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Heodoric's Tomb
Italy Under Odovacar
Roman Officials--cassiodorus
Rome And Ravenna
Storm And Stress
The Arian League
The Conquest Of Italy
The Might Of Attila
The Southward Migration
The Theodoric Of Saga
Theodoric's Ancestors
Theodoric's Boyhood


Justinian begins his great Gothic war--Dalmatia recovered for the
Empire--Belisarius lands in Sicily--Siege of Palermo--The South of Italy
overrun--Naples taken by a stratagem--Theodahad deposed by the
Goths--Witigis elected king--The Goths evacuate Rome--Belisarius enters
it--The long siege of Rome by the Goths who fail to take it--Belisarius
marches northward and captures Ravenna.

The Emperor's preparations for the Gothic war were soon made, and in the
summer of 535 two armies were sent forth from Constantinople, one
destined to act on the east and the other on the west of the Adriatic.
When we think of the mighty armaments by means of which Pompey and
Caesar, or even Licinius and Constantine, had contended for the mastery
of the Roman world, the forces entrusted to the generals of Justinian
seem strangely small. We are not informed of the precise number of the
army sent to Dalmatia, but the whole tenor of the narrative leads us to
infer that it consisted of not more than 3,000 or 4,000 men. It fought
with varying fortunes but with ultimate success. Salona, the Dalmatian
capital, was taken by the Imperial army, wrested from them by the Goths,
retaken by the Imperialists. The Imperial general, a brave old barbarian
named Mundus, fell dead by the side of his slaughtered son; but another
general took his place, and being well supported by a naval expedition,
succeeded, as has been said, in reconquering Salona, drove out the
Gothic generals, and reincorporated Dalmatia with the Empire. This
province, which had for many generations been treated almost as a part
of Italy, was now for four centuries to be for the most part a
dependency of Constantinople. The Dalmatian war was ended by the middle
of 536.

But it was of course to the Italian expedition that the eyes of the
spectators of the great drama were most eagerly turned. Here Belisarius
commanded, peerless among the generals of his own age, and not surpassed
by many of preceding or following ages. The force under his command
consisted of only 7,500 men, the greater part of whom were of barbarian
origin--Huns, Moors, Isaurians, Gepidse, Heruli, but they were welded
together by that instinct of military discipline and that unbounded
admiration for their great commander and confidence in his success which
is the surest herald of victory. Not only in nationality but in mode of
fighting they were utterly unlike the armies with which republican Rome
had won the sovereignty of the world. In those days it might have been
truly said to the inhabitant of the seven-hilled city as Macaulay has
imagined Capys saying to Romulus:

Thine, Roman is the pilum:
Roman the sword is thine.
The even trench, the bristling mound,
The legion's ordered line--

but now, centuries of fighting with barbarian foes, especially with the
nimble squadrons of Persia, had completely changed the character of the
Imperial tactics. It was to the deadly aim of his Hippo-toxotai
(mounted bowmen) that Belisarius, in pondering over his victories,
ascribed his antonishing success. He said that at the beginning of his
first great battle he had carefully studied the characteristic
differences of each army, in order that he might prevent his little band
from being overborne by sheer force of numbers. The chief difference
which he noted was that almost all the Roman (Imperialist) soldiers and
their Hunnish allies were good Hippo-toxotai, while the Goths had none
of them practised the art of shooting on horseback. Their cavalry fought
only with javelins and swords, and their archers fought on foot covered
by the horsemen. Thus till the battle became a hand-to-hand encounter
the horsemen could make no reply to the arrows discharged at them from a
distance, and were therefore easily thrown into disorder, while the
foot-soldiers, though able to reply to the enemy's archers, could not
stand against the charges of his horse.[144] From this passage we can
see what were the means by which Belisarius won his great victories.
While the Goth, with his huge broadsword and great javelin, chafing for
a hand-to-hand encounter with the foe, found himself mowed down by the
arrows of a distant enemy, the nimble barbarian who called himself a
Roman solder discharged his arrows at the cavalry, dashed in impetuous
onset against the infantry, wheeled round, feigned flight, sent his
arrows against the too eagerly advancing horsemen, in fact, by Parthian
tactics won a Roman victory, or to use a more modern illustration, the
Hippo-toxotai were the Mounted Rifles of the Imperial army.

The expedition under the command of Belisarius made its first attack on
the Gothic kingdom in Sicily. Here the campaign was little more than a
triumphant progress. In reliance on its professions of loyalty,
Theodoric and his successors had left the wealthy and prosperous island
almost bare of Gothic troops, and now the provincials, eager to form
once more a part of the Eternal Roman Empire, opened the gates of city
after city to the troops of Justinian; only at Palermo was a stout
resistance made by the Gothic soldiers who garrisoned the city. The
walls were strong, and that part of them which bordered on the harbour
was thought to be so high and massive as not to need the defence of
soldiers. When unobserved by the foe, Belisarius hoisted up his men,
seated in boats, to the yard-arms of his ships and made them clamber out
of the boats on to the unguarded parapet. This daring manoeuvre gave him
the complete command of the Gothic position, and the garrison
capitulated without delay. So was the whole island of Sicily won over
to the realm of Justinian before the end of 535, and Belisarius, Consul
for the year, rode through the streets of Syracuse on the last day of
his term of office, scattering his donative to the shouting soldiers
and citizens.

Operations in 536, the second year of the war, were suspended for some
months by a military mutiny at Carthage, which called for the presence
of Belisarius in Africa. But the mutineers quailed before the very name
of their late commander. Carthage was delivered from the siege wherewith
they were closely pressing it, a battle was won in the open field, and
the rebellion though not yet finally crushed was sufficiently weakened
for Belisarius to return to Sicily in the late spring of 536. He crossed
the Straits of Messina, landed in Italy, was received by the provincials
of Bruttii and Lucania with open arms, and met with no check to his
progress till, probably in the early days of June, he stood with his
army under the walls of the little town of Neapolis, which in our own
days is represented by a successor ten times as large, the superbly
situated city of Naples. Here a strong Gothic garrison held the place
for Theodahad and prevented the surrender which many of the citizens,
especially those of the poorer class, would gladly have made. An orator,
who was sent by the Neapolitans to plead their cause in the general's
camp, vainly endeavoured to persuade Belisarius to march forward to
Rome, leaving the fate of, Naples to be decided under the walls of the
capital. The Imperial general could not leave so strong a place untaken
in his rear, and though himself anxious enough to meet Theodahad,
commenced the siege of the city. His land army was supported by the
fleet which was anchored in the harbour, yet the operations of the siege
languished, and after twenty days Belisarius seemed to be no nearer
winning the prize of war than on the first day. But just then one of his
soldiers, a brave and active Isaurian mountaineer, reported that he had
found a means of entering the empty aqueduct through which, till
Belisarius severed the communication, water had been supplied to the
city. The passage was narrow, and at one point the rock had to be filed
away to allow the soldiers to pass, but all this was done without
arousing the suspicions of the besieged, and one night Belisarius sent
six hundred soldiers, headed by the Isaurian, into the aqueduct, having
arranged with them the precise portion of the walls to which they were
to rush as soon as they emerged into the city. The daring attempt
succeeded. The soldiers found themselves in a large cavern with a narrow
opening at the top, on the brink of which was a cottage. Some of the
most active among them swarmed up the sides of the cave, found the
cottage inhabited by one old woman who was easily frightened into
silence, and let down a stout leather thong which they fastened to the
stem of an olive-tree, and by which all their comrades mounted. They
rushed to that part of the walls beneath which Belisarius was standing,
blew their trumpets, and assisted the besiegers to ascend. The Gothic
garrison were taken prisoners and treated honourably by Belisarius. The
city suffered some of the usual horrors of a sack from the wild Hunnish
soldiers of the Empire, but these were somewhat mitigated, and the
citizens who had been taken prisoners were restored to liberty, in
compliance with the earnest entreaties of Belisarius.

The fall of Neapolis, to whose assistance no Gothic army had marched,
and the unhindered conquest of Southern Italy crowned the already
towering edifice of Theodahad's unpopularity. It is not likely that this
selfish and unwarlike pedant--a nithing, as they probably called
him--had ever been aught but a most unwelcome necessity to the
lion-hearted Ostrogoths, and for all but the families and friends of the
three slain noblemen, the imprisonment and the permitted murder of his
benefactress must have deepened dislike into horror. His dishonest
intrigues with Constantinople were known to many, intrigues in which
even after Amalasuentha's death he still offered himself and his crown
for sale to the Emperor, and the Emperor, notwithstanding his brave
words about a truceless war, seemed willing to pay the caitiff his
price. Some gleams of success which shone upon the Gothic arms in
Dalmatia towards the end of 535 filled the feeble soul of Theodahad with
presumptuous hope, and he broke off with arrogant faithlessness the
negotiations which he had begun. Still, with all the gallant men under
him longing to be employed, he struck not one blow for his crown and
country, but shut himself up in his palace, seeking by the silliest
auguries to ascertain the issue of the war. The most notable of these
vaticinations was the Augury of the Hogs, which he practised by the
advice of a certain Jewish magician. He shut up in separate pens three
batches of hogs, each batch consisting of ten. One batch was labelled
Romans (meaning the Latin-speaking inhabitants of Italy), another
Goths, and the third Soldiers of the Emperor. They were all left for
a certain number of days without food, and when the appointed day was
come, and the pens were opened, all the Gothic hogs but two were found
dead. The Emperor's soldiers, with very few exceptions, were living;
of the Romans half only were alive, and all had lost their bristles.
Ridiculous as the manner of divination was, it furnished no inapt type
of the miseries which the Gothic war was to bring upon all concerned in
it, and not least upon that Latin population which was still so keen to
open its gates to Belisarius.

But, as I have said, when Neapolis had fallen, the brave Gothic warriors
felt that they had submitted too long to the rule of a dastard like
Theodahad. They met in arms, a nation-parliament, on the plain of
Regeta, about forty-three miles from Rome in the direction of Terracina.
Here there was plenty of grass for the pasture of their horses, and
here, while the steeds grazed, the dismounted riders could deliberate as
to the fortunes of the state. There was found to be an unanimous
determination that Iheodahad should be dethroned, and, instead of him,
they raised on the shield, Witigis, a man somewhat past middle age, not
of noble birth, who had distinguished himself by his deeds of valour
thirty years before in the war of Sirmium. As soon as Theodahad heard
the tidings of his deposition, he sought to escape with all speed to
Ravenna. The new king ordered a Goth named Optaris to pursue him and
bring him back alive or dead. Optaris had his own wrongs to avenge, for
he had lost a rich and beautiful bride through Theodahad's purchased
interference on behalf of another suitor. He followed him day and night,
came up with him while still on the road, made him lie down on the
pavement, and cut his throat as a priest cuts the throat of a
victim.[145] So did Theodahad perish, one of the meanest insects that
ever crawled across the page of history.

Witigis, the new king of the Goths, had personal courage and some
experience of battles, but he was no statesman and, as the event proved,
no general. By his advice, the Goths committed the astounding blunder of
abandoning Rome and concentrating their forces for defence in the north
of Italy. It is true that a garrison of four thousand Goths was left in
the city under the command of the brave veteran Leudaris, but,
unsupported by any army in the field, this body of men was too small to
hold so vast a city unless they were aided by the inhabitants. As for
Witigis, he marched northward to Ravenna with the bulk of the Gothic
army and there celebrated, not a victory, but a marriage. The only
remaining scion of the race of Theodoric was a young girl named
Matasuentha, the sister of Athalaric. In some vain hope of consolidating
his dynasty, Witigis divorced his wife and married this young princess.
The marriage was, as might have been expected, an unhappy one.
Matasuentha shared the Romanising tendencies of her mother, and her
spirit revolted against the alleged reasons of state which gave her this
elderly and low-born barbarian for a husband. In the darkest hour of the
Gothic fortunes (540) Matasuentha was suspected of opening secret
negotiations with the Imperial leaders, and even of seeking to aid the
progress of their arms by crime.

By the end of November, 536, Belisarius, partly aided by the treachery
of the Gothic general who commanded in Samnium, had recovered for the
Empire all that part of the Italian peninsula which, till lately, formed
the Kingdom of Naples. Pope Silverius, though he had sworn under duresse
an oath of fealty to King Witigis, sent messengers offering to surrender
the Eternal City, and the four thousand Goths, learning what
negotiations were going forward, came to the conclusion that it was
hopeless for them to attempt to defend the City against such a general
as Belisarius and against the declared wish of the citizens. They
accordingly marched out of Rome by a northern gate as Belisarius entered
it on the south.[146] The brave old Leudaris, refusing to abandon his
trust, was taken prisoner, and sent, together with the keys of the City,
to Justinian, most undoubted evidences of victory.

Belisarius took up his headquarters in the Pincian Palace (on that hill
at the north of the City which is now the fashionable promenade of the
Roman aristocracy), and from thence commanded a wide outlook over that
part of the Campagna on which, as he knew, a besieging army would
shortly encamp. He set to work with all speed to repair the walls of the
City, which had been first erected by Aurelian and afterwards repaired
by Honorius at dates respectively 260 and 130 years before the entry of
Belisarius. Time and barbarian sieges had wrought much havoc on the line
of defence, the work of repair had to be done in haste, and to this day
some archaeologists think that it is possible to recognise the parts
repaired by Belisarius through the rough style of the work and the
heterogeneous nature of the materials employed in it. All through the
winter months his ships were constantly arriving with cargoes of corn
from Sicily, which were safely stored away in the great
State-warehouses. These preparations were viewed with dismay by the
citizens, who had fondly imagined that their troubles were over when the
Gothic soldiers marched forth by the Porta Flaminia; that any fighting
which might follow would take place on some distant field, and that they
would have nothing to do but calmly to await the issue of the combat.
This, however, was by no means the general's idea of the right way of
playing the game. He knew that the Goths immensely outnumbered his
forces; he knew also that they were of old bad besiegers of cities, the
work of siege requiring a degree of patience and scientific skill to
which the barbarian nature could not attain; and his plan was to wear
them down by compelling them to undertake a long and wearisome blockade
before he tried conclusions with them in the open field. If the Roman
clergy and people had known that this was in his thoughts, they would
probably not have been so ready to welcome the eagles of the Emperor
into their city.

Some hint of the growing disaffection of the Roman people was carried to
Ravenna and quickened the impatience of Witigis, who was now eager to
retrieve the blunder which he had committed in the evacuation of Rome.
He marched southward with a large army, which is represented to us as
consisting of 150,000 men, and in the early days of March he was already
at the other end of the Milvian Bridge,[147] about two miles from Rome.
Belisarius had meant to dispute the passage of the Tiber at this point.
The fort on the Tuscan side of the river was garrisoned, and a large
body of soldiers was encamped on the Roman side; but when the garrison
of the fort saw the vast multitude of the enemy, who at sunset pitched
their tents upon the plain, they despaired of making a successful
resistance, and abandoning the fort under cover of the night, skulked
off into the country districts of Latium. Thus one point of the game was
thrown away. Next morning the Goths finding their passage unopposed,
marched quietly over the bridge and fell upon the Roman camp. A
desperate battle followed, in which Belisarius, exposing himself more
than a general should have done, did great deeds of valour. He was
mounted on a noble steed, dark roan, with a white star on its forehead,
which the barbarians, from that mark on its brow, called Balan. Some
Imperial soldiers who had deserted to the enemy knew the steed and his
rider, and shouted to their comrades to aim all their darts at Balan. So
the cry Balan! Balan! resounded through the Gothic ranks, and though
only imperfectly understood by many of the utterers, had the effect of
concentrating the fight round Belisarius and the dark-roan steed. The
general was nobly protected by the picked troops which formed his guard.
They fell by scores around him, but he himself, desperately fighting,
received never a wound, though a thousand of the noblest Goths lay dead
in the narrow space of ground where this Homeric combat had been going
forward. The Imperialists not merely withstood the Gothic onset, but
drove their opponents back to their camp, which had been already erected
on the Roman bank of the Tiber. Fresh troops, especially of cavalry,
issuing forth from thence turned the tide of battle, and, overborne by
irresistible numbers, Belisarius and his soldiers were soon in full
flight towards Rome. When they arrived under the walls, with the
barbarians so close behind them that they seemed to form one raging
multitude, they found the gates closed against them by the
panic-stricken garrison. Even Belisarius in vain shouted his orders to
open the gates; in his gory face and dust-stained figure the defenders
did not recognise their brilliant leader. A halt was called, a desperate
charge was made upon the pursuing Goths, who were already beginning to
pour down into the fosse; they were pushed back some distance, not far,
but far enough to enable the Imperialists to reform their ranks, to make
the presence of the general known to the defenders on the walls, to have
the gates opened, and in some sort of military order to enter the city.
Thus the sun set on Rome beleaguered, the barbarians outside the City.
Belisarius with his gallant band of soldiers thinned but not
disheartened by the struggle, within its walls, and the citizens--

with terror dumb,
Or whispering with white lips, 'The foe, they come, they come!

Of the great Siege of Rome, which began on that day, early in March,
537, and lasted a year and nine days, till March, 538, a siege perhaps
the most memorable of all that Roma AEterna has seen and has groaned
under, as part of the penalty of her undying greatness, it will be
impossible here to give even a meagre outline. The events of those
wonderful 374 days are chronicled almost with the graphic minuteness of
a Kinglake by a man whom we may call the literary assessor of
Belisarius, the rhetorician Procopius of Caesarea. One or two incidents
of the siege may be briefly noticed here, and then we must hasten
onwards to its close.

Owing to the vast size of Rome not even the host of the Goths was able
to accomplish a complete blockade of the City. They formed seven camps
six on the left and one on the right bank of the Tiber, and they
obstructed eight out of its four teen gates; but while the east and
south sides of the City were thus pretty effectually blockaded, there
were large spaces in the western circuit by which it was tolerably easy
for Belisarius to receive reinforcements, to bring in occasional convoys
of provisions, and to send away non-combatants who diminished his
resisting power. One of the hardest blows dealt by the barbarians was
their severance of the eleven great aqueducts from which Rome received
its water. This privation of an element so essential to the health and
comfort of the Roman under the Empire (who resorted to the bath as a
modern Italian resorts to the cafe or the music hall), was felt as a
terrible blow by all classes, and wrought a lasting change, and not a
beneficial one, in the habits of the citizens, and in the sanitary
condition of Rome. It also seemed likely to have an injurious effect on
the food supply of the City, since the mills in which corn was ground
for the daily rations of the people were turned by water-power derived
from the Aqueduct of Trajan. Belisarius, however, always fertile in
resource, a man who, had he lived in the nineteenth century, would
assuredly have been a great engineer, contrived to make Father Tiber
grind out the daily supply of flour for his Roman children. He moored
two barges in the narrowest part of the stream, where the current was
the strongest, put his mill-stones on board of them, and hung a
water-wheel between them to turn his mills. These river water-mills
continued to be used on the Tiber all through the Middle Ages, and even
until they were superseded by the introduction of steam.

The Goths did not resign themselves to the slow languors of a blockade
till they had made one vigorous and confident attempt at a storm. On the
eighteenth day of the siege the terrified Romans saw from their windows
the mighty armament approaching the City. A number of wooden towers as
high as the walls, mounted on wheels, and drawn by the stout oxen of
Etruria, moved menacingly forward amid the triumphant shouts of the
barbarians, each of whom had a bundle of boughs and reeds under his arm
ready to be thrown into the fosse, and so prepare a level surface upon
which the terrible engines might approach the walls. To resist this
attack Belisarius had prepared a large number of Balistae (gigantic
cross-bows worked by machinery and discharging a short wedge-like bolt
with such force as to break trees or stones) had planted on the walls,
great slings, which the soldiers called Wild Asses (Onagri), and had
set in each gate the deadly machine known as the Wolf, and which was a
kind of double portcullis, worked both from above and from below.

But though the Gothic host was approaching with its threatening towers
close to the walls, Belisarius would not give the signal, and not a
Balista, nor a Wild Ass was allowed to hurl its missiles against the
foe. He only laughed aloud, and bade the soldiers do nothing till he
gave the word of command. To the citizens this seemed an evil jest, and
they grumbled aloud at the impudence of the general who chose this
moment of terrible suspense for merriment. But now when the Goths were
close to the fosse, Belisarius lifted his bow, singled out a mail-clad
chief, and sent an arrow through his neck, inflicting a deadly wound. A
great shout of triumph rose from the Imperial soldiers as the proudly
accoutred barbarian rolled in the dust. Another shot, another Gothic
chief slain, and again a shout of triumph. Then the signal to shoot was
given to the soldiers, and hundreds of bolts from Wild Ass and Balista
were hurtling through the air, aimed not at Gothic soldiers, but at the
luckless oxen that drew the ponderous towers. The beasts being slain, it
was impossible for the Goths who were immediately under the walls and
exposed to a deadly discharge of arrows from the battlements, to move
their towers either backward or forward, and there they remained mere
laughing-stocks in their huge immobility, till the end of the day, when
they with all the rest of the Gothic enginery were given as a prey to
the flames. Then men understood the meaning of the laughter of
Belisarius as he watched the preparations of the barbarians and derided
their childish simplicity in supposing that he would allow them calmly
to move up their towers till they touched his wall, without using his
artillery to cripple their advance.

Though the attack with the towers had thus failed there was still fierce
fighting to be done on the south-east and north-west of the City. At the
Praenestine Gate (Porta Maggiore), that noble structure which is formed
out of the arcades of the Aqueducts, there was a desperate onslaught of
the barbarians, which at one time seemed likely to be successful, but a
sudden sortie of Belisarius taking them in their rear turned them to
headlong flight. In the opposite quarter the Aurelian Gate was commanded
by the mighty tomb-fortress then known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, and
now, in its dismantled and degraded state, as the Castle of Sant'Angelo.
Here the peculiar shape of the fortress prevented the defenders from
using their Balistae with proper effect on the advancing foe, and when
the besiegers were close under the walls the bolts from the engines flew
over their heads. It seemed as if, after all, by the Aurelian Gate the
barbarians would enter Rome, when, by a happy instinct, the garrison
turned to the marble statues which surrounded the tomb, wrenched them
from their bases, and rained down such a terrible shower of legs and
arms and heads of gods and goddesses on their barbarian assailants that
these soon fled in utter confusion.

The whole result of this great day of assault was to convince Witigis
and his counsellors that the City could not be taken in that manner, and
that the siege must be turned into a blockade. A general sally which
Belisarius ordered, against his better judgment, in order to still the
almost mutinous clamours of his troops, and which took place about the
fiftieth day of the siege, proved almost as disastrous for the Romans as
the assault had done for the Goths. It was manifest that this was not a
struggle which could be ended by a single blow on either side. All the
miseries of a long siege must be endured both by attackers and attacked,
and the only question was on which side patience would first give
way--whether the Romans under roofs, but short of provisions, or the
Goths better fed, but encamped on the deadly Campagna, would be the
first to succumb to hunger and disease.

Witigis had been in his day a brave soldier, but he evidently knew
nothing of the art of war. He allowed Belisarius to disencumber himself
of many useless consumers of food by sending the women, the children,
and the slaves out of the City. His attention was disturbed by feigned
attacks, when the reinforcements, which were tardily sent by Justinian,
and the convoys of provisions, which had been collected by the wife of
Belisarius, the martial Antonina, were to be brought within the walls.
And, lastly, when at length, about the ninth month of the siege, he
proposed a truce and the reopening of negotiations with Constantinople,
he did not even insert in the conditions of the truce any limit to the
quantity of supplies which under its cover the Imperialists might
introduce into the City. Thus he played the game of his wily antagonist,
and abandoned all the advantages--and they were not many--which the nine
months of blockade had won for him.

The parleyings which preceded this truce have an especial interest for
us, whose forefathers were at this very time engaged in making England
their own. The Goths, after complaining that Justinian had broken the
solemn compact made between Zeno and Theodoric as to the conquest of
Italy from Odovacar, went on to propose terms of compromise. They were
willing, they said, for the sake of peace to give up Sicily, that
large and wealthy island, so important to a ruler who had now become
master of Africa. Belisarius answered with sarcastic courtesy: Such
great benefits should be repaid in kind. We will concede to the Goths
the possession of the whole island of Britain, which is much larger than
Sicily, and which was once possessed by the Romans as Sicily was once
possessed by the Goths. Of course that country, though much larger than
Sicily, was one the possession of which was absolutely unimportant to
the Emperor and his general. What mattered it, they might well say,
who owned that misty and poverty-stricken island. The oysters of
Rutupiae, some fine watch-dogs from Caledonia, a little lead from the
Malvern Hills, and some cargoes of corn and wool--this was all that the
Empire had ever gained from her troublesome conquest. Even in the world
of mind Britain had done nothing more than give birth to one second-rate
heretic.[148] The curse of poverty and of barbarous insignificance was
upon her, and would remain upon her till the end of time.

The truce, as will be easily understood, brought no alleviation to the
sufferings of the Goths, who were now almost more besieged than
besiegers, and who were dying by thousands in the unhealthy Campagna.
Before the end of March, 538, they broke up their encampment, and
marched, in sullen gloom, northwards to defend Ravenna, which was
already being threatened by the operations of a lieutenant of
Belisarius. The 150,000 men who had hastened to Rome, dreading lest the
Imperialists should escape before they could encompass the City, were
reduced to but a small portion of that number, perhaps not many more
than the 10,000 which, after all his reinforcements had been received,
seems to have been the greatest number of actual soldiers serving under
Belisarius in the defence of Rome.

I pass rapidly over the events of 538 and 539. The Imperial generals
pressed northwards along the Flaminian Way. Urbino, Rimini, Osimo, and
other cities in this region were taken by them. But the Goths fought
hard, though they gave little proof of strategic skill; and once, when
they recaptured the great city of Milan, it looked as though they might
almost be about to turn the tide of conquest. Evidently they were far
less demoralised by their past prosperity than the Vandals. Perhaps also
the Roman population of Italy, who had met with far gentler and more
righteous treatment from the Ostrogoths than their compeers in Africa
had met with from the Vandals, and who were now suffering the horrors of
famine, owing to the operations of the contending armies, assisted the
operations of the Byzantine invaders less than the Roman provincials in
Africa had done. Whatever the cause, it was not till the early months of
540, nearly five years after the beginning of the war, that Belisarius
and his army stood before the walls and among the rivers of Ravenna,
almost the last stronghold of Witigis. Belisarius blockaded the city,
and his blockade was a far more stringent one than that which Witigis
had drawn around Rome. Still there was the ancient and well-founded
reputation for impregnability of the great Adrian city, and, moreover,
just at this time the ambassadors, sent by Witigis to Justinian,
returned from Constantinople, bearing the Emperor's consent to a
compromise. Italy, south of the Po, was to revert to the Empire; north
of that river, the Goths were still to hold it, and the royal treasure
was to be equally divided between the two states. Belisarius called a
council of war, and all his officers signed a written opinion that the
proposals of the Emperor were excellent, and that no better terms could
be obtained from the Barbarians. This, however, was by no means the
secret thought of Belisarius, who had set his heart on taking Witigis as
a captive to Constantinople, and laying the keys of Ravenna at his
master's feet. A strange proposition which came from the beleaguered
city seemed to open the way to the accomplishment of his purpose. The
Gothic nobles suggested that he, the great Captain, whose might in war
they had experienced, should become their leader, should mount the
throne of Theodoric, and should be crowned King of the Italians and
Goths, the change in the order of the names indicating the subordinate
position which the humbled barbarians were willing to assume. Belisarius
seemed to acquiesce in the proposal (though his secretary assures us
that he never harboured a thought of disloyalty to his master), and
received the oath of the Gothic envoys for the surrender of the city,
postponing his own coronation-oath to his new subjects till he could
swear it in the presence of Witigis and all his nobles, for Witigis,
too, was a consenting, nay, an eager, party to the transaction. Thus,
by an act of dissimulation, which brought some stain on his knightly
honour (we are tempted to use the language of chivalry in speaking of
these events), but which left no stain on his loyalty to the Emperor of
Rome, did Belisarius obtain possession of the impregnable Ravenna. He
marched in, he and his veterans, into the famine-stricken city. When the
Gothic women saw the little dark men filing past them through the
streets, and contrasted them with their own long-limbed, flaxen-haired
giants, they spat in the faces of their husbands, and said: Are you
men, to have allowed yourselves to be beaten by such manikins as these?

Before the triumphal entry was finished the Goths had no doubt
discovered that they were duped. No coronation oath was sworn.
Belisarius, still the humble servant of Justinianus Augustus, did not
allow himself to be raised on the shield and saluted as King of the
Italians and Goths. The Gothic warriors were kindly treated, but
dismissed to their farms between the Apennines and the Adriatic. Ravenna
was again an Imperial city, and destined to remain so for two centuries.
Witigis, with his wife and children, were carried captives to
Constantinople where, before many years were over, the dethroned monarch
died. His widow, Matasuentha, was soon remarried to Germanus, the nephew
of Justinian, and thus the granddaughter of Theodoric obtained that
position as a great lady of Byzantium which was far more gratifying to
her taste than the rude royalty of Ravenna.

There is one more personage whose subsequent fortunes must be briefly
glanced at here. Cassiodorus, the minister of Theodoric and
Amalasuentha, remained, as we regret to find, in the service of
Theodahad when sole king and composed his stilted sentences at the
bidding of Amalasuentha's murderer. Witigis also employed him to write
his address to his subjects on ascending the throne. He does not seem to
have taken any part in the siege of Rome, and before the tide of war
rolled back upon Ravenna, he had withdrawn from public affairs. He
retired to his native town, Squillace, high up on the Calabrian hills,
and there founded a monastery and a hermitage in the superintendence of
which his happy years glided on till he died, having nearly completed a
century of life. His was one of the first and greatest of the literary
monasteries which, by perpetuating copies of the Scriptures, and the
Greek and Roman classics, have conferred so great a boon on posterity.
When Ceolfrid, the Abbot of Jarrow, would offer to the Holy Father at
Rome a most priceless gift, he sent the far-famed Codex Amiatinus, a
copy of the Vulgate, made by a disciple of Cassiodorus, if not by
Cassiodorus himself.

Next: Totila

Previous: Amalasuentha

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