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Bill Thayer

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Book V
Note E

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 VI

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
Chapter XXV

Finis Gothorum


Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, IV.33‑35 (pp627‑643).º

Agathias supplies a few particulars.

Narses gets rid of his Lombard allies. The first care of Narses, after the battle was ended and he had expressed his thankfulness for the victory to Heaven, was to remove from Italy as speedily as possible some of the earthly instruments by whom the victory had been won. Of all his wild horde of foederati none were more savage than the Lombards. Every peasant's cottage where they passed was given to the devouring flame, and the hapless women of Italy, torn even from the altars at which they had taken refuge, must needs gratify the lust of these squalid barbarians. By the gift of large sums of money he persuaded these dishonouring allies to promise to return to their own land; and Valerian, with his nephew Damian, were sent with a body of troops to watch their journey to the Julian Alps, and to see  p647 that they did not deviate from the road to engage in the delightful work of devastation. This duty accomplished, Valerian commenced the siege of Verona, the garrison of which soon expressed their willingness to surrender. Now, however, the Frankish generals appeared upon the scene, and in the name of their master forbade Verona to be reunited to the Empire. Owing to the number of fortresses which they now held in Upper Italy, they considered all the land north of the Po to be in fact Frankish territory, and would suffer no city within its borders to surrender to the generals of Justinian. Not feeling himself strong enough to challenge this conclusion, Valerian moved off to the banks of the Po to prevent the Gothic army of Upper Italy from crossing that river and marching to the relief of Rome.

Teias crowned King of the Goths. Meanwhile the little remnant of Goths who had escaped from the fatal field on which Totila fell had made their way to Pavia, where, even as it had been twelve years ago after the surrender of Ravenna, the last hope of their race was enshrined. By common consent Teias,​2 son of Fritigern, the bravest of Totila's generals and a man probably still young or in early middle life, was acclaimed as King. The Gothic army was now deplorably weakened, not by deaths only, but probably by desertions also, for the full purse which Narses was ever displaying doubtless drew back many of the former soldiers of the Empire to their old allegiance. Teias accordingly strained every nerve to obtain a cordial alliance with the Franks, without which he deemed it impossible to meet Narses in the  p648 open field. The royal treasure in the stronghold of Pavia was all expended in lavish gifts to Theudibald and his Court in order to obtain this alliance. The Franks took the money of the dying Gothic nationality, and decided not to give it any assistance, but to let Emperor and King fight out their battle to the end, that Italy might fall an easier prey to themselves.

Surrender of Gothic fortresses. For some time Valerian seems to have prevented Teias and his little army from crossing the Po; and meanwhile the surrender of Gothic fortresses was going on all over Italy. Narni and Spoleto opened their gates to Narses immediately after the battle of the Apennines. At Perugia a similar event to that which had brought the city into the power of the Goths restored it to the possession of the Emperor. The renegade soldier Uliphus, who eight years before had murdered Cyprian,​3 had since then held Perugia for the Gothic King, having his old comrade and fellow-deserter Meligedius for his second in command. Meligedius now commenced secret negotiations for the surrender of the city to Narses. Uliphus and his party got scent of the intrigue, and endeavoured to prevent it by force. A fight of the factions followed, in which Uliphus was killed; and his comrade then without difficulty handed over the Umbrian stronghold to an Imperial garrison.

Tarentum not surrendered by Ragnaris. At Tarentum, strangely enough, the negotiations for surrender which had been commenced by the Gothic governor were not quickened by the battle of the Apennines. Ragnaris had possibly some dim visions of his wearing the crown of Totila, and  p649 he believed moreover that the Franks allied with the Goths would yet turn the tide of war. He accordingly repented of his promise to the besiegers, and began to cast about him for an excuse to get the hostages whom he had given back into his own power. He therefore sent to Pacurius, governor of Otranto, asking for a few Imperial soldiers to escort him to the latter city. Pacurius, suspecting no evil, fell into the snare, and sent him fifty soldiers, whom Ragnaris at once announced that he should hold as hostages till his hostages were surrendered. Pacurius, enraged, marched with the larger part of his army against Tarentum. The cruel and faithless Ragnaris slew the fifty involuntary hostages, but was himself routed in the battle which followed, and fled to Acherontia. Tarentum opened her gates to the standards of the Empire;​4 and in Central Italy the extremely important position of Petra Pertusa speedily followed her example.

Rome taken. These various sieges and surrenders all over Italy were probably going on throughout the summer and autumn of the year 552; but meanwhile the great prize, which every Imperial general was bound to strive for, had already been won upon the soldier-trampled banks of the Tiber. Having by his orders to Valerian secured himself from an irruption of Teias and his Goths from Upper Italy, Narses marched to Rome with a great army, chiefly composed of archers, and encamped before its walls. The Gothic garrison concentrated their strength on what might be called  p650 the city of Totila, a comparatively small space around the Tomb of Hadrian which the young King, after his first destruction of the City, had laboured to rebuild and to fortify. The Goths were utterly unable to defend, and even the army of Narses was unable to invest, the whole circuit of the walls, and the fighting which went on was therefore on both sides of a detached and desultory character. At one point the attack was made by Narses himself, at another by John, at a third by Philemuth and his Herulians; but after all, the honours of the siege fell to none of these, but to Dagisthaeus, so lately the inmate of a prison, now again the leader of the legions. With a band of soldiers bearing the standards of Narses and of John, and carrying scaling-ladders, he suddenly appeared before an unguarded portion of the walls, applied his ladders to the walls, mounted his men on the battlements, and hastened at their head through the ruined City to open the gates to his brother generals. The Goths, at the sight of the Imperial soldiers, gave up all hope of holding the City, and fled, some to Porto, some to the Tomb of Hadrian; and even this, their fortress, was soon surrendered on condition that the lives of the garrison should be spared.

Portus and Centumcellae taken. The two harbours of Porto and Civita Vecchia before long fell also into the hands of the Imperialists.​5 The keys of Rome were again sent to Justinian; a ceremony which must have brought a smile to the lips of any physical observer who remembered that this was the fifth capture that Roma Invicta had undergone  p651 during the reign of this single Emperor, and who knew what a mere husk of the once glorious City was now dignified with the name of Rome.

Vicissitudes of Fortune. Men remarked with wonder, and Procopius with his accustomed comments on the mutability of fortune, that Dagisthaeus had now taken the city which Bessas had lost, while in the East, in the gorges of Caucasus, Bessas had recovered the fortress of Petra which had been lost by the slothfulness of Dagisthaeus.

Hard fate of the Roman Senators. To the scanty remains of the Roman Senate and people the recovery of the Imperial City brought no good. They were dispersed over Italy, chiefly in Campania, and were lodged in fortresses garrisoned by Goths. The war had now become one of extermination between the two races, and the word went forth to slay them wherever they could be found. Maximus, the grandson of the Emperor, whose life had been spared after Totila's capture of Rome, now fell a victim to the rage of the barbarians; and Teias tarnished his fame as a warrior by putting to death three hundred lads of handsome appearance, sons of Roman nobles, whom Totila had selected really as hostages, but ostensibly as pages of his court, and had held in safekeeping in Northern Italy.

Siege of Cumae. Meanwhile the sands of Ostrogothic dominion were running low. With a war of extermination begun, and with the invading race reduced as it now was to a few thousand men, the end could not be long doubtful. The war dwindled down into an attempt on the one part to seize, and on the other to defend, the last remainder of the Gothic treasure. The great hoard at Pavia had nearly all gone to propitiate the faithless Franks; but there was still a yet larger  p652 hoard, collected by Totila, deposited in the old fortress of Cumae in Campania, hard by the Lake of Avernus and the Sibyl's Cave. This fortress was commanded by Aligern, the brother of Teias; with whom was joined Herodian, erewhile Roman governor of Spoleto, the greatness of whose crime against the Emperor kept him faithful to the Gothic King. In order to capture the treasure, Narses sent a considerable detachment of his army into Campania. While he himself remained in Rome, trying to bring back something of order into the wilderness-city, he sent John and Philemuth the Herulian into Tuscany to hold the passes and prevent Teias from marching southwards to the assistance of his brother. Teias marches southwards. With much skill, however, Teias contrived, by making a great detour into Picenum and the Hadriatic provinces, and twice crossing the Apennines, to march with his little army into Campania. Learning this, Narses summoned his generals from every quarter, John, Philemuth, Valerian,​6 to join him in one great movement southwards, in order to crush out the last remains of Gothic nationality on the Campanian plains.

The rapidity of the movements of the Imperial generals seems to have frustrated the plans of Teias. He was in Campania indeed, but he had not, if I read his movements aright, effected a junction with his brother, nor succeeded in reaching Cumae. He had descended from the mountains near Nocera, some ten miles to the east of the base of Vesuvius, while Cumae, where his brother guarded the great hoard, lay westwards of Naples, fully fifteen miles on the other side of the great volcano.

 p653  Here, then, at length Narses and all the best generals of the Empire, with their large and many-nationed army, succeeded in bringing to bay the little troop which followed the last King of the Goths. Last battle-field, near the Sarno. The small stream of the Draco, now known as the Sarno, marked the line between the contending armies, a stream unimportant in itself, but which, working its way between deep and steep banks, offered an effectual opposition to the free movements of cavalry. Behind them the Goths had the lofty mountain-range now known as the Monte S. Angelo which fills up the peninsula of Amalfi and Sorrento, before them the Sarno and the fertile plain which reaches to the base of Vesuvius, and in which are visible in the distance the green mounds of Pompeii.

The armies face one another for two months. In this little peninsula the army of Teias stood at bay for two months.​7 Their ships still commanded the sea, and having communication with some harbour in their rear, probably Salerno or Stabia, they freely obtained all the provisions that they required. They had fortified the bridge over the Sarno with wooden towers, upon which they placed balistae and other engines of war, thus successfully barring the approach of the enemy. Every now and then, however, a challenge would be given or received, and a Gothic champion would stalk across the bridge to meet some Imperial warrior in single combat. The Goths lose the command of the sea. At the end of the two months a traitorous admiral surrendered the Gothic fleet to the enemy, who had been moreover collecting ships in large numbers from Sicily and all parts of the Empire. Retire to Monte Lettere. The Goths, whose situation was becoming  p654 desperate, fell back from their previous line, and took up their position in the Mons Lactarius,​8 an outlier of the St. Angelo range which rises abruptly above the valley of the Sarno. They were safe for the time, since the army of Narses dared not follow them into that rocky region; but they soon repented of their retreat, finding only death by starvation awaiting them in the mountains. With a sudden resolve, and hoping to take the Imperial army by surprise, they rushed down into the plain, and a battle, the last pitched battle between the Ostrogoths and the armies of the Empire, began.9

The battle. The Imperialists were to a certain extent caught unawares, but their discipline and superior numbers prevented them from being out‑manoeuvred. The legions and the bands of the foederati could not group themselves in their accustomed order, nor gather round the standards of their respective generals. Each man had to fight how he could and where he could,  p655 obeying not the commands of his officer but his own instincts of valour. The Goths dismounted from their horses and formed themselves into a deep phalanx, and the Romans, whether from policy or generosity, dismounted from their horses also and fought in the same formation. It was a battle between despair on the one side, and on the other raging shame at the very thought of being beaten by such a mere handful of antagonists. King Teias stood with a little band of followers in front of the Gothic ranks, and performed, in the judgment of the Greek historian, deeds worthy of the old days of the heroes. Covering his body with his broad Gothic shield he made a sudden rush, now here, now there, and transfixed with his spear many of his foes. Vainly meanwhile were the Roman lances thrust at him, and the Roman arrows did but bury themselves in his mighty buckler. When this, being full of arrows, became too heavy for his arm, an armour-bearer, deftly interposing a new shield, relieved him of the old one.

Teias slain. A third of the day had worn away in this strife of heroes, and now was the buckler of Teias heavy with the weight of twelve hostile arrows hanging from it. Without flinching by a finger's breadth from his post in the forefront of the battle, and standing like one rooted to the ground, the King, still dealing death around him, called eagerly to his squire for another shield. He came, he removed the arrow-laden shield and sought to interpose a fresh one, but in the moment of the exchange a javelin pierced the breast of Teias, and he fell mortally wounded to the ground.

The battle renewed next day. When the Imperial soldiers saw that they had laid their great enemy low, they rushed to the corpse, cut  p656 off the head, and carried it along the line of battle to impart new courage to their comrades and strike panic into the hearts of his followers. Yet not even then were the Ostrogoths daunted. They fought on with the courage of despair till night descended; they renewed the battle next day with sore and savage hearts. The Goths offer to leave Italy. At length in some pause of the strife, caused by the utter weariness of either army, the Goths sent a message to Narses that they perceived that God was against them, and if they could obtain honourable conditions they would renounce the war. Their conditions were these: — No service under the banners of the hated Empire; leave to depart from Italy and live as free men in some other kingdom of the barbarians; leave also to collect their moveable property from the various fortresses in which it was stored up, and attack it with them to defray their expenses on the road.

Narses accepts their offer. Narses deliberated on this proposal in a council of war, and by the advice of John, unwilling to goad these men, already desperate, to utter madness, wisely accepted it. His only stipulations were that they should bind themselves to leave Italy and to engage in no future war against any part of the Roman Empire. One thousand Goths refusing to accept these terms, broke out their camp, escaped the vigilance of the enemy, and under the command of Indulph (the general who commanded in the sea‑fight off Sinigaglia), succeeded in marching across Italy to Ticinum. That city, as well as Cumae, held out for a few months longer against the troops of the Emperor, but the story of their final surrender will best be told in connection with the invasion of the Alamannic brethren,  p657 whose deeds and whose reverses, though they come in the order of time soon after the death of Teias, seem to belong to another cycle of narrative. All the other Goths — the remnant of that mighty host which, sixteen years before, marched as they thought to certain victory under the walls of Rome — made their way sadly over the Alpine passes, bidding an eternal farewell to the fair land of their birth.

They disappeared, those brave Teutons, out of whom, welded with the Latin race, so noble a people might have been made to cultivate and to defend the Italian peninsula. They were swallowed up in we know not what morass of Gepid, of Herulian, of Slavonic barbarism. There remained in Italy the Logothetes of Justinian.

The Author's Notes:

1 The reader will observe that Gothorum is written with one t and Gotthico with two. The first is the Latin form of the name, from which we take our word Gothic. The second is from the Greek form, Γότθοι, which more accurately represents the original Gutthiudai.

2 Also called Theias and Thila on his coins. We learn the name of his father from Agathias.

3 See p463.

4 Procopius does not directly state this (p634),º but his narrative implies it. He mentions also a fortress in Tuscia ὃ δὴ Νέπα καλοῦσι, which surrendered at the same time. This is probably Nepete in Etruria.

5 Procopius narrates only the investment of Civita Vecchia (p635).º Agathias (p37, ed. Bonn) mentions its fall, which was in the year 553.

6 Who was holding the Passo di Furlo.

7 Possibly December 552 and January 553, but the indications of time in Procopius are here very vague.

8 Hill of Milk, now Monte Lettere.

9 It will be seen from the narrative in the text that the indications of the battle-field given by Procopius are not very precise. There is nothing, however, in his story which disagrees with the site fixed for it by local tradition, namely Pozzo dei Goti (Well of the Goths). This place is one kilometer west of the town of Angri, just at the foot of Monte Lettere, and about a mile and a half from the Sarno. The chief building is a fine country-house, now used as a linen-factory. It derives its name from a large well, now covered up and bricked in, which according to tradition was once filled with bones of the Goths. In the time of King Joachim, as I was told, a body or skeleton was found a little north of the house and carried off for burial by the monks. The peasants who guided me knew nothing about the story of the battle, but persisted in calling the place Pozzo dei Goti, not Pizzo Aguto, which is the name given to it in Murray's Guide, and that for which I accordingly enquired.

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