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Book V
Chapter 7

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 9

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
Chapter VIII

Roman Sorties


Sources: —

Procopius, De Bello Gotthico, I.24‑II.2.

Letter from Belisarius to Justinian. After the Gothic assault was repulsed, Belisarius sent a messenger to Justinian with a letter announcing the victory and praying for reinforcements. The letter, which was probably composed by Procopius himself, is worth reading, especially as it helps us to understand the light in which the invasion of Italy was regarded at Constantinople. 'The King shall enjoy his own again' was the key‑note of all the Imperial proceedings both at Carthage and at Rome. It was not a young and vigorous nationality, with a fair prospect of an honourable career, that Justinian and his generals seemed to themselves to be suppressing. It was simply an inalienable right that they were asserting, a right that generations of barbaric domination could not weaken, the right of the Imperator Romanus to Rome and to every country that her legions had once subdued.

'We have arrived in Italy' (said Belisarius) 'in obedience to your orders, and after possessing ourselves of a large extent of its territory have also taken  p183 Rome, driving away the barbarians whom we found there, whose captain, Leuderis, we lately sent to you. Owing, however, to the large number of soldiers whom we have had to detach for garrison duty in the various towns of Italy and Sicily which we have taken, our force here is dwindled to 5000 men. The enemy has come against us with an army 150,000 strong; and in the first engagement, when we went out to reconnoitre by the banks of the Tiber, being forced, contrary to our intention, to fight, we were very nearly buried under the multitude of their spears. Then, when the barbarians tried a general assault upon our walls with all their forces and with many engines of war, they were within a little of capturing us and the city at the first rush. Some good fortune however (for one must refer to Fortune not to our valour the accomplishment of a deed which in the nature of things was not to be expected) saved us from their hands.

'So far however, whether Valour or Fortune have decided the struggle, your affairs have gone as well as could be desired, but I should like that this success should continue in days to come. I will say without concealment what I think you ought now to do, knowing well that human affairs turn out as God wills, but knowing also that those who preside over the destinies of nations are judged according to the event of their enterprises, be that event good or bad. I pray you, then, let arms and soldiers be sent to us in such numbers that we may no longer have to continue the war on terms of such terrible inequality with our enemies. For it is not right to trust everything to Fortune, since if she favours us at one time she will turn her back upon us at another. But I pray you,  p184 O Emperor, to let this thought into your mind, that if the barbarians should now vanquish us, not only shall we be driven out of your own Italy and lose our army too, but deep disgrace will accrue to us all as the result of our actions. We shall certainly be thought to have ruined the Romans who have preferred loyalty to your Empire above their own safety. And thus even the good luck which has attended us so far will prove in the end calamitous to our friends. If we had failed in our attempts on Rome, on Campania, or on Sicily, we should only have had the slight mortification of not being able to appropriate the possessions of others. Very different will be our feelings now when we lose what we have learned to look upon as our own, and drag those who have trusted us down into the same abyss of ruin.

'Consider this too, I pray you, that it is only the good-will of the citizens which has enabled us to hold Rome for ever so short a time against the myriads who besiege it. With a wide extent of open country round it, with no access to the sea, shut off from supplies, we could do nothing if the citizens were hostile. They are still animated by friendly feelings towards us, but if their hardships should be greatly prolonged it is only natural that they should choose for themselves the easier lot. For a recently formed friendship like theirs requires prosperity to enable it to endure: and the Romans especially may be compelled by hunger to do many things which are very contrary to their inclination.

'To conclude: I know that I am bound to sacrifice life itself to your Majesty, and therefore no man shall force me, living, from this place. But consider, I pray  p185 you, what kind of fame would accrue to Justinian from such an end to the career of Belisarius.'1

Reinforcements sent from Constantinople. The effect of this letter was to accelerate the preparations already made for reinforcing the gallant band in Rome. Valerian and Martin had been sent, late in 536, with ships and men to the help of Belisarius, but, fearing to face the winter storms, had lingered on the coast of Aetolia. They now received a message from the Emperor to quicken their movements; and at the same time the spirits of the general and the citizens were raised by the tidings that reinforcements were on their way to relieve them.

Non‑combatants sent out of Rome. On the very next day after the failure of the Gothic assault the unmenaced gates of Rome opened, and a troop of aged men, women, and children, set forth from the city. Some went out by the Appian Gate and along the Appian Way, others went forth by the Porta Portuensis and sailed down the Tiber to the sea. They were accompanied by all the slaves, male and female, except such of the former as Belisarius had impressed for the defence of the walls. Even the soldiers had to part with the servants who generally followed them to war. In thus immediately sending the useless mouths out of Rome Belisarius showed his prompt appreciation of the necessities of his position. He had repelled an assault; he would now guard as well as he might against the dangers of a blockade. Had Witigis been as great a master as Belisarius of the cruel logic of war, he would undoubtedly have prevented the Byzantine general from disencumbering  p186 himself of the multitude, who by their necessities would have been the most effectual allies of the Goths inside the city. Imperfect as was the Gothic line of circum­vallation, it is impossible to believe that more than 100,000 warriors, including a large body of cavalry, could not by occupying the main roads have prevented at least some of a large and defenceless multitude from escaping, and have driven them back within the walls of Rome. But, in fact, all of them, without fear or molestation, reached the friendly shelter of the cities of Campania, or crossed the straits and took refuge in Sicily.

The Goths occupy Porto. The fact seems to have been that, except by a series of brave and blundering assaults upon the actual walls of the city, the Goths, or perhaps we should say the Gothic King, had no notion how to handle the siege. One right step indeed he took, in view of the now necessary blockade. Twenty-first day of the siege. Three days after the failure of the assault he sent a body of troops to Portus, which they found practically undefended, notwithstanding its massive wall (the ruins of which are still visible), and it was at once occupied by them with a garrison of 1000 men. Procopius is of opinion that even 300 Roman soldiers would have been sufficient to defend Portus, but they could not be spared by Belisarius from the yet more pressing duty of watching on the Roman ramparts. The occupation of Portus caused great inconvenience to the Romans, although they still remained in possession of Ostia and the neighbouring harbour of Antium. From Portus (which since the second century had practically displaced Ostia as the chief emporium of Rome) merchants were accustomed to bring all heavy cargoes up the Tiber in barges  p187 drawn by oxen, for which there was an excellent towpath all along the right bank of the river. From Ostia, on the other hand, merchandise had to be brought in skiffs dependent on the favour of the wind, which, owing to the winding character of the river, seldom served them for a straight run from the harbour to the city.

Murder of the hostages. Besides the occupation of Portus, Witigis could bethink him of no better device to annoy the Romans than the cruel and senseless one of murdering their hostages. He sent orders to Ravenna that all the Senators whom he had confined there at the outbreak of the war should be put to death. A few escaped to Milan, having had some warning of their impending fate. Among them were a certain Cerventinus, and Reparatus a brother of the deacon Vigilius, who was in a few months to become Pope. The others all perished, and with them went the Goth's last chance of ruling the Romans otherwise than by fear.

Timidity of the besiegers. Meanwhile the Gothic blockade, into which the siege was resolving itself, was of the feeblest and most inefficient kind. Leaving all the praise of dash and daring to the scanty band of their enemies, the Goths clung timidly to their unwieldy camps, in which no doubt already pestilence was lurking. They never ventured forth by night, seldom except in large companies by day. The light Moorish horsemen were their especial terror. If a Goth wandered forth into the Campagna alone, to cut fodder for his horse or to bring one of the oxen in from pasture, he was almost sure to see one of these children of the desert bearing down upon him. With one cast of the Moor's lance the Goth was slain, his arms and his barbaric adornments were stripped from him, and the Moor was off  p188 again full speed towards Rome before the avenger could be upon his track.

Defence of the walls. Belisarius, on the other hand, organised his defence of the city so thoroughly as to leave as little as possible to the caprice of Fortune. To prevent his own little band of soldiers from being worn out by continual sentry-duty, especially at night, and at the same time to keep from starvation the Roman proletariat, all of whose ordinary work was stopped by the siege, he instituted a kind of National Guard. He mixed a certain number of these citizen soldiers with his regular troops, paying each of them a small sum for his daily maintenance, and dividing the whole amalgamated force into companies, to each of whom was assigned the duty of guarding a particular portion of the walls by day or by night. To obviate the danger of treachery, these companies were shifted every fortnight to some part of the circuit at a considerable distance from that which they last guarded. After the same interval the keys of every gate of the city were brought to him, melted down and cast afresh with different wards, the locks of course being altered to suit them. The names of the sentinels were entered upon a list which was called over each day. The place of any absent soldier or citizen was at once filled up, and he was summoned to the general's quarters to be punished, perhaps capitally punished, for his delinquency. All the night, bands of music played at intervals along the walls, to keep the defenders awkward and to cheer their drooping courage. All night too, the Moors, the terrible Moors, were instructed to prowl round the base of the walls, accompanied by bloodhounds, in order to detect any attempt by the Goths  p189 at a nocturnal escalade. Attempt to open the gates of the temple of Janus. About this time a curious attempt was made, which shows that there was still an undercurrent of the old Paganism in the apparently Christian and Orthodox City. The little square temple of Janus, nearly coeval with the Republic, still stood in the Forum in front of the Senate-house and a little above the Tria Fata or temple of the Fates. The temple was all overlaid with brass; of brass was the double-faced statue of Janus, seven and a‑half feet high, which stood within it, looking with one face to the rising and with one to the setting sun; of brass were the renowned gates which the Romans of old shut only in time of peace, when all good things abounded, and opened in time of war. Since the citizens of Rome had become zealous above all others in their attachment to Christianity, these gates had been kept equally shut whether peace or war were in the land. Now, however, some secret votaries of the old faith tried, probably under cover of night, to open these brazen gates, that the god might march out as of old of the help the Roman armies. They did not succeed in opening wide the massive doors, but they seem to have wrenched them a little from their hinges, so that they would no longer shut tightly as aforetime; an apt symbol of the troubled state of things, neither settled peace nor victorious war, which was for many centuries to prevail in Rome. This evidence of still prevailing Paganism must have shocked the servants of the pious Justinian; but owing to the troublous state of affairs no enquiry was made as to the authors of the deed.2

 p190  Arrival of Imperial reinforcements, about 13 April, 537. At length, on the forty-first day from the commencement of the siege, the long-looked‑for reinforcements under Martin and Valerian arrived in Rome. They were but 1600 men after all, but they were cavalry troops, hardy horsemen from the regions beyond the Danube, Huns, Sclavonians, and Antes;3 and their arrival brought joy to the heart of Belisarius, who decided that now the time was come for attempting offensive operations against the enemy. Belisarius orders a sally. The first sallying party was under the command of Trajan, one of the bodyguard of the General, a brave and capable man. He was ordered to lead forth 200 light-armed horsemen from the Salarian Gate, and to occupy a little eminence near to one of the Gothic camps. There was to be no hand-to‑hand fighting; neither sword nor spear was to be used; only each man's bow was to discharge as many arrows as possible, and when these were exhausted the soldiers were to seek safety in flight. These orders were obeyed. Each Roman arrow transfixed some Gothic warrior or his steed. When their quivers were empty, the skirmishers hastened back under the shelter of the walls of the city. The Goths pursued, but soon found themselves within range of the balistae, which were in full activity on the battlements. It was believed in the Roman camp that 1000 of their enemies had been laid low by this day's doings.

 p191  Other sallies. A second sortie under Mundilas and Diogenes and a third under Wilas, all three brave guardsmen of Belisarius, were equally destructive to the enemy, and the result was achieved with equally little cost to the troops, 300 strong in each case, by whom the sortie was effected.

Witigis tries to imitate the Roman tactics. Seeing the success of these manoeuvres, Witigis, who had not yet apprehended the difference of training and equipment between his countrymen and the Imperialists, thought he could not do better than imitate them. Victory was evidently to be had if a general made his army small enough: and he accordingly sent 500 horsemen with orders to go as near as they could to the walls, without coming within range of the balistae, and avenge upon the Romans all the evils which they had suffered at their hands. The Goths accordingly took up their position on a little rising ground; and Belisarius, perceiving them, sent Bessas with 1000 men to steal round and take them in rear. The Goths soon found themselves overmastered; many of them fell; the rest fled to their camp and were upbraided by Witigis for their cowardice. 'Why could not they win a victory with a handful of men as the troops on the other side did?' So did the clumsy workman quarrel with his tools. Three days after he got together another band of 500 men, picking them from each of the Gothic camps that he might be sure to have some valiant men among them, and sent them with the same general directions, 'to do brave deeds against the enemy.' When they drew near, Belisarius sent 1500 horsemen against them under the newly-arrived generals Martin and Valerian. An equestrian battle ensued. Again the  p192 Goths, hopelessly outnumbered, were easily put to flight, and great numbers of them were slain.

Cause of the uniform superiority of the Imperialists. Not in the Gothic camp only did this uniform success of the Imperial troops, apparently on the most different lines of encounter, excite much and eager questioning: the Roman citizens, whose former criticisms had given place to abject admiration, attributed it all to the marvellous genius of Belisarius. In the Pincian Palace, however, the question was earnestly debated by the friends of the General. Upon this occasion it was that Belisarius expressed that opinion which has already been quoted,4 that the superiority of the Imperial army in mounted archers5 was the cause of its unvarying victories over the Goths, whether the battles were fought by larger or smaller bodies of men.

Over-confidence of the Imperial troops. The repeated and brilliant successes of the Imperial troops were almost as embarrassing to Belisarius as to the Gothic King, though in a different way. They fostered both in officers and soldiers such an overweening contempt of the barbarians, that now nothing would satisfy them but to be led forth to a regular pitched battle under the walls of Rome, and make an end once for all of the presumptuous besiegers. The method which Belisarius preferred, and which was far safer, was to wear out the barbarians by an incessant succession of such movements as Shakespeare indicates by 'alarums, excursions.' He dreaded putting Fortune to the test with the whole of his little army at once. He found, however, at last that to keep that army at all in hand it was necessary (as it had been at the battle of Sura) to yield to their wish in  p193 this thing; and he indulged the hope that their confidence of victory might be one powerful factor in the process which would enable him to secure it. Still he would have made his grand attack somewhat by way of a surprise, but was foiled in this endeavour by the information given by deserters to the Goths. Preparations for a pitched battle. At length, therefore, he resigned himself to fight a regular pitched battle with full notice on either side. The customary harangues were delivered by each commander. Speech of Belisarius. Belisarius reminded his soldiers that this battle was one of their own seeking, and that they would have to justify the advice which they had ventured to give, and to maintain the credit of their previous victories, by their conduct on that day. He bade them not spare either horse or javelin or bow in the coming fray, since all such losses should be abundantly made up to them out of his military stores. Speech of Witigis. The purport of the speech of Witigis — if Procopius's account of it be not a mere rhetorical exercise — was to assure his brethren in arms that it was no selfish care for his crown and dignity which made him the humble suitor for their best assistance on that day. 'For the loss of life or kingship I care not; nay, I would pray to put off this purple robe to‑day if only I were assured that it would hang upon Gothic shoulders to‑morrow. Even Theodahad's end seems to me an enviable one, since he died by Gothic hands and lost life and power by the same stroke. But what I cannot bear to contemplate is ruin falling not only on me but on my race. I think of the calamity of the Vandals, and imagine that I see you and your sons carried away into captivity, your wives suffering the last indignities from our implacable foes, myself  p194 and my wife, the grand-daughter of the great Theodoric, led whithersoever the insulting conqueror shall please to order. Think of all these things, my countrymen, and vow in your own hearts that you will die on this field of battle rather than they shall come to pass. If this be your determination, an easy victory is yours. Few in number are the enemy, and after all they are but Greeks and Greek-like people. The only thing which keeps them together is a vain confidence derived from some recent disasters of ours. Be true to yourselves, and you will soon shatter that confidence and inflict a signal punishment upon them for all the insults that we have received at their hands.'

Arrangement of the Gothic troops. After this harangue Witigis drew up his army in line of battle, the infantry in the middle, the cavalry on either wing. He stationed them as near as might be to the Gothic camps, in order that when the Romans were defeated, as he made no doubt they would be, owing to their enormous inferiority in numbers, their long flight to the shelter of their walls might be as disastrous to them as possible.

Dispositions made by Belisarius. Belisarius on his side determined to make his real attack from the Pincian and Salarian Gates. At the same time a feigned attack towards the Gothic camp under Monte Mario was to be made from the Porta Aurelia and the neighbourhood of the Tomb of Hadrian. The object of this feigned attack was of course to prevent the large number of Goths on the right bank of the Tiber from swarming across the Milvian Bridge to the assistance of their brethren. Strict orders were, however, given to Valentine, who commanded the troops in this quarter, on no account to advance really within fighting distance of the  p195 enemy, but to harass him with a perpetual apparent offer of battle never leading to a decided result.

The citizen army. In further pursuance of the same policy the General accepted the service of a large number of volunteers from among the mechanics of Rome, equipped them with shield and spear, and stationed them in front of the Pancratian Gate. He placed no reliance on the services of these men for actual fighting, utterly unused as they were to the art of war, but he reckoned, not without cause, on the effect which the sight of so large a body of men would have in preventing the Goths from quitting their camp under Monte Mario. Meanwhile, the orders to the mechanic-volunteers were, not to stir till they should receive the signal from him, a signal which he was fully determined never to give.

Battle to be a cavalry battle. The battle, according to the original plan of Belisarius, was to be fought entirely with cavalry, the arm in which he knew himself to be strongest, many of his best foot-soldiers, who were already well-skilled in horsemanship, having provided themselves with horses at the expense of the enemy, and so turned themselves into cavalry. He feared too the instability of such infantry as he had, and their liability to sudden panics, and therefore determined to keep them near to the fosse of the City walls, there to act simply as a slight support for any of the cavalry who might chance to be thrown into confusion. The plan changed. This intention was changed at the last moment — the General was in a mood that day for receiving advice from all quarters — by the earnest representations of two valiant Asiatic highlanders, Principius a Pisidian, and Tarmutus an Isaurian, whose brother Ennes commanded the contingent of those  p196 hardy mountaineers. Advice of Principius and Tarmutus. These men besought him not further to lessen the numbers of his gallant little army by withdrawing the foot-soldiers, the representatives of those mighty legions by which 'the Romans of old' had won their greatness, from active service. They asserted their conviction that if, in recent engagements, the infantry had done something less than their duty, the fault lay not with the common soldiers but with the officers, who insisted on being mounted, and who were, too often, only looking about for a favourable moment for flight. Thus the troops were discouraged, because they felt that the men who were giving them orders did not share their dangers. But if Belisarius would allow these horsemen officers to fight that day with the horsemen, and would allow them, Principius and Tarmutus, to share on foot the dangers of the men under their command, and with them to advance boldly against the enemy, they trusted with God's help to do some deeds against them that the world should wot of. Belisarius for long would not yield. He loved the two valiant highlanders: he was loth to run the risk of losing them: he was also loth to run the risk of losing his little army of foot-soldiers. At length, however, he consented. He left the smallest possible number of soldiers to guard, with the help of the Roman populace, the machines on the battlements and at the gates: and placing the main body of his infantry under the command of Principius and Tarmutus, he gave them orders to march behind the cavalry against the enemy. Should any portion of the cavalry be put to flight they were to open their ranks and let them pass through, themselves engaging the enemy till the horsemen had time to re‑form.

 p197  Battle at the Pincian and Salarian Gates. It was felt on both sides that this was to be a decisive trial of strength. Witigis had put in battle array every man of his army available for service, leaving in the camps only the camp-followers and the men who were disabled by their wounds. Early in the morning the hostile ranks closed for battle. The troops in front of the Pincian and Salarian Gates soon got the upper hand of the enemy, among whose clustered masses their arrows fell with terrible effect. But the Gothic multitudes were too thick, and the men too stout-hearted for even this slaughter to produce complete rout. As one rank of the barbarians was mown down, another pressed forward to supply its place. Thus the Romans, who had slowly pressed forward, found themselves by noon close to the Gothic camp, but surrounded still by so compact a body of their foes that they began to feel that any pretext which would enable them to return in good order under the shelter of their walls would be a welcome thing. The heroes of this period of the struggle were an Isaurian guardsman named Athenodorus and two Cappadocians, Theodoret and Georgius, who darted forth in front of the Roman line and with their spears transfixed many of the enemy. Thus again the men who came from the rough sides of Mount Taurus showed themselves conspicuous among the most warlike spirits of the Imperial army.

Battle under Monte Mario. While this hot strife was being waged on the north-east of the City, strange events were taking place on the other side of the river in the Neronian plain under Monte Mario. Here the Gothic general Marcias had been enjoined by his King to play a waiting game, and above all things to watch the Milvian Bridge in  p198 order that no Romans should cross by it to succour their countrymen. The Romans, it will be remembered, had received a similar order from their general, and it might therefore have been expected that there would be no battle. But as the day wore on, it chanced that one of the feigned assaults of the Roman troops was turned into a real one by the sudden giving way of the Gothic ranks. The flying Goths were unable to reach their camp, but turned and re‑formed upon one of the hills in the neighbourhood of the Monte Mario. Among the Roman troops were many sailors and slaves acting the soldier for the first time, and ignorant of discipline. Possibly, though this is not expressly stated, some of the mechanic crew who were stationed in front of the Pancratian Gate joined in the pursuit. At any rate the successful Romans soon became quite unmanageable by their leaders. The loudly-shouted commands of their general, Valentine, were unheard or disregarded. They did not concern themselves with the slaughter of the flying Goths. They did not press on to seize and cross the Milvian Bridge, in which case their opportune assistance to Belisarius might almost have enabled him to end the war at a stroke. They only occupied themselves with the plunder of the Gothic camp, where silver vessels and many other precious things (evidences of the enriching effect of the long peace on the Ostrogothic warriors) attracted their greedy eyes. The natural consequence followed. The Goths, so long left unmolested, and leisurely re‑forming on Monte Mario, looked on for a time quietly at the plunder of their camp. Then taking heart from their long reprieve, and reading the signs of disorder in the hostile forces, they dashed off with a savage yell,  p199 leaped the ramparts of their camp, and scattered the invaders of it like chaff before the winds. Silver vessels and golden trappings, all the spoils for the sake of which the greedy crew had sacrificed the chance of a splendid victory, were dashed in terror to the ground, while the slaves and sailors dressed up in military garb fled on all sides in utter rout and confusion from the camp, or fell by hundreds under the Gothic sword. The day's fighting on the Neronian Plain had been a series of blunders on both sides, but the eventual victory rested with the side which made fewest, Marcias and his Goths.

General rout of the imperial army. At the same time the fortunes of the Imperial army on the north-east of the city began to decline. The Goths, driven to bay at the rampart of their camp, formed a testudo with their shields and succeeded in withstanding the Roman onset, and in slaying many men and many horses. The smallness of the attacking army became more and more terribly apparent both to itself and the enemy; and at length the right wing of the Gothic cavalry, bending round, charged the Romans in flank. They broke and fled. The cavalry reached the ranks of the supporting infantry, who did not support them, but turned and fled likewise; and soon the whole Roman army, horse and foot, generals and common soldiers, were in headlong flight toward the City walls.

Death of Principius and Tarmutus. Like Nolan at the charge of Balaklava, Principius and Tarmutus atoned by a brave death for the disastrous counsels which in all good faith they had given to the General. With a little knot of faithful friends they for a time arrested the headlong torrent of the Gothic pursuit, and the delay thus caused saved  p200 numberless lives in the Imperial army. Then Principius fell, hacked to pieces by countless wounds, and forty‑two of his brave foot-soldiers fell around him. Tarmutus with two Isaurian javelins in his hand long kept the enemy at bay. He found his strength failing him, and was just about to sink down in exhaustion, when a charge of his brother Ennes, at the head of some of his cavalry, gave him a few moments' relief. Then plucking up heart again, he shook himself loose from his pursuers and ran at full speed (he was ever swift of foot) towards the walls of the City. He reached the Pincian Gate, pierced with many wounds and bedabbled with gore, but still holding his two Isaurian javelins in his hand. At the gate he fell down fainting. His comrades thought him dead, but laid him on a shield and bore him into the City. He was not dead, however: he still breathed; but two days afterwards he expired of his wounds, leaving a name memorable to the whole army, but especially to his trusty Isaurian comrades.

The fugitives under the shelter of the balistae. The soldiers who had already entered the City shut the gates with a clash, and refused to let the fugitives enter, lest the Goths should enter with them. Panic-stricken, and with scarcely a thought of self-defence, the defeated soldiers huddled up under the shelter of the walls, their spears all broken or cast away in the flight, their bows useless by reason of the dense masses in which they were packed together. The Goths appeared in menacing attitude at the outer edge of the fosse. Had they poured down across it, as they were at first minded to, they might have well-nigh annihilated the army of Belisarius. But when they saw the citizens and the soldiers within the City  p201 clustering more thickly upon the walls, afraid of the terrible balistae they retired, indulging only in the luxury of taunts and epithets of barbarian scorn hurled at the beaten army.

The events of the day had fully justified the intuitive judgment of Belisarius. The besieged, though terrible in skirmishes and sudden excursions, were too few in number for a pitched battle. 'The fight,' says Procopius, 'which began at the camps of the barbarians ended in the trench and close to the walls of the City.'6

The Imperial army revert to their former tactics. After this disastrous day the Imperial troops reverted to their old method of unexpected sallies by small bodies of troops, and practised it with much of their former success. There is something of a Homeric, something of a mediaeval character in the stories which Procopius tells us of this period of the siege. No masses of troops were engaged on either side. Infantry were unused, save that a few bold and fleet-footed soldiers generally accompanied the horsemen. Single combats between great champions on horseback on either side were the order of the day.

Thus in one sally the general Bessas transfixed three of the bravest of the Gothic horsemen in succession with his spear, and with little aid from his followers put the rest of their squadron to flight. Brave deeds of Chorsamantis. Thus also Chorsamantis, a Hun and one of the body-guard of Belisarius, in a charge on the Neronian Plain pursued too far, and was separated from his comrades. Seeing this the Goths closed round him, but he, standing on his defence, slew the foremost of their band. They wavered and fled before him. Drawing near to the walls of their camp and feeling that the enemies of their  p202 fellows were upon them, they turned, for very shame that so many should be chased by one. Again he slew their bravest, and again they fled. Thus he pursued them up to the very gates of the camp, and then returned across the plain unharmed. Soon after, in another combat, a Gothic arrow pierced his left thigh, penetrating even to the bone. The army surgeon insisted upon a rest of several days after so grave an injury, but the sturdy barbarian bore with impatience so long a seclusion from the delights of battle, and was often heard to murmur, 'I will make those Gothic fellows pay for my wounded leg.' Before long the wound healed and he was out of the doctors' hands. One day at the noontide meal, according to his usual custom, he became intoxicated, and determined that he would sally forth alone against the enemy, and, as he said over and over again to himself in the thick tones of a drunkard, 'make them pay for my leg.' Riding down to the Pincian Gate he declared that he was sent by the General to go forth against the enemy. The sentinels, not daring to challenge the assertion of one of the body-guard of Belisarius, and perhaps not perceiving his drunken condition, allowed him to pass through the gate. When the Goths saw a solitary figure riding forth from the city their first thought was 'Here comes a deserter,' but the bent bow and flying arrows of Chorsamantis soon undeceived them. Twenty of them came against him, whom he easily dispersed. He rode leisurely forward to the camp. The Romans from the ramparts, not recognising who he was, took him for some madman. Soon he was surrounded by the outstreaming Goths, and after performing prodigies of valour fell dead amid a ring of  p203 slaughtered enemies, leaving a name to be remembered for many a day in the camp-fire songs of his savage countrymen.

In reading this and many similar stories told us by Procopius we are of course bound to remember that we do not hear the Gothic accounts of their own exploits, accounts which might sometimes exhibit a Gothic champion chasing scores of flying Byzantines. But after making all needful abatement on this account, we shall probably be safe in supposing that the balance of hardihood, of wild reckless daring, was on the side of the Imperial army. Though the members of it called themselves Romans they were really for the most part, like Chorsamantis, barbarians, fresher from the wilderness than the Ostrogothic soldiers, every one of whom had been born and bred amid the delights of Italy. And the stern stuff of which the Imperial soldiers were made was tempered and pointed by what still remained of Roman discipline, and driven by the matchless skill of Belisarius straight to the heart of the foe.

Constantine and his Huns. On another occasion the general Constantine, perhaps desiring to vie with the achievements of his rival Bessas, sallied out with a small body of Huns from the Porta Aurelia and found himself surrounded by a large troop of the enemy. To preserve himself from being attacked on all sides he retreated with his men into one of the narrow streets opening on Nero's Stadium.7  p204 Here his men, dismounting, discharged their arrows at the enemy, who menaced them from the opposite ends of the street. The Goths thought, 'Their quivers must soon be empty, and then we will rush in upon them from both sides and destroy them.' But such was the deadly effect of the Hunnish missiles that the Goths found before long that their number was reduced more than one half. Night was closing in. They were seized with panic and fled. The pursuing Huns still aimed their deadly arrows at the backs of the flying foe. Thus after effecting a frightful slaughter among the Goths, Constantine with his 'Massagetic' horsemen returned in safety to Rome that night.8

The Roman and the Goth in the corn-magazine. At another time it befell that Peranius, the general who came from the slopes of Caucasus, headed a sortie from the Salarian Gate. It was at first successful, and the Goths fled before the Romans. Then, when the sun was going down, the tide of battle turned. An Imperial soldier flying headlong before the Goths fell unawares into an underground vault prepared by 'the Romans of old' as a magazine for corn.º Unable to climb the steep sides of the vault, and afraid to call for help, he passed all night in that confinement, in evil case. Next day another Roman sortie, more successful than the last, sent the Goths flying over the same tract of country, and lo! a Gothic soldier fell headlong into the same vault. The two companions in misfortune began to consult as to their means of escape, and bound themselves by solemn vows each to be as careful  p205 for his companion's safety as his own. Then they both sent up a tremendous shout, which was heard, as it chanced, by a band of Gothic soldiers. They came, they peeped over the mouth of the vault, and asked in Gothic tongue who ever was shouting from that darksome hole. The Goth alone replied, told his tale, and begged his comrades to deliver him from that horrible pit. They let down ropes into the vault, the ropes were made fast, they hauled up a man out of the pit, and to their astonishment a Roman soldier stood before them. The Roman — who had sagaciously argued that if his companion came up first no Gothic soldiers would trouble themselves to haul up him — explained the strange adventure and besought them to lower the ropes again for their own comrade. They did so, and when the Goth was drawn up he told them of his plighted faith, and entreated them to let his companion in danger go free. They complied, and the Roman returned unharmed to the City. As Ariosto sings of Ferraù and Rinaldo, when those fierce enemies agreed to roam together in search of Angelica, who was beloved by both of them, —

'O gran bontà de' cavalieri antiqui!

Eran rivali, eran di fè diversi,

E si sentian degli aspri colpi iniqui,

Per tutta la persona anco dolersi;

E pur per selve oscure, e calli obliqui

Insieme van, senza aspetto aversi.'9

 p206  A breath of the age of chivalry seems wafted over the savage battle-field, as we read of the vow between the two deadly enemies in the vault so loyally observed, and we half persuade ourselves that we perceive another aura from that still future age when men everywhere, recognising that they have all fallen into the same pit of ruin and longing for deliverance, shall listen to the voice of the Divine Reconciler, 'Sirs, ye are brethren: why do ye wrong one to another?'

Euthalius brings pay to the Imperialists. The month of June was now begun. The combatants had reached the third month of the siege and had finished two years of the war. A certain Euthalius had landed at Tarracina10 bringing from Byzantium some much-needed treasure for the pay of the soldiers. Skirmish to cover his entrance. In order to secure for him and for his escort of 100 men a safe entrance at nightfall into the city, Belisarius harassed the enemy through the long summer's day with incessant expectations of attack, expectations which, after the soldiers had taken their mid‑day meal, were converted into realities. As usual the attacks were made on both sides, from the Pincian Gate and over the Neronian Plain. At the former place the Romans were commanded by three of Belisarius's guards, the Persian Artasines, Buchas the Hun, and Cutila the Thracian. The tide of war rolled backwards and forwards many times, and many succours poured forth both from the City and from the Gothic camp, over both of which the shouts and the din of battle resounded. At length the Romans prevailed, and drove back their foes. Stoicism of Cutila and Arzes. In this action the splendid contempt of pain shown by Cutila and by a brother-guardsman Arzes greatly impressed the mind  p207 of Procopius. Cutila had been wounded by a javelin which lodged in his skull. He still took part in the fight, and at sunset rode back with his comrades to the City, the javelin nodding to and fro in his head with every movement of his body. Arzes had received a Gothic arrow at the angle of the eye and nose, which came with such violence that it almost penetrated to the nape of his neck. He too rode back to Rome, like Cutila apparently heedless of the weapon which was shaking in the wound.

Exploits of Buchas. Meanwhile things were going ill with Martin and Valerian, who commanded the Imperial troops on the Neronian Plain. They were surrounded by large numbers of the enemy, and seemed on the point of being overwhelmed by them. At this crisis — it was now growing late — an opportune charge under Buchas the Hun, withdrawn for this purpose from the sortie on the other side of the city, saved the day. Buchas himself performed prodigies of valour. For a long time he alone, though still but a stripling, kept twelve of the enemy at bay. At length one Goth was able to deal him a slight wound under the right arm‑pit, and another, a more serious wound, transversely, through the muscles of the thigh. By this time, have, he and his men had restored the fortunes of the Imperial troops. Valerian and Martin rode up with speed, scattered the barbarians who surrounded Buchas, and led him home between them, each holding one of his reins.

Euthalius and the treasure escorted into the City. The object of all this bloody skirmishing was attained. Euthalius with the treasure, creeping along the Appian Way, stole at nightfall, unperceived, into the City. When all were returned within the walls,  p208 the wounded heroes were of course attended to; and Procopius, insatiable in his desire to widen his experience of human life, seems to have visited the surgical wards. The case of Arzes, who was looked upon as one of the bravest men in the household of Belisarius, gave the surgeons much anxious thought. To save the sight of the eye they held to be altogether impossible; but moreover they feared that the laceration of the multitude of nerves through which the arrow must be drawn, if it were extracted, would cause the death of the patient. The life of Arzes saved. A physician, Theoctistus by name, pressed his finger on the nape of his neck and asked if that gave him pain. When Arzes replied that it did, Theoctistus gave him the glad assurance, 'Then we should be able to save your life and your eye too.' At once cutting off the feather end of the arrow where it projected from the face, the surgeons dissected the comparatively unsensitive tissues at the end of the neck till they grasped the triangular point of the arrow, and drawing it out endways gave the patient but little pain and left him with his eye uninjured and his face unscarred. Death of Cutila and Buchas. The cases of Cutila and Buchas terminated less favourably. When the javelin was drawn from the head of the former he fainted. Inflammation of the membranes of the brain11 set in, followed by delirium, and he died not many days after. Buchas also died after three days, of the terrible hemorrhage from his wounded thigh. The physicians assured Procopius that had the lance penetrated straight in, his life might have been preserved, but the traverse wound was fatal.

Gothic lamentations. The deaths of these heroes filled the Roman army  p209 with sorrow, which was only mitigated by the sounds of lamentation arising from the Gothic camp. These bewailings, not previously heard after much fiercer encounters, were due to the exalted rank of the warriors who had fallen by the sword of Buchas.

Such were some of the sallies and skirmishes which occurred in this memorable siege. Sixty-nine encounters in all took place, and Procopius wisely remarks that it is not needful for him to give the details of all of them. He himself, as we shall soon see, left the scene of action for a time; and for some months of the remainder of the siege we miss the minute descriptive touches (though some readers may find them tedious) which reveal the personal presence of the historian in the earlier acts of the great drama.

The Author's Notes:

1 Ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν οἶδα θάνατον ὀφείλων τῇ σῇ βασιλείᾳ, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ζῶντά με οὐδεὶς ἂν ἐνθένδε ἐξελεῖν δύναιτο. Σκόπει δὲ ὁποῖαν σοί ποτε δόξαν ἡ τοιαύτη Βελισαρίου τελευτὴ φέροι (De B. G. I.24).

2 This temple of Janus — the most celebrated but not the only one in Rome — must have stood a little to the right of the Arch of Septimius Severus (as one looks towards the Capitol) and a little in front of the Mamertine Prison. No traces whatever of it or of the Tria Fata appears to have been discovered.

Thayer's Note: See the entry Janus Geminus in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

3 A people akin to the Sclavonians, who dwelt at this time, according to Jordanes (De Reb. Get. V), between the Dniester and the Dnieper on the shores of the Black Sea.

4 See p7.

5 ἱπποτοξόται.

6 Here ends the First Book of the Gothic War of Procopius.

7 The exact position of the 'Stadium of Nero' does not seem to be clearly ascertained. Canina (Edifizi, II.54) makes it the same building as the Cajanum or Stadium of Caligula and places it on the site of the Vatican Palace. We might have thought this too lofty a position for a building which was ἐν Νέρωνος πεδίῳ: but Procopius seems to apply this term (equivalent to Campus Neronianus) to a large tract of country on the right bank of the Tiber, stretching from the Ponte Molle to St. Peter's.

Thayer's Note: The passage in Procopius (B. G. II.1.4 ff.) does not name the stadium. The Loeb editor of Procopius follows Canina and diffidently suggests the Stadium of Caligula (which the entry in Platner & Ashby's Dictionary characterizes as an "open space").

8 Procopius, De B. G. II.1. This is one of the many passages which show that Procopius uses the name Massagetae as equivalent to Huns.


'Oh loyal knights of that long vanished day!

Their faiths were two, they wooed one woman's smile,

And still they felt rude tokens of their fray,

The blows which each on other rained erewhile;

Yet through dark woods by paths that seemed to stray

They rode, and each nor feared nor harboured guile.'

(Orlando Furioso, I.22)

10 On the Appian Way, sixty‑two miles from Rome.

11 Ἐπεὶ δέ οἱ φλεγμαίνειν οἱ τῇδε μήνιγγες ἤρξαντο.

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