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IN the third quarter of the fifth century, the Teutonic invaders of the Western Empire had established themselves firmly in all its provinces, and wielded a predominant power in the government. In the year 476 Odovacar was the head of the barbarians in Italy, whilst a youth named Romulus Augustulus was formally recognized as Emperor. The potent barbarian abolished the Imperial throne and relegated its occupant to a decent exile in the castle of Lucullus in Campania. At the same time he deprecated the anger of Zeno, the Eastern Emperor, and forwarded the Imperial regalia to Constantinople in token of his submission to him as a vassal.

A few years later Theodoric, the young King of the East Goths, exercised an ascendancy in Thrace almost equal to that of Odovacar in Italy, and ravaged the country up to the gates of the capital. Zeno effected an accommodation with him, nominated him as Master of Soldiers at Court, and even honoured him with the Consulship (484). Theo­doric, however, was impatient of control; and he proposed to the Emperor that he should march against Odovacar with his countenance, and reign independently in Italy under his suzerainty should he succeed in conquering that country. Zeno, glad to dispense with his formidable service, at once assented, and the Gothic King departed forthwith on his enterprise (488). For two years Odovacar opposed the invader in battle, but the fortune of war declared for his adversary; and at last he found himself immured compulsorily within the walls of Ravenna. For three years he held this stronghold against the Gothic King, until the misery caused by the siege rendered him willing to treat. A compact was made that both kings should rule jointly, and Theodoric was allowed to establish himself in the city. Shortly it was whispered that Odovacar was engaged in a plot, a danger which his colleague met by devising another. In this contest the Goth again became the victor. The associate King was invited to a banquet, his movements were hampered under the pretence of calling his attention to a written petition, and Theodoric dealt him a death stroke with his sword (493).

The Goth now secured for himself the allegiance of all the barbarians in Italy, and sent an embassy to apprize Anastasius, who had been raised to the throne in the meantime, of the final success of his enterprise. The new Emperor replied with congratulations, and resumed to Theodoric the Imperial insignia which had been sequestered at Constantinople. The reign of the Gothic king lasted for thirty-three years, and was characterized by beneficence and religious toleration towards his Roman subjects. His court was upheld politically by the most eminent men of Latin race whom the West produced in his time, he retained, as his chief ministers, Boethius and Cassiodorus, men of literary attainments, whose works have come down to us and are still read for pleasure and instruction. But in his last days the alien king became distrustful of his officials of native lineage, and Boethius, with his father-in law, Symmachus, fell a victim to his morbid suspicions.

Theodoric was succeeded by his grandson Athalaric, the son of his daughter Amalasuntha, a boy only ten years of age. The mother, a beautiful and accomplished woman, became queen regent; but she soon incurred the enmity of a powerful section of the Clothic nobles by educating her son according to the scholastic discipline usual among civilized nations.'They insisted that the use of arms was the only fit training for a Gothic youth, asserting that “the boy who had trembled beneath a rod would never endure he sight of a sword”. As a result his tuition in letters was abandoned, and Athalaric was left free to follow his own devices. If he died in his eighteenth year, after a short career of dissipation and debauchery, we may feel assured that he was incapable of either arms or letters, and the issue need not be attributed to his emancipation from tutorial control.

Having despaired of her popularity among the chief men of her nation, Amalasuntha began to nourish treacherous designs against the Goths. While her son was in apparent health she concerted a flight to Constantinople, with the interested connivance of Justinian, contingent on her failure to destroy a faction whom she believed to be seeking her own destruction. When his decease was in prospect she went further, and meditated the total surrender of her kingdom into the hands of the Eastern Emperor. Justinian listened, but the scheme was only remotely feasible, and the Gothic queen made an effort to repair her feminine disability by assuming her cousin Theodahad as her partner on the throne. She offered him the name of King, with the convention that in her alone should be resident the regal prerogative. He accepted, but in bad faith and with a private reservation as to his own prepotency.

Theodahad was a married man of middle age, and has the distinction of being the first recorded scholar of the great German nation whose work in literature and science has so much contributed to the progress of knowledge in modern times. He was a devoted student of Latin and Greek philosophy, hut he was also noted for his avarice; and, as the possessor of large estates in Tuscany, laboured to accumulate wealth by unflinching extortion. Previous to this time Amalasuntha had been forced to deal sternly with him in order to repress his unscrupulous exactions. Exasperated by her interposition, he also had contemplated the betrayal of his countrymen; and was at the moment in treaty for the delivery of his province to Justinian in return for a position of honour at the byzantine Court, and a commensurate gift of money. As soon as he was associated to the throne he leagued with the enemies of Amalasuntha, and made away with some of her chief supporters. His next step was to seize the person of the queen, whom he incarcerated in an island castle of the Volsinian lake in Tuscany. At the same time he sent two legates, members of the Roman Senate, to explain the matter to the Emperor. They assured him that the prisoner would suffer no personal injury, and presented a letter, written under constraint by Amalasuntha, in which she spoke resignedly as to her captivity.

Immediately after the successful issue of the Vandal war Justinian became ambitious of adding the kingdom of Italy to his dominions: and it is probable that his wishes in this respect were more or less openly expressed. Hence the overtures insidiously made by Amalasuntha and Theodahad, who must have read clearly that any proposals of theirs, which conduced to his cherished design, would be welcomed by the Emperor. Justinian was, therefore, on the watch to find a case for war, even in occurrences of little moment, which would ordinarily be settled by a diplomatic conference.

While Gelimer was still a fugitive, a force was sent to occupy Lilibaeum, a fortress at the western extremity of Sicily, on the grounds that it had been granted as a depot to the Vandals, on the marriage of Theodoric's sister to one of their kings. The lady, however, had been imprisoned and ultimately executed by Hilderic, and the Goths had resumed possession of the post. Consequently the proposed Byzantine garrison was refused admittance. Further, ten Hunnish deserters from the Imperial army had been received in asylum at Naples; and the Goths, while opposing an inroad of the Gepids at Sirmium, had inflicted some damage on a neighbouring town of the Empire. The queen-regent replied by pointing out the triviality of the complaints, and the shadowy nature of the claim to Lilibaeum; and concluded by maintaining that the Vandal expedition would have been a failure only for the liberal succour she had afforded to it as they lay off Sicily. These questions were agitated ostensibly with the view merely of fixing the attention of the Gothic nation; and when the Imperial legates repaired to the court of Ravenna their real mission was to discuss the possibility of annexing Italy to the Empire. On their return to Constantinople the ambassadors had to communicate, not only the measures concerted with Amalasuntha, but also the proposals of Theodahad, by whom they had been secretly approached during their stay in the Gothic kingdom.

Justinian was overjoyed at the receipt of their message, and began to hope for an early realization of his project. Without loss of time, therefore, he despatched another legation, more studiously constituted, at the head of whom was Peter Magister. Events, however, had been proceeding rapidly in Italy, and they started in ignorance of the death of Althalaric, the elevation of Theodahad, and the deposition of Amalasuntha. In Macedonia they were arrested by the Queen’s emissaries, on the coast of Epirus by those of the King: they halted and referred back to the Emperor. A supplementary instruction was given them; they were to declare in no uncertain tone that Justinian would defend the interests of Amalasuntha.

On his arrival at Ravenna Peter found Theodahad beset by a cabal who demanded the death of the ex-queen as essential to their own and his safety; and, notwithstanding the preponderant presence of the Imperial legate with his special mandate to the point, it was shortly made public that Amalasuntha had been privately executed. Peter denounced the act with vehemence, and apprized the Emperor, who promptly resolved on war.

In the year of his Consulship (535) Belisarius sailed for Sicily with a moderate force, professing, however, that he was on his way to Carthage. Such was the prestige of his name that the Goths evacuated the island almost without striking a blow. On the last day of the year the Roman general entered Syracuse to lay down his Consulship, which he did with much popular applause and scattering of largess. At the same time Mundus, the master of soldiers in Illyricum, had been commissioned to attack the enemy in Dalmatia, where he quickly achieved a success by the capture of Salona. Justinian now declared himself openly as the regenerator of Italy against the Arian heretics, who had wrested it by force from the Empire; and he sent letters to the Franks, who were Orthodox, claiming their assistance in his enterprise. The specific permission granted to Theodoric by Zeno, and the ratification of his title by Anastasius were ignored, and the Goths were presented in the same light as the heterogeneous horde of barbarians whom they had displaced. As in the case of Africa the religious sympathies of the native population in this war were on the side of the Byzantines.

Notwithstanding this state of active warfare, Peter had attached himself to Theodahad, seeking an opportunity to extract from him a formal deed of abdication. During these negotiations the Gothic King showed himself to be a vacillating and incapable administrator. He signed a treaty in the most abject terms, reserving to himself merely the name of King, and dismissed the ambassadors. He became fearful, saw himself in the place of Gelimer, recalled them, and tendered a second document, in which his abdication was made absolute; but he imposed an oath on Peter not to reveal it unless his first terms should be rejected. Justinian, however, was soon made aware of the alternative proposals, whereupon he chartered a commission to take over the government of Italy. But in the meantime the Goths had massed their forces in Dalmatia, defeated and killed Mundus, and regained their ascendency in that province. This success effected a reversal in the attitude of Theodahad; he received the Byzantine deputies haughtily, cited historical precedents to show that the person of an ambassador was not always strictly inviolable, and finally committed them to custody on the charge of harbouring treasonable designs against the head of the State.




The conquest of Italy was now undertaken in earnest, and, while a new general repaired the Roman disaster in Dalmatia, Belisarius crossed over to the continent and laid siege to Naples. Having drawn up his fleet and army in a threatening position, he called on the citizens to surrender the town. Colloquies were held by the townspeople, and, while one party urged that the example of Sicily be followed, another argued that the vengeance of the Goths, to whom they had given hostages, was more to be dreaded than the attack of Belisarius. Ultimately it was decided to defend the city, and messengers were sent to solicit extraneous aid from Theodahad. More than a fortnight had been consumed in futile assaults and repulses, when the chance observation of an Isaurian soldier suggested a means of capture by surprise.

While curiously exploring the aqueduct he noticed that the water entered the town through a natural mass of solid rock, which had been bored to give it admission. The channel, however, was too narrow to allow the passage of an armed man, but would do so readily if slightly enlarged. A few men, therefore, repaired to the place secretly, and, by dint of working away the stone noiselessly with sharp tools, they opened a passage of sufficient width into the city. Under cover of night four hundred select men entered the channel, and followed the course of the aqueduct through the town in quest of a place of exit. The waterway was a vaulted gallery roofed with brick, but at length they arrived at a point from whence they would see the sky. On each side, however, they were confined by high walls not easy to scale. With some difficult a man, stripped of his armour, clambered up, and noticed a mean house close by, inhabited by a solitary old woman. He reached it by the aid of a tree, which grew alongside, and terrified the occupant into silence. He then attached a rope to the tree, and threw the free end into the aqueduct. One by one the soldiers drew themselves up and descended, till all had arrived safely on the ground. The party then made a sudden onslaught on two towers of the south wall, according to a prearranged plan, slaughtered the guards, and took possession of their posts. In the meantime Belisarius and the army were keeping watch outside, where they strove to monopolize the attention of the garrison by shouting to them continually to capitulate. Suddenly a clangour of trumpets rang out; it was the preconcerted signal, and announced that a portion of the wall was occupied by the surprise party. A rush with ladders was made to the place, several bands ascended, gates were seized and thrown open, the whole army poured in, and Naples was at the mercy of the Byzantines. On the spur of the moment a massacre was begun, especially by the auxiliary Huns, who burst into houses and captured women and youths, but Belisarius soon succeeded in imposing a cheek on the inflamed soldiery, and peace was established within the walls before the outrages had time to become general.

The fall of Naples provoked universal indignation among the Goths, and they became filled with resentment against Theodahad. They determined to depose him, and a military conventicle was held in the vicinity of Rome, where the bulk of their forces were encamped. Witigis was elected King, a man of no birth, but a general of proved capacity, who had distinguished himself in wars with the outer barbarians under Theodoric. On the receipt of this news Theodahad fled hastily to Ravenna, but he was hotly pursued, on the part of the new monarch, by a Gothic officer, who owed him a private grudge. He was overtaken on the way and remorselessly slain by his personal enemy, and thus ended his career alter a reign which had lasted three years (536). Witigis now held a council of war, at which it was resolved to march northwards in order to effect an accommodation with the Franks, Venetians, and all external tribes with whom there were disputes, by making liberal concessions in each case. The Gothic troops occupied in such regions could then be withdrawn and concentrated into one great army, with which to return to the south and encounter Belisarius. Rome in the interval was to be entrusted to a small garrison of four thousand men, while the inhabitants were to be reminded that they had always been dealt with liberally by the Goths, and should therefore adhere to them loyally.




These resolutions were acted on, and, while Witigis retreated northwards, the way was left open for Belisarius to march on Rome. The Byzantine general lost no time, and his progress through the Campania was soon announced. His reputation had preceded him, and the fate of Naples had struck terror into the citizens of the Capital of the West. A meeting of the Romans was convened by the municipality, and, chiefly at the instigation of Pope Silverius, it was decided to submit without resistance to the representative of Justinian. Thereupon the Gothic garrison, recognizing that their position was untenable, made up their minds to abandon the city and betake themselves to Ravenna. Belisarius was met by a deputation which invited him to take possession of Rome; and it happened that while the Imperial army entered the city from the south, by the Asinarian gate, that named the Flaminian was being kept open on the north to give egress to the Gothic brigade. The day was the ninth of December, in the year 536, and just sixty years since the metropolis had fallen into the hands of the barbarians led by Odovacar. On this occasion the formality was gone through of sending the keys of the city to the Emperor at Constantinople.

Rome at this time, notwithstanding the vicissitudes it had experienced, had lost, to the superficial eye, but little of its Imperial splendour. A numerous population, amounting probably to more than one million, still maintained itself in affluence within the ample circuit of walls built two centuries and a half previously by Aurelian. The construction of those walls had been necessitated by the expansion the city had undergone since the age of the Republic and the first emperors. Fourteen principal gates provided for communication with the surrounding country, and an equal number of lofty aqueducts, in many situations architecturally decorative and imposing, supplied water to the interior from various outlying districts within a circumference extending to sixty miles. The transformation of Rome from a city of dingy and tasteless aspect, which had arisen on the border­land of civilization, to a handsome capital adorned by all the resources of unapproachable Greek art, had been begun and almost accomplished by Augustus. The pride and magnificence of his successors, in their spirit of absolutism and self-adulation, had continued his work lavishly until the seven hills, with their disjunctive valleys, were hidden beneath a labyrinth of sculptured stone and marble:—pillared temples and palaces, great halls upheld by endless ranges of ornate columns, continuous porticoes, colonnaded squares occupied by lofty figured monuments and Egyptian obelisks, public baths of immense area decorated inside with fresco and mosaic, theatres and circuses on a vast scale, stupendous triumphal arches spanning the main thoroughfares at frequent intervals, splendid fountains, a crowd of statues almost equalling in number the people to be seen moving along the streets, and, lastly, even sepulchres of a magnitude and elaboration not surpassed by edifices intended for a concourse of the living. In their private sphere the great nobles emulated the work of the emperors, and constructed such extensive and costly dwellings that they were compared to reproductions in miniature of the city without. Beyond the walls the surburban area was so thickly populated as scarcely to be distinguished from the fortified enclosure.

In vain had Constantine striven to create a new Rome on the Bosphorus which should rival in grandeur the historic capital; to the last a native of Constantinople would be struck with wonder and admiration on beholding the city of the Tiber. From some elevated post, such as the Capitol, crowned with its massive temples, an observer might comprehend in a glance some of the main features of the world-subduing metropolis. His eye would be riveted in succession by the huge bulk of the Coliseum, girded with pillars and statues rising in four tiers to a height of one hundred and sixty feet; by the tall embossed columns of Trajan and Antonine projecting above their respective peristyles; by the expansive dome of the Pantheon sheathed with bronze tiles; by the Mausoleum of Hadrian, a commanding pile on the river side, also encircled by superimposed rows of pillars and statues; and by the tomb of Augustus, a lofty mound ascending from a cylindrical base by a slope planted with evergreen trees, and surmounted by a colossus of that emperor. Yet were a Roman, who had lived in the age of the Caesars, to revisit the capital in the sixth century, he would be struck by some remarkable changes. Traces of the religious revolution which had culminated in the fourth century were everywhere apparent; Paganism effete, and Christianity bursting into bloom. Deserted temples, neglected and often verging to dilapidation, their columns tottering and sometimes fallen to the ground, offended the artistic sense. On the other hand Christian basilicas had sprung up, and in some localities were great and conspicuous objects. Below the Coelian hill the Lateran gardens were occupied by the Constantinean Cathedral of the Saviour; and the original basilica of St. Peter had taken possession of the Vatican mount. Without the walls, on the south, the great church of St. Paul had been built to supply the religious needs of the teeming population of the suburbs.

An observant historian, resident in the West during the latter part of the fourth century, has left us a striking picture of Roman society in his time, which, with essential modifications, may be applied to illustrate the manners of the Italian capital under the rule of Theodoric. The national aspirations and energies of the Roman people, having been nurtured and gratified progressively by success during several centuries, arrived at the stage of inflorescence in the pre-Augustan age. The long-continued training and encouragement of intellectual activity was then producing those fruits which are characteristic of the highest degree of material prosperity; men experienced in war, habitual conquerors ambitious to rule: accumulations of wealth in the hands of numerous private persons; and a lively interest in literature and art. Hence sprang civil wars ending in despotism, boundless luxury, and new creations in the realm of poetry, history, painting, and sculpture. But the outcome of the autocracy was a cessation of mental activity, emulation became extinct, and a period of stagnation set in, tending gradually towards settled apathy and indifference to all purposive effort.

About two centuries after the foundation of the Empire these results began to be fully apparent, and an aimless abandonment to pleasure became the distinctive mark of the age. Thus arose the sociological phenomena which at the end of the fourth century have been recorded by the historian of the period. The nobles revelled in the enjoyment of their great wealth; the lower orders became seditious unless they were provided with sustenance and amusement without having to earn them by work. The rich devoted their time to receptions at which they were waited on by a crowd of interested flatterers eager to win substantial proofs of their favour. They never tired of boasting to their audience of the extent of their possessions and the revenue they derived from them. Through lack of any legitimate occupation their dormant energies could find no outlet except by taking an overwhelming interest in the routine of petty acts necessitated daily by physical existence. Meal-times, most of all, absorbed their attention; a multitude of servants stood around, and the introduction of every dish was an event of grave importance. Fish, birds, and dormice were the chief constituents of their fare; and as each cooked animal was placed on the table it was subjected to the keenest observation. Should anything excessive in the way of size or plumpness be apparent, all present ejaculated their admiration. A weighing-machine was sent for in order to ascertain how much it would scale, and a secretary brought a book in which to register the particulars of the astounding occurrence. The intervals between their repasts were given over to gambling, less frequently to music, and on rare occasions to reading. A game of skill with dice was the favourite pastime, and one who had mastered all the shifts and trickeries of this diversion, even though of base origin, received universal homage as a man of eminence and distinction. Musicians were often entertained with honour in rich houses, singers being in great request, as well as performers on the hydraulic organ or the lyre, which had been increased to such a size as to exceed the modern harp.

The era of light fiction had not begun, but some solace was found in perusing the satires of Juvenal, who attracted by his indecencies in spite of his ethics, and the compositions of Marius Maximus, the author of copious and scandalous biographies of the Caesars. In their excursions out of doors both men and women of the wealthy classes assumed the pomp of a royal progress. The noble occupant of an ornate gilded coach was attended by stewards who marshalled all the senile members of the household in a lengthy procession. First came the handsome and finely-dressed slaves addicted to light employments; then a grimy crew of those who were busied about the kitchen: and lastly a company of eunuchs in two bands, those in front being old men with wrinkled and distorted features, and behind a troop of boy castrates who were prized for their fresh appearance. Costly apparel was the special extravagance of a certain class; and when walking they displayed themselves clad in layer upon layer of fine mantles, held at the neck only by a jewelled clasp, so that the loose folds constantly flying open might exhibit their variegated embroideries picturing the forms of different animals. While such men would pass an ordinary citizen without notice or with a supercilious glance of recognition, a noted courtesan would be greeted with effusive compliments and caressed with flatteries as if she were Semiramis or Cleopatra.

No section of the community was more esteemed than the dancing-girls, and of these three thousand were constantly figuring on the boards of the theatres. On one occasion, when a dearth of provisions seemed imminent, and foreigners, including many professors of the liberal arts, were suddenly expelled from the city, the question of dismissing these sylphs, together with their trainers and slaves, in number much greater than themselves, was never once brought up for consideration.

In such a state of intellectual torpor the slightest journey was regarded as an enterprise demanding extraordinary fortitude; and if a noble paid a visit to his provincial estates or undertook a short voyage in a painted pleasure-boat to the watering places of Baiae or Cajeta, he afterwards extolled his achievement as if he had performed something worthy of Alexander or Caesar. As for their religion, although they scoffed at every formal belief, they were earnest votaries of magic, and apprenticed slaves to professed sorcerers in order to encompass the art of injuring or influencing other persons by means of mystical operations. Nor were they willing to arrange their meal-times, their baths, or their appearances in public, without consulting an almanac with the view of ascertaining the station of Mercury or the position of the moon among the constellations.

In the reign of Valentinian an epidemic of poisoning became rife, and all inconvenient relatives were got rid of by the administration of deleterious drugs. These excesses were rigorously repressed by that irascible emperor, who even executed some men of senatorial rank for being concerned in magical practices. At the same time adultery and seduction were dealt with by capital punishment, and both men and women of noble rank perished for these crimes. As for the common people, they were indolent and dissolute, spent their time in wine-shops and brothels, were addicted to gambling, and in their lower sphere imitated the pride of their masters by pretending to high-sounding names and descent from illustrious families, even though without shoes to their feet. Their devotion to the games of the Circus was as intense as that of the Constantinopolitans, but the factions of the Blues and Greens were not of such political weight or such breeders of riot as their fellows of the Byzantine capital. But the Roman populace were more expectant of public gratifications in the way of amusements, largess, and bread, and broke into violent seditions when there was any prospect of their being limited or withheld. If the corn-fleet were delayed their animosity was directed against the Praefect of the City; if the public spectacles were parsimoniously provided for, against the Praetor of the dames: and, unless those officials found means to assuage the tumult, their houses were liable to be attacked and burnt by an infuriated mob.

Such was Rome at the beginning of the fifth century. Secluded in the heart of Italy, her tranquillity had never been disturbed by the commotions which the turbulent barbarians were for ever exciting on the distant frontiers. But in 410 the Visigoths raided Italy, and Alaric forced Rome to capitulate. Forty-five years later the city succumbed to Genseric, but in these cases, beyond the abstraction of a large amount of treasure, it does not appear that any material damage was inflicted. At the nominal fall of the Western Empire the capital was peacefully transferred to Odovacar, and under Theodoric the Senate was maintained in its privileges, whilst the municipal officers continued to be selected and appointed with studious regularity. Repairs of the walls and public buildings were executed systematically, and the Circus was kept up as formerly under governmental supervision. But Roman pride must have been sullied by the frequent submissions to barbarian hosts; and the settlement of the intruders all over Italy on private estates must have reduced the affluence of the nobles to moderate proportions. The glowing picture of Roman life, as it comes from the hand of the fourth-century historian, must therefore be received with large abatement before it can be accepted as delineating society in the capital as it was when entered by the Byzantines.




After the departure of Witigis, Belisarius sent his lieutenants Bessas and Constantine into Tuscany to test the attitude of the inhabitants, and they soon had the good fortune to receive several submissions, among them the towns of Varnia, Berusia, and Spoleto. During this period he himself was busy in repairing the walls and replenishing the granaries of Rome. In the meantime the Gothic king had established himself at the court of Ravenna, where he took active measures to consolidate the affairs of his nation. The Franks, who had already given pledges to Justinian, were won over to a secret alliance by the cession of Gallia; and he repaired his defect of birth by coercing Matasuentha, a maiden in her teens, the daughter of the late queen, into a hasty marriage with him. He now infused all his energies into the war, and, having despatched a fleet with reinforcements to Dalmatia, marched on Rome at the head of one hundred and fifty thousand men. As the forces under Belisarius were reported not to exceed a tithe of that number, he advanced with great confidence, his only fear being that before his arrival the Byzantine general should have saved himself by flight. While he was on his way, Bessas and Constantine, at the call of their chief, returned to Rome with their brigades, having left a small garrison in each of the captured towns.

The first collision with the enemy was brought about by Belisarius himself, who went out to reconnoitre their approach accompanied by a thousand horse. Having blocked the Milvian bridge over the Tiber, a mile and a half to the north of the city, with a tower, he expected that Vitigis would be delayed for some days before he could improvise means for crossing the river. But the guards of the tower fled at the first sight of the enemy, who at once broke through and poured into the plain. Hence before he could effect a retreat he found himself confronted by their cavalry in force, and a desperate encounter immediately ensued. Mounted on a dark charger dashed with white over the forehead, the Master of Soldiers, more admirable than prudent in his conduct, threw himself into the fight with the utmost ardour. The horse, trained for the battle-field, shared his rider's zeal. Belisarius was soon recognized by some deserters, and the word ran through the Gothic ranks that the fortunes of the war were identified with the most conspicuous combatant. He at once became the central mark for javelins and spears, while the bravest of the Goths rode to the spot, eager to fell him with their swords. With untiring energy, wielding his sword, now on this side, now on that, he struck down all who came within reach of his arm, while his guards, with irresistible bravery, closed around him and repelled the assailants. At length their unyielding determination won the victory; the Goths broke and fled to their camp, leaving nearly a thousand of their number on the field. The Romans pursued them, but were soon driven back by a mass of infantry, and with difficulty regained the walls of the city. There they clamoured loudly for admittance, but those within were afraid to open the gates lest the enemy should enter along with the fugitive band. It was now nightfall, and the hero of the day, who was reported fallen, was unrecognizable in the dusky air under a coating of blood and dust. Belisarius now rallied his men, and they turned with a great shout against the attacking party, who thus received the impression that reinforcements had issued from the city and beat a hasty retreat. They were permitted to depart unmolested, and then, the gates being opened, all were enabled to reach their quarters in safely. Notwithstanding his titanic exertions Belisarius had escaped without a wound.




Both sides now matured their dispositions for pressing on and sustaining the siege. Belisarius posted divisions of the garrison at each gate, drafting into the service all the available citizens, and walled up the aqueducts at their place of entry, lest the enemy should be tempted to imitate his own successful stratagem at Naples. At the same time he exhorted the townspeople, who were inclined to jeer at his temerity in defying such a huge army, to be of good cheer, as he had excellent reasons for predicting that he should be victorious over the Goths. On his side Witigis disposed his forces in seven fortified camps on the north of Rome, one being across the river near St. Peter's by the Vatican. In each ease he dug a foss and cast a rampart, the top of which was defended by a line of stakes. Every channel by which provisions could enter the city was blocked, and all the aqueducts were cut through in order to produce a water famine. A variety of machines for storming the fortification, were also constructed: battering-rams; wooden towers as high as the battlements, rolling on four wheels and drawn by oxen: ladders in great number; and bundles of sticks and reeds to fill up the moat and thus give access over level ground to the walls. To resist such attacks engines for throwing heavy stones and darts were placed on the top of the walls by the besieged; huge beams, provided with teeth and worked by ropes, were hinged to the gates so as to beat down the enemy if they attempted to force the portals; and the towers were brought to a standstill by killing the draught-oxen with arrows.

During the first few weeks of the siege many determined efforts to scale the walls were made by the Goths, who expected to overwhelm the small garrison by their superior numbers. The most notable of these attacks was that made on the Aurelian gate, which stood on the river bank and was connected by a bridge over the Tiber with the quadrangular base of the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Constantine, with a small detachment of the garrison, occupied the walls and the monument, from which a colonnade extended to the church of St. Peter. Under cover of the portico the Goths were able to advance to close quarters without fear of missiles shot by hand or from the engines. They emerged from beneath in great force, protecting themselves with large shields and carrying numerous ladders. Some strove to ascend the monument; others crossed the bridge to scale the city walls. As soon as they appeared in the open their attack was hotly contested by the Byzantines, who aimed at them with arrows and stones from the engines. By a sudden impulse, those who defended the Mausoleum seized on the statues with which it was decorated, broke them in pieces, and hurled the fragments with both hands on the heads of the assailants. Thus for some time the battle raged furiously, but at length the Goths were repulsed.

As the siege proceeded, weekly sallies from the gates were studiously organized by Belisarius; and in these encounters the Goths almost invariably suffered in extraordinary disproportion to what might be expected from the paucity of combatants arrayed against them. On one occasion, for example, in a battle at the Salarian gate, thirty thousand of them are stated to have been slain, while the wounded totalled a still larger amount. Having by such results proved his forecast that victory would incline to his side, Belisarius condescended to explain to his staff why he had expressed himself so confidently at the beginning of the siege. The byzantine army, he pointed out, was composed almost entirely of skilful horse-archers, especially the Huns, whilst the Gothic cavalry were provided only with swords and spears, being, moreover, without protective armour. Hence, they were powerless except in a hand-to-hand fight; but in conflict with his mounted bowmen most of them were brought down before they could come to close quarters. Such was his demonstration, but nevertheless, as weeks rolled over, the Roman general found that his position was becoming precarious owing to the diminutive size of his army and the immense host which they had to resist.

The Goths also, taught by experience, ceased to attack the walls in a densely packed throng, a proceeding which was the prime cause of their being repulsed with such huge slaughter, since every missile aimed at them told with deadly effect. He began to fear, therefore, that in the end his task might prove to be greater than he could cope with, and set about devising expedients to lighten the situation. In one way the besieged were not so hard pressed as might have been anticipated; owing to the extensive circuit of the walls, even the wry numerous forces of the Goths were unable to maintain a strict blockade. Thus communication with the outside world, though not devoid of risk, was still facile. Belisarius now forwarded an earnest entreaty to Justinian, praying lor reinforcements, and representing that the hardships endured by the Romans might induce a renewal of their allegiance to the Goths. He also determined to empty the city of all inhabitants who were useless for its defence; and this was done one night after the enemy had returned to their camp. An immense multitude—women, children, and slaves—were cast adrift, and some by boats down the Tiber, others on foot along the Appian Way, fled to the south, ultimately finding a refuge in Campania or Sicily. For a different reason Pope Silverius and several senators were dismissed, as suspicions were aroused that they had begun to treat clandestinely with the Goths.

After this departure, however, the horrors of the siege began to be felt more acutely on both sides. Witigis, seeing that his efforts were being frustrated, stationed a body of troops at the mouth of the Tiber to prevent supplies reaching the city by water; and he also transformed some of the arches of each aqueduct into guard-houses so that they might intercept the import of provisions from the surrounding country. Inside Rome the agitation grew to an extreme, and, as famine and pestilence became rife, a recrudescence of Pagan superstition began to be manifested. In the night some eager hands essayed to open the temple of Janus in the Forum, but the brazen doors, long rusted upon their hinges, refused to turn; and a gaping at their junction was all that attracted notice next day to indicate the ineffectual attempt. At the same time, all who were fit to bear arms clamoured to be led out against the Goths. Soon, however, fresh forces began to arrive from Constantinople, and a regiment of fifteen hundred succeeded in entering the city. Later on, a fleet manned by three thousand Isaurians reached Ostia and hovered about the river mouth to convoy provision ships which were preparing to run the blockade. Procopius and Antonina had, in fact, been sent to Naples to organize relief measures, and they returned before long with copious stores. A number of small boats navigated the Tiber and revictualled Rome unopposed, although observed by the Goths, either because they had become apathetic, or because overtures for peace had already been made by their King.

The siege had commenced in March, and such was the progress of events during the succeeding nine months. When December had already been entered upon, Witigis found that his position was becoming desperate, whilst the capture of Rome seemed more hopeless than ever. An almost endless succession of defeats, together with disease and deficiency of food in his camp, had been productive of enormous losses to the Gothic army; and it was now rumoured that both by land and sea a great increment of forces was on the way from Constantinople. He resolved, therefore, to make peace with the Empire, if any reasonable terms could be obtained from his adversaries. A conference in Rome between three Gothic delegates and the Master of Soldiers was the result of his decision. With the tone adopted by the Byzantine Court at the beginning of the war rankling in their mind, the representatives of Witigis recapitulated the story of Odovacar, Theodoric, and the Emperor Zeno; and thence inferred the injustice of the present invasion of Italy. Founding his arguments on the most arrogant pretence or ignorance, Belisarius, in reply, asserted virtually that Theodoric had been merely a general employed by Zeno to restore Italy to his dominions, and charged him roundly with perfidy and ingratitude for setting himself up on an independent throne in that country. In the face of such insolent or ignorant assurance, expostulation was evidently futile, and the Goths could only proceed to mention hesitatingly their bid for peace. They would cede Sicily, Campania, and Naples, and would pay a yearly tribute to the Emperor. He thanked them ironically for their generosity; they would give away what was no longer theirs; Britain in return should be presented to the Goths; a much finer island than Sicily; it had once belonged to the Romans. “At least”, they urged, “let us communicate with the Emperor, and let there be a truce for three months until we receive his answer”. To this proposal he gave a careless acquiescence, and the deputation then withdrew.

Belisarius, however, had no intention of not pushing his advantage in arms. Reinforcements had been arriving in batches, whilst the enemy had relaxed their vigilance in the belief that hostilities had practically ceased. Finding himself, therefore, with a surplus of troops at Rome, he began to throw detachments into every town of the neighbourhood, which was not in a state of active defence. At the same time he ordered John, a nephew of Vitalian, to proceed northwards with two thousand horse, cautioning him in a tone of levity not to begin raiding the country at once, but to await instructions. Seeing that the attitude of the Roman general amounted to no more than a farcical observance of the truce, Witigis, on his side, began to ponder over some insidious stratagem by which he might capture Rome. First, he attempted a nocturnal entry through a subterranean aqueduct; but after exploring its channel for some distance into the city, his men were brought up by the recent obstructions and had to retreat. Then he bribed some of the purveyors of wine to the garrison to ply the sentinels on the river wall, where they were fewest in number, with drugged liquor, but one of his intended agents betrayed the plot. He even tried to rush the walls at the Pincian gate by a sudden onset with ladders and fire during the dinner hour, but the approach of the surprise party was signalled, so that they were met and repulsed.

Through the Goths being seduced into these attempts by his own enterprises, Belisarius found the opportunity he was looking for, and paid no further heed to the factitious truce. He now, therefore, gave the expected cue to John, who at once began to devastate central Italy, in a chase from Anximum to Urbinum, and shortly arrived within sight of Ariminum on the Adriatic. Here was another traitress, ready to betray her nation for the sake of personal pique and vexation; and John soon received a message from Matasuentha, the unwilling wife of the Gothic king, proposing that the city should be surrendered to him with her collusion. This treachery was quickly consummated, and the lieutenant-general took possession of that important stronghold.

As had been foreseen, consternation spread through the Gothic camp before Rome the moment the news arrived that their families and homesteads to the north were being looted by the Byzantines; and Witigis, himself in great concern at the malevolence of his wife, decided at once to raise the siege. With the least delay possible the barbarian host, having fired their encampment, put themselves in motion and marched northwards on their return to Ravenna. The unusual activity was soon observed by the Romans, whereupon Belisarius discharged all his available forces through the Pincian gate to assault the retreating enemy. A sharply contested battle ensued, but the Goths shortly took to flight and made all haste to cross the Milvian bridge. There the crush became excessive, with the result that numbers were drowned in their armour as they attempted the narrow passage, whilst those in the rear were falling under the weapons of their adversaries. Thus ended the siege, having lasted for one year and nine days, during which time sixty-nine battles were fought between the besieged and the besiegers.

Belisarius was now free to undertake the conquest of central and northern Italy, and the next eighteen months were occupied by his efforts in that direction. While he was still pent up within the walls of Rome the Bishop of Milan and several of the chief citizens had waited on him with a request that he would send a small garrison to take possession of their city, and relieve them from the dominion of the Goths. One of his first cares was to act in accordance with their suggestion; and thus the greatest city of the West, after Rome, surrendered voluntarily to the Byzantines. Subsequently many other fortified towns, including Ancona, Urbinum, Faesulae, Civita Vecchia and Auximum were captured or submitted as a matter of choice. The Goths, on their side, were continually active and not always without success; but they failed in their efforts to recapture Ariminum, the beleaguering force having fled precipitately at the simultaneous appearance of Belisarius on land and of a Roman fleet in the bay. Throughout this war the Romans had the command of the sea, sometimes with much inconvenience to the Goths, who were thus liable to have their supplies cut off, but no naval battle was fought.

One of the most notable occurrences of this year (538) was the advent into Italy of Narses, Count of the Sacred Largesses, with a command of seven thousand men. The Illustrious rank of this official, and his brilliant position at Court, seemed to unfit him for a subordinate post; and immediately on his arrival doubts arose in the minds of many as to whether he should not be regarded as the commander-in-chief. Although a eunuch, he had proved himself to be a man of exceptional energy, and had won a reputation for sagacity which placed him in the foremost rank among the statesmen of his time. The two leaders met at Firmum, and Narses at once adopted an attitude of independence by pronouncing an opinion which was in conflict with that of the Master of Soldiers on a vital question. Ariminum was hard-pressed by the enemy, and appeals had been sent out for succour, but the intervening country was held in force by the Goths, and Belisarius thought a march to the place too risky to be undertaken. In addition, his scheme for the defence of the town had been nullified by John's refusal to follow his instructions, and he was inclined to mark his sense of the infraction of discipline by leaving him to his own resources. But the eunuch pointed out that the loss of such an important stronghold, defended by a general of the first rank, might be an irreparable blow to the Imperial prestige, whilst it might be considered that John had been sufficiently punished by having been reduced to such a strait. Belisarius yielded, and the town was relieved successfully, as stated above; but John, on his release, declined to express any thanks to his chief, declaring that to Narses only was his gratitude due. After this incident the army was split into two factions, one of which adhered to Belisarius, whilst the others ranged themselves around Narses. Being anxious for unity, the former convoked a meeting of the staff, and, having presented his plan of campaign, called upon the eunuch to second his efforts with loyal consistency. Narses, however, dissented from his views, and expressed his intention of leading the forces which were at his disposal to a different part of the country. Thereupon Belisarius produced a rescript from the Emperor, in which all were enjoined to obey him as sole commander-in-chief, whilst Narses was excluded by a special clause from having any claim to exercise such authority. Nevertheless the dissident party, distorting a formal expression of the rescript by a verbal quibble into permission to do as they liked, seceded from the Master of Soldiers, and decamped with the Imperial treasurer to wage war according to their own judgment in the province of Aemilia.

The greatest calamity which befell Italy during this war was the recapture of Milan by the Goths, a disaster which appeared to be a direct result of the counsels of Belisarius having been rendered inoperative by Narses. As soon as the sedition of that city was announced to Witigis, he detached one of his generals to beset it with a large force of Goths and ten thousand Burgundians sent to his aid clandestinely by Theodebert, King of the Franks. Belisarius wished to despatch one half of the Byzantine army at once to its relief, but Nurses disputed the necessity, so that his proposal fell to the ground. A small force which was sent feared to advance beyond the Po because of its manifest insufficiency, and when at last Narses had complied with an earnest request of Belisarius to supplement it effectively, it was too late to avert the capture. The city had been ill provided to stand a siege, and, while the inhabitants were reduced to feed on dogs and mice, the garrison, being at the last extremity, were induced to accept terms as to their own safety from the Goths. Thus Milan was delivered up, and the barbarians, being incensed beyond measure with the Milanese for their defection, massacred them revengefully to the number of three hundred thousand. When Justinian heard of this catastrophe, he recalled Narses to Constantinople, recognizing that an injurious division of authority was an inevitable consequence of his presence at the seat of war.

Early in the next year (439) Theodebert launched himself on a remarkable enterprise, and, having crossed the Alps, appeared suddenly in Northern Italy at the head of one hundred thousand men. With the exception of the King and his staff, all these warriors consisted of infantry, their only arms being a sword, a short-handled axe, and a shield. Their method of lighting was to project the axe with the utmost force against their opponent's shield, which was thus rendered useless by fracture, and then to attack impetuously with the sword. This formidable host crossed the Po, and soon came in sight of the Gothic camp, from which joyful acclamations were forthwith sent up in anticipation of the splendid assistance which was about to be rendered them by their ally. Soon, however, they found themselves involved in a deadly tumult, myriads of axes were flung, and their disabled comrades were slaughtered on every side, until the whole Gothic army was routed and hurried with headlong speed towards Ravenna. Shortly the disordered bands of Goths were noticed flying across the country by the Roman forces engaged in that district, among them being the redoubtable John, and they immediately concluded that Belisarius had fought a successful battle, and was in hot pursuit of the beaten enemy. All rose expectantly and advanced in the direction of the impulse, when they also found them­selves in collision with the invading host, which bore down on them in an irresistible mass. Overwhelmed by the immensely superior numbers, they turned and, abandoning all their positions, hurried by forced marches to join Belisarius in Tuscany. The reason of this extraordinary incursion was now clearly apprehended; believing that the Romans and Goths had reduced each other to a state of inanition, the King of the most faithless of nations (the Franks are so characterized) thought the moment opportune to possess himself of a large tract of Italian territory. A remonstrance was at once addressed to him by Belisarius, who appealed to the obligations of probity, and the compelling nature of his previous engagements to divert him from his purpose. But a better argument was at hand: bivouacked in an exhausted country, with a deficient commissariat and no water supply but the tainted stream of the Po, an epidemic of dysentery soon pervaded the teeming multitude, and they hastened to regain their own habitations after losing a third of their number.

Before the summer of this, the fifth year of the war, the Goths had been driven from nearly all their principal strongholds, and Witigis, with the bulk of his troops, had been obliged to take refuge in Ravenna. But the outposts of the Gothic capital, Faesulae and Auximum, both strong by nature, and munitioned with especial care, had to be reduced before the blockade of the regal seat could be safely undertaken. Several months were consumed in these operations, and the Byzantine army was so distressed by the protracted defence of Auximum, which was attacked by the Master of Soldiers in person, that the troops were on the verge of mutiny. At length the garrison was induced to capitulate with the honours of war, and Belisarius was free to devote all his strategy to the capture of Ravenna. That city was built in a swamp near the sea-shore, about forty miles below the estuaries of the Po, and was unapproachable on all sides by an army in force. It was necessary, therefore, to produce a famine within the walls in order to bring about its surrender. Under the circumstances, however, the Byzantine general possessed every facility for achieving this object. The Goths had neither an army nor a fleet which could succour them from without, and hence the Romans were unhampered while making their dispositions for cutting off supplies from every direction. The environs were hemmed in by their land forces, whilst their fleet rode at anchor off the harbour. At the same time the transit of provision boats down the Po from the fields of the north and west was blocked by guards stationed on the river banks.

Directly Theodebert heard that Witigis was in a critical position, he made a diplomatic attempt to encompass the subjugation of Italy. A legation arrived with the proposal that the two kings should reign as joint sovereigns, and contingently an army of fifty thousand Franks, which had already surmounted the Alps, should at the first onset annihilate the Byzantines with their axes. A companion embassy from Belisarius, who had been apprized of the intended debate, was received in audience at the same time. By them the Gothic king was warned not to put his trust in numbers, but to believe that the Imperial army would find means to deal with a multitude of Franks as effectively as it had already done with his own very numerous forces. Moreover, he urged, the perfidy displayed by the recent invasion proved that no compact would be binding on the Franks. After consultation with his nobles Vitigis decided that he would open peace negotiations with Justinian, and dismissed the envoys of Theodebert with a negative reply. Legates were then despatched to Constantinople, ready to accept any terms of peace which should be granted by the Byzantine Court.

Belisarius now became intent on reducing the Goths to the direst necessity through shortage of foodstuffs. Externally the exclusion of supplies had been carried to perfection, but he had been informed that the granaries of Ravenna were well stocked. Bribery of miscreants, effected through the agency of Matasuentha, the vindictive queen, removed this obstacle to the speedy capitulation of the city. Incendiaries were set to work, and the public storehouses were suddenly consumed by fire. At this juncture plenipotentiaries arrived bringing the Emperor's answer to the peace proposals, which afforded complete satisfaction to the Goths. Witigis was to reign beyond the Po, and to retain one half of the regal treasures, while the rest of Italy, and the other half were in future to be subject to Justinian. It was essential, however, that the Master of Soldiers should ratify this treaty, but when the legates presented themselves in his camp for the purpose he refused to be a party to it, feeling assured that he would soon be master of Ravenna, and of the person of the Gothic king with everything appertaining to him.

The Goths now became filled with distrust, and despaired altogether of their fortunes. Witigis, as an unfortunate leader, had lost their confidence, and they feared that surrender would result in their all being deported to some unwelcome habitation in the East. To their anxious cogitations one way out of the impass at length presented itself Belisarius should be their King, and under his strenuous rule prosperity would be restored to the Goths in Italy. Acting on the impulse, they made the proposition formally to the general, and at the same time a private intimation was conveyed to him from Witigis that he was ready lo abdicate in his favour. But his ambition was not of the autocratic order, and subservience to authority was one of the main features of his character. The promise he had given ingenuously he intended loyally to keep; and in the offer of kingship he saw no more than an incident which enabled him to serve more promptly his Imperial master. He prepared then to profit by the obsequious mood of the Goths towards himself, and to gain his end by an astute policy of compliance instead of by a protracted struggle in arms. His assurances, couched in somewhat ambiguous language, were deemed by the Goths to be tantamount to an acceptance, believing, as they did, their offer to be so tempting as to constitute in itself a guarantee of his good faith. Belisarius now removed from the vicinity of Ravenna on various commissions, all officers with their commands, whom recent events had taught him to distrust, retaining only those troops in whose attachment to himself he had full confidence. With the latter he entered the city and at once proceeded to arrange everything apparently in the sole interest of the inhabitants. He was cordially received, but the Gothic women were disappointed at the appearance of the Byzantines, and were inclined to rate their own male relatives for allowing themselves to be beaten by men of inferior physique to themselves. A plentiful market was introduced by sea, and all the surplus Gothic forces were dismissed with a safe conduct to their respective homes. Having thus equalized the Roman and Gothic troops in the town, Belisarius repudiated his supposed sovereignty, and declared himself to be merely the faithful vicegerent of Justinian. He completed his measures by placing Witigis amicably in nominal custody, and took possession of the palace with all its valuable contents.

As soon as the proceedings of Belisarius were disclosed to the Gothic nation in general, they immediately elected a new King, choosing Ildibad, a man of the first rank, for promotion to that dignity. At the same time the Master of Soldiers was being criminated at the Byzantine Court, the worst motives being attributed to him by his adversaries; and his recall was shortly issued, but ostensibly merely that he might lie at hand in view of the threatening activity of the Persian monarch. When this news was brought to the Goths, they assumed his imminent disgrace, and made another determined effort to induce him to accept the king­ship. In him they saw the potential saviour of their race, and even Ildibad was moved to declare that he was ready to deposit the crown and purple at his feet, but Belisarius remained firm in his resolution: they reminded him of his late breach of faith, even taunted him with preferring servitude to independence, all to no purpose. Nothing could shake his conviction that while Justinian lived, he was in honour bound to shun any semblance of rivalry with his authority.

For the second time Belisarius returned to Constantinople with a captive king and all the precious externals of majesty in his train. On this occasion, however, no public spectacle was decreed to celebrate the extension of the Empire, and the success of its arms. Perhaps that event was now considered as merely normal by the Court; perhaps the Emperor had felt insignificant in the popular eye when compared with the victorious general who piled the spoils of victory before his throne. The Senators were gratified with a sight of the treasures of Theodoric heaped up within the palace, but the multitude were excluded from contemplation of the exhilarating display. Yet the name of Belisarius was on every tongue; and in his daily progresses through the capital he was gazed on with admiration by the inhabitants. He moved about on horseback amid a concourse of his personal guards, all mounted like himself, whom he maintained to the number of seven thousand. Vandals, Moors, and Goths swelled their ranks, and indicated by their distinctive visages with what a variety of nations he had fought. Belisarius was tall and handsome, with a countenance of singular dignity, equalled only by the modesty and affability of his address. In war he was determined and resourceful, but never oblivious of humanity, and always mindful of the interests of those dependent on him. His soldiers were known to him severally and constantly observed, their valour richly rewarded, their losses repaired, whilst they were firmly restrained from all excess. Hence he was adored by the rural population who came in contact with him, since the grain crops and fruit trees were preserved from damage under his generalship. He was not less distinguished for temperance than for his other virtues; and, although the camp was often thronged with beautiful female captives, he never even bestowed a concupiscent glance on them; nor in the use of wine did he ever exceed the strictest moderation.