This story of Procopius, if it have any foundation at all, seems to show that Theodoric's last days were passed in delirium, and might suggest a doubt whether in the heart-break of these later years he had not endeavoured to drown his sorrows in wine. But it is interesting to see that the Greek historian, though writing from a somewhat hostile point of view, recognises emphatically the justice of Theodoric's ordinary administration, and considers the execution of Symmachus and Boethius (we ought to add the imprisonment of the Pope and his co-ambassadors) as the one tyrannical series of acts which marred the otherwise fair fame of a patriot-king.
The tomb of Theodoric still stands, a noble monument of the art of the sixth century, outside the walls of the north-east corner of Ravenna. This edifice, which belongs to the same class of sepulchral buildings as the tomb of Hadrian (now better known as the Castle of S. Angelo), is built of squared marble stones, and consists of two storeys, the lower one a decagon, the upper one circular. The roof is composed of one enormous block of Istrian marble 33 feet in diameter, 3 feet in height, and weighing, it is said, nearly 300 tons. It is a marvel and a mystery how, with the comparatively rude engineering appliances of that age, so ponderous a mass can have been transported from such a distance and raised to such a height. At equal intervals round the outside of this shallow, dome-like roof, twelve stone brackets are attached to it. They are now marked with the names of eight Apostles and of the four Evangelists. One conjecture as to their destination is that they were originally crowned with statues, perhaps of these Apostles and Evangelists; another, to me not very probable, is, that the ropes used (if any were used) in lifting the mighty monolith to its place were passed through these, which would thus be the handles of the dome.
[Footnote 137: The mausoleum of Theodoric was a work that excited the admiration of his contemporaries. The "Anonymous Valesii" writes "Se autem vivo fecit sibi monumentum ex lapide quadrato, mirae magnitudinis opus, et saxum ingens quod superponeret inquisivit".]
This mausoleum, which is generally called La Rotonda by the citizens of Ravenna, was used in the Middle Ages as the choir of the Church of S. Maria della Rotonda, and divine service was celebrated in it by the monks of an adjoining monastery. It is now a "public monument" and there are few traces left of its ecclesiastical employment. The basement, as I have seen it, is often filled with water, exuding from the marshy soil: the upper storey is abandoned to gloom and silence.
Of Theodoric himself, whose body, according to tradition, was once deposited in a porphyry vase in the upper storey of the mausoleum, there is now no vestige in the great pile which in his own life-time he raised as his intended sepulchre. Nor is this any recent spoliation. Agnellus, Bishop of Ravenna, writing in the days of Charlemagne, says that the body of Theodoric was not in the mausoleum, and had been, as he thought, cast forth out of its sepulchre, and the wonderful porphyry vase in which it had been enclosed placed at the door of the neighbouring monastery. A recent enquirer has connected these somewhat ambiguous words of Agnellus with a childish story told by Pope Gregory the Great, who wrote some seventy years after the death of Theodoric. According to this story, a holy hermit, who lived in the island of Lipari, on the day and hour of Theodoric's death saw him, with bound hands and garments disarranged, dragged up the volcano of Stromboli by his two victims Symmachus and Pope John, and hurled by them into the fire-vomiting crater. What more likely, it is suggested, than that the monks of the adjoining monastery should seize the opportunity of some crisis in the troubled history of Ravenna to cast out the body of Theodoric from its resting-place, and so, to the ignorant people, give point to Pope Gregory's edifying narrative as to the disposal of his soul?
[Footnote 138: "Sed ut mihi videtur, ex sepulcro projectus est, et ipsa urna, ubi jacuit, ex lapide pirfiretico valde mirabilis ante ipsius monasterii aditum posita est".]
[Footnote 139: Corrado Ricci, "Della Corazzo d'Oro", in "Cronologio Ravennate", 1879.]
A discovery, which was made some forty years ago in the neighbourhood of Ravenna, may possibly throw some light on these mysterious words of Bishop Agnellus: "As it seems to me, he was cast forth out of his sepulchre". In May, 1854, the labourers employed in widening the bed of the Canale Corsini (now the only navigable water-way between Ravenna and the sea) came, at the depth of about five feet beneath the sea-level, on some tumuli, evidently sepulchral in their character, made of bricks laid edgeways. Near one of these tumuli, but lying apart by itself, was a golden cuirass adorned with precious stones. The rascally labourers, when they caught sight of their treasure, feigned to see nothing, promptly covered it up again, and returned at nightfall to divide the spoil. A little piece of gold which was found lying on the ground caused enquiries to be set on foot; the labourers were arrested, but unfortunately the greater part of the booty had already been cast into the melting-pot. A few pieces were, however, recovered, and are now in the museum at Ravenna, where they figure in the catalogue as part of the armour of Odovacar. This is, however, a mere conjecture, and another, at least equally probable conjecture, is that the cuirass of gold once covered the breast of Theodoric. The spot where it was found is about one hundred and fifty yards from the Rotonda, and if the monks had for any reason decided to pillage the sepulchre of its precious deposit, this was a not improbable place where they might hide it for a time. Certainly the self-denial which they showed in not stripping the body of its costly covering is somewhat surprising, but possibly the conspirators were few in number and the chances of war may have removed them, before they had an opportunity to disinter the body a second time and strip it of its cuirass, which moreover could not have been easily disposed of without exciting suspicion.
One little circumstance which seems somewhat to confirm this theory, is the fact that there is an enrichment running round the border of the cuirass very similar in character to a decoration of the cornice in Theodoric's tomb.
[Footnote 140: A "meandro", as it is called by Ricci.]
Whether this theory be correct or not, the indignity which was certainly at some time offered to the mortal remains of the great Ostrogothic king reminds us of the similar insults offered to the body of the great Puritan Protector, Cromwell, like Theodoric, was carried to his grave with all the conventional demonstrations of national mourning. He was dragged from it again and cast out "like an abominable branch" when the legitimate monarchy was restored, when "Church and King" were again in the ascendant, and when the stout soldiers, who had made him in all but the name king de facto, were obliged to bow their heads beneath the recovered might of the king de jure.
Accession of the Emperor Justinian—His place in history—Overthrow of the Vandal kingdom in Africa by Belisarius—Battles of Ad Decimum and Tricamaron—Belisarius' triumph—Fall of the Burgundian kingdom—Death of Amalaric, king of Spain—Amalasuentha's troubles with her subjects as to her son's education—Secret negotiations with Justinian—Death of Athalaric—Theodahad made partner in the throne—Murder of Amalasuentha—Justinian declares war.
Our special subject, the life of Theodoric, is ended, but so closely was the king identified with the people that the narration can hardly close without a sketch of the fortunes of the Ostrogothic nation during the generation which followed his death. I shall not attempt any detailed history of this period, but shall draw merely its broadest outlines.
Notwithstanding the melancholy and apparently threatening circumstances which attended the death of Theodoric, his descendants succeeded to his power without a contest. In Spain, his grandson, Amalaric, who had probably by this time attained his majority, was hailed as king of the Visigoths. In Italy, Athalaric, now barely ten years old, became the nominal ruler, the real powers being exercised by his widowed mother, Amalasuentha, who was guided more implicitly than her father had been by the counsel of Cassiodorus, and availed herself of his fertile pen for the proclamations in which she addressed the subjects of her son. In writing to the Roman Senate, Cassiodorus made his child-sovereign enlarge on the felicity of the country in which the accession of a new ruler could take place without war or sedition or loss of any kind to the republic. "On account of the unsurpassed glory of the Amal race, the promise of my youth has been preferred to the merits of all others. The chiefs, glorious in council and in war, have flocked to recognise me as King, so gladly that it seems like a Divine inspiration, and the kingdom has been changed as one changes a garment. The general consent of Goths and Romans has crowned one King, and they have confirmed their allegiance by an oath. You, though distant from my person, are as near to me in heart as they, and I therefore call on you to follow their example. We all know that the most excellent fathers of the Senate love their King more fervently than other ranks of the State, in proportion to the greater benefits which they have received at his hand".
To the Senators, who had witnessed the denunciation of Albinus, and who had been compelled with anguish of heart to vote the condemnation of Boethius, this allusion to the great benefits which they had received from their Gothic sovereign might seem almost like mockery: yet there can be little doubt that the Senate did hail the accession of Athalaric with acclamations, and that Amalasuentha's administration of affairs was popular with the Roman inhabitants of Italy. It might well be so, for this princess, born under an Italian sky, and accustomed from her childhood to gaze upon the great works which Rome had constructed for the embellishment of the peninsula, was no Goth at heart, but enthusiastically, even unwisely, Roman. In religious matters we are almost surprised to find that she adhered to the Arian creed of her father and her husband, but all talk of persecution of the Catholics ceased, and no more was heard of the enforced cession of their churches to the Arians. And in everything else but religion the sympathies of the new ruler were entirely on the side of the subject, not the dominant, nationality. As it had been said of old that "Captive Greece subdued her conquerors", so now was it with subject Italy and its Gothic mistress. A diligent student of Greek as well as of Latin literature, able to discourse with the ambassadors of Constantinople in well-turned Attic sentences, or to deliver a stately Latin oration to the messengers of the Senate, she could also, when the occasion required brevity, wrap herself in the robe of taciturnity which she inherited from her Teutonic ancestors, and with few, diplomatically chosen words, make the hearer feel his immeasurable inferiority to the "Lady of the Kingdoms". A woman with a mind thus richly stored with the literary treasure of Greece and Rome was likely to look with impatient scorn on the barren and barbarous annals of her people. We in whose ears the notes of the Teutonic minstrelsy of the Middle Ages are still sounding, we who know that Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe were all one day to arise from beneath the soil of Germanic literature, can hardly conceive how dreary and repulsive the national sagas, and even the every-day speech of her people, would seem in that day to a woman of great intellectual endowments, nor how strong would be the antagonism between culture and national patriotism in the heart of a princess like Amalasuentha.
Thus the position of things during the reign of the young Athalaric was strangely altered from that which had existed under his grandfather. The "King of the Goths and Romans" was under the sway of a mother who would make him virtually "King of the Romans", only leaving the Goths outside in moody isolation. Of course every step that Amalasuentha, in the enthusiasm of her love for things Roman, took towards the Roman Senate carried her farther from the traditions of her people, and lost her the love of some stern old Gothic warriors. And, moreover, with all her great intellectual endowments, it is clear that this highly cultivated, statuesque, and stately woman had little skill in reading character, little power in estimating the force of human motives. She had read (we may conjecture) Virgil and Sophocles, but she did not know what was in the heart of a child, and she knew not how long a scoundrel will wait for his revenge.
At the time that the Gothic kingdom was thus being administered by a child and a woman, the Roman Empire, which had seemed effete and decaying, was astonishing the world by its recovered and increasing vigour. Since the death of Theodosius (more than one hundred and thirty years before that of Theodoric) no great historic name had illustrated the annals of the Eastern Empire, But now, a year after the accession of Athalaric at Ravenna, the death of Justin, in the palace at Constantinople, (1st Aug., 527) brought upon the scene an Emperor who, whatever his faults, however disastrous (as I hold it to have been) his influence on the general happiness of the human race, made for himself undoubtedly one of the very greatest names in the whole series from Julius to Palaeologus—the world-famous Emperor Justinian.
With Justinian's long wars on the Eastern frontier of his Empire we have here no concern. He was matched there against a terrible rival, Chosroes Nushirvan, and at most succeeded (and that not always) in upholding the banner of Europe against triumphant Asia. His domestic affairs, his marriage with the actress Theodora, the strange ascendancy which she exerted over him through life, his magnificent buildings, the rebellion in Constantinople (springing out of the factions of the Hippodrome) which had all but hurled him from his throne,—these also are all beyond our province. So too is his noblest title to immortality, the composition by his orders of that magnificent legal trilogy, the Code, the Digest, and the Institutes, which summed up whatever was most worthy of preservation in the labours of Roman lawyers for nine centuries in the past, and sent it forward for at least thirteen centuries into the future to ascertain the rights and to mould the institutions of men dwelling in lands of the very existence of which no Roman, from the first Julius to the last Constantine, ever dreamed. Justinian as legislator is as much out of our present focus as Justinian the antagonist of Persia.
But what we have here briefly to concern ourselves with is that marvellous display of renewed energy by which the Empire, under Justinian, made its presence felt in Western Europe and Africa. During the thirty-eight years of his reign the great world-kingdom, which for five generations had been losing province after province to the Barbarians, and which, when she had once lost a game had seemed never to have the heart to try her fortune again on the same battle-field, now sent out her fleets and her armies, apparently with the same confidence of success which had once animated her Scipios and her Sullas, again planted her victorious standards on the citadel of Carthage, made the New Carthage in Spain, Malaga, and distant Cadiz her own, and—what concerns our present subject more nearly—once more asserted the unrestricted dominion of the Roman Augustus over Italy "from the Alps to the Sea". Let us beware of thinking of all these great changes as strange and precarious extensions of "the Byzantine Empire". To do so is to import the language of much later ages into the politics of the sixth century. However clearly we may now see that the relations thus established between Constantinople and the western shores of the Mediterranean were artificial, and destined not to endure, to Justinian and his contemporaries these were not "conquests by Constantinople", but "the recovery of Africa, Italy, and part of Spain for the Roman Republic".
The first of the Teutonic states to fall was the kingdom of the Vandals. Its ruin was certainly hastened by the estrangement between its royal house and that of the Ostrogoths. We left Theodoric's sister, the stately and somewhat domineering Amalafrida in prison at Carthage. Soon after her brother's death she was executed or murdered, by order of her cousin the Catholic reformer, Hilderic. This outrage was keenly resented by the court of Ravenna. Hostilities between the two states were apparently imminent, but probably Amalasuentha felt that war, whether successful or unsuccessful, would be too dangerous for the dynasty, and sullen alienation took the place of the preparation of fleets and armies. In June, 531, five years after the accession of Athalaric, the elderly and effeminate Hilderic was deposed by his martial subjects who had long chafed under the rule of such a sovereign, and his cousin, the warlike Gelimer, ascended the throne. The deposition of Hilderic, followed for the present not by his death but by his close imprisonment, furnished the ambitious Justinian with a fair pretext for war, since Hilderic was not only the ally of the Empire, and a Catholic, but was descended on his mother's side from the great Theodosius and related to many of the Byzantine nobility. In spite of the opposition of the more cautious among his counsellors, Justinian decided to despatch an expedition for the conquest of Carthage, and about Midsummer, 533, a fleet of 500 ships, manned by 20,000 sailors and conveying 15,000 soldiers (10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry), sailed forth from the Bosphorus into the Sea of Marmora, bound for the Libyan waters. At the head of the army was Belisarius, now about twenty-eight years of age, a man who came, like his Imperial master, from the highlands of Illyricum, but who, unlike that master, was probably of noble lineage. Three years before, he had won the battle of Daras, defeating the Persian general, whose army was nearly twice as numerous as his own, and he had already shown signs of that profound knowledge of the science, and that wonderful mastery of the art of war which he was afterwards to display in many a hard-fought campaign, and which entitled him to a place in the innermost circle of the greatest generals that the world has seen.
The voyage of the Imperial fleet was slow and tedious, and had the Vandal king been well served by his ambassadors there was ample time to have anticipated its attack. But Gelimer seems to have been quite ignorant of the projected expedition, and had actually sent off some of his best troops under the command of his brother, Tzazo, to suppress a rebellion which had broken out in Sardinia. Moreover, the estrangement between Vandals and Ostrogoths was a most fortunate event for the Imperial cause. In consequence of that estrangement Belisarius was able to land in Sicily to refresh his soldiers wearied with a long voyage, and to obtain accurate information as to the preparations, or rather no-preparations, of the enemy.
Early in September the army landed at the promontory of Caput-vada, about one hundred and thirty miles south-east of Carthage, and began their march towards the capital. They journeyed unopposed through friendly Catholic villages, and royal parks beautiful in verdure and abounding in luscious fruits, until, after eleven days, they arrived at the tenth milestone from Carthage, and here came the shock of war. Gelimer had planned a combined attack on (13th Sept., 533) the Imperial army, by himself, operating on their rear, and his brother Ammatas making a vigorous sally from Carthage and attacking them in front. If the two attacks had been really simultaneous, it might have gone hardly with the Imperial army; but Ammatas came too soon to the field, was defeated and slain. Gelimer arriving later on in the day inflicted a partial defeat on the troops of Belisarius, but, coming to the spot where lay the dead body of his brother, he stayed so long to bewail and to bury him that Belisarius had time to rally his forces and to convert defeat into victory. Gelimer fled to the open country. Belisarius pressed on and without further opposition entered the gates of Carthage, where he was received by the majority of the citizens, who spoke the Latin tongue, and professed the Catholic faith, with unconcealed rejoicing. Some Roman merchants who had been confined for many weeks in the dungeon were (15th Sept., 533) liberated by their anxious gaoler. But the Imperial victory came too late for the captive Hilderic, as he had been already put to death in prison by order of his successor. There was thus neither friend nor foe left to bar Justinian's claim to rule as Augustus over Africa.
[Footnote 141: Ad Decimum.]
Belisarius was accompanied in this, as in many subsequent expeditions, by his secretary and counsellor, the rhetorician Procopius, who has written the story of their wars in a style worthy of his hero-chief. He describes the sensations of surprise at their own good fortune, with which Belisarius and his suite found themselves at noon of the 15 th September, sitting in Gelimer's gorgeous banquet-hall, served by the Vandal's lackeys and partaking of the sumptuous repast which he had ordered to be prepared in celebration of his anticipated victory. At this point Procopius indulges in a strain of meditation which is not unusual with him: "We may see hereby how Fortune wantons in her pride, how she teaches us that she is mistress of all things, and that she will not suffer Man to have anything which he can call his own".
Though Carthage was taken, the war was not yet over. Tzazo, who, in the midst of his victories in Sardinia, heard of the ruin of his country, hastened home with a valiant and hitherto triumphant army, and joined his brother, Gelimer, on the plain of Bulla, in Numidia. When the two brothers met they clasped one another round the neck and for long could not loosen their hold, yet could they speak no word to each other, but wrung their hands and wept; and so did each one of the companions of Gelimer with some one of the officers of the army of Sardinia. But tears soon gave place to the longing for revenge, and the two armies, forming one strong and determined host, moved eastward to Tricamaron, about twenty miles distant from Carthage, and began a partial blockade of the capital. On the 15 th December Belisarius met the Vandals in battle-array. The fight was more stubbornly contested than that of Ad Decimum; but Tzazo fell in the thickest of the battle, and again the impulsive nature of Gelimer was so moved by the sight of a brother's blood that he renounced the struggle for his crown and galloped away from the field.
Now the conquest of Africa was indeed completed, but Belisarius was set upon capturing the person of the fugitive king, as an ornament to his triumph and the pledge of victory. The tedious task was delegated to a Teutonic chief named Pharas, who for three months beleaguered the impregnable hill on the confines of Mauritania, on the summit of which was the fortress in which Gelimer had taken refuge. The incidents which marked his final surrender have been often described. He who had been of late the daintily-living lord of Africa found life hard indeed among the rough, half-savage Moors, who were partly his body-guard and partly his gaolers. An ambassador sent by Pharas to exhort him to surrender and cast himself on the clemency of Justinian brought back his proud refusal to submit to one who had done him so much undeserved wrong, but brought back also a pathetic request that his courteous foe would grant him three things, a lyre, a sponge, and a loaf of bread. The loaf was to remind him of the taste of baked bread, which he had not eaten for months; the sponge was to bathe his eyes, weakened with continual tears; the lyre, to enable him to set to music an ode which he had composed on the subject of his misfortunes. A few days more passed by, and then came Gelimer's offer to surrender at discretion, trusting to the generosity of the Emperor. What finally broke down his proud spirit was the sight of a delicately nurtured child, the son of one of his Vandal courtiers, fighting with a dirty little Moor for a half-baked piece of dough, which the two boys had pulled out of the ashes where it was baking.
Gelimer, whose reason was perhaps somewhat unhinged by his hardships, gave a loud laugh—professedly at the instability of human greatness—when brought into the presence of Belisarius. He and his captors soon embarked for Constantinople, where they arrived probably about the middle of 534. It had thus taken less than a year to level with the ground the whole fabric of Vandal dominion, reared a century before by the terrible Gaiseric, and to reunite Africa to the Roman Republic. Belisarius received a splendid triumph, the chief figure of which was of course the captive Gelimer, who, with a purple robe on his shoulders, paced through the streets, shouting ever and anon in a melancholy voice, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity". When the procession reached the palace, Gelimer by constraint and Belisarius willingly prostrated themselves at the feet of "Justinianus Augustus". The promises on the faith of which the Vandal king had surrendered himself were well kept. He might have been raised to the dignity of Patrician, if he would have renounced his Arian creed. As it was, he lived in honourable exile on the large estates in Galatia, which he had received from the bounty of the Emperor.
In the same year (534) which witnessed the triumph of Belisarius over the conquered Vandals came the final overthrow of the Burgundian monarchy. In 523 Sigismund, the son-in-law of Theodoric, the convert to Catholicism who ordered the murder of his son, had been defeated in battle by the sons of Clovis, and together with his wife and two sons had been thrown down a deep well and so slain. Theodoric, incensed at the murder of his grandson, had taken part against Sigismund and obtained a large accession of territory in Dauphine as the price of his alliance with the Franks. But a brother of Sigismund's, named Godamir, rallied the beaten Burgundians, defeated the Franks in a battle in which one of their kings was slain, and succeeded in maintaining for eleven years longer the independence of his nation. In the year 532, however, the Frankish kings again entered the valley of the Rhone with their desolating hosts, and in 534 they completed its conquest and added it to the great unwieldy monarchy over which they ruled in a kind of family partnership.
In Spain too the Frankish kings had achieved some successes, and at the cost of a descendant of Theodoric. Amalaric, king of the Visigoths, had married, probably after his grandfather's death, Clotilda, daughter of Clovis, and for a time seems to have pursued a tolerant policy towards the Catholics, but gradually drifted into a position of unreasoning and barbarous hostility towards them, hostility from which his own wife was not exempted. He caused filth to be cast at the devout Clotilda, when she was on her way to the Catholic basilica, nay, he even lifted his hand to strike her. The cowardly blow brought blood, and the drops of this blood, royal and Frankish, collected on a handkerchief and sent northward over the Pyrenees, brought the two brother-kings of the Franks into Spain (431). Amalaric was defeated, fled to Barcelona, and sought to escape thence by sea, probably to Italy; but his passage to the harbour was barred by his own mutinous soldiers, and he perished by a javelin hurled by one of them. The Franks returned, enriched with great booty, to their own land, and Theudis, the Ostrogothic noble, whose power had long overshadowed his master's, and who was accused by some of having caused the mutiny of his troops, succeeded to his throne.
[Footnote 142: At Narbonne. The part of Languedoc called Septimania was still held by the Visigoths.]
So had the great Arian league and the network of family alliances, by which Theodoric had sought to guard it from the spoiler, passed away into nothingness: and thus did the Ostrogothic kingdom now stand alone and without allies before the rejuvenated Empire, flushed with victory, and possessing such a head as Justinian, such a terrible right arm as Belisarius. Not many months had elapsed from the battle of Tricamaron when the ambassadors of the Empire appeared at Ravenna to present those claims out of which Greek ingenuity would soon fashion a pretext for war. The town of Lilybaeum, in Sicily had long ago been handed over by Theodoric to the Vandal king Thrasamund as part of Amalafrida's dowry. Apparently it had been recaptured by the Goths after the death of the Vandal queen, but Justinian urged that it was still the rightful possession of Gelimer, and therefore of himself, who now by the fortune of war was Gelimer's master. Then there were certain Huns, deserters from the Emperor's service, who had been allowed by the governor of Naples to enlist in the Gothic army. A Gothic general who had to conduct some warlike operations near Sirmium had crossed the Danube and sacked Gratiana, a city in Moesia. All these grievances were rehearsed by the Imperial ambassador, who hinted, not obscurely, that war would follow if they were not redressed.
In fact, however, the real object of the embassy which came with this formal statement of grievances was to discuss a strange proposition which had been made by Amalasuentha, one for the understanding of which we must go back a few years (we are not told exactly how many) to an event which illustrates the manner in which the Gothic princess conducted the education of her son. She wished, we are told, to have him brought up in all respects after the manner of the Romans, and forced him every day to go to the house of a grammarian to learn his lessons. Moreover, she chose out three Gothic ancients, men of wisdom and of calm, reasonable temperament, and assigned these venerable persons to Athalaric as his constant companions. This manner of training the kingly boy did not at all suit the ideas of the Goths, the Roman historian says, "because they wished him to be trained in more barbaric style in order that they might have the more liberty for oppressing their subjects": a modern historian may suggest, "because they remembered their own childhood and knew what was in the heart of a boy", of which Amalasuentha, who was evidently elderly and wise in her cradle, had no conception. One day, for some childish offence, the young king was slapped in the face by his mother, and thereupon, in a tempest of passionate tears, he burst out of the women's apartments and appeared sobbing in the men's hall of audience. All Gothic hearts were stirred when they saw the princely Amal thus mishandled, and the warriors began to hint the insulting suspicion that Amalasuentha wished to educate her child into his grave, that she might marry again and make her new husband king of the Goths and Romans. The nobles of the nation were gathered together, and seeking an audience with the princess, their spokesman thus addressed her: "O lady, you are not dealing justly by us, nor doing that which is expedient for the nation, in your way of educating your son. Letters and book-learning are very different from manly courage and fortitude, and to hand a lad over to the teaching of greybeards is generally the way to make him a coward and a caitiff. He who is to do daring deeds and win glory in the world must be emancipated from fear of the pedagogue and be practising martial exercises. Your father Theodoric would never suffer his Goths to send their sons to the grammarian-school, for he used to say: 'If they fear their teacher's strap now they will never look on sword or javelin without a shudder.' And he himself, who won the lordship of such wide lands, and died king of so fair a kingdom which he had not inherited from his fathers, knew nothing even by hearsay of this book-learning. Therefore, lady, you must say 'good-bye' to these pedagogues, and give Athalaric companions of his own age, who may grow up with him to manhood and make of him a valiant king after the pattern of the barbarians".
Amalasuentha listened with outward calmness to this harangue, and though filled with secret indignation recognised the people's voice to which she was forced to bow. The meek old men were removed from Athalaric's bed-chamber; he was released from his daily attendance on the grammarian; and some young Gothic nobles were assigned to him as associates. But the rebound was too sudden. His barbarian comrades led astray the young king's heart after wine and women. His health began to be undermined by his excesses, and the surly ill-nature which he manifested towards his mother was a sure indication of the defenceless position in which she would find herself as soon as her son should assume the reins of government. Feeling these reins slipping from her grasp, she opened secret negotiations with Justinian to assure herself of his protection in case she should be driven from Italy by rebellion. But in the meantime she singled out three of the Gothic nobles who had been prominent in the revolt against her authority and sent them, on one pretext or another connected with the defence of the realm, to widely separated towns on the extreme borders of Italy. Though severed, they still found means to hold mutual communications and to plot the downfall of the princess. Informed of this conspiracy, she freighted a vessel with forty thousand pounds' weight of gold (L1,6000,000) and sent it to Dyrrhachium, on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, to await her further orders. If things should go ill with her she would thus, in any event, have a line of retreat opened towards Constantinople and a comfortable subsistence assured to her in that capital. Having taken these precautions, she gave a commission to some of her bravest and most devoted followers (for she evidently had a strong party in her favour) to seek out the three disaffected nobles in their various places of banishment and put them to death. Her henchmen obeyed her bidding; no popular tumult was excited; the sceptre seemed to be more firmly than ever grasped by the hand of the princess; the ship, without having discharged its cargo, was ordered back from Dyrrhachium, and there came a slight lull in the underground negotiations with Constantinople.
But another candidate for the favours of Justinian was also appearing in the royal family of the Goths. Theodahad, son of Amalfrida, and therefore nephew of Theodoric, was a man now pretty far advanced in middle life. He had received in his boyhood that literary and rhetorical training which Amalasuentha yearned to bestow on her son; he was well versed in the works of the Roman orators and could discourse learnedly on the dialogues of Plato. Unhappily, this varnish of intellectual culture covered a thoroughly vile and rotten character. He was averse to all the warlike employments of his forefathers, but his whole heart was set on robbery, under the form of civilisation, by means of extortion and chicane. He had received from his uncle ample estates in the fertile province of Tuscany, but he was one who, as the common people said, "could not endure a neighbour", and, on one pretence or other, he was perpetually adding farm after farm and villa after villa to his enormous property. Already during his uncle's reign the grave pen of Cassiodorus had been twice employed to censure Theodahad's avarice, "a vulgar vice, which the kinsman of the king and a man of Amal blood is especially bound to avoid", and to complain that "you, who should have shown an example of glorious moderation, have caused the scandal of high-handed spoliation". After Theodoric's death the process of unjust accumulation went on rapidly. From every part of Tuscany the cry went up that the provincials were being oppressed and their lands taken from them on no pretext whatever; and the Counts of the Royal Patrimony had to complain that even the king's domain was suffering from Theodahad's depredations. He was summoned to the Comitatus or King's Court, at Ravenna; his various acts of alleged spoliation were inquired into; their injustice was clearly proved, and he was compelled by Amalasuentha to restore the wrongfully appropriated lands.
It was perhaps before this process was actually begun, but after Theodahad was made aware that the clamour against him was growing louder and had reached the ears of his cousin, that he sought an interview with the Bishops of Ephesus and Philippi, who had come over to Italy on some ecclesiastical errand from the Emperor to the Pope. To these clerical ambassadors Theodahad made the extraordinary proposal that Justinian should buy of him the province of Tuscany for a certain large sum of money, to which was to be added the dignity of a Senator of Constantinople. If this negotiation could be carried through, the diligent student of Plato and Cicero proposed to end his days in dignified retirement at the Eastern capital.
We may now return to the palace of Ravenna and be present at the audience granted, probably in the summer of 534, by Amalasuentha to Alexander, the ambassador of Justinian. To the demands for the surrender of Lilybaeum and the complaints as to the enlistment of Hunnish deserters, Amalasuentha made, in public, a suitable and sprited reply: "It was not the part of a great and courageous monarch to pick a quarrel with an orphaned king, too young to be accurately informed of what was going on in all parts of his dominions, about such paltry matters as the possession of Lilybaeum, a barren and worthless rock of Sicily, about ten wild Huns who had sought refuge in Italy, and about the offence which the Gothic soldiers had, in their ignorance, committed against a friendly city in Moesia. Justinian should look at the other side of the account, should remember the aid and comfort which his soldiers, on their expedition against the Vandals, had received from the friendly Ostrogoths in Sicily, and should ask himself whether without that aid he would ever have recovered possession of Africa. If Lilybaeum did belong by right to the Emperor it was not too great a reward for him to bestow on his young ally for such opportune assistance".
This was publicly the answer of Amalasuentha—a bold and determined refusal to surrender the rock of Lilybaeum. In her private interview with the ambassador, she assured him that she was ready to fulfil her compact and to make arrangements for the transfer to the Emperor of the whole of Italy.
When the two sets of ambassadors, civil and ecclesiastical, returned to Constantinople the Emperor perceived that here were two negotiations to be carried on of the most delicate kind and requiring the presence of a master of diplomacy. He accordingly despatched to Ravenna a rhetorician named Peter, a man of considerable intellectual endowments—he was a historian as well as an orator—and one who had, eighteen years before, held the high office of consul. But it was apparently winter before Peter started on his journey, and when he arrived at Aulon (now Valona), just opposite Brindisi, he heard such startling tidings as to the events which had occurred on the Italian side of the Adriatic, that he waited there and asked for further instructions from his master as to the course which he was to pursue in the existing position of affairs. (2nd Oct., 534.)
First of all came the death of the unhappy lad, Athalaric, in his eighteenth year, the victim of unwise strictness, followed by unwise licence, and of the barbarian's passion for swinish and sensual pleasures. When her son was dead, Amalasuentha, who had an instinctive feeling that the Goths would never submit to undisguised female sovereignty, took a strange and desperate resolution. She sent for Theodahad, now the only surviving male of the stock of Theodoric, and, fashioning her lips to a smile, began to apologise for the humiliating sentence which had issued against him from the King's Court. "She had known all along", she said, "that her boy would die, and as he, Theodahad, would then be the one hope of Theodoric's line, she had wished to abate his unpopularity and set him straight with his future subjects by strictly enforcing their rights against him. Now all that was over: his record was clear and she was ready to invite him to become the partner of her throne; but he must first swear the most solemn oaths that he would be satisfied with the name of royalty and that the actual power should remain, as it had done for nine years, in the hands of Amalasuentha".
[Footnote 143: As colleague, not as husband; Theodahad's wife, Gudelina, was still living when he ascended the throne.]
Theodahad cheerfully swore tremendous oaths to the observance of this compact. Proclamations in the name of the two new sovereigns were put forth to all the Goths and Italians. In them Theodahad grovelled in admiration of the wisdom, the virtue, the eloquence of the noble lady who had raised him to so high a station and who had done him the inestimable favour of making him feel her justice before she bestowed upon him her grace. Few weeks, however, passed, before Amalasuentha was a prisoner, hurried away to a little lonely island in the Lake of Bolsena in Tuscany by order of the partner of her throne. Having taken this step, Theodahad began with craven apologies to excuse it to the Eastern Caesar. "He had done no harm to Amalasuentha; he would do no harm to her, though she had been guilty of the most nefarious designs against him: he only sought to protect her from the vengeance of the kinsmen of the three Gothic nobles whom she had murdered". An embassy composed of Roman Senators was ordered to carry this tale to Justinian and to confirm it by a letter which, under duresse, had been wrung from the unfortunate princess in her prison. When the ambassadors arrived at Constantinople one of them spoke the words of the part which had been set down for him and declared that Theodahad had done nothing against Amalasuentha of which any reasonable complaint could be made; but the others, headed by the brave Liberius, "a man of singularly high and noble nature, and of the most watchful regard to truth", told the whole story exactly as it had happened to the Emperor. The result was a despatch to the ambassador Peter enjoining him to find means of assuring Amalasuentha that Justinian would exert all his influence for her safety, and to inform Theodahad publicly, in presence of all his counsellors, that it was at his own peril that he would touch a hair of the head of the Gothic queen.
Scarcely, however, had Peter touched the Italian shore—he had not conveyed a letter to the prison nor uttered a word in the palace—when the sad tragedy was ended. The relations of the three nobles, who had "blood-feud" with the queen, and who were perhaps, according to the code of barbarian morality, justified in avenging their death, made their way to Amalasuentha's island prison, and there, in that desolate abode, the daughter of Theodoric met her death at their hands, dying with all that stately dignity and cold self-possession with which she had lived.
Justinian's ambassador at once proceeded to the King's Court, and there, in the presence of all the Gothic nobles, denounced the foul deed which they had permitted to be done, and declared that for this there must be "truceless war" between the Emperor and them. Theodahad, as stupid as he was vile, renewed his ridiculous protestations that he had no part in the violence done to Amalasuentha, but had heard of it with the utmost regret, and this although he had already rewarded the murderers with signal tokens of his favour.
Thus, by the folly of the wise and the criminal audacity of the coward, had a train been laid for the destruction of the Ostrogothic kingdom. All the petty pretexts for war, the affair of Lilybaeum, the Hunnish deserters, the sack of Gratiana, faded into insignificance before this new and most righteous cause of quarrel. If Hilderic's deposition had been avenged by the capture of Carthage, with far more justice might the death of the noble Amalasuentha be avenged by the capture of Ravenna and of Rome. In the great war which was soon to burst upon Italy Justinian could figure not only as the protector of the provincials, not only as the defender of the Catholics, but as the avenger of the blood of the daughter of Theodoric.
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". 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.
[Footnote 144: Procophis, "De Bello Gotthico", i, 27.]
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". So did Theodahad perish, one of the meanest insects that ever crawled across the page of history.
[Footnote 145: There was perhaps an interval of some months during which Theodahad was in hiding. His deposition is fixed by one authority (Anastasius) to August, and his death, by another (Agnellus), to December, 536, but all our chronological details as to this part of the history are vague and uncertain.]
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. 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.
[Footnote 146: December, 536.]
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, 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!"
[Footnote 147: Now the Ponte Molle.]
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. The curse of poverty and of barbarous insignificance was upon her, and would remain upon her till the end of time".
[Footnote 148: Pelagius.]
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.
Misgovernment of Italy by Justinian's officers—The Gothic cause revives—Accession of Ildibad—Of Eraric—Of Totila—Totila's character and policy—His victorious progress—Belisarius sent again to Italy to oppose him—Siege and capture of Rome by the Goths—The fortifications of the City dismantled—Belisarius reoccupies it and Totila besieges it in vain—General success of the Gothic arms—Belisarius returns to Constantinople—His later fortunes—Never reduced to beggary.
With the fall of Ravenna, and the captivity of King Witigis, it seemed as if the chapter of Ostrogothic dominion in Italy was ended. In fact, however, the war was prolonged for a further period of thirteen years, a time glorious for the Goths, disgraceful for the Empire, full of lamentation and woe for the unhappy country which was to be the prize of victory.
The departure of Belisarius, summoned to the East by his master in order to conduct another Persian war, left the newly won provinces on an in cline sloping downwards to anarchy. Of all the generals who remained behind, brave and capable men as some of them were, there was none who possessed the unquestioned ascendancy of Belisarius, either in genius or character. Each thought himself as good as the others: there was no subordination, no hearty co-operation towards a common end, but instead of these necessary conditions of success there was an eager emulation in the race towards wealth, and in this ignoble contest the unhappy "Roman", the Italian landholder, for whose sake, nominally, the Gothic war was undertaken, found himself pillaged and trampled upon as he had never been by the most brutal of the barbarians.
Nor were the military officers the only offenders. A swarm of civil servants flew westwards from Byzantium and lighted on the unhappy country. Their duty was to extort money by any and all means for their master, their pleasure to accumulate fortunes for themselves; but whether the logothete plundered for the Emperor or for himself, the Italian tax-payer equally had the life-blood sucked from his veins. Even the soldiers by whom the marvellous victories of the last five years had been won, found themselves at the mercy of this hateful bureaucracy; arrears of pay left undischarged, fines inflicted, everything done to force upon their embittered souls the reflection that they had served a mean and ungrateful master.
Of all these oppressors of Italy none was more justly abhorred than Alexander the Logothete. This man, who was placed at the head of the financial administration, and who seems by virtue of that position to have been practically supreme in all but military operations, had been lifted from a very humble sphere to eminence, from poverty to boundless wealth, but the one justification which he could always offer for his self-advancement was this, that no one else had been so successful as he in filling the coffers of his master. The soldiers were, by his proceedings against them, reduced to a poor, miserable, and despised remnant. The Roman inhabitants of Italy, especially the nobles, found that he hunted up with wonderful keenness and assiduity, and enforced with relentless sternness all the claims—and they were probably not a few—which the easy-tempered Gothic kings had suffered to lapse. In their simplicity these nobles may have imagined that they could plead that they were serving the Emperor by withholding contributions from the barbarian. Not so, however. Theodoric, now that his dynasty had been overthrown, became again a legitimate ruler, and Justinian as his heir would exact to the uttermost his unclaimed rights. The nature of the grasping logothete was well-known in his own country, and the Byzantines, using the old Greek weapon of satire against an unpopular ruler, called him "Alexander the Scissors", declaring that there was no one so clever as he in clipping the gold coins of the currency without impairing their roundness.
The result of all these oppressions and this misgovernment was to raise up in a marvellous manner the Gothic standard from the dust into which it had fallen. When Belisarius left Italy, only one city still remained to the Goths, the strong city of Ticinum, which is now known as Pavia, and which, from its magnificent position at the angle of the Ticino and the Po, was often in the early Middle Ages the last stronghold to be surrendered in Northwestern Italy. Here had the Goths chosen one of their nobles, Ildibad, for their king, but the new king had but one thousand soldiers under him, and his might well seem a desperate cause. Before the end of 540, however, the departure of Belisarius, the wrangling among his successors, the oppressions of Alexander the Logothete, the disaffection of the ruined soldiery had completely changed the face of affairs. An army of considerable size, consisting in great measure of deserters from the Imperial standard, obeyed the orders of Ildibad; he won a great pitched battle near Treviso over Vitalius, the best of the Imperial generals, and the whole of Italy north of the Po again owned the sway of the Gothic king.
Internal feuds delayed for a little time the revival of the strength of the barbarians. There was strife between Ildibad and the family of the deposed Witigis, and this strife led to Ildibad's assassination and to the election of an utterly incapable successor, Eraric the Rugian. But in the autumn of 541 all these domestic discords were at an end; Eraric had been slain, and the nephew of Ildibad was the universally recognised king of the Ostrogoths. This man, who was destined to reign for eleven years, twice to stand as conqueror within the walls of Rome, to bring back almost the whole of Italy under the dominion of his people, to be in a scarcely lower degree than Theodoric himself the hero and champion of the Ostrogothic race, was the young and gallant Totila.
[Footnote 149: This is the form of the name which was known to the Greek writers, and which is now irrevocably accepted by history. It is clear, however, from his coins that the new king called himself Baduila, and we cannot certainly say that he ever accepted the other designation.]
With true statesmanlike instinct the new king perceived that the cause of the past failure of the Goths lay in the alienated affections of the people of Italy. The greater misgovernment of the Emperor's servants, the coldly calculating rapacity of Alexander the Scissors, and the arrogant injustice of the generals, terrible only to the weak, had given him a chance of winning back the love of the Italian people and of restoring that happy state of things which prevailed after the downfall of Odovacar, when all classes, nobles and peasants, Goths and Romans, joined in welcoming Theodoric as their king. Totila therefore kept a strong hand upon his soldiers, sternly repressed all plundering and outrage, and insisted on the peasants being paid for all the stores which the army needed on its march. One day a Roman inhabitant of Calabria came before him to complain of one of the king's life-guardsmen who had committed an outrage upon his daughter. The guardsman, not denying the charge, was at once put in ward. Then the most influential nobles assembled at the king's tent, and besought him not to punish a brave and capable soldier for such an offence. Totila replied that he mourned as much as they could do over the necessity of taking away the life of one of his countrymen, but that the common good, the safety of the nation, required this sacrifice. At the outset of the war they had all the wealth of Italy and countless brave hearts at their disposal, but all these advantages had availed them nothing because they had an unjust king, Theodahad, at their head. Now the Divine favour on their righteous cause seemed to be giving them the victory, but only by a continuance in righteous deeds could they hope to secure it. With these words he won over even the interceding Goths to his opinion. The guardsman was sentenced to death, and his goods were confiscated for the benefit of the maiden whom he had wronged.
At the same time that Totila showed himself thus gentle and just towards the Roman inhabitants, he skilfully conducted the war so as to wound the Empire in its tenderest part—finance. Justinian's aim, in Italy as in Africa, was to make the newly annexed territory pay its own expenses and hand over a good balance to the Imperial treasury. It was for this purpose that the logothetes had been let loose upon Italy—that the provincials had been maddened by the extortions of the tax-gatherer, that the soldiers had been driven to mutiny and defection. Now with his loyal and well disciplined troops, Totila moved over the country from the Alps to Calabria, quietly collecting the taxes claimed by the Emperor and the rents due to the refugee landlords, and in this way, without oppressing the people, weakened the Imperial government and put himself in a position to pay liberally for the commissariat of his army. Thus the difficulties of the Imperial treasury increased. Justinian became more and more unwilling to loosen his purse-strings for the sake of a province which showed an ever-dwindling return. The pay of the soldiers got more and more hopelessly into arrear. They deserted in increasing numbers to the standard of the brave and generous young king of the Goths. Hence, it came to pass, that in the spring of 544, when Totila had been only for two and a half years king, he had gained two pitched battles by land and one by sea, had taken Naples and Beneventum, could march freely from one end of Italy to the other, and in fact, with the exception of Ravenna, Rome, and a few other strongholds, had won back from the Empire the whole of that Italy which had been acquired with so much toil and so much bloodshed.
There was, of course, bitter disappointment in the council-chamber of Justinian at this issue of an enterprise which had seemed at first so successful. There was but one sentence on all men's lips—"Only Belisarius can recover Italy", and it was uttered so loudly and so universally, that the Emperor could not but hear it. But Justinian, ever since the offer of the Western throne to Belisarius, seems to have looked upon him with jealousy as a possible rival, and (what was even more fatal to his interests at court), the Empress Theodora had come to regard him with dislike and suspicion, partly because of a domestic quarrel in which she had taken the part of his wife Antonina against him, and partly because when Justinian was lying plague-stricken and apparently at the point of death, Belisarius had discussed the question of the succession to the throne in a manner which the Empress considered hostile to her interests. For these reasons the great general had been for some years in disgrace. A large part of his property was taken away from him, and some of it was handed over to Antonina, with whom he had been ordered to reconcile himself on the most humbling terms: his great military household, containing many men of servile origin, whom he had trained to such deeds of valour that it was a common saying, "One household alone has destroyed the kingdom of Theodoric", was broken up, and those brave men who would willingly have died for their chief, were portioned out by lot among the other generals and the eunuchs of the palace.