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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Gothic Wars


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

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(Vol. III) Procopius
Gothic Wars

Book I (end)

 p227  24 1 And Belisarius wrote a letter to the emperor of the following purport: "We have arrived in Italy, as thou didst command, and we have made ourselves masters of much territory in it and have taken possession of Rome also, after driving out the barbarians who were here, whose leader, Leuderis, I have recently sent to you. 2 But since we have stationed  p229 a great number of soldiers both in Sicily and in Italy to guard the strongholds which we have proved able to capture, our army has in consequence been reduced to only five thousand men. 3 But the enemy have come against us, gathered together to the number of one hundred and fifty thousand. And first of all, when we went out to spy upon their forces along the Tiber River and were compelled, contrary to our intention, to engage with them, we lacked only a little of being buried under a multitude of spears. 4 And after this, when the barbarians attacked the wall with their whole army and assaulted the fortifications at every point with sundry engines of war, they came within a little of capturing both us and the city at the first onset, and they would have succeeded had not some chance snatched us from ruin. 5 For achievements which transcend the nature of things may not properly and fittingly be ascribed to man's valour, but to a stronger power. 6 Now all that has been achieved by us hitherto, whether it has been due to some kind fortune or to valour, is for the best; but as to our prospects from now on, I could wish better things for thy cause. 7 However, I shall never hide from you anything that it is my duty to say and yours to do, knowing that while human affairs follow whatever course may be in accordance with God's will, yet those who are in charge of any enterprise always win praise or blame according to their own deeds. 8 Therefore let both arms and soldiers be sent to us in such numbers that from now on we may engage with the enemy in this war with an equality of strength. 9 For one ought not to trust everything to fortune, since fortune, on its part, is not given to following the same course  p231 forever. But do thou, O Emperor, take this thought to heart, that if at this time the barbarians win the victory over us, we shall be cast out of Italy which is thine and shall lose the army in addition, and besides all this we shall have to bear the shame, however great it may be, that attaches to our conduct. 10 For I refrain from saying that we should also be regarded as having ruined the Romans, men who have held deter safety more lightly than their loyalty to thy kingdom. 11 Consequently, if this should happen, the result for us will be that the successes we have won thus far will in the end prove to have been but a prelude to calamities. 12 For if it had so happened that we had been repulsed from Rome and Campania and, at a much earlier time, from Sicily, we should only be feeling the sting of the lightest of all misfortunes, that of having found ourselves unable to grow wealthy on the possessions of others. 13 And again, this too is worthy of consideration by you, that it has never been possible even for many times ten thousand men to guard Rome for any considerable length of time, since the city embraces a large territory, and, because it is not on the sea, is shut off from all supplies. 14 And although at the present time the Romans are well disposed toward us, yet when their troubles are prolonged, they will probably not hesitate to choose the course which is better for their own interests. 15 For when men have entered into friendship with others on the spur of the moment, it is not while they are in evil fortune, but while they prosper, that they are accustomed to keep faith with them. 16 Furthermore, the Romans will be compelled by hunger to do many things they would prefer not to do.  p233 17 Now as for me, I know I am bound even to die for thy kingdom, and for this reason no man will ever be able to remove me from this city while I live; but I beg thee to consider what kind of a fame such an end of Belisarius would bring thee."

18 Such was the letter written by Belisarius. And the emperor, greatly distressed, began in haste to gather an army and ships, and sent orders to the troops of Valerian and Martinus​1 to proceed with all speed. 19 For they had been sent, as it happened, with another army at about the winter solstice, with instructions to sail to Italy. 20 But they had sailed as far as Greece, and since they were unable to force their way any farther, they were passing the winter in the land of Aetolia and Acarnania. 21 And the Emperor Justinian sent word of all this to Belisarius, and thus filled him and all the Romans with still greater courage and confirmed their zeal.

22 At this time it so happened that the following event took place in Naples. There was in the market-place a picture of Theoderic, the ruler of the Goths, made by means of sundry stones which were exceedingly small and tinted with nearly every colour. 23 At one time during the life of Theoderic it had come to pass that the head of this picture fell apart, the stones as they had been set having become disarranged without having been touched by anyone, and by a coincidence Theoderic finished his life forthwith. 24 And eight years later the stones which formed the body of the picture fell apart suddenly, and Atalaric, the grandson of Theoderic, immediately died. 25 And after the passage of a short time, the  p235 stones about the groin fell to the ground, and Amalasuntha, the child of Theoderic, passed from the world. Now these things had already happened as described. 26 But when the Goths began the siege of Rome, as chance would have it, the portion of the picture from the thighs to the tips of the feet fell into ruin, 27 and thus the whole picture disappeared from the wall. And the Romans, divining the meaning of the incident, maintained that the emperor's army would be victorious in the war, thinking that the feet of Theoderic were nothing else than the Gothic people whom he ruled, and, in consequence, they became still more hopeful.

28 In Rome, moreover, some of the patricians brought out the Sibylline oracles,​2 declaring that the danger which had come to the city would continue only up till the month of July. 29 For it was fated that at that time someone should be appointed king over the Romans and thenceforth Rome should have no longer any Getic peril to fear; 30 for they say that the Goths are of the Getic race. And the oracle was as follows: "In the fifth (Quintilis) month . . . under . . . as king nothing Getic longer . . ." 31 And they declared that the "fifth month" was July, some because the siege began on the first day of March, from which July is the fifth month, others because March was considered the first month until the reign of Numa, the full year before that time containing ten months and our July for this reason  p237 having its name Quintilis. But after all, none of these predictions came true. 32 For neither was a king appointed over the Romans at that time, nor was the siege destined to be broken up until a year later, and Rome was again to come into similar perils in the reign of Totila, ruler of the Goths, as will be told by me in the subsequent narrative.​3 33 For it seems to me that the oracle does not indicate this present attack of the barbarians, but some other attack which has either happened already or will come at some later time. 34 Indeed, in my opinion, it is impossible for a mortal man to discover the meaning of the Sibyl's oracles before the actual event. 35 The reason for this I shall now set forth, having read all the oracles in question. The Sibyl does not invariably mention events in their order, much less construct a well-arranged narrative, but after uttering some verse or other concerning the troubles in Libya she leaps straightway to the land of Persia, 36 thence proceeds to mention the Romans, and then transfers the narrative to the Assyrians. And again, while uttering prophecies about the Romans, she foretells the misfortunes of the Britons. 37 For this reason it is impossible for any man soever to comprehend the oracles of the Sibyl before the event, and it is only time itself, after the event has already come to pass and the words can be tested by experience, that can shew itself an accurate interpreter of her sayings. But as for these things, let each one reason as he desires. But I shall return to the point from which I have strayed.

 p239  25 1 When the Goths had been repulsed in the fight at the wall, each army bivouacked that night in the manner already described.​4 2 But on the following day Belisarius commanded all the Romans to remove their women and children to Naples, and also such of their domestics as they thought would not be needed by them for the guarding of the wall, his purpose being, naturally, to forestall a scarcity of provisions. 3 And he issued orders to the soldiers to do the same thing, in case anyone had a male or female attendant. For, he went on to say, he was no longer able while besieged to provide them with food to the customary amount, but they would have to accept one half their daily ration in actual supplies, taking the remainder in silver. So they proceeded to carry out his instructions. 4 And immediately a great throng set out for Campania. Now some, who had the good fortune to secure such boats as were lying at anchor in the harbour​5 of Rome, secured passage, but the rest went on foot by the road which is called the Appian Way. 5 And no danger or fear, as far as the besiegers were concerned, arose to disturb either those who travelled this way on foot or those who set out from the harbour. 6 For, on the one hand, the enemy were unable to surround the whole of Rome with their camps on account of the great size of the city, and, on the other, they did not dare to be found far from the camps in small  p241 companies, fearing the sallies of their opponents. 7 And on this account abundant opportunity was afforded for some time to the besieged both to move out of the city and to bring provisions into it from outside. 8 And especially at night the barbarians were always in great fear, and so they merely posted guards and remained quietly in their camps. 9 For parties were continually issuing from the city, and especially Moors in great numbers, and whenever they found their enemies either asleep or walking about in small companies (as is accustomed to happen often in a large army, the men going out not only to attend to the needs of nature, but also to pasture horses and mules and such animals as are suitable for food), they would kill them and speedily strip them, and if perchance a larger number of the enemy should fall upon them, they would retire on the run, being men swift of foot by nature and lightly equipped, and always distancing their pursuers in the flight. 10 Consequently, the great majority were able to withdraw from Rome, and some went to Campania, some to Sicily, and others wherever they thought it was easier or better to go. 11 But Belisarius saw that the number of soldiers at his command was by no means sufficient for the whole circuit of the wall, for they were few, as I have previously stated,​6 and the same men could not keep guard constantly without sleeping, but some would naturally be taking their sleep while others were stationed on guard. At the same time he saw that the greatest part of the populace were hard pressed by poverty and in want of the necessities of life;  p243 for since they were men who worked with their hands, and all they had was what they got from day to day, and since they had been compelled to be idle on account of the siege, they had no means of procuring provisions. For these reasons Belisarius mingled soldiers and citizens together and distributed them to each post, appointing a certain fixed wage for an unenlisted man for each day. 12 In this way companies were made up which were sufficient for the guarding of the wall, and the duty of keeping guard on the fortifications during a stated night was assigned to each company, and the members of the companies all took turns in standing guard. In this manner, then, Belisarius did away with the distress of both soldiers and citizens.

13 But a suspicion arose against Silverius, the chief priest of the city, that he was engaged in treasonable negotiations with the Goths, and Belisarius sent him immediately to Greece, and a little later appointed another man, Vigilius by name, to the office of chief priest. 14 And he banished from Rome on the same charge some of the senators, but later, when the enemy had abandoned the siege and retired, he restored them again to their homes. 15 Among these was Maximus, whose ancestor Maximus​7 had committed the crime against the Emperor Valentinian. And fearing lest the guards at the gates should become involved in a plot, and lest someone should gain access from the outside with intent to corrupt them with money, twice in each month he destroyed all the keys and had new ones made, each time of a different design, and he also changed the guards to other posts which were far removed from those they  p245 had formerly occupied, and every night he set different men in charge of those who were doing guard duty on the fortifications. 16 And it was the duty of these officers to make the rounds of a section of the wall, taking turns in this work, and to write down the names of the guards, and if anyone was missing from that section, they put another man on duty in his stead for the moment, and on the morrow reported the missing man to Belisarius himself, whoever he might be, in order that the fitting punishment might be given him. 17 And he ordered musicians to play their instruments on the fortifications at night, and he continually sent detachments of soldiers, especially Moors, outside the walls, whose duty it was always to pass the night about the moat, and he sent dogs with them in order that no one might approach the fortifications, even at a distance, without being detected.

18 At that time some of the Romans attempted secretly to force open the doors of the temple of Janus. 19 This Janus was the first of the ancient gods whom the Romans call in their own tongue "Penates."​8 And he has his temple in that part of the forum in front of the senate-house which lies a little above the "Tria Fata";​9 20 for thus the Romans are accustomed to call the Moirai.​10 And the temple is entirely of bronze and was erected in the form of a square, but it is only large enough to cover the statue of Janus. 21 Now this statue is of bronze, and  p247 not less than five cubits high; in all other respects it resembles a man, but its head has two faces, one of which is turned toward the east and the other toward the west. 22 And there are brazen doors fronting each face, which the Romans in olden times were accustomed to close in times of peace and prosperity, but when they had war they opened them. 23  But when the Romans came to honour, as truly as any others, the teachings of the Christians, they gave up the custom of opening these doors, even when they were at war. 24 During this siege, however, some, I suppose, who had in mind the old belief, attempted secretly to open them, but they did not succeed entirely, and moved the doors only so far that they did not close tightly against one another as formerly. 25 And those who had attempted to do this escaped detection; and no investigation of the act was made, as was natural in a time of great confusion, since it did not become known to the commanders, nor did it reach the ears of the multitude, except of a very few.

26 1 Now Vittigis, in his anger and perplexity, first sent some of his bodyguards to Ravenna with orders to kill all the Roman senators whom he had taken there at the beginning of the war. 2 And some of them, learning of this beforehand, succeeded in making their escape, among them being Vergentinus and Reparatus, the brother of Vigilius, the chief priest of Rome, both of whom betook themselves  p249 into Liguria and remained there; but all the rest were destroyed. 3 After this Vittigis, seeing that the enemy were enjoying a large degree of freedom, not only in taking out of the city whatever they wished, but also in bringing in provisions both by land and by sea, decided to seize the harbour, which the Romans call "Portus."

4 This harbour is distant from the city one hundred and twenty‑six stades;​a and it is situated where the Tiber River has its mouth.​11 5 Now as the Tiber flows down from Rome, and reaches a point rather near the sea, about fifteen stades from it, the stream divides into two parts and makes there the Sacred Island, as it is called. 6 As the river flows on the island becomes wider, so that the measure of its breadth corresponds to its length, for the two streams have between them a distance of fifteen stades; and the Tiber remains navigable on both sides. 7 Now the portion of the river on the right empties into the harbour, and beyond the mouth the Romans in ancient times built on the shore a city,​12 which is surrounded by an exceedingly strong wall; and it is called, like the harbour, "Portus." 8 But on the left at the point where the other part of the Tiber empties into the sea is situated the city of Ostia, lying beyond the place where the river-bank ends, a place of great consequence in olden times, but now entirely without walls. 9 Moreover, the Romans  p251 at the very beginning made a road leading from Portus to Rome, which was smooth and presented no difficulty of any kind. 10 And many barges are always anchored in the harbour ready for service, and no small number of oxen stand in readiness close by. 11 Now when the merchants reach the harbour with their ships, they unload their cargos and place them in the barges, and sail by way of the Tiber to Rome; but they do not use sails or oars at all, for the boats cannot be propelled in the stream by any wind since the river winds about exceedingly and does not follow a straight course, nor can oars be employed, either, since the force of the current is always against them. 12 Instead of using such means, therefore, they fasten ropes from the barges to the necks of oxen, and so draw them just like waggons up to Rome. 13 But on the other side of the river, as one goes from the city of Ostia to Rome, the road is shut in by woods and in general lies neglected, and is not even near the bank of the Tiber, since there is no towing of barges on that road.

14 So the Goths, finding the city at the harbour unguarded, captured it at the first onset and slew many of the Romans who lived there, and so took possession of the harbour as well as the city. 15 And they established a thousand of their number there as guards, while the remainder returned to the camps. 16 In consequence of this move it was impossible for the besieged to bring in the goods which came by sea, except by way of Ostia, a route which naturally involved great labour and danger besides. 17 For the  p253 Roman ships were not even able to put in there any longer, but they anchored at Anthium,​13 a day's journey distant from Ostia. 18 And they found great difficulty in carrying the cargoes thence to Rome, the reason for this being the scarcity of men. For Belisarius, fearing for the fortifications of Rome, had been unable to strengthen the harbour with any garrison at all, 19 though I think that if even three hundred men had been on guard there, the barbarians would never have made an attempt on the place, which is exceedingly strong.

27 1 This exploit, then, was accomplished by the Goths on the third day after they were repulsed in the assault on the wall. But twenty days after the city and harbour of Portus were captured, Martinus and Valerian arrived, bringing with them sixteen hundred horsemen, 2 the most of whom were Huns and Sclaveni​14 and Antae,​15 who are settled above the Ister River not far from its banks. 3 And Belisarius was pleased by their coming and thought that thenceforth his army ought to carry the war against the enemy. 4 On the following day, accordingly, he commanded one of his own bodyguards, Trajan by name, an impetuous and active fighter, to take two hundred horsemen of the guards and go straight towards the enemy, and as soon as they came near the camps to go up on a high hill (which he pointed out to him)  p255 and remain quietly there. 5 And if the enemy should come against them, he was not to allow the battle to come to close quarters, nor to touch sword or spear in any case, but to use bows only, and as soon as he should find that his quiver had no more arrows in it, he was to flee as hard as he could with no thought of shame and retire to the fortifications on the run. 6 Having given these instructions, he held in readiness both the engines for shooting arrows and the men skilled in their use. Then Trajan with the two hundred men went out from the Salarian Gate against the camp of the enemy. 7 And they, being filled with amazement at the suddenness of the thing, rushed out from the camps, each man equipping himself as well as he could. 8 But the men under Trajan galloped to the top of the hill which Belisarius had shewn them, and from there began to ward off the barbarians with missiles. 9 And since their shafts fell among a dense throng, they were for the most part successful in hitting a man or a horse. But when all their missiles had at last failed them, they rode off to the rear with all speed, and the Goths kept pressing upon them in pursuit. 10 But when they came near the fortifications, the operators of the engines began to shoot arrows from them, and the barbarians became terrified and abandoned the pursuit. 11 And it is said that not less than one thousand Goths perished in this action. A few days later Belisarius sent Mundilas, another of his own bodyguard, and Diogenes, both exceptionally capable warriors, with three hundred guardsmen,  p257 commanding them to do the same thing as the others had done before. And they acted according to his instructions. 12 Then, when the enemy confronted them, the result of the encounter was that no fewer than in the former action, perhaps even more, perished in the same way. 13 And sending even a third time the guardsman Oilas with three hundred horsemen, with instructions to handle the enemy in the same way, he accomplished the same result. 14 So in making these three sallies, in the manner told by me, Belisarius destroyed about four thousand of his antagonists.

15 But Vittigis, failing to take into account the difference between the two armies in point of equipment of arms and of practice in warlike deeds, thought that he too would most easily inflict grave losses upon the enemy, if only he should make his attack upon them with a small force. 16 He therefore sent five hundred horsemen, commanding them to go close to the fortifications, and to make a demonstration against the whole army of the enemy of the very same tactics as had time and time again been used against them, to their sorrow, by small bands of the foe. 17 And so, when they came to a high place not far from the city, but just beyond the range of missiles, they took their stand there. 18 But Belisarius selected a thousand men, putting Bessas in command, and ordered them to engage with the enemy. 19 And this force, by forming a circle around the enemy and always shooting at them from behind, killed a large number, and by pressing hard upon the rest compelled them to descend into the plain. 20 There a hand-to‑hand battle took place between forces not evenly matched in strength, and most of the Goths were destroyed, though some few with difficulty  p259 made their escape and returned to their own camp. 21 And Vittigis reviled these men, insisting that cowardice had been the cause of their defeat, and undertaking to find another set of men to retrieve the loss after no long time, he remained quiet for the present; but three days later he selected men from all the camps, five hundred in number, and bade them make a display of valorous deeds against the enemy. 22 Now as soon as Belisarius saw that these men had come rather near, he sent out against them fifteen hundred men under the commanders Martinus and Valerian. 23 And a cavalry battle taking place immediately, the Romans, being greatly superior to the enemy in numbers, routed them without any trouble and destroyed practically all of them.

24 And to the enemy it seemed in every way a dreadful thing and a proof that fortune stood against them, if, when they were many and the enemy who came against them were few, they were defeated, and when, on the other hand, they in turn went in small numbers against their enemy, they were likewise destroyed. 25 Belisarius, however, received a public vote of praise from the Romans for his wisdom, at which they not unnaturally marvelled greatly, but in private his friends asked him on what he had based his judgment on that day when he had escaped from the enemy after being so completely defeated,​16 and why he had been confident that he would overcome them decisively in the war. 26 And he said that in engaging with them at the first with only a few men he had noticed just what the difference was between the two armies, so  p261 that if he should fight his battles with them with a force which was in strength proportionate to theirs,​17 the multitudes of the enemy could inflict no injury upon the Romans by reason of the smallness of their numbers. 27 And the difference was this, that practically all the Romans and their allies, the Huns, are good mounted bowmen, but not a man among the Goths has had practice in this branch, for their horsemen are accustomed to use only spears and swords, while their bowmen enter battle on foot and under cover of the heavy-armed men. 28 So the horsemen, unless the engagement is at close quarters, have no means of defending themselves against opponents who use the bow, and therefore can easily be reached by the arrows and destroyed; and as for the foot-soldiers, they can never be strong enough to make sallies against men on horseback. 29 It was for these reasons, Belisarius declared, that the barbarians had been defeated by the Romans in these last engagements. And the Goths, remembering the unexpected outcome of their own experiences, desisted thereafter from assaulting the fortifications of Rome in small numbers and also from pursuing the enemy when harassed by them, except only so far as to drive them back from their own camps.

28 1 But later on the Romans, elated by the good fortune they had already enjoyed, were with one accord eager to do battle with the whole Gothic army and thought that they should make war in the open field.  p263 2 Belisarius, however, considering that the difference in size of the two armies was still very great, continued to be reluctant to risk a decisive battle with his whole army; and so he busied himself still more with his sallies and kept planning them against the enemy. 3 But when at last he yielded his point because of the abuse heaped upon him by the army and the Romans in general, though he was willing to fight with the whole army, yet nevertheless he wished to open the engagement by a sudden sally. 4 And many times he was frustrated when he was on the point of doing this, and was compelled to put off the attack to the following day, because he found to his surprise that the enemy had been previously informed by deserters as to what was to be done and were unexpectedly ready for him. 5 For this reason, then, he was now willing to fight a decisive battle even in the open field, and the barbarians gladly came forth for the encounter. And when both sides had been made ready for the conflict as well as might be, Belisarius gathered his whole army and exhorted them as follows:

6 "It is not because I detected any cowardice on your part, fellow-soldiers, nor because I was terrified at the strength of the enemy, that I have shrunk from the engagement with them, but I saw that while we were carrying on the war by making sudden sallies matters stood well with us, and consequently I thought that we ought to adhere permanently to the tactics which were responsible for our success. 7 For I think that when one's present affairs are going to one's satisfaction, it is inexpedient to change to another course of action. But since I see that you are eager for this danger, I am filled with confidence  p265 and shall never oppose your ardour. 8 For I know that the greatest factor in the decision of war is always the attitude of the fighting men, and it is generally by their enthusiasm that successes are won. 9 Now, therefore, the fact that a few men drawn up for battle with valour on their side are able to overcome a multitude of the enemy, is well known by every man of you, not by hearsay, but by daily experience of fighting. 10 And it will rest with you not to bring shame upon the former glories of my career as general, nor upon the hope which this enthusiasm of yours inspires. 11 For the whole of what has already been accomplished by us in this war must of necessity be judged in accordance with the issue of the present day. 12 And I see that the present moment is also in our favour, for it will, in all probability, make it easier for us to gain the mastery over the enemy, because their spirit has been enslaved by what has gone before. 13 For when men have often met with misfortune, their hearts are no longer wont to thrill even slightly with manly valour. And let no one of you spare horse or bow or any weapon. 14 For I will immediately provide you with others in place of all that are destroyed in the battle."

15 After speaking these words of exhortation, Belisarius led out his army through the small Pincian Gate and the Salarian Gate, and commanded some few men to go through the Aurelian Gate into the Plain of Nero. 16 These he put under the command of Valentinus, a commander of a cavalry detachment, and he directed him not to begin any fighting, or to go too close to the camp of the enemy, but constantly to give the appearance of being  p267 about to attack immediately, so that none of the enemy in that quarter might be able to cross the neighbouring bridge and come to the assistance of the soldiers from the other camps. 17 For since, as I have previously stated,​18 the barbarians encamped in the Plain of Nero were many, it seemed to him sufficient if these should all be prevented from taking part in the engagement and be kept separated from the rest of the army. 18 And when some of the Roman populace took up arms and followed as volunteers, he would not allow them to be drawn up for battle along with the regular troops, fearing lest, when they came to actual fighting, they should become terrified at the danger and throw the entire army into confusion, since they were labouring men and altogether unpractised in war. 19 But outside the Pancratian Gate, which is beyond the Tiber River, he ordered them to form a phalanx and remain quiet until he himself should give the signal, reasoning, as actually proved to be the case, that if the enemy in the Plain of Nero should see both them and the men under Valentinus, they would never dare leave their camp and enter battle with the rest of the Gothic army against his own forces. 20 And he considered it a stroke of good luck and a very important advantage that such a large number of men should be kept apart from the army of his opponents.

21 Such being the situation, he wished on that day to engage in a cavalry battle only; and indeed most of the regular infantry were now unwilling to remain in their accustomed condition, but, since they had captured horses as booty from the enemy and had become not unpractised in horseman­ship, they were  p269 now mounted. 22 And since the infantry were few in number and unable even to make a phalanx of any consequence, and had never had the courage to engage with the barbarians, but always turned to flight at the first onset, he considered it unsafe to draw them up at a distance from the fortifications, but thought it best that they should remain in position where they were, close by the moat, his purpose being that, if it should so happen that the Roman horsemen were routed, they should be able to receive the fugitives and, as a fresh body of men, help them to ward off the enemy.

23 But there were two men among his bodyguards, a certain Principius, who was a man of note and a Pisidian by birth, and Tarmutus, an Isaurian, brother of Ennes who was commander of the Isaurians. These men came before Belisarius and spoke as follows: 24 "Most excellent of generals, we beg you neither to decide that your army, small as it is and about to fight with many tens of thousands of barbarians, be cut off from the phalanx of the infantry, nor to think that one ought to treat with contumely the infantry of the Romans, by means of which, as we hear, the power of the ancient Romans was brought to its present greatness. 25 For if it so happens that they have done nothing of consequence in this war, this is no evidence of the cowardice of the soldiers, but it is the commanders of the infantry who would justly bear the blame, for they alone ride on horseback in the battle-line and are not willing to consider the fortunes of war as shared by all, but as a general thing each one of them by himself takes to flight before the struggle begins. 26 But do you keep all the commanders of  p271 infantry, since you see that they have become cavalry and that they are quite unwilling to take their stand beside their subordinates, and include them with the rest of the cavalry and so enter this battle, but permit us to lead the infantry into the combat. 27 For since we also are unmounted, as are these troops, we shall do our part in helping them to support the attack of the multitude of barbarians, full of hope that we shall inflict upon the enemy whatever chastisement God shall permit."

28 When Belisarius heard this request, at first he did not assent to it; for he was exceedingly fond of these two men, who were fighters of marked excellence and he was unwilling to have a small body of infantry take such a risk. 29 But finally, overborne by the eagerness of the men, he consented to leave only a small number of their soldiers, in company with the Roman populace, to man the gates and the battlement along the top of the wall where the engines of war were, and to put the rest under command of Principius and Tarmutus, ordering them to take position in the rear in regular formation. His purpose in this was, in the first place, to keep these troops from throwing the rest of the army into confusion if they themselves should become panic-stricken at the danger, and, in the second place, in case any division of the cavalry should be routed at any time, to prevent the retreat from extending to an indefinite distance, but to allow the cavalry simply to fall back upon the infantry and make it possible for them, with the infantry's help, to ward off the pursuers.

 p273  29 1 In this fashion the Romans had made their preparations for the encounter. As for Vittigis, he had armed all the Goths, leaving not a man behind in the camps, except those unfit for fighting. 2 And he commanded the men under Marcias to remain in the Plain of Nero, and to attend to the guarding of the bridge, that the enemy might not attack his men from that direction. He himself then called together the rest of the army and spoke as follows:

3 "It may perhaps seem to some of you that I am fearful about my sovereignty, and that this is the motive which has led me, in the past, to shew a friendly spirit toward you and, on the present occasion, to address you with seductive words in order to inspire you with courage. 4 And such reasoning is not out of accord with the ways of men. For unenlightened men are accustomed to shew gentleness toward those whom they want to make use of, even though these happen to be in a much humbler station than they, but to be difficult of access to others whose assistance they do not desire. 5 As for me, however, I care neither for the end of life nor for the loss of power. Nay, I should even pray that I might put off this purple to‑day, if a Goth were to put it on. 6 And I have always regarded the end of Theodatus as one of the most fortunate, in that he was privileged to lose both his sovereignty and his life at the hands of men of his own nation. 7 For a calamity which falls upon an individual without involving his nation also in destruction does not lack an element of consolation, in the view, at least, of men who are not wanting in  p275 wisdom. 8 But when I reflect upon the fate of the Vandals and the end of Gelimer, the thoughts which come to my mind are of no ordinary kind; nay, I seem to see the Goths and their children reduced to slavery, your wives ministering in the most shameful of ways to the most hateful of men, and myself and the granddaughter​19 of Theoderic led wherever it suits the pleasure of those who are now our enemies; and I would have you also enter this battle fearing lest this fate befall us. 9 For if you do this, on the field of battle you will count the end of life as more to be desired than safety after defeat. For noble men consider that there is only one misfortune — to survive defeat at the hands of their enemy. 10 But as for death, and especially death which comes quickly, it always brings happiness to those who were before not blest by fortune. 11 It is very clear that if you keep these thoughts in mind as you go through the present engagement, you will not only conquer your opponents most easily, few as they are and Greeks,​20 but will also punish them forthwith for the injustice and insolence with which they, without provocation, have treated us. 12 For although we boast that we are their superiors in valour, in numbers, and in every other respect, the boldness which they feel in confronting us is due merely to elation at our misfortunes; and the only asset they have is the indifference we have shewn. For their self-confidence is fed by their undeserved good fortune."

13 With these words of exhortation Vittigis proceeded to array his army for battle, stationing the infantry in the centre and the cavalry on the two wings. 14 He did not, however, draw up his phalanx far from the  p277 camps, but very near them, in order that, as soon as the rout should take place, the enemy might easily be overtaken and killed, there being abundance of room for the pursuit. 15 For he expected that if the struggle should become a pitched battle in the plain, they would not withstand him even a short time; since he judged by the great disparity of numbers that the army of the enemy was no match for his own.

16 So the soldiers on both sides, beginning in the early morning, opened battle; and Vittigis and Belisarius were in the rear urging on both armies and inciting them to fortitude. 17 And at first the Roman arms prevailed, and the barbarians kept falling in great numbers before their archery, but no pursuit of them was made. 18 For since the Gothic cavalry stood in dense masses, other men very easily stepped into the places of those who were killed, and so the loss of those who fell among them was in no way apparent. And the Romans evidently were satisfied, in view of their very small number, that the struggle should have such a result for them. 19 So after they had by midday carried the battle as far as the camps of their opponents, and had already slain many of the enemy, they were anxious to return to the city if any pretext should present itself to them. 20 In this part of the action three among the Romans proved themselves brave men above all others, Athenodorus an Isaurian, a man of fair fame among the guards of Belisarius, and Theodoriscus and George, spearmen of Martinus and Cappadocians by birth. 21 For they constantly kept going out beyond the front of the phalanx, and there  p279 despatched many of the barbarians with their spears. Such was the course of events here.

22 But in the Plain of Nero the two armies remained for a long time facing one another, and the Moors, by making constant sallies and hurling their javelins among the enemy, kept harrying the Goths. 23 For the Goths were quite unwilling to go out against them through fear of the forces of the Roman populace which were not far away, thinking, of course, that they were soldiers and were remaining quiet because they had in mind some sort of ambush against themselves with the object of getting in their rear, exposing them to attack on both sides, and thus destroying them. 24 But when it was now the middle of the day, the Roman army suddenly made a rush against the enemy, and the Goths were unexpectedly routed, being paralyzed by the suddenness of the attack. 25 And they did not succeed even in fleeing to their camp, but climbed the hills near by and remained quiet. Now the Romans, though many in number, were not all soldiers, but were for the most part a throng of men without defensive armour. 26 For inasmuch as the general was elsewhere, many sailors and servants in the Roman camp, in their eagerness to have a share in the war, mingled with that part of the army. 27 And although by their mere numbers they did fill the barbarians with consternation and turn them to flight, as has been said, yet by reason of their lack of order they lost the day for the Romans. 28 For the intermixture of the above-mentioned men caused the soldiers to be thrown into great disorder, and although Valentinus kept constantly shouting orders to them, they could not hear his commands at all. 29 For this reason they did not even follow up the  p281 fugitives or kill a man, but allowed them to stand at rest on the hills and in security to view what was going on. 30 Nor did they take thought to destroy the bridge there, and thus prevent the city from being afterwards besieged on both sides; for, had they done so, the barbarians would have been unable to encamp any longer on the farther side of the Tiber River. 31 Furthermore, they did not even cross the bridge and get in the rear of their opponents who were fighting there with the troops of Belisarius. And if this had been done, the Goths, I think, would no longer have thought of resistance, but they would have turned instantly to flight, each man as he could. 32 But as it was, they took possession of the enemy's camp and turned to plundering his goods, and they set to work carrying thence many vessels of silver and many other valuables. 33 Meanwhile the barbarians for some time remained quietly where they were and observed what was going on, but finally by common consent they advanced against their opponents with great fury and shouting. 34 And finding men in complete disorder engaged in plundering their property, they slew many and quickly drove out the rest. For all who were caught inside the camp and escaped slaughter were glad to cast their plunder from their shoulders and take to flight.

35 While these things were taking place in the Plain of Nero, meantime the rest of the barbarian army stayed very near their camps and, protecting themselves with their shields, vigorously warded off their opponents, destroying many men and a much larger number of horses. 36 But on the Roman side, when those who had been wounded and those whose horses had  p283 been killed left the ranks, then, in an army which had been small even before, the smallness of their numbers was still more evident, and the difference between them and the Gothic host was manifestly great. 37 Finally the horsemen of the barbarians who were on the right wing, taking note of this, advanced at a gallop against the enemy opposite them. And the Romans there, unable to withstand their spears, rushed off in flight and came to the infantry phalanx. 38 However, the infantry also were unable to hold their ground against the oncoming horsemen, and most of them began to join the cavalry in flight. And immediately the rest of the Roman army also began to retire, the enemy pressing upon their heels, and the rout became decisive. 39 But Principius and Tarmutus with some few of the infantry of their command made a display of valorous deeds against the Goths. 40 For as they continued to fight and disdained to turn to flight with the others, most of the Goths were so amazed that they halted. And consequently the rest of the infantry and most of the horsemen made their escape in greater security. 41 Now Principius fell where he stood, his whole body hacked to pieces, and around him fell forty‑two foot-soldiers. 42 But Tarmutus, holding two Isaurian javelins, one in each hand, continued to thrust them into his assailants as he turned from side to side, until, finally, he desisted because his body was covered with wounds; but when his brother Ennes came to the rescue with a detachment of cavalry, he revived, and running swiftly, covered as he was with gore and wounds, he made for the fortifications without throwing down either of his javelins. 43 And being fleet of foot by  p285 nature, he succeeded in making his escape, in spite of the plight of his body, and did not fall until he had just reached the Pincian Gate. And some of his comrades, supposing him to be dead, lifted him on a shield and carried him. 44 But he lived on two days before he died, leaving a high reputation both among the Isaurians and in the rest of the army.

45 The Romans meanwhile, being by now thoroughly frightened, attended to the guarding of the wall, and shutting the gates they refused, in their great excitement, to receive the fugitives into the city, fearing that the enemy would rush in with them. 46 And such of the fugitives as had not already got inside the fortifications, crossed the moat, and standing with their backs braced against the wall were trembling with fear, and stood there forgetful of all valour and utterly unable to ward off the barbarians, although they were pressing upon them and were about to cross the moat to attack them. 47 And the reason was that most of them had lost their spears, which had been broken in the engagement and during the flight, and they were not able to use their bows because they were huddled so closely together. 48 Now so long as not many defenders were seen at the battlement, the Goths kept pressing on, having hopes of destroying all those who had been shut out and of overpowering the men who held the circuit-wall. 49 But when they saw a very great number both of soldiers and of the Roman populace at the battlements defending the wall, they immediately abandoned their purpose and rode off thence to the rear, heaping much abuse upon their opponents. 50 And the battle, having begun at the camps of the barbarians, ended at the moat and the wall of the city.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Leaders of foederati; see Book III.xi.4‑6; they had been recalled from Africa to Byzantium, cf. Book IV.xix.2.

2 The story of the origin of these oracles is given in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. Rom. IV.lxii. They were burned with the Capitol in 83 B.C. The second collection was burned by Stilicho in 405 A.D. The oracles Procopius saw (cf. § 35 of this chapter) were therefore a third collection.

3 Book VII.xx.

4 Chap. xxiii.27.

5 At this time the town of Portus, on the north side of the Tiber's mouths, Ostia, on the south side, having been long neglected. Cf. chap. xxvi.7, 8.

6 Five thousand; cf. chap. xxiv.2.

7 Book III.iv.36.

8 Janus was an old Italian divinity, whose worship was said to have been introduced by Romulus. We are not told by anyone else that he was included among the Penates, but the statement is doubtless true.

9 "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 toward the Capitol) and a little in front of the Mamertine Prison." — Hodgkin.

Thayer's Note: Exhaustive details and citations are given in Platner-Ashby, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, s.v. Ianus Geminus.

10 i.e. the Fates.

Thayer's Note: Further details and citations are given in Platner-Ashby, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, s.v. Tria Fata.

11 The northern mouth.

12 The Emperor Claudius cut the northern channel for the river, in order to prevent inundations of Rome, and made the "Portus Claudii," opening to the sea, near its mouth; a second enclosed harbour, adjoining that of Claudius, was built by Trajan.

13 i.e. Antium.

14 i.e. Slavonians, described in Book VI.xxvi and Book VII.xiv ff.

15 A Slavic people, described in Book VII.xiv.

16 Referring to the battle described in chap. xviii.

17 i.e. smaller, but equal in strength.

18 Chap. xix.12, xiii.15.

19 Matasuntha.

20 Cf. Book IV.xxvii.38, note.

Thayer's Note:

a Elsewhere (V.11.2 and my note) the text of the Wars as we have it seems to indicate that one Roman mile was equivalent in Procopius' mind to 5.9 stadia, which is a very strange figure since other ancient writers generally put the stadion at 7⅔‑8 to the mile. This passage, at first glance, seems to allow us to settle the matter; but we cannot.

The straight-line distance from the Roman Forum to Trajan's hexagonal basin at Portus is roughly 22.5 km, or 15.2 Roman miles, which Procopius says here is 126 stadia. That gives an equivalence of 8.29 stadia to the mile, which, if we allow for the approximations involved in our assumptions, is well within the normal range of "8 stadia to the mile".

Unfortunately . . . in the passage we have here, Procopius will very specifically talk about a road or towpath that hugged the Tiber. The distance between the same two places, if we follow the course of the Tiber — as that river is today — is considerably more than 22.5 km of course: roughly 30.4 km is my approximation. That works out to 20.5 Roman miles, which would put Procopius' stadion at about 6.1 to the mile, or pretty close to the 5.9 we read in V.11.2.

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