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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,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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(Vol. IV) Procopius
Gothic Wars

Book III (continued)

 p249  12 1 Now Belisarius, finding himself utterly unable to give support to the besieged towns, sent John the nephew of Vitalian to Byzantium, first binding him by the most solemn oaths that he would make every effort to return as quickly as possible; and his mission was to beg the emperor to send them a large army and a generous supply of money, and furthermore, both arms and horses. 2 For even the few soldiers he had were unwilling to fight, asserting that the state owed them much money and that they themselves were in want of everything. And this was true. 3 Belisarius also wrote a letter to the emperor recording these matters; and the letter​1 set forth the following.

"We have arrived in Italy, most mighty emperor, without men, horses, arms, or money, and no man, I think, without a plentiful supply of these things, would ever be able to carry on a war. 4 For though we did travel about most diligently through Thrace and Illyricum, the soldiers we gathered are an exceedingly small and pitiful band, men without a single weapon in their hands and altogether unpractised in fighting. 5 And we see, on the other  p251 hand, that the men who were left in Italy are both insufficient in number and in abject terror of the enemy, their spirit having been utterly humbled by the many defeats they have suffered at their hands, — men who did not simply escape at random from their opponents, but even abandoned their horses and flung their weapons to the ground. 6 And as for the revenue, it is impossible for us to derive any money from Italy, since it has again been taken by the enemy into their possession. 7 Consequently, since we have fallen behind in regard to the payment of the soldiers, we find ourselves quite unable to impose our orders upon them; for the debt has taken away our right to command. 8 And this also thou must know well, my master, that the majority of those serving in thy armies have deserted to the enemy. 9 If, therefore, it was only necessary that Belisarius be sent to Italy, then thou hast made the best preparation possible for the war; for I am already in the very midst of Italy. If, however, it is thy will to overcome thy foes in the war, provision must also be made for the other necessary things. 10 For no man could, I think, be a general without men to support him. It is therefore needful that, above all others, my spearmen and guards should be sent me, and, next to them, a very large force of Huns and other barbarians is needed, to whom money must also be given immediately."

11 Such was the letter written by Belisarius. But as for John, though he spent a long time in Byzantium, he accomplished none of the objects of his mission; but he married the daughter of Germanus, the nephew of the emperor. 12 In the meantime Totila captured Firmum and Asculum by surrender; and  p253 advancing into Tuscany, he began the siege of Spolitium​2 and Asise.​3 Now the garrison in Spolitium was commanded by Herodian and that in Asise by Sisifridus, who, though a Goth by birth, was exceedingly loyal to the Romans and the emperor's cause. 13 Herodian, for his part, came to terms with the enemy, the agreement being that they should remain quiet for thirty days; 14 and if no assistance should come to the Romans within this time, he was to surrender both himself and the city together with the soldiers and the inhabitants to the Goths. And he furnished his son as a hostage for the keeping of this agreement. 15 So when the appointed day came, and no Roman army had arrived from any quarter, Herodian and the whole garrison of Spolitium, in accordance with the agreement, put themselves and the city into the hands of Totila and the Goths. 16 But they say that the hostility existing between Herodian and Belisarius was the real cause of his surrendering himself and Spolitium to the Goths; for Belisarius had threatened to call him to account for his previous record.

Such was the course of events as regards Spolitium. 17 Sisifridus, on the other hand, in making a sally with his troops, lost the most of his men and perished himself. 18 Thereupon the inhabitants of Asise, despairing of the situation, immediately handed the city over to the enemy. Totila also sent straightway to Cyprian, demanding that he surrender Perusia to him, attempting to terrify him in case he should disobey, but promising, on the other hand, to reward him with a large sum of money if he  p255 should carry out this order. 19 But since he met with no success in dealing with Cyprian, he bribed one of his bodyguard, Ulifus by name, to kill him by treachery. 20 Ulifus accordingly, meeting Cyprian by chance alone, killed him and got away in flight to Totila. But nevertheless the soldiers of Cyprian continued to guard the city for the emperor, and the Goths, consequently, decided to retire from Perusia.

13 1 After this Totila moved against Rome, and upon coming near the city, he began a siege. He did no harm, however, to the farmers in this or any other part of Italy, but commanded them to continue tilling the soil without fear, just as they were accustomed to do, bringing to him the revenue which they had formerly brought to the public treasury and to the owners of the land. 2 And when some Goths had come close up to the fortifications of Rome, Artasires and Barbation made a sally against them, though Bessas did not in the least approve their action, leading out a large number of their men to the attack. 3 And they straightway killed many and turned the rest to flight. But in following up these men and allowing themselves to be drawn into a pursuit over a great distance, they fell into an ambush set by the enemy. 4 Here they lost the most of their men, and they themselves, accompanied by a handful of men, succeeded only with difficulty in making their escape. And thereafter they no longer dared go out against their opponents, even though they were pressing their attack.

 p257  5 From this time on a severe famine afflicted the Romans, for they were no longer able to bring in any necessaries from the country and the traffic by sea was cut off. 6 For after the Goths captured Naples, they had stationed a navy of many light craft both there and at the so‑called Aeolian Islands and at such other islands as lie off this coast, and with these they were keeping a close watch over the sea‑route. 7 Consequently such ships as put out from Sicily and started to sail to the harbour of Rome fell one and all into the hands of these patrols together with their crews.

8 Totila now sent an army into Aemilia, with orders to take the city of Placentia​4 either by storm or by surrender. 9 This is the chief city in the land of Aemilia and has strong defences, being situated on the river Eridanus, and it was the only city still left in that region subject to the Romans. 10 So when this army came near Placentia, they offered terms to the garrison there to the end that they might hand over the city by surrender to Totila and the Goths. 11 But since they met with no success, they made camp on the spot and began a siege, perceiving that the people in the city were in need of provisions.

12 At that time there arose a suspicion of treason among the commanders of the emperor's army in Rome against Cethegus, a patrician and leader of the Roman senate. For this reason he departed hastily for Centumcellae.5

13 But Belisarius became alarmed both for Rome and  p259 for the whole Roman cause, since it was impossible to lend assistance from Ravenna in any case, and especially with a small army; and so he decided to remove from there and take possession of the district about Rome, in order that by being near at hand he might be able to go to the rescue of those in difficulty there. 14 Indeed he repented having ever come to Ravenna at all, a course which he had taken earlier through the persuasion of Vitalius and not to the advantage of the emperor's cause, since by shutting himself up in that place he had given the enemy a free hand to determine the course of the war as they wished. 15 And to me it seemed either that Belisarius had chosen the worse course because it was fated at that time that the Romans should fare ill, or that he had indeed determined upon the better course but God, having in mind to assist Totila and the Goths, had stood as an obstacle in his way, so that the best of the plans of Belisarius had turned out utterly contrary to his expectations. 16 For those upon whom the wind of fortune blows from a fair quarter, even though they make the worst plans, will meet with no calamity, since Heaven reverses these plans and brings them to an entirely favourable issue; 17 but a man, I believe, who is under the ban of fortune utterly lacks the ability to plan wisely, being bereft of understanding and insight into the truth by the fact that he is fated to suffer ill. 18 And even if he ever does make some plan adapted to the needs of the situation, still fortune straightway breathes contrariwise upon him after he has made such a plan, and perverts his wise purpose so as to bring about the most dire  p261 results. 19 However, whether this is so or otherwise, I am unable to say.

Belisarius then appointed Justinus to command the garrison of Ravenna, and himself, with only a few men, journeyed thence through Dalmatia and the neighbouring lands to Epidamnus,​6 where he remained quiet expecting an army from Byzantium. And writing a letter to the emperor, he reported the present situation. 20 The emperor, therefore, not long afterward, sent him John the nephew of Vitalian and Isaac the Armenian, brother of Aratius and Narses, together with an army of barbarian and Roman soldiers. 21 These troops reached Epidamnus and joined Belisarius there.

The emperor also sent Narses the eunuch to the rulers of the Eruli, in order to persuade the most of them to march to Italy. 22 And many of the Eruli followed him, commanded by Philemuth and certain others, and they came with him into the land of Thrace. For the intention was that, after passing the winter there, they should be despatched to Belisarius at the opening of spring. 23 And they were accompanied also by John whom they called the Glutton.​7 And it so fell out that during this journey they unexpectedly rendered a great service to the Romans. 24 For a great throng of the barbarians, Sclaveni, had, as it happened, recently crossed the river Ister, plundered the adjoining country and enslaved a very great number of Romans. 25 Now the Eruli suddenly came upon these barbarians and  p263 joined battle with them, and, although far outnumbered, they unexpectedly defeated them, and some they slew, and the captives they released one and all to go to their homes. 26 At that time also Narses found a certain man who was pretending to the name of Chilbudius, a man of note who had once been a general of the Romans, and he easily succeeded in unmasking the plot. Here I shall give the facts of this story.

14 1 There was a certain Chilbudius of the household of the Emperor Justinian, who was exceedingly efficient in war, and, at the same time, so far superior to the lure of money that instead of a great property in his own right he had no possessions at all. 2 This Chilbudius was appointed by the emperor, in the fourth year of his reign, to be General of Thrace, and was assigned to guard the river Ister, being ordered to keep watch so that the barbarians of that region could no longer cross the river, since the Huns and Antae and Sclaveni had already made the crossing many times and done irreparable harm to the Romans. 3 And Chilbudius became such an object of terror to the barbarians that for the space of three years, during which time he remained there holding this office, not only did no one succeed in crossing the Ister against the Romans, but the Romans actually crossed over to the opposite side many  p265 times with Chilbudius and killed and enslaved the barbarians there. 4 But three years later, when Chilbudius crossed the river, as was his custom, with a small force, the Sclaveni came against him with their entire strength; 5 and a fierce battle taking place, many of the Romans fell and among them the general Chilbudius. 6 Thereafter the river became free for the barbarians to cross at all times just as they wished, and the possessions of the Romans were rendered easily accessible; and the entire Roman empire found itself utterly incapable of matching the valour of one single man in the performance of this task.

7 But later on the Antae and Sclaveni became hostile to one another and engaged in a battle, in which it so fell out that the Antae were defeated by their opponents. 8 Now in this battle one of the Sclaveni took captive a certain young man of the enemy named Chilbudius, who was just wearing his first beard, and took him off to his home. 9 This Chilbudius, as time went on, became devoted to his master to an extraordinary degree and proved himself a vigorous warrior in dealing with the enemy. 10 Indeed he exposed himself to danger many times to save his master, distinguishing himself by his deeds of valour, through which he succeeded in winning great renown. 11 At about this time the Antae descended upon the land of Thrace and plundered and enslaved many of the Roman inhabitants; and they led these captives with them as they returned to their native abode.

12 Now chance brought one of these captives into the hands of a kind and gentle master. This man was a great rascal and one capable of circumventing  p267 and deceiving those who fell in his way. 13 And since he was unable by any device to effect his return to the land of the Romans, much as he wished it, he conceived the following plan. Coming before his master, he praised him for his kindness and declared that God on account of this would bestow upon him blessings in abundance, and that he for his part would shew himself by no means ungrateful to a most kindly master; but, if only he was willing to give ear to the excellent suggestion which he had to offer, he would shortly put him in possession of a great sum of money. 14 For there was, he said, among the nation of the Sclaveni one Chilbudius, the former general of the Romans, in the condition of a slave, while all the barbarians were ignorant as to who in the world he was. 15 If, therefore, he was willing to pay out the price set upon Chilbudius and convey the man to the land of the Romans, it was not unlikely that he would acquire for himself from the emperor not only a fair reputation but also an enormous amount of money. 16 By these words the Roman speedily persuaded his master, and he went with him into the midst of the Sclaveni; for these barbarians were already on peaceful terms and were mingling with one another without fear. Consequently they were able, by paying out a large sum of money to the master of Chilbudius, to purchase the man, and they departed with him immediately. 17 And when they had come into their own country, the purchaser enquired of the man whether he was Chilbudius himself, the general of the Romans. 18 And he did not hesitate to state truly all the facts in order, saying that he too was  p269 by birth of the Antae, and that while fighting with his compatriots against the Sclaveni, who were then at war with them, he had been captured by one of the enemy, but now, upon arriving in his native country, he too according to the law would be free from that time forth.

19 Thereupon the man who had paid out gold for him became speechless with vexation, seeing that he had failed of a hope of no moderate sort. 20 But the Romans, wishing to reassure the man and to controvert the truth, so that no difficulty might arise to prevent his return to his home, still insisted that this man actually was that Chilbudius, but that he was afraid, clearly because he was in the midst of the barbarians, and so was quite unwilling to reveal the whole truth; if, however, he should get into the land of the Romans, he would not only not conceal the truth, but in all probability would actually take pride in that very name. Now at first these things were done without the knowledge of the other barbarians.

21 But when the report was carried about and reached the entire nation, practically all the Antae assembled to discuss the situation, and they demanded that the matter be made a public one, thinking that great benefit would come to them from the fact that they had now become masters of the Roman general Chilbudius. 22 For these nations, the Sclaveni and the Antae, are not ruled by one man, but they have lived from of old under a democracy, and consequently everything which involves their welfare, whether for good or for ill, is referred to the people.  p271 It is also true that in all other matters, practically speaking, these two barbarian peoples had had from ancient times the same institutions and customs. 23 For they believe that one god, the maker of lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims; but as for fate, they neither know it nor do they in any wise admit that it has any power among them, but whenever death stands close before them, either stricken with sickness or beginning a war, they make a promise that, if they escape, they will straightway make a sacrifice to the god in return for their life; and if they escape, they sacrifice just what they have promised, and consider that their safety has been bought with this same sacrifice. 24 They reverence, however, both rivers and nymphs and some other spirits, and they sacrifice to all these also, and they make their divinations in connection with these sacrifices. They live in pitiful hovels which they set up far apart from one another, but, as a general thing, every man is constantly changing his place of abode. 25 When they enter battle, the majority of them go against their enemy on foot carrying little shields and javelins in their hands, but they never wear corselets. 26 Indeed some of them do not wear even a shirt or a cloak, but gathering their trews up as far as to their private parts they enter into battle with their opponents. And both the two peoples have also the same language, an utterly barbarous tongue. 27 Nay further, they do not differ at all from one another in appearance. For they are all exceptionally tall and stalwart men, while  p273 their bodies and hair are neither very fair or blonde, nor indeed do they incline entirely to the dark type, but they are all slightly ruddy in colour. 28 And they live a hard life, giving no heed to bodily comforts, just as the Massagetae do, and, like them, they are continually and at all times covered with filth; however, they are in no respect base nor evildoers, but they preserve the Hunnic character in all its simplicity. 29 In fact, the Sclaveni and Antae actually had a single name in the remote past; for they were both called Spori in olden times, because, I suppose, living apart one man from another, they inhabit their country in a sporadic fashion. 30 And in consequence of this very fact they hold a great amount of land; for they alone inhabit the greatest part of the northern bank of the river. So much then may be said regarding these peoples.

31 So on the present occasion the Antae gathered together, as has been said, and tried to compel this man to agree with them in the assertion that he was Chilbudius, the Roman general himself. 32 And they threatened, if he denied it, to punish him. But while this affair was progressing in the manner described, meantime the Emperor Justinian had sent some envoys to these very barbarians, through whom he expressed the desire that they should all settle in an ancient city, Turris by name, situated to the north of the river Ister. This city had been built by the Roman emperor Trajan in earlier times, but for a long time now it had remained unoccupied, after it had been plundered by the barbarians of that region. 33 It was this city and the lands about it that the Emperor Justinian agreed to give them, asserting that it had belonged to the Romans  p275 originally; and he further agreed to give them all the assistance within his power while they were establishing themselves, and to pay them great sums of money, on condition that they should remain at peace with him thereafter and constantly block the way against the Huns, when these wished to overrun the Roman domain.

34 When the barbarians heard this, they expressed approval and promised to carry out all the conditions, provided that he restore Chilbudius to the office of General of the Romans and assign him to assist them in the establishment of their city, stoutly maintaining, what they wished was so, that the man there among them was Chilbudius. 35 Thereupon the man himself, being lifted up by these hopes, began now to claim and to assert, as well as the others, that he was Chilbudius the Roman general. Indeed he was setting out for Byzantium on this mission when Narses, in the course of his journey, came upon him. 36 And when he met the man and found him to be playing the part of an imposter, although he spoke in the Latin tongue and had already learned many of the personal peculiarities of Chilbudius and had been very successful in assuming them, he confined him in prison and compelled him to confess the whole truth, and thereafter brought him in his own train to Byzantium. But I shall return to the point from which I have strayed.

15 1 While the emperor was taking such measures as have been described, Belisarius on his part sent an army to the harbour of Rome under command of  p277 Valentinus and one of his own bodyguards, Phocas by name, an exceptionally able warrior, with instructions to join the garrison in Portus, which was commanded by Innocentius, and to assist them in guarding that fortress; and wherever they found it possible, they were to make excursions and harass the enemy's camp. 2 Consequently, Valentinus and Phocas secretly sent a messenger into Rome bearing the intelligence to Bessas that they were at that moment about to make a sudden attack upon the stockade of their opponents; he should, therefore, on his part, select the most warlike of the soldiers in Rome, and, whenever he observed their assault, rush to their assistance, so that each of the two forces might be able to inflict some great injury upon the barbarians. 3 Bessas, however, was by no means taken with this plan, notwithstanding the fact that he had as many as three thousand soldiers under him. Thus it was that Valentinus and Phocas with a force of five hundred descended unexpectedly upon the enemy's camp and killed a few men, and the tumult occasioned thereby soon reached the ears of the besieged.​8 4 But seeing that no one came out from the city against the camp, they quickly retired to the harbour without suffering any loss.

5 So they sent to Bessas a second time, and first charging him with having had a regrettable attack of timidity, they declared that they would soon make another assault upon the enemy and urged that he too should fall upon the barbarians with all his strength at the proper moment. 6 Bessas, however, still refused to make a sally against his opponents  p279 and risk a battle. Still Valentinus and Phocas were purposing to assail the enemy in larger force and had already made their preparations. 7 But a certain soldier of Innocentius' command went as a deserter to Totila and carried the news that on the following day there would be an attack upon them from Portus. 8 So Totila decided to fill with ambuscades of soldiers all the places which were adapted for this purpose. On the following day, therefore, Valentinus and Phocas fell into these ambuscades, and not only lost the most of their men, but were also killed themselves. And only a small handful made their escape with difficulty and betook themselves to Portus.

9 It was at this time that Vigilius, the chief priest of Rome,​9 who was then sojourning in Sicily, filled with grain as many ships as he could and sent them off, thinking that in some way or other those who were conveying the cargoes would be able to get into Rome. 10 So these ships were sailing toward the Roman harbour, but the enemy spied them and got to the harbour a short time before the ships arrived; there they concealed themselves inside the walls, their purpose being that, as soon as the ships should come to the land there, they might capture them with no difficulty. 11 And when all the men keeping guard in Portus observed this, they went up to the battlement, every man of them, and by waving their cloaks strove to signal the men on the ships not to come ahead, but to turn aside and go elsewhere — anywhere in fact, where chance might lead them. 12 But the men on the ships failed to comprehend what they were doing, supposing that the Romans  p281 in Portus were rejoicing and inviting them to the harbour, and since they had a favouring wind they quickly got inside the harbour. 13 Now there were many Romans on board the ships, and among them a certain bishop named Valentinus. Then the barbarians arose from their hiding place and took possession of all the boats without encountering any resistance. 14 And as for the bishop, they took him prisoner and led him before Totila, but all the rest they killed, and drawing the boats up on shore with their cargoes still in them, they departed. 15 And Totila made such enquiries of the priest as he wished, and then accused him of not telling the truth in any respect and so cut off both his hands. 16 Such was the course of these events. And the winter drew to a close, and the eleventh year ended in this war, the history of which Procopius has written.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 "The soul of an hero is deeply impressed on the letter, nor can we confound such genuine and original acts with the elaborate and often empty speeches of the Byzantine historian." — Gibbon, c. 43.

2 Modern Spoleto.

3 Modern Assisi.

4 Modern Piacenza.

5 Modern Civita-Vecchia.

6 Dyrrachium: modern Durazzo.

7 Cf. Book II.xix.15, etc.

8 i.e. in Rome.

9 Vigilius was Pope from 537‑555.

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