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Bill Thayer

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Book V
Note A

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 8

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
Chapter VII

The Gothic Assault


Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, I.19‑23.

Stoppage of the flour-mills. An immediate effect of the cutting off of the water-supply was to endanger the regular delivery of the rations of flour to the soldiers and the citizens. Now that the water of Trajan's aqueduct no longer came dashing down over the Janiculan hill, the cornº-mills which it had been wont to drive were silent. An obvious suggestion would have been to use beasts of burden to supply the needed power. But unfortunately, in order to effect the necessary economy of provisions, all beasts of burden, except the horses needed for warlike purposes, had been slain. The water-mills on the Tiber. Therefore, with his usual fertility of resource, Belisarius contrived to make water take the place of water. Stretching ropes across the Tiber from bank to bank near the Aelian Bridge,1 he moored two skiffs side by side at a distance of two feet apart, placed his mill-stones on board and hung his water-wheel between  p162 the skiffs, where the current of the river narrowed by the interposition of the bridge was strong enough to turn it and move the machinery.2 The Goths heard of this contrivance from the deserters who still came over to them, and succeeded in breaking the water-wheels by throwing huge logs, and even the carcases of slain Romans, into the stream. The iron boom. Belisarius however by fastening to the bridge strong iron chains which stretched across the river, not only preserved his water-mills from these obstructions, but also, which was more important, guarded the city against the peril of a sudden attack by the boats' crews of the barbarians. The water-mills of the Tiber thus invented by Belisarius continued to be used in Rome down to our own day but are now apparently all superseded by mills driven by steam.

The Cloacae. The watchful care of Belisarius did not even neglect to take into consideration the cloacae, the great sewers of Rome; but as the mouths of all of them opened into the Tiber, in that part of it which was within the circuit of the walls, no special provision against a hostile surprise appeared to be necessary in this quarter.

Omen of the Samnite boys. Just at this time, when men's minds were on the stretch, waiting for the mighty duel to begin, came the tidings of an incident, trifling and yet tragical, which the superstitious in either army might easily regard as an omen of success to the one and of disaster to the other. Some Samnite lads, keeping their sheep on the slopes of the Apennines, beguiled the tedium of  p163 their occupation by choosing out two of their sturdiest, naming one Witigis and the other Belisarius, and setting them to wrestle for the victory. As Fate would have it, Witigis was thrown. Then said the boys in sport, 'Witigis shall be hanged.' They had tied him up to a tree, meaning to cut him down again before he had received any serious harm, when suddenly a wolf from the mountains was upon them and they fled. The poor boy, abandoned to his fate, died in agony. But when the story was noised abroad through Samnium, people read in it an indication of the predestined victory of Belisarius, and took no steps for the punishment of the youthful executioners.

Discontent in Rome. Still, notwithstanding omens and auguries, the citizens of Rome were by no means satisfied with the turn that things were taking. With their food doled out to them in strict daily rations, with only water enough for drinking (supplied by the river and the wells), and none whatever for the sadly remembered delights of the Bath, unwashed and short of sleep (since to each man his turn for sentry duty at night seemed constantly recurring); above all, with the depressing feeling that all these sacrifices were in vain, and that those myriads of the Goths whom they saw burning their villas and ravaging the pleasant places all around the city must soon be within its walls, they began to murmur against Belisarius. Speeches were made in the Senate,3 not loud but full of angry feeling, against the general who had ventured to hold Rome with such an utterly inadequate force,  p164 and who was bringing the loyal subjects of the Emperor, guiltless of any wrong, into such extremity of peril by his rashness.

Gothic embassy. Witigis, who was informed by the deserters of this change of feeling, tried to turn it to account by sending an embassy to Belisarius, headed by a certain Albes. Speech of Albes. In the presence of the Senate and the Generals, Albes delivered an harangue in which, not uncourteously, he suggested to Belisarius that courage was one thing and rashness another. 'If it is courage that has brought you here, look forth from the walls, survey the vast multitude of the Goths. You will have need of all your courage in dealing with that mighty host. But if you now feel that it was mere rashness that has led you hither, if at the same time you are awakened to the thought of all the miseries which you are inflicting on the Romans by your opposition to their lawful ruler, we come to offer you one more opportunity of repentance. The Romans lived in all comfort and freedom under the rule of the good King Theodoric. Now, through your undesired interposition, they are suffering the extremity of misery, and their King, the King both of Goths and Italians,4 is obliged to encamp outside the walls, and practise all the cruel acts of war against the people whom he loves. We call upon you therefore to evacuate the city of Rome; but as it is not our wish to trample on the fallen we concede to you the liberty of marching forth unmolested and of taking with you all your possessions.'

 p165  The spirit of the Gothic King was a good deal changed by the events of the last few days. On his march to Rome his only fear had been lest Belisarius should escape his dreadful vengeance. Now he was willing to offer him all the honours of war if only he would march out of the city which he ought never to have been allowed to enter. It may be doubted whether Witigis was wise in showing so manifestly his desire for the departure of the imperial General. The Senate, as we know, had begun to take a very gloomy view of the defence. Such a speech as that of Albes would tend to reassure many a waverer, by showing him that the Goths in their secret hearts, felt no great confidence of victory.

Reply of Belisarius. Belisarius in reply said, that the prudence or imprudence of his plan of campaign was his own affair, and he did not intend to take the advice of Witigis concerning it. 'But I say to you that the time will come when you shall long to hide your heads under the thorns of the Campagna and shall not be able to do so. When we took Rome we laid hands on no alien possession, but only undid that work of violence by which you seized upon a city to which you had no claim. If any one of you fancies that he is going to enter Rome without a struggle he is mistaken. While Belisarius lives he will never quit his hold of this city.'

So spake Belisarius. The Roman Senators sat mute and trembling, not daring to echo the proud words of the General, nor to repel the accusations of the ambassadors upbraiding them with their treachery and ingratitude. Answer of Fidelius to the Goths. Only Fidelius, aforetime Quaestor under Athalaric5 and now Praetorian Prefect under Belisarius,  p166 answered his late lords with words of scorn and banter. The ambassadors on their return to the camp were eagerly questioned by Witigis, what manner of man Belisarius was, and how he received the proposal for an evacuation of the city. To which they replied that he seemed to be the last man in the world to be frightened by mere words. Accordingly, Witigis set about the task of convincing him by more efficacious arguments.

Gothic preparations for assault. Movable towers. Having counted the courses of masonry in the walls, and thus formed as accurate an estimate as possible of their height, the Goths constructed several wooden towers of the same height as the walls running on wheels placed under their four corners, and with ropes fastened to them, so that they could be drawn by oxen. On the highest platform of the towers were ladders, which could be used if necessary to scale the battlements.

Battering-rams. In addition to the towers the Goths also made ready eight battering-rams. Procopius gives us a detailed description of this engine of war, Roman, as it is generally supposed, in its origin, but now borrowed from the Romans by the barbarians.6 Fascines. They also prepared  p167 fascines, of the boughs of trees and the reeds of the Campagna, which they could throw into the fosse, so filling it up and preparing the way for the advance of their warlike engines.

Counter preparations of Belisarius. On his side Belisarius armed the towers and battlements with a plenteous supply of the defensive engines of the period, Balistae. the Balista, that magnified bow, worked by machinery, which shot a short square arrow twice the distance of an ordinary bow‑shot and with such force as to break trees or stones;7 Onager. and the Onager or Wild Ass, which was a similarly magnified sling. Lupus. Each gate he obstructed with a machine called a Lupus, which seems, from the somewhat obscure description of Procopius, to have been a kind of double portcullis, worked both from above and below, and ready to close its terrible wolf-jaws upon any enemy who should venture within reach of its fangs.8

Arrangement of the defending forces. The general disposition of the army of Belisarius,  p168 which amounted in all to but 5000 men, was the same as that mentioned in a previous chapter.9 Porta Praenestina. Bessas the imperialist Ostrogoth, and Peranius the Iberian prince from the shores of the Caspian, commanded at the great Praenestine Gate. Porta Salaria and Pinciana. At the Salarian and Pincian Gates Belisarius himself took charge of the fight; Porta Flaminia. at the Flaminian Ursicinus, who had under him a detachment of infantry known as 'The Emperor's Own.'10 They had, however, little to do in the battle which is about to be described, as the Flaminian Gate stood on a precipitous piece of ground and was too difficult of access for the Goths to assault it.11

Muro Torto. More astonishing was it to Procopius that the walls a little to the east of the Flaminian Gate should also have been left unassaulted by the Goths. Here, to this day, notwithstanding some lamentable and perfectly unnecessary 'restorations' of recent years, may be seen some portions of the Muro Torto, a twisted, bulging, overhanging mass of opus reticulatum.12 It looks as if it might fall to‑morrow (and so, as we shall see, thought Belisarius), but it has stood in its present state for eighteen centuries. But the story of this piece of wall and the superstitions connected with it  p169 is so curious that Procopius must tell it in his own words: —

'Between the Flaminian Gate and the gate‑let next in order on the right hand, which is called the Pincian, a part of the wall split asunder long ago of its own accord. The cleft however did not reach to the ground, but only about half‑way down. Thus it did not fall, nor receive any further damage, but it so leaned over in both directions that one part seems within, the other without the rest of the enclosure. From this circumstance the Romans have from of old called that part of the walls, in their own language, Murus Ruptus. Now when Belisarius was at the first minded to pull down this bit and build it up again, the Romans stopped him, assuring him that Peter (the Apostle whom they venerate and admire above all others) had promised that he would care for the defence of their city at that point.13 And things turned out in this quarter exactly as they had expected; for neither on the day of the first assault, nor during any subsequent part of the siege, did the enemy approach this portion of the wall in force, or cause any tumult there. We often wondered that in all the assaults and midnight surprises of the enemy, this part of the fortifications never seemed to come into the remembrance either of besiegers or besieged. For this reason no one hath since attempted to rebuild it, but the wall remains to this day cleft in two. So much for the Murus Ruptus.'

The reader will probably feel in perusing this passage,  p170 that Procopius himself, though rather than a Theist than a Christian, and not always constant even to Theism, was puzzled whether to accept or reject the legend of St. Peter's guardianship of the Muro Torto. He shows the same attitude of suspended belief towards the Sibylline Oracles and many other heathen marvels which are recorded in his pages.

Pons Aelius.
Tomb of Hadrian.
Constantine, removed by Belisarius from the Porta Flaminia, was placed in charge of the river-side wall and the Bridge and Tomb of Hadrian. Porta Pancratii. Paulus commanded at the Pancratian Gate on the other side of the Tiber: but here too, on account of the difficulty of the ground, the Goths attempted nothing worthy of note. A striking contrast this to one of the very last sieges of Rome, that under General Oudinot in 1849, when the Porta S. Pancrazio was riddled with hostile bullets. In consequence of the frequent skirmishes in that quarter the whole Janiculum was then covered with mounds, now grass-grown and peaceful-looking, under which French and Italian soldiers, slain in those dreary days, slumber side by side.

The assault begun, about 21st Mar. 537. Terror of the Romans. The preparations of the Goths being completed, on the eighteenth day of the siege, at sunrise, they began the assault. With dismay the Romans, clustered on the walls, beheld the immense masses of men converging to the City, the rams, the towers drawn by oxen moving slowly towards them. Calmness of Belisarius. They beheld the sight with dismay, but a smile of calm scorn curved the lips of Belisarius. The Romans could not bear to see him thus trifling as they thought in the extremity of their danger; implored him to use the balistae on the walls before they came any nearer; called  p171 him shameless and incompetent when he refused: but still Belisarius waited and still he smiled. First blood drawn. At length, when the Goths were now close to the edge of the fosse, he drew his bow and shot one of their leaders, armed with breastplate and mail, through the neck. The chief fell dead, and a roar of applause at the fortunate omen rose from the Roman ranks. Again he bent his bow and again a Gothic noble fell, whereat another shout of applause from the walls rent the air. Then Belisarius gave all his soldiers the signal to discharge their arrows, ordering those immediately around him to leave the men untouched and to aim all their shafts at the oxen. The towers made useless. In a few minutes the milk-white Etrurian oxen were all slain, and then of necessity the towers, the rams, all the engines of war remained immovable at the edge of the fosse, useless for attack, only a hindrance to the assaulting host. So close to the walls, it was impossible for the Goths to bring up other beasts of burden, or to devise any means to repair the disaster. Then men understood the reason of the smile of Belisarius, who was amused at the simplicity of the barbarians in thinking that he would allow them to drive their oxen close up under his battlements. Then they recognised his wisdom in postponing the reply from the balistae till the Goths had come so near that their disaster was irreparable.

Change in the Gothic tactics. The towers and the rams had apparently been intended specially for that part of the wall close to the Pincian Gate. Foiled in this endeavour, Witigis drew back his men a little distance from the fosse, formed them into deep columns, and ordered them not to attempt any farther assault on that part of the walls, but so to harass the troops by incessant discharges of  p172 missile weapons as to prevent Belisarius from giving any assistance to the other points which he meant to assail, and which were especially the Porta Praenestina and the Porta Aurelia.

Fighting at Porta Salaria. During this time sharp fighting was going on at the other gate which was under the immediate command of Belisarius, the Porta Salaria. Here for a little while the barbarians seemed to be getting the advantage. A long-limbed Goth, one of their nobles and renowned for his prowess in war, armed (as perhaps their common soldiers were not) with helmet and breastplate, left the ranks of his comrades and swung himself up into a tree from which he was able to discharge frequent and deadly missiles at the defenders of the battlements. At length, however, one of the balistae worked by the soldiers in the tower on the left of the gateway, more by good fortune than good aim, succeeded in striking him. The bolt went right through the warrior's body and half through the tree: thus pinned to the tree-trunk he was left dangling between earth and heaven. At this sight a chill fear ran through the Gothic ranks, and withdrawing themselves out of the range of the balistae they gave no more trouble to the defenders of the Salarian Gate.

Attack on Porta Praenestina (P. Maggiore). The weight of the Gothic assault was directed against the Praenestine Gate, the modern Porta Maggiore. Here they collected a number of their engines of attack, towers, battering-rams, and ladders: and here both the hoped‑for absence of the great general and the dilapidated state of the wall inspired some reasonable hope of victory. The neighbourhood of the Porta Maggiore is to this day one of the most  p173   p174 interesting portions of the wall of Rome. Description of the Porta Maggiore. Here you see the two stately arches which spanned the diverging roads to Labicum and Praeneste. Above them you read the clear, boldly-carved inscriptions which record the constructions of Claudius, and the restorations of Vespasian and Titus. Between them stands the curious tomb of the baker Eurysaces, which bore the sculptured effigies of the baker and his wife and a quaint inscription (still legible) recording that 'in this bread-basket' the fragments of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces and his excellent wife are gathered together. High above run the channels of the Anio Novus and the Aqua Claudia. Hard by at a lower level the Julia, Tepula, and Marcia, and yet lower the Anio Vetus enter the city. This intersection of the aqueducts gave the Porta Praenestina a strength peculiar to itself, and caused it to take an important place in the fortifications of the later emperors.

Different aspect at the time of the siege. When the Goths assaulted Rome the Praenestine and Labican Gates did not show the same fair proportions which they displayed in the days of Claudius, and which they have recovered by the judicious restoration effected in 1838. By the operations of the military engineers of Aurelian and Honorius14 the Labican Gate15 was closed and the usual round towers16  p175 were erected, flanking the gate, which enclosed and concealed from view till our own times the Tomb of Eurysaces. The high line of the aqueduct wall still remained (as it does to this day), but it had fallen much out of repair, and the real line of defence seems to have been a lower wall running parallel to it at a distance of less than 100 yards and skirting the line of the Via Labicana. The Vivarium. Between these two walls, which ran thus side by side for about 500 yards, a strip of land was enclosed which was used in old days as a menagerie for the wild beasts that were about to be employed in the shows of the amphitheatre.17 To use  p176 the words of Procopius, 'It chanced that the [true] wall in that quarter had in great part crumbled away, as the bricks no longer cohered well together. But another low wall had been drawn round it on the outside by the Romans of old, not for safety's sake, for it had neither towers nor battlements nor any other of the appliances for defence, but on account of unseemly luxury, that they might there enclose in cages the lions and other beasts [for the amphitheatre]. For which cause also they called it the Vivarium, for that is the name given by the Romans to a place where beasts of ungentle nature are wont to be kept.'

Gothic attack on the Vivarium. To the Vivarium then the Goths directed the weight of their columns and the larger number of their engines of war. The objective point was well chosen. The ground was level and afforded easy access to the assailants. There was, it is true, a double wall, but the inner one, as the Goths well knew, was decayed and ruinous, and the outer one, though in better preservation, was low and undefended by towers or battlements. But the fatal fault of the attack was that in the narrow space between the two walls there was no room for the barbarians to manoeuvre, and of this fault Belisarius determined to avail himself. By this time he had hastened with the most valiant men  p177 of his little army to the place, but he set few defenders on the ramparts and offered little opposition to the strokes with which the Goths battered a breach in the wall of the Vivarium. The Goths pass the first wall. When this was accomplished, when he saw them pouring in, in their multitudes, to the narrow enclosure, he sent Cyprian and some of the bravest of his troops to man the real wall, formed of the arcades of the aqueducts. The unexpected strength of this opposition caused some dismay in the hearts of the Goths, who had thought their work would be at an end when they had penetrated within the first enclosure. Then, when they were all intent upon the hand-to‑hand encounter with the defenders of the wall, Belisarius ordered the Praenestine Gate18 to be thrown open. The Goths taken in rear. Behind it he had massed his troops armed with breastplate and sword; no javelin or pilum to encumber them with its needless aid. They had little to do but to slay. Panic seized the Goths, who sought to pour out of the Vivarium by the narrow breach which they had effected, and many of whom were trampled to death by their own friends. 'They thought no more of valour but of flight,' says the historian, 'each man as best he could.' The Romans followed and slew a great number before they could reach the distant Gothic camp. Belisarius ordered the engines of war collected by the assailants to be burned, and the red flames shooting up into the evening sky carried terror to the hearts of the fugitives.  p178 A similar sally from the Salarian Gate met with like success.

Fighting at the Porta Aurelia. Meanwhile, however, on the north-west of Rome, at the Porta Aurelia (opposite the Castle of Sant' Angelo), the Goths had been much nearer to achieving victory. Here, as has been said, Constantine, withdrawn for this purpose from the Flaminian Gate, had charge of the defence of the city. Two points were especially threatened, the Porta Aurelia and the stretch of riverside wall between it and the Porta Flaminia. This bit of wall had been left somewhat weak, the river seeming here sufficient defence, nor did Belisarius feel himself able to spare a large number of men for its protection. But Constantine, seeing that the enemy were preparing to cross the stream and attack at this place, rushed off himself to defend it. He was successful. When the Goths found that their landing was not unopposed, and that even this piece of wall had defenders, they lost heart and gave up the attempt. These movements, however, occupied precious time, and when, probably about noon, Constantine returned to the Porta Aurelia, he found that important events had taken place in his absence.

The Tomb of Hadrian (the Castle of Sant' Angelo). The whole course of the attack and defence in that quarter was determined then, as it has been in so many subsequent struggles, by

'The Mole which Hadrian reared on high,'19

the tomb, the fortress, the prison, of Sant' Angelo. Procopius shall describe it for us, for his is still the fullest account which we possess of the Mighty Mausoleum in its glory: —

 p179  'The tomb of Hadrian the Roman Emperor is outside the Porta Aurelia, distant from the wall about a bow‑shot, a memorable sight. For it is made of Parian marble, and the stones fit closely into one another with no other fastening. It has four equal sides, each about a stone's throw in length, and in height overtopping the wall of the city. Above there are placed statues of men and horses made out of the same stone [Parian], and marvellous to behold. This tomb then the men of old, since it seemed like an additional fortress for their city, joined to the line of fortification by two walls reaching out from the main circuit of the fortifications. And thus the tomb seemed like a citadel protecting the gate.'

Conjectural reconstruction of the Tomb. From this description and a few hints given by travellers who saw the Mausoleum in the Middle Ages, Roman archaeologists20 have conjecturally reconstructed its original outline. A quadrangular structure of dazzling white marble, each side 300 Roman feet long and eighty-five feet high, it had upon its sides inscriptions to the various Emperors from Trajan to Severus who were buried within its walls. At the corners of this structure were equestrian statues of four Emperors. Above, two circular buildings, one over the other, were surrounded with colonnades and peopled with marble statues. Over all rose a conical cupola whose summit was 300 feet above the ground, so that it might be said of this Mausoleum as of the City in the Revelation, 'The length and the breadth and the height of it were equal.' Visitors to the gardens of the Vatican may still see there a bronze  p180 fir‑cone, eight feet high, which according to tradition once surmounted the cupola of Hadrian's Tomb.

[image ALT: A bronze pinecone, about 8 feet tall, weathered with green patina, standing on a marble urn carved with heroic nude figures, and flanked by two much smaller peacocks, also of bronze, trailing their tails behind them: all of it against a background of a curved building with rectangular windows. It is the 'Pigna' in the eponymous courtyard in the Vatican, as further commented on in the text of this webpage.]

The pinecone — of uncertain provenance — which has given its name to the courtyard in the Vatican which it now dominates, the Cortile della Pigna.

Photo © William P. Thayer

Gothic attack on the Tomb. Towards this tomb-fortress, then, swarmed the Gothic bands from their camp in the Neronian gardens. They had no elaborate engines like their brethren on the other side of the river, but they had ladders and bows in abundance, and hoped easily to overpower the scanty forces of the defenders. A long colonnade led from the Aelian Bridge to the great Basilica of St. Peter, sheltered by which they approached close under the walls of the Tomb before they were perceived by the garrison. They were then too near for the balistae to be used against them with effect, the bolts discharged by those unwieldy engines flying over the heads of the assailants. The arrows shot from the bows of the Imperial soldiers could not pierce the large oblong shields of the Goths, which reminded Procopius of the enormous bucklers21 that he had seen used in the Persian wars. Moreover, the quadrangular shape of the building which they had to defend put the garrison at a disadvantage, since, when they were facing the foe on one side, they continually found themselves taken in rear by the assailants on the opposite quarter. Altogether, things looked ill for the defenders of the Tomb, till a sudden instinct drove them to the statues; that silent marble chorus which stood watching the terrible drama. The statues thrown down. Tearing these down from their bases and breaking the larger figures into fragments, they hurled them down upon the eager Gothic host. At once the exultation of the latter was turned into panic. They drew back from the avalanche of sculpture. They returned within range  p181 of the balistae. The garrison plied these engines with desperate energy, and with shouts discharged their arrows also against the enemy, whose shields now no longer formed the compact testudo which had before resisted their missiles. The Goths repulsed. At this moment Constantine appeared upon the scene and turned repulse into defeat. The Tomb of Hadrian was saved, but at a price which would have caused a bitter pang to the artistic Emperor who raised and adorned that mighty Mausoleum.22

Complete failure of the assault. Thus, on both sides of the Tiber, the confident onset of the Goths had ended in utter failure. The battle, which began with early dawn, lasted till evening twilight. All night long the flare of the burning engines of the Goths reddened the sky. All night rose the contrasted clamours of the two armies; from the battlements of the city, the cheers and the rude songs in which the Romans praised the fame of their hero-general; from the Gothic camps the lamentation for the fallen, the groans of the wounded, the hurrying steps of men rushing to and fro to bring aid to their agonising comrades.

It was asserted by the Romans, and, according to Procopius, admitted by the Gothic leaders, that on this day 30,000 of the barbarians were stretched dead upon the field, beside the vast numbers of the wounded.

The Author's Notes:

1 Now the Ponte S. Angelo. This is probably what Procopius means by τῆς γεφύρας ἧς ἄρτι πρὸς τῷ περιβόλῳ οὔσης ἐμνήσθην (De B. G. I.19).

2 I think there was a whole string of these water-mills one behind another, but the language of Procopius is not very clear: Ἐπέκεινα δὲ ἄλλας τε ἀκάτους ἐχομένας ὧν ἀεὶ ὄπισθεν κατὰ λόγον ἐδέσμευε, καὶ τὰς μηχανὰς τρόπῳ τῷ αὐτῷ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ἐνέβαλε (Ibid.).

3 Οἱ ἐκ βουλῆς ἣν σύγκλητον καλοῦσι says Procopius (De B. G. I.20). It is strange that he should explain one Greek word by another, and that other no real translation of Senatus.

4 Μηδὲ τῷ Γότθων τε καὶ Ἰταλιωτῶν δεσπότῃ ἐμποδὼν ἵστασο (Ibid.) I must confess that I doubt whether a Gothic orator really spoke of Witigis as δεσπότης of the Goths.

5 See p83.

6 The battering-ram as described by Procopius. Procopius's description, which adds a few particulars to the well-known sketch in Josephus (De Bellis Judaeorum, III.7.19), is as follows: —

'Four upright pillars of equal height are erected opposite to one another. Eight beams are inserted into these pillars at right angles, four above and four at the base. Having thus put together the frame of a four-sided hut they surround it on all sides with a covering of hides to serve instead of walls, in order that the machine may be light for those who have to draw it and at the same time that the men inside may be as little as possible liable to be hit by the darts of the enemy. Within, and as much as possible in the middle of the enclosure, another beam crosswise is hung by loose chains from the top of the machine. The end, which is shod with iron, is either sharp like the point of an arrow or four-square like an anvil. The whole machine runs on four wheels, one under each of the four pillars; and not less than fifty men move it from within. When they have got it close up to the wall, by turning some sort of machinery they draw back the beam of which I spoke and again with great force thrust it against the wall. By its repeated strokes it can easily shatter and destroy whatever it meets with, and hence its name, because the stroke of this beam is like that of a ram butting at its fellows. Such is the fashion of the rams used by besiegers.'

7 The arrow (or rather bolt) of the Balista was half the length and four times the width of an ordinary arrow.

8 Procopius gives a minute (but not very clear) description of the Balista, the Wild Ass, and the Wolf, which were employed by Belisarius. It is not easy to understand his object in thus minutely describing objects with which every soldier must have been familiar.

9 P131.

10 Οἱ Ῥῆγες ἐνταῦθα πεζικὸν τέλος ἐφύλασσον (De B. G. I.23). No doubt these are the same as the Regii, one of the seventeen 'Auxilia Palatina' under the command of the Magister Militum Praesentalis, mentioned in the Notitia Orientis, cap. v.

11 We now know certainly that the Porta del Popolo stands on the very same site as the Porta Flaminia and we can only say that the configuration of the ground outside it, which is now comparatively level, must have changed considerably since the sixth century.

12 Not later therefore than the first century A.D.

13 There was a legend (for which I cannot quote the authority) that the wall had first lost its perpendicular form by bowing towards St. Peter when he was led out to execution.

14 Over the Praenestine Gate, as well as over the Tiburtine and the Portuensian Gates, ran an inscription recording the restoration of the walls, gates, and towers of the city by the most unconquered Emperors Arcadius and Honorius and the clearing away of immense heaps of rubbish at the suggestion of the illustrious Count Stilicho.

15 That on the south side. It is now open and the Praenestine closed.

16 I say towers in the plural, as there can be no doubt there would be at least two, though only one is shown in Ricciardelli's picture (published 1832). The square towers there depicted are probably mediaeval: and it is evident that the Gate was a good deal altered during the Middle Ages.

17 After very careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that Canina and the majority of Roman topographers are right in placing the Vivarium here, between the main wall and the Via Labicana. What most impresses me is the fact that the modern road, which generally keeps close under the wall, here deviates from it and leaves this strip of land unoccupied, for no particular purpose that we can see, since even now it has no substantial buildings upon it, but is chiefly used for stables and cow‑houses, and has a generally squalid and deserted appearance. All this looks very much as if there had been in old days some kind of special appropriation of the ground just outside the wall: and there is a wall skirting the road now which, though itself I think entirely modern, may very well be built on ancient foundations. Mr. Freeman's suggestion of the Amphitheatrum Castrense (Brit. Quart. Review, LXXVI.295) does not seem to me quite to meet the necessities of the case. He himself alludes to the difference between an amphitheatre and a place for storing wild beasts. But besides this, there is a very decided ascent from the surrounding country towards the Amphitheatrum Castrense, whereas Procopius lays stress on the level character of the Vivarium and the facility of approach to it (ἠὼ δὲ ὁ ταύτῃ χῶρος ὁμαλὸς κομιδῇ καὶ ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ ταῖς ἐφόδοις τῶν προσιόντων ἐγκείμενος, De B. G. I.23). Above all, the opening of the Praenestine Gate by Belisarius and the sudden out‑rush of the Roman soldiers on the rear of the combatants in the Vivarium seems to me to forbid us to think of the Amphitheatrum Castrense as the scene of the conflict, and almost to require us to place it between the Via Labicana and the Wall.

Fulvius (Antiquitates Urbis, fo. VI) placed the Vivarium near to, or in, the Castra Praetoria, but this is now generally admitted to be a mistake.

18 Procopius speaks of 'gates' in the plural. There can, I think, be no doubt that the Porta Labicana had been closed ever since the time of Honorius, but probably the remembrance of the two gates which had so long existed here, which in fact still existed, though one of them was useless, caused the Porta Praenestina to be spoken of as 'the gates.'

19 Childe Harold, IV.152.

20 Especially Canina (Edifizi, cclxxxiv), whose description I follow with confidence.

21 Οὐδὲν ἐλασσομένους τῶν ἐν Πέρσαις δέρρεων (De B. G. I.22).

22 The Barberini Faun at Munich and the Dancing Faun at Florence were brought from the fosse below the Tomb of Hadrian, and may have been two of the statues hurled on the heads of the Goths.

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Page updated: 17 Jun 20