The harangues of the ggls. Now were the two main armies drawn up in battle array, and in that position they were harangued by their respective leaders. Narses congratulated his troops on their evident superiority to the band of robbers and deserters who composed the Gothic host; a superiority which, by the Divine favour, was certain to bring them the victory. He reviled the soldiers in the hostile army as the run‑away slaves of the Emperor, their King as a leader picked out the gutter, and declared that it was only by tricks and thievish artifice that they had so long been able to harass the Empire. Lately, he dwelt upon the ephemeral character of all the barbaric royalties, contrasting them with the settled order, the deep vitality, the  p634 diuturnity (for such a word may be allowed us) of the mighty Roman State. Totila, perceiving that a shiver of admiring awe ran through the Gothic lines at the sight of the mighty host of the Empire, called upon his comrades for one last effort of valour, a last effort, since Justinian, like themselves, was weary of the war, and, if discomfited now, would molest them no more for ever. 'After all, why should any soldier fly! The only motive could be love of life, and he was infinitely safer, to appeal to no higher motive, fighting in the ranks with the enemy than after he had once turned his back before them. Nor were they really the formidable host which they seemed. Huns, and Longobards, and Heruli, a motley horde got together from all quarters, like the miscellaneous dishes of a club-feast, they had no bond of unity, no instinct of cohesion. Their pay was the only inducement to fight that they could understand, and now that they had received that, it would not be surprising if, in compliance with the secret orders of their national leaders, they absolutely melted away from the ranks on the field of undesired battle.'

Order of battle. Narses, who had evidently the superiority in numbers as well as in equipment, drew up his troops in the following order. In the centre he stationed his barbarian allies, the Lombards and the Heruli, and, as he was not over-confident of their stability, he directed them to dismount and fight on foot, in order that flight might not be easy if they were minded to fly. All his best Roman troops, with picked men from among the Hunnish barbarians, men who for their prowess had been selected as body-guards, he stationed on his left wing, where he himself and his lieutenant  p635 John were in command. This portion of the army was covered by the hill before described, which was held by the fifty valiant men, and which seems to have been 'the key of the position.' Under this hill, and at an angle with the rest of his line, Narses stationed two bodies of cavalry, numbering respectively one thousand and five hundred. The five hundred were to watch the Roman line and strengthen any part which might seem for the moment to be wavering.

The thousand were to wait for the commencement of the action, and then to strain every nerve in order to get to the rear of the Goths, and so place them between two attacks. On the left wing were the rest of the Roman troops under John the Glutton, together with Valerian and Dagisthaeus. On each flank was a force of four thousand archers, fighting, contrary to the usual custom of Roman archers in those days, on foot. Looking at the tactics of the Roman general as a whole, we perceive an almost ostentatious disregard of what might happen to his centre. He was determined to conquer with the wings of his army, determined that Totila, not he, should make the attack, and that when the enemy  p636 attacked he should be outflanked and surrounded by the picked troops on his right and left.

We have no particulars as to the Gothic order of battle. We know only that Totila 'drew up his troops in the same manner as the enemy had done,' that, unlike Narses, he relied a good deal on the effect to be produced by his cavalry, and that he ordered his warriors to use no weapon but the spear, herein, according to Procopius, committing a fatal blunder, and, in fact, handing the game over to the Romans, whose soldiers, more elastic in their movements and trusted with greater freedom by their commanders, might thrust with the spear, transfix with the arrow, or hew down with the broadsword, each as he found he could fight most successfully.

Totila pauses. There was a pause, a long pause, before the two armies encountered one another. It was for Totila to commence, and he, knowing that the last two thousand men of the army of Teias were on their way to join him, purposely postponed the signal. Various demonstrations filled up these waiting hours of the morning. Totila rode along his line, with firm voice and cheery countenance, exhorting his men to be of good courage. The Eunuch-General appealed not to the patriotism or the manhood of his miscellaneous horde of warriors, but to their avarice, riding in front of them and dangling, before their hungry eyes, armlets, twisted collars, and bridles, all of gold. 'These,' said he, 'and such other prizes as these shall reward your valour if you fight well to‑day.'

Then rode forth Cocas (once a Roman soldier but now serving Totila) and challenged the bravest of the Imperial host to single combat. An Armenian,  p637 Anzalas by name, accepted the challenge. Cocas rode impetuously on, couching his spear, which he aimed at the belly of his antagonist. A sudden swerve of the Armenian, made at the right moment of time, saved his life and enabled him in passing to give a fatal thrust at the left flank of his antagonist. With a crash fell Cocas from his horse, and a great shout from the Roman ranks hailed this presage of victory.

Totila's display of horsemanship. Still the Gothic two thousand lingered, and in order further to pass the time, Totila, who had been practised from his youth in all the arts of horsemanship, gratified the two armies with an extraordinary performance. Richly dressed, with gold lavishly displayed on helmet, mail, and greaves, with purple favours fluttering from his cheek-strap, his pilum and his spear, he rode forth on his high-spirited horse between the opposed squadrons. Now he wheeled his horse to the right, then sharply to the left. Anon he threw his heavy spear up to the morning breezes, stretched out his hand and caught it by the middle in its quivering fall. Then he tossed the spear from hand to hand, he lay back in his saddle, he rose with disparted legs, he bent to one side, then to the other; he displayed in their perfection all the accomplishments of the Gothic manège. Strange anticipation of the coming dawn of chivalry! Strange but fatal contrast between the lithe form of the young barbarian hero, rejoicing in his strength, and the bowed figure of the withered and aged Eunuch whose wily brain was even then surely devising the athlete's overthrow. Still further to delay the battle, Totila sent a message to Narses inviting him to a conference; but the Eunuch declined the offer, saying that Totila had  p638 before professed himself eager for the fight, and now might have his wish.

The attempted surprise. At length, just at the time of the noonday meal,32 the expected two thousand arrived in the Gothic camp. Totila, who had drawn back his army within their entrenchments, bade them and the new‑comers take food and don armour with all speed, and then led them forth precipitately, hoping to catch the Imperial host in the disorder and relaxation of the midday repast. Not so, however, was Narses to be outwitted. This sudden attack was the very thing which he had looked for, and to guard against its evil consequences no regular luncheon, no noontide slumber, had been permitted to his men. Their food had been served out to them while still under arms and keeping rank, as to the knights of a later day —

'Who drank the red wine through the helmet barred.'

Moreover, true to his policy of taking the Goths in flank, he had turned his straight line into a crescent, drawing back his barbarian centre and trusting to the eight thousand archers on his wings to give a good account of the enemy.

Failure of the Gothic charge. These tactics were completely successful. Totila's charge of horse failed to reach the Imperial centre, and while they were engaged in this hopeless quest, the eight thousand archers kept up a murderous discharge of arrows on their flanks. The Lombards and Heruli also, whose disposition for fighting had been up to the last moment uncertain, threw themselves into the fray with unexpected eagerness, so that Procopius is  p639 doubtful whether they or their Roman fellow-soldiers displayed the more brilliant valour.

Repulse of the cavalry. For some time the Gothic mounted spearmen maintained the unequal fight, but when the sun was declining their heavy masses came staggering back towards the supporting infantry. It was not an orderly retreat; there was no thought of forming again and charging the pursuing foe. It seemed to the Romans that the hearts of the Goths had suddenly died within them, as if they had met with an army of ghosts, or felt that they were fighting against Heaven. The flight of the cavalry was so headlong and so violent that some of their own friends were trampled to death under their horsehoofs.

Utter rout of the Goths. The contagion of fear imparted itself to the supporting infantry. They probably knew themselves outnumbered, they saw themselves outflanked, and they fled in irretrievable disorder. The Imperialists pressed on unpitying, slaying Gothic warrior and Roman deserter with equal fury. Some of the vanquished cried for quarter and obtained it at the time, but were soon after perfidiously slain by their captors. In all the Gothic army none were saved except by headlong flight.

Flight of Totila. And where the while was Totila, he of the gold-embossed shield and purple-fluttering spear? One account states that, being disguised as a common soldier, he was wounded by an arrow, shot at a venture, at the beginning of the fight, and that his departure from the field, together with the depression resulting from such an apparent sign of the anger of Heaven, caused the subsequent disorder. Another account, that which Procopius seems to have preferred, related  p640 that the Gothic King, still unwounded and possibly in mean disguise, fled at nightfall with four or five followers, on swift horses, from the battle-field. They were closely pursued by some Imperialist soldiers, ignorant of the rank of the fugitive. One of these, Asbad the Gepid, was about to strike Totila in the back with his spear. A young Goth belonging to the royal household cried out: 'Dog! what mean you by trying to strike your own lord?'33 The incautious exclamation revealed the secret of Totila's identity, and of course Asbad thrust in his spear with all the greater vigour. Scipuar (the recent besieger of Ancona) wounded Asbad in the foot, but himself received a stroke which hindered his further flight. The companions of Asbad tarried to dress the wound of their fallen friend. Totila's companions, who thought they were still pursued, hurried him on, though mortally stricken and now scarcely breathing. Death of Totila. At length, at the village of Caprae, thirteen miles from the battle-field, they stopped and tried to tend his wound. But it was too late; in a few minutes the hero's life was ended.

The traveller who is journeying from Gubbio to Tadino, when he is drawing near to the latter place, sees from the bridge over the Chiascio a little hamlet among the hills to the right, which bears the name of Caprara. There seems no good reason for doubting that this is the place, formerly known as Caprae, to which the faithful Goths bore their pallid master, and where they laid him down to die.a

 p641  According to the other story heard by Procopius, Totila was forced by the intolerable pain of his wound to quit the field of battle, and ride by himself to Caprae, but at that place was compelled to alight and have his wound dressed, in the course of which operation he died.

The Romans had no knowledge of the death of their great enemy till a woman of the Goths informed them of the fact, and offered to show them the grave. They disinterred the dead body, looked at the discoloured features, saw that they were indeed those of Totila; then, without offering any further indignity to the corpse, they hurried off with the glad tidings to Narses, who was piously thanking God and the Virgin for the victory.

In the month of August messengers arrived at Constantinople bearing the tidings of victory, attesting them by the blood-stained robe and gemmed helmet of the Gothic king,34 which they cast at the feet of the Emperor in his stately Hall of Audience.

And thus ended the career of the Teutonic hero Baduila — for we must restore him his own name in death — a man who perhaps more even than Theodoric himself deserves to be considered the type and embodiment of all that was noblest in the Ostrogothic nation, and who, if he had filled the place of Athalaric or even  p642 of Witigis, would assuredly have made for himself a world-famous name in European history. If the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy might but have lived, Baduila would have held the same high place in its annals which Englishmen accord to Alfred, Frenchmen to Charlemagne, and Germans to the mighty Barbarossa.


The Author's Notes:

1 Procopius especially mentions the Heruli as thus won over to the Eunuch's party (p600).º

2 We get this detail from Evagrius: Eccles. Hist. IV.24.

3 About 300 miles from Constantinople.

4 Καίτοι ἀνθρώπων μάλιστα πάντων ὧν ἡμεῖς ἴσμεν φιλοπόλιδες Ῥωμαῖοι τυγχάνουσιν ὄντες, περιστέλλειν τε τὰ πάτρια πάντα καὶ διασώζεσθαι ἐν σπουδῇ ἔχουσιν, ὅπως δὴ μηδὲν ἀφανίζηται Ῥώμῃ τοῦ παλαιοῦ κόσμου (p572).º

5 πλοῖα μακρά.

6 Nicopolis, close to Actium.

7 On the Dalmatian coast, near Sebenico.

8 The birth-place of the late Pope Pius IX.

Thayer's Note: Now Senigallia, as respelled in the 20c. One of several old variant spellings, but the closest one to its ancient name: in the Fascist era, imbued with the idea of recapturing the grandeur of ancient Rome and often outright changing the names of cities back to those they had in Antiquity, this respelling was bound to win out.

9 Also called Gundulph.

10 In this speech, according to his usual custom, Procopius uses the name 'Greek' as a term of reproach applied by their enemies to the subjects of the Eastern Empire, who always call themselves Romans. His epithets, written down by one who was himself a Graecus, are very strong and show that he could subordinate his patriotism to his feeling of dramatic fitness: Δείξατε τοίνυν αὐτοῖς ὅτι τάχιστα ὡς Γραικοί τε εἰσὶ καὶ ἄνανδροι φύσει καὶ ἡσσημένοι θρασύνονται (p581).º

11 Εἴκασεν ἄν τις φορμηδὸν αὐτοῖς τὰ τῶν πλοίων ἰκρία ξυγκεῖσθαι (p582).º

12 See p557.

13 Probably 'the brother of Pappus' and hero of the poem of Corippus. See p40, n. 2.

14 Procopius calls them νήσους τὰς Λιβύῃ προσηκούσας (p590).º

15 Τὴν γὰρ ἀσχολιῶν τῶν μαχομένων οἰκείαν οἱ Φράγγοι εὐκαιρίαν πεποιημένοι τοῖς ἐκείνων περιμαχήτοις αὐτοὶ ἀκινδύνως ἐπλούτουν (p586).º

16 Ticinum, Verona, and perhaps a few other fortresses, seem to have been retained by the Goths.

17 So says Agathias, I.4.

18 The spy employed in the detection of the conspiracy of Arsaces (see p560).

19 This remarkable speech of Leontius is in the De Bello Gotthico, IV.24 (pp587‑9).º

20 Ragnaris was governor of Tarentum; Morras, who had once commanded in Urbino, of Acherontia.

21 The Lazic war. The disgrace of Dagisthaeus seems to have occurred in 550.

22 See p267.

23 I do not understand what Procopius means by saying that this bridge can with difficulty be crossed by one foot soldier unarmed (ὁ ποταμὸς ἀνδρὶ μὲν ἀόπλῳ ἑνὶ πεζῇ ἰόντι μόλις διαβατὸς γίνεται διὰ τῆς γεφύρας πόνῳ τε καὶ ταλαιπωρίᾳ πολλῇ). The bridge of Augustus is not very wide, but it would surely have been possible for five foot soldiers to march over it abreast. Possibly it may have been at this time in a dilapidated condition.

Thayer's Note: Here is the roadway of Rimini's Roman bridge over the Marecchia. We are looking NNW, away from the center of town.

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Photo © William P. Thayer 1997

24 Ὁδὸν οὖν ὁ Ναρσῆς διὰ ταῦτα τὴν ἐπιτομωτέραν ἀφεὶς τὴν βάσιμον ᾔει.

25 See p262.

26 See p261. This road from Ancona to Cales is given in the Itinerarium Antonini, p316, ed. Wesseling: but the distances are very much under-stated.

27 See p260. The highest point of the pass is 2300 feet above the level of the sea.

28 Ἐν τῷ ὄρει τῷ Ἀπεννίνῳ ἐνστρατοπεδευσάμενοι ἔμενον, ἐν χωρίῳ ὁμαλῷ (p610).º

29 See p260. Procopius calls this place Taginae. Its modern name is Gualdo Tadino. Its early importance is attested by the mention of its inhabitants, under the form Tarsinater, in the Eugubine Tables, VII. a. 11, and of the 'trifu Tadinate' in the same Tables, I, b. 17.

30 From the fact that the tidings of the battle which is about to be described reached Constantinople in the month of August (Theophanes, A. M. 6044), we may probably infer that it was fought towards the end of July.

31 Casa di Due Acque.

32 ἄριστον. Narses apparently allowed his men no ἄριστον, and had ordered them even to take their breakfast (ἀκρατίζεσθαι) under arms.

33 Τί τοῦτο, ὦ κύων, τὸν δεσπότην τὸν σαυτοῦ πλήξων ὥρμηκας; The words 'your own lord' are perhaps accounted for by the fact that the Gepids were a tribe related to the Goths.

34 Καὶ τῷ Αὐγούστῳ μηνὶ ἐπινίκια ἦλθεν ἀπὸ Ῥώμης Ναρσῆ τοῦ κουβικουλάριου καὶ ἐξάρχου Ῥωμαίων. . . . Ἔλαβεν γὰρ τὴν Ῥώμην καὶ ἔσφαξεν τὸν Τώτιλαν καὶ τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ᾑμαγμένα σὺν τῷ διαλίθῳ καμηλανκίῳ ἔπεμψεν ἐν Κωνσταντινουπόλει· καὶ ἐρρίφησαν εἰς τοὺς πόδας τοῦ βασιλέως ἐπὶ σεκρέτου. I am indebted to Prof. Bury (I.413) for calling my attention to this important passage of Theophanes, which fixes approximately the date of the battle of the Apennines.


Thayer's Note:

a I can think of one, just stated in the preceding paragraph by Hodgkin himself. If Caprae was 13 miles — Roman miles — from the battlefield (19¼ km) we can forget the easy similarity of names and rule out today's Caprara, which, remembering that the battle was fought on the Via Flaminia, would put the battlefield somewhere very near Nocera, or if to the north, near Pontericcioli. Both places are out of the question.

The site of the battle has not been firmly identified, although news reports a few years ago were placing it in the neighbourhood between Grello and Rasina, about 3 km SW of Gualdo Tadino. The straight-line distance from that small area to Caprara is about 7 km, nearly three times too short.

Ah, but Procopius, our only source for the flight and death of Totila, does not give this distance of 13 miles: but rather (B. G. VIII.32.27) "eighty-four stadia". At first blush that looks like 10½ Roman miles (15½ km), confirming that Caprara is not where he died, but as we've seen elsewhere — see my note to B. G. I.11.2 — Procopius's stadia are so elastic, or his copyists so careless, as to make precise equivalences chimerical: based on distances he gives us in various points of his text, his stadion might stand for as little as 5.9 miles (an outlier) or as much as 17.5 miles (an even worse outlier). These 84 stadia could thus be as many as 14.2 miles (21 km) and as few as 4.8 miles (7.1 km) from the battlefield. Given this float, a median figure of around 9 stadia to the mile seems best after all, putting the site of Caprae about 9½ Roman miles from the battlefield, or 14 kilometers.

Caprara, though at the very edge of possibility distancewise, being at roughly 7 km from the battlefield, must still, by my lights, be excluded. The place is NW of Gualdo: every gallop in that direction would have put Totila farther from the Flaminia and farther from Rome; not only that, but any flight in the direction of Caprara would be over pretty rough terrain (as someone who's walked the area, I can vouch for that). I would on the contrary expect the king's aides, once they'd cleared the immediately dangerous area of the battle in any direction they could, to find the good flat paved road of the Flaminia and shoot south towards safety.

So, if Caprae was about 14 km from the battlefield, where did Totila die? (A matter of more interest than it might seem at first, by the way, since Procopius goes on to tell us that he was buried there; twice. . . .)

But here we meet with a further difficulty. 11 km road distance southwards on the Flaminia — the modern SS3 "Via Flaminia" tracks the ancient road rather closely — would have put Totila at Nuceria (Nocera Umbra), a hilltown of some size, which although destroyed by Alaric a hundred and fifty years before, must surely have recovered, since only sixteen years after the death of Totila we find it occupied by the Lombards; and at any rate a very defensible position. Why would the king, instead of finding shelter in a defensible place where his wounds might have been easier tended to, have been taken elsewhere to die in an insignificant place which is now impossible so much as to trace? And had there been a good reason to avoid Nocera, if they were fleeing south on the Flaminia "Caprae" would have been very near that town anyway, so that we would expect Procopius to have mentioned it.

Conclusion, for now: We have no idea where Totila lies buried, but sheer similarity of placenames a thousand years later (especially with so common a toponymic component as capra = "goat") should be no guide to anything. Nor, unfortunately, should we expect him to be accompanied in his grave by his gilt armor or any other precious and identifying goods: if he had not been divested of such superfluous trappings by those who tended him in his flight, he may well have been buried without them; and in either case, we can expect them to have been taken when he was disinterred by his opponents a few days after his death. And such indeed is the testimony of Theophanes, as pointed out by Hodgkin.

My reader may be expecting me to talk about Caprese in Tuscany — the birthplace of Michelangelo, thus now called Caprese Michelangelo — once commonly identified by some as the location of the elusive Caprae. The place is altogether out of the question: arguments in its favor were based on a Latin translation of Procopius by the 16c scholar Benedetto Egidio da Spoleto, faulty at a critical point in such a way as to make Procopius say that the entire Via Flaminia was barred to the Goths rather than just the approaches of Petra Pertusa, and therefore to have Totila's staff flee the battlefield via . . . Tuscany. That, and the identification, again on mere similarity of names, of Busta Gallorum with Bastia Umbra, seen in similar contexts, has been conclusively shown, after decades of stubborn polemic, to be just plain wrong. Toponymical arguments, unless very carefully circumscribed, buttressed by other facts, and given no more than ancillary weight, should be consigned to one of the lower circles of Hell.


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