Gothic War (535–552)

Gothic War (535–552)

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The Gothic War between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy
Ostrogothic Kingdom
The Kingdom established by the Ostrogoths in Italy and neighbouring areas lasted from 493 to 553. In Italy the Ostrogoths replaced Odoacer, the de facto ruler of Italy who had deposed the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire in 476. The Gothic kingdom reached its zenith under the rule of its...

 was fought from 535 until 554 in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Dalmatia
Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

, Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and Corsica
Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

. It is commonly divided into two phases. The first phase lasted from 535 to 540 and ended with the fall of Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

 and the apparent reconquest of Italy by the Romans. During the second phase (540/541–553), Goths' resistance was reinvigorated under Totila
Totila
Totila, original name Baduila was King of the Ostrogoths from 541 to 552 AD. A skilled military and political leader, Totila reversed the tide of Gothic War, recovering by 543 almost all the territories in Italy that the Eastern Roman Empire had captured from his Kingdom in 540.A relative of...

 and put down only after a long struggle by Narses
Narses
Narses was, with Belisarius, one of the great generals in the service of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I during the "Reconquest" that took place during Justinian's reign....

, who also repelled the 554 invasion by the Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 and Alamanni
Alamanni
The Alamanni, Allemanni, or Alemanni were originally an alliance of Germanic tribes located around the upper Rhine river . One of the earliest references to them is the cognomen Alamannicus assumed by Roman Emperor Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211 to 217 and claimed thereby to be...

. Several cities in northern Italy continued to hold out, however, until the early 560s

The war had its roots in the ambition of Roman Emperor Justinian
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

 to recover the provinces of the former Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

, which had been lost to invading barbarian tribes in the previous century (the Migration Period
Migration Period
The Migration Period, also called the Barbarian Invasions , was a period of intensified human migration in Europe that occurred from c. 400 to 800 CE. This period marked the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages...

). By the end of the conflict Italy was devastated and considerably depopulated: the Italian population decreased from 7 million to 2.5 million. As a consequence, the victorious East Romans found themselves unable to resist the invasion of the Lombards
Lombards
The Lombards , also referred to as Longobards, were a Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin, who from 568 to 774 ruled a Kingdom in Italy...

 in 568, which resulted in the loss of large parts of the Italian peninsula.

Italy under the Goths



In 476, the Western Roman Empire in Italy was overthrown, when Odoacer
Odoacer
Flavius Odoacer , also known as Flavius Odovacer, was the first King of Italy. His reign is commonly seen as marking the end of the Western Roman Empire. Though the real power in Italy was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of Julius Nepos and, after Nepos' death in 480, of the...

 deposed Emperor Romulus Augustulus and declared himself rex Italiae ("King of Italy"). Although he recognized the nominal suzerainty of the Eastern Emperor, Zeno
Zeno (emperor)
Zeno , originally named Tarasis, was Byzantine Emperor from 474 to 475 and again from 476 to 491. Domestic revolts and religious dissension plagued his reign, which nevertheless succeeded to some extent in foreign issues...

, his independent policies and increasing strength made him a threat in the eyes of Constantinople. At that time, the Ostrogoths, under their leader, Theodoric
Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

, were settled as foederati
Foederati
Foederatus is a Latin term whose definition and usage drifted in the time between the early Roman Republic and the end of the Western Roman Empire...

of the Empire in the western Balkans, but were also growing restless. Zeno decided to "kill two birds with one stone", and sent the Ostrogoths to Italy to remove Odoacer, officially acting as the representatives of the Empire. Theodoric and the Goths were able to defeat Odoacer, and Italy came under Gothic rule. However, as per the arrangement between Theodoric, Zeno and the latter's successor Anastasius
Anastasius I (emperor)
Anastasius I was Byzantine Emperor from 491 to 518. During his reign the Roman eastern frontier underwent extensive re-fortification, including the construction of Dara, a stronghold intended to counter the Persian fortress of Nisibis....

, the land and its people were regarded as still being part of the Empire, with Theodoric fulfilling merely the role of a viceroy and head of the army (magister militum
Magister militum
Magister militum was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer of the Empire...

). This arrangement was scrupulously observed by Theodoric: the administration continued in its old form and was staffed exclusively by Romans, and legislation remained the preserve of the Emperor At the same time, the army remained the exclusive preserve of the Goths, who came under the authority of their own chiefs and courts. The two peoples were further kept apart by faith: the Roman population was Chalcedonian
Chalcedonian
Chalcedonian describes churches and theologians which accept the definition given at the Council of Chalcedon of how the divine and human relate in the person of Jesus Christ...

, while the Goths were Arians
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

, although, unlike the Vandals
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

 or the early Visigoths, considerable religious tolerance was practised. This complex dual system worked effectively under the capable and strong leadership of Theodoric, who knew how to carry out his own policy without alienating the Roman aristocracy, but began to break down during his later years and collapsed entirely under his heirs.

With the ascension of Emperor Justin I
Justin I
Justin I was Byzantine Emperor from 518 to 527. He rose through the ranks of the army and ultimately became its Emperor, in spite of the fact he was illiterate and almost 70 years old at the time of accession...

, the end of the Acacian schism
Acacian schism
The Acacian schism between the Eastern and Western Christian Churches lasted thirty-five years, from 484-519. It resulted from a drift in the leaders of Eastern Christianity toward Monophysitism, and Emperor Zeno's unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the parties with the Henotikon.-Chronology:In the...

 and the return of ecclesiastical unity with the East, several members of the Italian senatorial aristocracy began to favour closer ties to Constantinople as a balance to the Goths' power. The deposition and execution of the distinguished magister officiorum
Magister officiorum
The magister officiorum was one of the most senior administrative officials in the late Roman Empire and the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire...

Boethius and his father-in-law in 524 was a symptom of the slowly increasing alienation of their caste from the Gothic regime. When Theodoric died in August 526, he was succeeded by his grandson Athalaric
Athalaric
Athalaric was the King of the Ostrogoths in Italy. He was a son of Eutharic and Amalasuntha. His maternal grandfather was Theodoric the Great. He succeeded his grandfather as king in 526....

. As he was an infant, the regency was held by his mother, Amalasuntha
Amalasuntha
Amalasuntha was a queen of the Ostrogoths from 526 to 534....

, who had received a Roman education and initiated reconciliatory policies with the Senate and the Empire. These policies, and her efforts to educate Athalaric in the Roman way, displeased the Goths, who started plotting against her. Perceiving the danger, Amalasuntha executed three leading conspirators, while at the same time writing a letter to the new Emperor, Justinian I, and asking to provide her with sanctuary if she should be forced to flee Italy. Eventually, however, Amalasuntha remained, even after her son's death in 534. Seeking support, she chose her cousin Theodahad
Theodahad
Theodahad was the King of the Ostrogoths from 534 to 536 and a nephew of Theodoric the Great through his sister Amalafrida. He might have arrived in Italy with Theodoric and was an elderly man at the time of his succession...

, to whom she offered the kingship. It was a fatal move, as Theodahad lost little time in having her arrested and then, in early 535, executed.

Justinian's policies and preparations


Already in 533, utilizing a dynastic dispute, Justinian had sent his most talented general, Belisarius
Belisarius
Flavius Belisarius was a general of the Byzantine Empire. He was instrumental to Emperor Justinian's ambitious project of reconquering much of the Mediterranean territory of the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century previously....

, to recover the North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

n provinces held by the Vandals. The Vandalic War
Vandalic War
The Vandalic War was a war fought in North Africa, in the areas of modern Tunisia and eastern Algeria, in 533-534, between the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Vandal Kingdom of Carthage...

 produced an unexpectedly swift and decisive victory for the Roman Empire, and must certainly have encouraged Justinian in his ambition to recover the lost western provinces. During this war, Amalasuntha had allowed the Roman fleet to use the harbours of Sicily, which belonged to the Ostrogothic Kingdom, as bases of operation. Through his agents, Justinian tried to save Amalasuntha's life, but to no avail. Her death, in any case, gave him the perfect excuse for war. As Procopius
Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

 writes: "as soon as he learned what had happened to Amalasuntha, being in the ninth year of his reign, he entered upon war."

Belisarius was appointed commander in chief (stratēgos autokratōr) for the expedition against Italy with 7,500 men while Mundus, the magister militum per Illyricum, was tasked to occupy the Gothic province of Dalmatia. The small size of the forces made available to Belisarius must be noted, especially when compared to the much larger army he took in the field against the Vandals, an enemy much weaker than the Ostrogoths. The preparations for the operation were carried out in absolute secrecy, while Justinian tried to secure the neutrality of the Franks by gifts of gold.

Fall of Sicily and Dalmatia to the Romans



Belisarius first landed at Sicily, which was strategically located between the now Roman Africa and Italy, and whose population was well disposed toward the Empire. The island was quickly captured, with the only determined resistance, at Panormus (modern Palermo
Palermo
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

), overcome by late December. From there, Belisarius prepared to cross over into Italy, where Theodahad, fearful because of the Romans' successes, had sent envoys to Justinian, proposing at first to cede Sicily and recognize his overlordship, but later to cede all of Italy to him. In the meantime, triumph and disaster had befallen the Romans in Dalmatia. Mundus had quickly overrun Dalmatia and captured its capital, Salona
Salona
Salona was an ancient Illyrian Delmati city in the first millennium BC. The Greeks had set up an emporion there. After the conquest by the Romans, Salona became the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia...

. But a large Gothic army arrived to reclaim the province, and Mundus' son Mauricius fell in a skirmish. Enraged by this loss, Mundus marched with his army against the Goths, and inflicted a heavy defeat upon them. However, in the pursuit, Mundus himself was wounded mortally. As a result, the Roman army withdrew, and all of Dalmatia, with the exception of Salona, was abandoned to the Goths. All this happened in March 536, and Theodahad, learning of this success, became emboldened, and rejected and imprisoned Justinian's ambassadors. Any possibility of a peaceful takeover was now over. Justinian sent the new magister militum per Illyricum, Constantianus, to recover Dalmatia, and ordered Belisarius to cross into Italy. Constantianus accomplished his task speedily. The Gothic general, Gripas, abandoned Salona, which he had only recently occupied, because of the ruined state of its fortifications and the pro-Roman stance of its citizens, and withdrew to the north. Constantinianus then occupied the city and rebuilt its walls. Seven days later, the Gothic army departed for Italy, so that by late June Dalmatia was again in Roman hands.

Ascension of Vitiges, first siege of Rome


In the late spring of 536, Belisarius crossed with his army into Italy, where he captured Rhegium. The Roman army sacked Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

 after a costly siege in November, and finally entered Rome unopposed in December. The rapidity of Belisarius' advance had taken the Goths by surprise, and the inactivity of Theodahad enraged them. After the fall of Naples he was deposed, and a new king selected. Vitiges left Rome and headed for Ravenna, where he married Amalasuntha's daughter Matasuntha and began rallying his forces against the invasion. Vitiges led a large force against Rome, where Belisarius, who did not have enough troops to face the Goths in the open field, had remained. This siege of Rome, the first of three in the Gothic War, lasted for a year, from March 537 to March 538. It featured several sallies and minor engagements, as well as several large-scale actions, but after reinforcements from Constantinople arrived in April 537 (1,600 Slavs and Huns) and November 537 (5,000 men), the defending Romans took the offensive. The Roman cavalry took several towns in the Goths' rear, which worsened their already-bad supply situation and threatened Gothic civilians. Finally, the fall of Ariminum (modern Rimini
Rimini
Rimini is a medium-sized city of 142,579 inhabitants in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, and capital city of the Province of Rimini. It is located on the Adriatic Sea, on the coast between the rivers Marecchia and Ausa...

), barely a day's march from Ravenna, to a Roman cavalry force, forced Vitiges to abandon the siege and withdraw.

Siege of Ariminum, arrival of Narses


As Vitiges marched to the northeast, he strengthened the garrisons of various towns and forts along his way, in order to secure his rear, and then turned towards Ariminum. The Roman force of 2,000 horsemen occupying it comprised some of Belisarius' finest cavalry, and Belisarius decided to replace them with an infantry garrison, so as to have them available at his side. However, their commander, John, refused to obey the orders of his commander, and remained at Ariminum. The error of this was made plain when, shortly after, the Goths arrived. Although an initial assault failed, they proceeded to subject the city, which had few supplies, to a siege. At the same time, another Gothic army marched against Ancona
Ancona
Ancona is a city and a seaport in the Marche region, in central Italy, with a population of 101,909 . Ancona is the capital of the province of Ancona and of the region....

. Although they routed the Roman forces in open battle, they ultimately failed to take the city's fortifications. At that time, new forces, 2,000 Herul
Heruli
The Heruli were an East Germanic tribe who are famous for their naval exploits. Migrating from Northern Europe to the Black Sea in the third century They were part of the...

 foederati, under the Armenia
Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

n eunuch Narses, arrived at Picenum
Picenum
Picenum was a region of ancient Italy. The name is an exonym assigned by the Romans, who conquered and incorporated it into the Roman Republic. Picenum was the birthplace of such notables as Pompey the Great and his father Pompeius Strabo. It was situated in what is now Marche...

. Belisarius marched to meet Narses, and when the two generals met in council, they disagreed on the course to be followed, with Narses supporting a direct relief expedition to Ariminum and Belisarius favouring a more cautious approach, but the arrival of a letter from John, which illustrated the immediate prospect of the city's fall, resolved the issue in favour of the former. Belisarius divided his army in three parts, a seaborne force under his capable and trusted lieutenant Ildiger, another under the equally experienced Martin which was to arrive from the south, and the main force under himself and Narses, which was to arrive from the northwest. However, Vitiges learned of their coming, and, facing the prospect of being surrounded by superior forces, the Goths hurriedly withdrew to Ravenna.

Dissension between Belisarius and Narses


The bloodless victory at Ariminum strengthened Narses' position vis-a-vis Belisarius, with many Roman generals, including John, turning their allegiance to him. In the council after the relief of Ariminum, the dissension came to the fore. While Belisarius was in favour of reducing the strong Gothic garrison of Auximum (modern Osimo
Osimo
Osimo is a town and comune of the Marche, Italy, in the province of Ancona, 15 km south of that town by rail. It is situated on a hill near the Adriatic Sea.Silk-spinning and the raising of cocoons are carried on.-History:...

) in their rear and relieving the siege of Mediolanum (see below), Narses favoured a less concentrated effort, including a campaign in Aemilia. Belisarius, to his credit, did not allow matters to reach a full breach, and instead marched with Narses and John against Urbinum. The two armies encamped separately, and shortly afterwards, Narses, convinced that the town was unassailable and well supplied, broke camp and departed for Ariminum. From there he sent John to Aemilia, which was quickly subdued. Nevertheless, aided by the fortunate drying up of Urbinum's only water spring, the town fell to Belisarius soon after. At any rate, the Roman army in Italy now followed two different commanders, and the results of this disunity were to become tragically clear in the failure to relieve Mediolanum.

Siege and sack of Mediolanum


In April 538, Belisarius, petitioned by representatives from Mediolanum (Milan
Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

), then the second most populous and wealthy city in Italy after Rome, had sent a force of 1,000 men, under Mundilas, to the city. This force succeeded in securing the city and most of Liguria
Liguria
Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy, the third smallest of the Italian regions. Its capital is Genoa. It is a popular region with tourists for its beautiful beaches, picturesque little towns, and good food.-Geography:...

, except Ticinum (Pavia
Pavia
Pavia , the ancient Ticinum, is a town and comune of south-western Lombardy, northern Italy, 35 km south of Milan on the lower Ticino river near its confluence with the Po. It is the capital of the province of Pavia. It has a population of c. 71,000...

), with ease. However, Vitiges called upon the Franks for help, and a force of 10,000 Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

 swiftly and unexpectedly crossed the Alps and together with the Goths under Uraias laid siege to the city, which was both ill-provisioned and undergarrisoned, since the already small Roman force had been dispersed as garrisons to the neighbouring cities and forts. A relief force was dispatched by Belisarius, but its commanders, Martin and Uliaris, did not make any effort to help the besieged. Instead, they asked for further reinforcements, by the forces of John and the magister militum per Illyricum Justin, who operated in the nearby province of Aemilia. At this point, the dissensions in the Roman command exacerbated the situation, as John and Justin refused to move without orders from Narses, and even then, John fell ill and the preparations were halted. These delays proved fatal for the besieged city, which, after many months of siege, was reaching the point of starvation. The Goths offered Mundilas a guarantee that the lives of his soldiers would be spared if he surrendered the city, but, since no guarantee was offered for the civilian population, he refused, until, at about the end of March 539, his starving soldiers forced him to accept these terms. The Roman garrison was indeed spared, but the city's inhabitants were subjected to a general massacre, and the city itself was razed.

Frankish invasion of northern Italy, fall of Auximum and Faesulae


In the aftermath of this disaster, Narses was recalled, and Belisarius confirmed as supreme commander with absolute authority for Italy. At the same time, Vitiges sent envoys to the Persian
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 court, hoping to convince Chosroes I to reopen hostilities with the Romans. That would force Justinian to concentrate the majority of his forces, including Belisarius, in the East, and allow the Goths to recover. The war would indeed come, but too late for Vitiges. Belisarius, for his part, resolved to conclude the war by taking Ravenna. Prior to this, he had to deal with the two Gothic strongholds of Auximum and Faesulae (Fiesole
Fiesole
Fiesole is a town and comune of the province of Florence in the Italian region of Tuscany, on a famously scenic height above Florence, 8 km NE of that city...

). While Martin and John hindered the Gothic army under Uraias to cross the River Po, a part of the army under Justin besieged Faesulae, and Belisarius himself undertook the siege of Auximum. While the sieges were under way, however, a large Frankish army under king Theudebert I
Theudebert I
Theudebert I was the Merovingian king of Austrasia from 533 to his death in 548. He was the son of Theuderic I and the father of Theudebald....

 crossed the Alps and came upon the Goths and the Romans encamped on the two sides of the Po. The Goths, thinking they had come as allies, were swiftly routed. The equally astonished Romans gave battle, were defeated and withdrew southwards into Tuscany
Tuscany
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

. In the event, the Frankish invasion, which could have altered the course of the war, was defeated by an outbreak of dysentery, which caused great losses and forced the Franks to withdraw. Belisarius concentrated on taking the two besieged cities, which was accomplished when both garrisons were forced by starvation to capitulate in October or November 539.

Capture of Ravenna and departure of Belisarius


After these successes had eliminated potential threats to his rear, and freshly reinforced with troops from Dalmatia, Belisarius moved against Ravenna. Detachments were sent north of the Po, and the imperial fleet patrolled the Adriatic, cutting the city off from supplies. Inside the besieged Gothic capital, Vitiges received a Frankish embassy looking for an alliance, but after the events of the previous summer, no trust could be placed on the Franks' offers. Soon afterwards, an embassy came from Constantinople, bearing surprisingly lenient terms from Justinian. Anxious to finish the war and concentrate against the looming Persian war, the Emperor offered a partition of Italy: the lands south of the Po would be retained by the Empire, those north of the river by the Goths. The Goths readily accepted the terms, but Belisarius, judging this to be a betrayal of all he had striven to achieve, refused to sign, even though his generals disagreed with him. Disheartened, the Goths resorted to a final plan. They offered to make Belisarius, whom they respected, the western emperor. Belisarius had no intention of accepting the role, but saw how he could use this situation to his advantage, and feigned acceptance. Thus, in May 540, Belisarius and his army entered Ravenna. The city was not looted, while the Goths were treated well and allowed to keep their properties. In the aftermath of Ravenna's surrender, several Gothic garrisons north of the Po surrendered. Others remained in Gothic hands, among which were Ticinum, where Uraias was based, and Verona, held by Ildibad
Ildibad
Ildibad was a king of the Ostrogoths in Italy, being chosen to replace Witiges, who had been engaged in various intregues with Belisarius, and had left Ravenna...

. Soon after, Belisarius sailed for Constantinople, where he was refused the honour of a triumph. Vitiges was named a patrician and sent to a comfortable retirement, while the captive Goths were sent to reinforce the eastern armies.

The reigns of Ildibad and Eraric

"If Belisarius had not been recalled, he would probably have completed the conquest of the peninsula within a few months. This, which would have been the best solution, was defeated by the jealousy of Justinian; and the peace proposed by the Emperor, which was the next best course, was defeated by the disobedience of his general. Between them they bear the responsibility of inflicting upon Italy twelve more years of war."
John Bagnell Bury
History of the Later Roman Empire, Vol. II, Ch. XIX

Belisarius' departure left most of Italy in Roman hands, but north of the Po, Ticinum and Verona remained unconquered. Soon after Belisarius' breach of faith towards them became apparent, the Goths, at the suggestion of Uraias, chose Ildibad as their new king. In Belisarius' wake, Justinian neglected to appoint an overall commander-in-chief. While the Roman armies and their commanders neglected their discipline and committed acts of plundering, and the newly established imperial bureaucracy made itself immediately unpopular by its oppressive fiscal demands, Ildibad reestablished control over Venetia and Liguria. Ildibad decisively defeated the Roman general Vitalius at Treviso
Treviso
Treviso is a city and comune in Veneto, northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Treviso and the municipality has 82,854 inhabitants : some 3,000 live within the Venetian walls or in the historical and monumental center, some 80,000 live in the urban center proper, while the city...

, but after having Uraias murdered because of a quarrel between their wives, he too was assassinated in May 541 in retribution. At this point, the Rugians
Rugians
"Rugi" redirects here. For the Romanian villages by this name, see Păltiniş, Caraş-Severin and Turcineşti.The Rugii, also Rugians, Rygir, Ulmerugi, or Holmrygir were an East Germanic tribe migrated from southwest Norway to Pomerania around 100 AD, and from there to the Danube River valley...

, remnants of Odoacer's army who had remained in Italy and sided with the Goths, proclaimed one of their own, Eraric
Eraric
Eraric was briefly King of the Ostrogoths. He was killed by a member of his royal guard. He had nine wives....

, as the new king. The choice was curiously assented to by the Goths. Eraric however persuaded the Goths to start negotiations with Justinian, but secretly intended to hand over his realm to the Empire. The Goths perceived his inactivity for what it was, and turned to Ildibad's nephew, Totila (or Baduila), and offered to make him king. Ironically, Totila had already opened negotiations with the Romans, but when he was contacted by the conspirators, he assented. Thus, in the early autumn of 541, Eraric was murdered and Totila proclaimed king.

Early Gothic successes


Totila was favoured in his intention to restore the Gothic realm by three factors: the outbreak of the great plague
Plague of Justinian
The Plague of Justinian was a pandemic that afflicted the Eastern Roman Empire , including its capital Constantinople, in 541–542 AD. It was one of the greatest plagues in history. The most commonly accepted cause of the pandemic is bubonic plague, which later became infamous for either causing or...

 that devastated and depopulated the Roman Empire in 542, the beginning of a new Roman–Persian War
Lazic War
The Lazic War or Colchic War, also known as the Great War of Egrisi in Georgian historiography, was fought between the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Persia for control of the region of Lazica, in what is now western Georgia...

, and the incompetence and disunity of the various Roman generals in Italy, which brought about his first success. After much urging by Justinian, the generals Constantian and Alexander combined their forces and advanced upon Verona. Through treachery they managed to capture a gate in the city walls, but then delayed so much by quarreling over the prospective booty that the Goths were able to recapture the gate, forcing the Romans to withdraw. Totila came up upon their camp near Faventia (Faenza
Faenza
Faenza is an Italian city and comune, in the province of Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, situated 50 km southeast of Bologna.Faenza is noted for its manufacture of majolica ware glazed earthenware pottery, known from the name of the town as "faience"....

), and with 5,000 men destroyed the Roman army
Battle of Faventia (542)
In the spring of 542, at the Battle of Faventia , an Ostrogothic army under king Totila scattered the larger Roman forces of generals Constantian and Alexander, beginning the resurgence of Gothic resistance to the Roman reconquest of Italy. Before the battle, Valaris, a gigantic Goth, challenged...

. Totila then marched down into Tuscany, where he besieged Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

. Three Roman generals, John, Bessas, and Cyprian marched to its relief, but in a battle at Mucellium, their forces, although numerically superior, were defeated and dispersed.

Expedition in southern Italy and fall of Naples


Instead of remaining in central Italy, where his forces were outnumbered and even a single defeat might prove disastrous, Totila decided to march south, where Roman garrisons were few and weak. He bypassed Rome, and very soon, the provinces of southern Italy were forced to recognize his authority. This campaign amply illustrates the crucial points of Totila's strategy: rapid movements to take control of the countryside, leaving the Romans in control of isolated strongholds, mostly on the coast, which could be reduced later. When a fortified location fell, its walls were usually razed so that it would no longer be of any military value. Furthermore, Totila followed a conscious policy of treating his captives well, thus enticing them to surrender rather than resist to the end, and actively tried to win over the Italian population to his side. At the same time, his operations led to a serious disruption of the imperial fiscal system in Italy, since the taxes were now flowing into Totila's coffers, and the Roman soldiers' pay suffered accordingly.

Soon, his army marched on Naples, held by the general Conon with 1,000 men. A large-scale relief effort by the newly appointed magister militum Demetrius from Sicily was intercepted and almost entirely destroyed by Gothic warships. A second effort, again under Demetrius, likewise failed when strong winds forced the fleet's vessels to beach, where they were attacked and overcome by the Gothic army. Knowing the dire situation of the city's defenders, Totila promised the garrison safe passage if they surrendered. Pressed by famine, Conon accepted, and in late March or early April 543, Naples surrendered.

Belisarius returns to Italy


Taking advantage of a five-year truce in the East, Belisarius was sent back to Italy with 200 ships in 544, where he found that the situation had changed greatly. He failed to prevent the fall of Rome when it was besieged
Sack of Rome (546)
The Sack of Rome in 546 was carried out by the Gothic king Totila during the Gothic War of 535–554 between the Ostrogoths and the East Romans . Totila was based at Tivoli and, in pursuit of his quest to reconquer the region of Latium, he moved against Rome...

 by Totila in 546, although he soon reoccupied it in 547. However, his second Italian campaign proved unsuccessful, thanks in no small part to his being starved of supplies and reinforcements by a jealous Justinian, if we adopt the view of Procopius. Rome was besieged a third time in 549
Siege of Rome (549–550)
In 549-550, the Ostrogothic leader Totila besieged Rome and captured the city after Belisarius had retreated to Constantinople....

 and captured by Totila, whose offers of peace were rejected by Justinian.

Narses conquers Italy, 551–554


A new Italian campaign was organized under Justinian's nephew Germanus Justinus
Germanus Justinus
Germanus was an East Roman general, one of the leading commanders of Emperor Justinian I . Germanus was Emperor Justinian's cousin, and a member of the ruling dynasty. He held commands in Thrace, North Africa, and the East against Persia, and was slated to command the final Byzantine expedition...

. With the death of Germanus in 551, Narses took on Totila, and at the Battle of Taginae
Battle of Taginae
At the Battle of Taginae in June/July 552, the forces of the Byzantine Empire under Narses broke the power of the Ostrogoths in Italy, and paved the way for the temporary Byzantine reconquest of the Italian Peninsula.From as early as 549 the Emperor Justinian I had planned to dispatch a major army...

 Narses defeated and killed Totila. The Goths holding Rome capitulated, and at the Battle of Mons Lactarius
Battle of Mons Lactarius
The Battle of Mons Lactarius took place in 552 or 553 in the course the Gothic War waged on behalf of Justinian I against the Ostrogoths in Italy....

, in October 553, Narses defeated Teias and the last remnants of the Gothic army in Italy.

Overall outcome



The pyrrhic victory
Pyrrhic victory
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat.-Origin:...

 of the Gothic War drained the Byzantine Empire of much-needed resources that might have been employed against more immediate threats in the East. In Italy, the war was devastating to the urbanized society that was supported by a settled hinterland.The great cities of Rome and her allies would be abandoned as Italy would fall into a long period of decline. The impoverishment of Italy and the drain on the Empire made it impossible for the East Romans to hold Italy. Imperial gains were fleeting: only three years after the death of Justinian, the mainland Italian territories fell into the hands of a Germanic tribe, the Lombards
Lombards
The Lombards , also referred to as Longobards, were a Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin, who from 568 to 774 ruled a Kingdom in Italy...

, leaving the Exarchate of Ravenna
Exarchate of Ravenna
The Exarchate of Ravenna or of Italy was a centre of Byzantine power in Italy, from the end of the 6th century to 751, when the last exarch was put to death by the Lombards.-Introduction:...

 a band of territory that stretched across central Italy to the Tyrrhenian Sea
Tyrrhenian Sea
The Tyrrhenian Sea is part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy.-Geography:The sea is bounded by Corsica and Sardinia , Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Basilicata and Calabria and Sicily ....

 and south to Naples, along with parts of southern Italy, as the only remaining Imperial holding. Justinian also managed to carve out an Imperial domain in Southern Hispania but that too would be conquered by Germanic tribes a few decades later. After the Gothic Wars the Empire would entertain no more serious ambitions in the West. Rome itself would remain under imperial control until the Exarchate of Ravenna was finally abolished by the Lombards in 751. Some coastal areas of Southern Italy would remain under East Roman influence, direct or indirect, until the late 11th century while the interior would be ruled by Lombard dukes based at Benevento and later also at Salerno and Capua.
In the 11th century both Lombard and East Roman areas of Southern Italy fell into Norman hands.

Primary sources

  • Procopius
    Procopius
    Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

    , De Bello Gothico, Volumes I–IV
  • Jordanes
    Jordanes
    Jordanes, also written Jordanis or Jornandes, was a 6th century Roman bureaucrat, who turned his hand to history later in life....

    , De origine actibusque Getarum ("The Origin and Deeds of the Goths"), translated by Charles C. Mierow.
  • Cassiodorus
    Cassiodorus
    Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator , commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Senator was part of his surname, not his rank.- Life :Cassiodorus was born at Scylletium, near Catanzaro in...

    , Variae epistolae ("Letters"), at the Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...


Secondary sources

  • Edward Gibbon
    Edward Gibbon
    Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...

    , History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vol. IV, Chapters 41 & 43

External links