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 Empe
or'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.