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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)

 p369  25 1 Long before this Totila had, as it happened, sent an army against Perusia, and they had encamped about the circuit-wall of the city and were maintaining a close siege of the Romans there. 2 And since they perceived that the city was scantily supplied with provisions, they sent to Totila and begged him to come there with his whole army, thinking that they would thus capture Perusia and the Romans in it with less difficulty and labour. 3 Now Totila saw that the barbarians were not very eager to carry out his orders, and so he desired to deliver an exhortation to them. 4 With this to view, he called them all together and spoke as follows.

"I have observed, fellow-soldiers, that you are cherishing toward me an unjustified anger, and at the same time that you bitterly resent that adversity of fortune which has befallen us; for this reason I have decided to bring you together on the present occasion, in order that I may be able to remove from your minds an impression which is absolutely wrong and bring you back to a better judgment, and also that you may appear neither to shew me an ingratitude which ill befits you, nor to be led by base motives to assume a thankless attitude toward the Deity. 5 For it is of the very nature of human  p371 affairs that failure must come at times, and when any man, forgetting that he is human, shews himself rebellious against that which befalls him, he will himself naturally acquire a reputation for stupidity, and yet in no wise escape the necessity which fate has laid upon him. 6 Now I wish to remind you of previous events, not so much in order to absolve myself from the blame for what has happened, as to demonstrate that this may with more justice be laid upon yourselves. 7 For when Vittigis was entering upon this war at the very beginning, he did indeed tear down the walls of the coast towns Fanum and Pisaurum, but Rome and the other cities of Italy without exception he exempted, not damaging them in the least. 8 Consequently, while no trouble has come to the Goths from Fanum and Pisaurum, it was because of the circuit-walls of Rome and the other fortified places that trouble came to the Goths and Vittigis after the manner that is well-known to you.

9 "Accordingly, when I accepted the royal power offered by you, I formed the reasonable purpose of emulating those deeds which had come to be regarded as better for us rather than to damage our cause by doing those things which had harmed us. 10 For while men do not seem to differ greatly one from the other as far as nature is concerned, still some have had the advantage of experience, which, like a teacher, makes him who has learned her lesson superior in every respect to those who have not received such instruction. 11 Accordingly, when we captured Beneventum, we razed its walls  p373 and straightway captured the other towns, whose circuit-walls we decided to raze in the same way, in order that the enemy's army might not be able, by having any strong base, to carry on the war by stratagem, but should at once be compelled to come down to the plain and engage with us there. 12 So while the enemy, for their part, were in flight, I was giving orders to raze such of the cities as were captured. 13 And you, marvelling at my good judgment, aided and abetted this decision, and so, it would seem, made my actions your own. For he who praises the man who has done a deed becomes himself the agent of the deed no less than the other. 14 But now you have reversed your position, my dearest Goths, simply because it has come about that Belisarius, by adopting a course of unreasonable daring, has unexpectedly attained the object for which he strove, and in consequence of this you have come to be astounded at the man as a marvel of courage. 15 For men of daring are called courageous more readily than men of foresight are called safe. And the reason is that, while he who displays daring beyond the established bounds of conduct is honoured with the name and fame of a strenuous man, he who refrains from danger with careful judgment and meets with ill success draws upon him the responsibility for what happens, and even if he achieves the success he planned, he still seems, to foolish men at any rate, to have accomplished nothing by himself.

16 "And apart from this, you do not consider that you are angry with me for the things which, in reality, cause you resentment just now. Or do you really believe that Belisarius has won a glorious  p375 success against you — you, who, though reduced to the condition of prisoners of war and runaway slaves, took up arms under me as your general and have proved yourselves able many a time to overcome him in battle? 17 And yet if it was through my merit that you succeeded in accomplishing such things, out of respect for that merit you ought to be silent, remembering in the hour of men's reverses that nothing can remain fixed; and if, on the other hand, it was some fortune which bestowed that victory upon you, it will profit you more to shew reverence toward her rather than vexation, so that you may not be compelled through failure to learn the true meaning of her favour. 18 Indeed, how could it fail to appear inconsistent with a well-tempered spirit that men who have achieved for themselves many great successes not long ago and have now met with a slight reverse should allow their pride to be thus humbled? For such an attitude means purely and simply this, that you obstinately refuse to acknowledge that you are human. 19 For never to make mistakes could be predicated only of God. Consequently I say that you must abandon this attitude and with all enthusiasm grapple with the enemy in Perusia. For if you prove able to capture them, Fortune will again smile upon you. 20 For while that which has happened could never be undone by all eternity, still when fresh successes fall to the lot of those who have met with reverse, it comes about that the memory of evil days is made lighter.

"And you will achieve the mastery of Perusia  p377 without any trouble. 21 For Cyprian, who was commander of the Romans there, has been put out of the way by fortune, coupled with our planning, and an ungoverned multitude, particularly when scantily supplied with the necessities of life, is quite incapable of offering a brave resistance. 22 Nor indeed will anyone harm us from the rear; for not only have I seen fit to destroy the bridges over the river, with this purpose, that we might suffer no loss from unexpected assaults, but it is also true that Belisarius and John are regarding each other with suspicion, a fact which can be seen from previous events. 23 For the conflict of men's judgments, one with the other, is clearly detected by their actions. This indeed is the reason why they have not even be able to join forces with each other up to this time. For their mutual suspicion disconcerts each of them; and those who admit this feeling are bound to harbour envy and hostility besides. 24 And when these passions assault men, no needful thing can be done." After this speech Totila led forth his army against Perusia, and, upon their arrival at that city, they made camp hard by the circuit-wall and established themselves for a siege.

26 1 While these events were taking place in the manner described, John was meanwhile besieging the fortress of Acherontis; and since he was not making any progress, he conceived a daring plan, which not only effected the rescue of the Roman senate, but also caused him to win for himself an extraordinarily great renown among all men. 2 For  p379 upon hearing that Totila and the Gothic army were engaged in assaulting the fortifications of Rome, he chose out the most illustrious of his horsemen, and, without announcing his plan to anyone at all, he rode with them into Campania (for Totila had, as it happened, left the members of the senate there), resting neither day or night, in order that by making an unexpected attack he might be able to seize and rescue the senators, seeing that the towns there were entirely without defences.

3 Now it so happened that Totila at that very time began to be alarmed lest some of the enemy should, as in fact they did, come with the intention of striking a blow to rescue the prisoners, and he had accordingly sent an army of cavalry to Campania. 4 Now when this force reached the city of Minturnae,​1 it was decided that the better course for them was for the main body to remain quietly there and care for their horses (for they had become greatly fatigued on this journey), while they sent a few scouts to investigate the situation at Capua and the adjoining towns. Now the distance between the two places is not more than three hundred stades. 5 They accordingly sent forward as scouts four hundred men whose horses were unwearied and whose strength was still unimpaired. 6 And it so fell out by some chance that on that very day at the same time both John and his army and these same four hundred barbarians reached Capua, neither having  p381 heard anything previously of their opponents. 7 Thereupon a fierce battle ensued on the spur of the moment; for no sooner did they see each other than they began fighting; but the Romans won a decisive victory and killed most of the enemy immediately. 8 Only a few of the barbarians were able to escape, and these reached Minturnae in rapid flight. But when the others saw these men, some dripping with blood, and others refusing to speak a word or give any account of what had happened, but still persisting in their retreat and openly displaying the terror which was in them, they leaped upon their horses immediately and joined in the flight. 9 And when they came before Totila, they reported that there was an innumerable host of the enemy, seeking in this way to remove the shame of their flight.

10 Now it so happened that not less than seventy Roman soldiers of those who had previously deserted to the Goths were on their way into the towns of Campania, and these men decided to go over to John. 11 And John found there only a few of the members of the senate, but practically all their wives. 12 For during the capture of Rome many of the men followed the soldiers in flight and reached Portus, but the women were all captured. 13 Clementinus, however, a patrician, took refuge in one of the sanctuaries there and refused absolutely to follow the Roman army, for he had previously handed over to Totila and the Goths a stronghold which is close  p383 to Naples, and in all probability dreaded the wrath of the emperor for this reason. On the other hand, Orestes, who had been consul of the Romans, though he chanced to be near at hand, was obliged to remain, altogether against his will, owing to a scarcity of horses. 14 John then immediately sent to Sicily the members of the senate together with the seventy soldiers who had come over to him.

15 Totila, upon hearing this, was sorely grieved, and eagerly sought an opportunity to inflict vengeance upon John for the deed. With this in view, he marched against him with the main body of the army, leaving a small part of his troops behind in order to keep guard. 16 Now it so happened that John and his men, a thousand in number, had made camp in Lucania, having previously sent out scouts who were watching all the roads closely and keeping guard that no hostile army should approach to do them harm. 17 But Totila had in mind that such would be the case, believing it impossible that John's force should settle in their camp without sending out scouts, and so he abandoned the customary roads and marched against them through the mountains, many of which in that region are precipitous and rise to a very great height — a feat which no one would have been able to suspect, for these mountains are considered in fact impassable. 18 Meanwhile, the men thus sent out as scouts by John did indeed observe that a hostile army had got into that region, but they secured no definite information about it; however they feared what actually did take place, and so they too marched toward the Roman camp. 19 And it so turned out that they  p385 arrived there at night together with the barbarians. But Totila, being now overmastered by violent passion and not weighing the consequences with careful judgment, reaped the fruits of his fatuous fury. 20 For though he had under him an army ten times as large as that of his opponents, and though it was plain to be seen that for a stronger army it was of course advantageous to fight the decisive battle in broad daylight and he should rather have engaged with his enemy at dawn in order that they might not be able to escape in the darkness, still he did not observe this precaution at all; for, in fact, he could have stretched a cordon about his opponents and immediately captured every man of them as in a net; but instead he gave way to his anger and fell upon the hostile army at an advanced hour of night. 21 And although not one of them thought of offering the least resistance, since the most were in fact still sleeping, none the less the Goths did not find themselves able to slay many, but they got up, and the majority, thanks to the darkness, succeeded in slipping away. 22 And once outside the camp they ran up into the mountains, many of which rise close by, and thus were saved. 23 Among these was John himself and Arufus, the leader of the Eruli. Of the Romans about a hundred perished.

24 Now there had been with John a certain Gilacius of the Armenian race, commander of a small force of Armenians. This Gilacius did not know how to speak either Greek or Latin or Gothic or any other language except Armenian alone. 25 When some of the Goths happened upon this man, they enquired who he might be. For they were quite averse to killing every man who came in their way, lest  p387 they be compelled to destroy each other in fighting at night, as might easily happen. 26 But he was able to make them no answer except indeed that he was Gilacius, a general; for his title which he had received from the emperor he had heard many times and so had been able to learn it by heart. 27 The barbarians, accordingly, perceiving by this that he was an enemy, made him a prisoner for the moment, but not long afterwards put the man to death. 28 So John and Arufus fled with their followers as fast as they could go and made for Dryus, which they reached on the run, and the Goths plundered the Roman camp and then retired.

27 1 Thus were the armies in Italy engaged. And the Emperor Justinian decided to send another army against the Goths and Totila, being led to do so by the dispatches of Belisarius, who kept urging him to take this action, having indicated many times the situation in which the Romans found themselves. 2 Accordingly, he first sent Pacurius, the son of Peranius, and Sergius, the nephew of Solomon, with a few men. And they arrived in Italy and immediately united with the rest of the army. 3 Later on he sent Verus with three hundred Eruli, and Varazes, an Armenian by birth, with eight hundred Armenians, and he recalled from his post Valerian, the General  p389 of Armenia, and ordered him to go to Italy with his attendant spearmen and guards, who numbered more than a thousand. 4 Now Verus was the first to put in at Dryus, and he left his ships there, being quite unwilling to remain in that place, where John's army was, and went forward on horseback with his command. 5 For this man was not of a serious temper, but was utterly addicted to the disease of drunkenness, and consequently he was always possessed by a spirit of reckless daring. 6 And when they had come close to the city of Brundisium, they made camp and remained there.

And when Totila learned this, he said "Verus has one of two things, either a powerful army or a very silly head. 7 Let us then proceed against him instantly, that either we may make trial of the man's army, or that he may realize his own silliness." 8 So Totila with these words marched against him with a numerous army; and the Eruli, spying the enemy already at hand, took refuge in a wood which was close by. 9 And the enemy surrounded them and killed more than two hundred, and were about to lay hands on Verus himself and the rest of the force who were hiding among the thorn-bushes, but fortune came to their aid and saved them unexpectedly. 10 For the ships in which Varazes and the Armenians under him were sailing suddenly put in at the shore there. Now when Totila saw this, supposing the hostile army to be more numerous than it really was, he immediately set out and marched away from there, while Verus and his men were glad to  p391 reach their ships on the run. 11 And Varazes decided to sail no further, but proceeded with them to Tarentum, whither John the nephew of Vitalian also not long afterwards came with his whole army. Such was the course of these events.

12 Now the emperor wrote to Belisarius that he had sent him a numerous army with which he should unite in Calabria and so engage with the enemy. 13 And in fact Valerian had already come down close to the Ionian Gulf, but he thought that, for the present at any rate, it was inexpedient for him to ferry across. 14 For at the season of the year, he reasoned, provisions would not be sufficient for men and horses, since it was near the winter solstice. 15 But he did send three hundred of his men to John with the promise that after spending the winter there he would also come himself at the beginning of spring.

16 Belisarius, accordingly, upon reading the emperor's letter, selected nine hundred men distinguished for valour, seven hundred horse‑men and two hundred foot-soldiers, and leaving all the rest to guard that district, and appointing Conon commander over them, he immediately set sail for Sicily. 17 And from there he again put out to sea purposing to sail to the harbour of Tarentum; and as he sailed by he had on his left the place called Scylaeum, at which the poets say that Scylla once lived, not because there really existed there the woman in the form of a beast, as they say, but rather because a certain fish, formerly called "scylax" and now "cyniscus" has been found in great abundance in this part of  p393 the strait from ancient times even down to my day. 18 For names in the beginning are always appropriate to the things they describe, but rumour, carrying these names to other peoples, engenders there certain false opinions through ignorance of the facts. 19 And as time goes on with this process, it immediately becomes a powerful builder, as it were, of the story, and allies itself with the poets, presumably because of the licence of their art, as witnesses of things that never happened. Thus, for example, the natives of the island of Cercyra have from ancient times called one headland of the island "Dog's Head" — the one toward the east — but others because of this name will have it that the people there are a kind of dog‑headed folk. 20 Indeed they even call some of the Pisidians "Wolf-Skulls," not because they have the heads of wolves, but because the mountain which rises there has received the name "Wolf-Helmet." Now as for these matters, let each one both think and speak as he wishes. But I shall return to the point from which I have strayed.

28 1 So Belisarius was making haste to go straight to Tarentum. Now the shore there has approximately the form of a crescent, where the coast recedes and the sea advances in a gulf, as it were, far up into the land. 2 But the distance, as one sails along this whole coast, extends to one thousand stades, and on either side of the opening of the gulf stand  p395 two cities, the one toward the west being Croton,​2 and the one to the east Tarentum.​3 3 And at the middle of this shore is the city of Thurii. But Belisarius was hindered by a storm and forced from his course by a violent wind and a high sea which would not permit his ships to make any progress at all; he therefore put in at the harbour of Croton.

4 And since he neither found any fortress there nor any place from which provisions could be brought in for the soldiers, Belisarius himself together with his wife remained there with the infantry, in order that from there he might be brought back to summon and organize John's army; 5 but he ordered all the horsemen to go ahead and make camp at the passes leading into the country, placing in command of them Phazas the Iberian and the guardsman Barbation. 6 For in this way he thought that they could secure all necessary supplies for their horses and themselves very easily, and would probably, too, be able in a narrow pass to repulse the enemy. 7 For the mountains of Lucania extend as far as Bruttium, and standing as they do close to one another, they form there only two passes, which are exceedingly narrow, one of which has received the name "Rock of Blood"​4 in the Latin tongue, while the natives are accustomed to call the other Lavula. 8 Not far from these passes on the coast is Rusciane, the naval harbour of Thurii, while above it at a distance of about sixty stades is a very strong fortress​5 built by  p397 the ancient Romans. This fortress had been occupied by John much earlier and he had established a considerable garrison in it.

9 Now the soldiers of Belisarius, upon reaching this district, chanced upon a hostile army, which Totila had sent for the purpose of making an attempt on the fortress there. 10 And they engaged with them immediately and by their valour routed them without any difficulty, although they were far outnumbered, and they slew more than two hundred. 11 Those who were left took to flight and when they came before Totila, reported everything that had befallen them. As for the Romans, they made camp and remained there, but since they were without proper commanders and had won a victory, they began to conduct themselves in a rather careless manner. 12 For they neither stayed quietly gathered in one place, nor did they take up positions near the pass and guard the approaches, but, becoming negligent, they were sleeping at night in encampments very far from removed from one another, and during the day they would go about searching for provisions, neither sending any men out as scouts nor taking any other measures for security.

13 Totila, consequently, upon learning everything, selected three thousand horsemen from his whole army and went against the enemy. 14 And falling upon them unexpectedly, not drawn up in battle formation but going about in the manner described, he threw them all into consternation and complete disorder. 15 At this moment Phazas, who happened to be camping near by, encountered the enemy and made a display of valorous deeds, and he did, indeed, thus make himself the cause of the escape of a few  p399 men, but he himself perished together with all his men. 16 This misfortune fell heavily upon the Romans, because they all pinned their hope on this detachment as an unusually efficient fighting force. 17 Now as many as succeeded in fleeing saved themselves in such manner as each found possible. And Barbation, the guardsman of Belisarius, fled with two others as hard as he could, and was the first to reach Croton. There he reported how matters stood at the moment, and added that he thought the barbarians too would be at hand right speedily. 18 And Belisarius, upon hearing this, was sorely grieved, and rushed on board the ships. So they set sail from there, and since a wind was blowing, they succeeded that day in reaching Messana in Sicily, which is seven hundred stades from Croton, being situated opposite to Rhegium.

29 1 At about this time an army of Sclaveni crossed the river Ister and spread desolation throughout the whole of Illyricum as far as Epidamnus, killing or enslaving all who came in their way, young and old alike, and plundering their property. 2 And they had already succeeded in capturing numerous strongholds of that region, which were then quite undefended, but which previously had been reputed to be strong places, and they continued to roam about searching out everything at their own pleasure. 3 And the commanders of the Illyrians kept following them  p401 with an army of fifteen thousand men, without, however, having the courage to get close to the enemy.

4 At that time also, earthquakes of extraordinary severity occurred many times during the winter season, both in Byzantium and in other places, always at night. 5 And the inhabitants of these cities, supposing that they would be overwhelmed, fell into great fear, yet no harm befell them as a result of the earthquakes.

6 Then it was, too, that the river Nile rose above eighteen cubits and flooded all Egypt with water; and yet in the region of Thebes, which is higher upstream, the waters settled and receded at the appointed time and gave opportunity to the inhabitants of that district both to sow the land and to attend to their other tasks just as they were accustomed to do. 7 But as for the country below, after the water had first covered the surface, it did not recede, but remained in the way throughout the time of sowing, a thing which had never happened before in all time; and there were places where the water, even after receding, flowed in again not long afterwards. 8 Thus it came about that all the seeds, such as had been put into the ground in the interval, rotted. And by this strange occurrence the people were reduced to dire straits, while most of the animals died through lack of sustenance.

9 It was at this time also that the whale, which the Byzantines called Porphyrius, was caught. This whale had been annoying Byzantium and the  p403 towns about it for fifty years, not continuously, however, but disappearing sometimes for a rather long interval. 10 And it sank many boats and terrified the passengers of many others, driving them from their course and carrying them off to great distances. It had consequently become a matter of concern to the Emperor Justinian to capture this creature, but he was unable by any device to accomplish his purpose. But I shall explain how it came to be captured in the present instance. 11 It happened that while a deep calm prevailed over the sea, a very large number of dolphins gathered close to the mouth of the Euxine Sea. 12 And suddenly they saw the whale and fled wherever each one could, but the most of them came in near the mouth of the Sangarius. Meanwhile the whale succeeded in capturing some of them, which he swallowed forthwith. 13 And then, either still impelled by hunger or by a contentious spirit, it continued the pursuit no less than before, until, without noticing it, it had itself come very close to the land. 14 There it ran upon some very deep mud, and, though it struggled and exerted itself to the utmost to get out of it as quickly as possible, it still was utterly unable to escape from this shoal, but sank still deeper in the mud. 15 Now when this was reported among all the people who dwelt round about, they straightway rushed upon the whale, and though they hacked at it most persistently with axes on all sides, even so they did not kill it, but they dragged it up with some heavy ropes. 16 And they placed it on waggons and found its length to be about thirty cubits, and its breadth ten.​6 Then, after forming several groups and dividing it accordingly,  p405 some ate the flesh immediately, while others decided to cure the portion which fell to them.

17 Now the Byzantines, observing the earthquakes and learning the circumstances of the Nile's rise and the capture of this whale, began straightway to prophesy that such and such things would take place, according to the taste of each. 18 For men are wont, when present events baffle them, to utter awesome prophecies of the future, and, distracted by occurrences which trouble them, to infer, with no good reason, what the future will bring forth. 19 But as for me, I shall leave to others prophecies and explanations of marvels; still, I know well that the lingering of the Nile on the fields did prove a cause of great calamities at that time at any rate, while the disappearance of the whale, on the other hand, unquestionably provided an escape from many troubles. 20 However, some say that it was not the same whale that I mentioned, but another one that was captured. But I shall return to the point where I made the digression from my narrative.

21 Totila, after accomplishing what has been recounted, learning that the Romans in the fortress near Rusciane were beginning to feel the want of provisions, thought that he would capture them very quickly if they should be unable to bring in any supplies, so he made camp close to the town and settled down for a siege. And the winter drew to a close and the thirteenth year ended in this war, the history of which Procopius has written.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Near modern Traetto.

2 Modern Cotrone.

Thayer's Note: Four years after this translation was published, the authorities undid the metathesis in the town's name, restoring it to something like its older form. It is now Crotone.

3 The description is misleading; Tarentum lies in the eastern recess of the "crescent," not at the tip.

4 Petra Sanguinea.

5 Perhaps modern Rossano.

6 About 45 feet by 15 feet.

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