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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 online

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Numidia: but he had soon the consolation of learning that his private
orders for the execution of Hilderic and his captive friends had been
faithfully obeyed. The tyrant's revenge was useful only to his enemies.
The death of a lawful prince excited the compassion of his people; his
life might have perplexed the victorious Romans; and the lieutenant of
Justinian, by a crime of which he was innocent, was relieved from
the painful alternative of forfeiting his honor or relinquishing his

Chapter XLI: Conquests Of Justinian, Character Of Balisarius. - Part II.

As soon as the tumult had subsided, the several parts of the army
informed each other of the accidents of the day; and Belisarius pitched
his camp on the field of victory, to which the tenth mile-stone from
Carthage had applied the Latin appellation of _Decimus_. From a wise
suspicion of the stratagems and resources of the Vandals, he marched the
next day in order of battle, halted in the evening before the gates of
Carthage, and allowed a night of repose, that he might not, in darkness
and disorder, expose the city to the license of the soldiers, or the
soldiers themselves to the secret ambush of the city. But as the fears
of Belisarius were the result of calm and intrepid reason, he was soon
satisfied that he might confide, without danger, in the peaceful
and friendly aspect of the capital. Carthage blazed with innumerable
torches, the signals of the public joy; the chain was removed that
guarded the entrance of the port; the gates were thrown open, and the
people, with acclamations of gratitude, hailed and invited their Roman
deliverers. The defeat of the Vandals, and the freedom of Africa, were
announced to the city on the eve of St. Cyprian, when the churches were
already adorned and illuminated for the festival of the martyr whom
three centuries of superstition had almost raised to a local deity. The
Arians, conscious that their reign had expired, resigned the temple to
the Catholics, who rescued their saint from profane hands, performed the
holy rites, and loudly proclaimed the creed of Athanasius and Justinian.
One awful hour reversed the fortunes of the contending parties. The
suppliant Vandals, who had so lately indulged the vices of conquerors,
sought an humble refuge in the sanctuary of the church; while the
merchants of the East were delivered from the deepest dungeon of the
palace by their affrighted keeper, who implored the protection of his
captives, and showed them, through an aperture in the wall, the sails
of the Roman fleet. After their separation from the army, the naval
commanders had proceeded with slow caution along the coast till they
reached the Hermæan promontory, and obtained the first intelligence of
the victory of Belisarius. Faithful to his instructions, they would have
cast anchor about twenty miles from Carthage, if the more skilful
seamen had not represented the perils of the shore, and the signs of
an impending tempest. Still ignorant of the revolution, they declined,
however, the rash attempt of forcing the chain of the port; and the
adjacent harbor and suburb of Mandracium were insulted only by the
rapine of a private officer, who disobeyed and deserted his leaders.
But the Imperial fleet, advancing with a fair wind, steered through the
narrow entrance of the Goletta, and occupied, in the deep and capacious
lake of Tunis, a secure station about five miles from the capital. No
sooner was Belisarius informed of their arrival, than he despatched
orders that the greatest part of the mariners should be immediately
landed to join the triumph, and to swell the apparent numbers, of
the Romans. Before he allowed them to enter the gates of Carthage, he
exhorted them, in a discourse worthy of himself and the occasion, not to
disgrace the glory of their arms; and to remember that the Vandals had
been the tyrants, but that they were the deliverers, of the Africans,
who must now be respected as the voluntary and affectionate subjects of
their common sovereign. The Romans marched through the streets in close
ranks prepared for battle if an enemy had appeared: the strict
order maintained by the general imprinted on their minds the duty of
obedience; and in an age in which custom and impunity almost sanctified
the abuse of conquest, the genius of one man repressed the passions of a
victorious army. The voice of menace and complaint was silent; the trade
of Carthage was not interrupted; while Africa changed her master and her
government, the shops continued open and busy; and the soldiers, after
sufficient guards had been posted, modestly departed to the houses which
were allotted for their reception. Belisarius fixed his residence in
the palace; seated himself on the throne of Genseric; accepted and
distributed the Barbaric spoil; granted their lives to the suppliant
Vandals; and labored to repair the damage which the suburb of Mandracium
had sustained in the preceding night. At supper he entertained his
principal officers with the form and magnificence of a royal banquet.
The victor was respectfully served by the captive officers of the
household; and in the moments of festivity, when the impartial
spectators applauded the fortune and merit of Belisarius, his envious
flatterers secretly shed their venom on every word and gesture which
might alarm the suspicions of a jealous monarch. One day was given to
these pompous scenes, which may not be despised as useless, if they
attracted the popular veneration; but the active mind of Belisarius,
which in the pride of victory could suppose a defeat, had already
resolved that the Roman empire in Africa should not depend on the chance
of arms, or the favor of the people. The fortifications of Carthage
had alone been exempted from the general proscription; but in the reign
of ninety-five years they were suffered to decay by the thoughtless and
indolent Vandals. A wiser conqueror restored, with incredible despatch,
the walls and ditches of the city. His liberality encouraged the
workmen; the soldiers, the mariners, and the citizens, vied with each
other in the salutary labor; and Gelimer, who had feared to trust his
person in an open town, beheld with astonishment and despair, the rising
strength of an impregnable fortress.

That unfortunate monarch, after the loss of his capital, applied himself
to collect the remains of an army scattered, rather than destroyed, by
the preceding battle; and the hopes of pillage attracted some Moorish
bands to the standard of Gelimer. He encamped in the fields of Bulla,
four days' journey from Carthage; insulted the capital, which he
deprived of the use of an aqueduct; proposed a high reward for the
head of every Roman; affected to spare the persons and property of his
African subjects, and secretly negotiated with the Arian sectaries
and the confederate Huns. Under these circumstances, the conquest of
Sardinia served only to aggravate his distress: he reflected, with the
deepest anguish, that he had wasted, in that useless enterprise, five
thousand of his bravest troops; and he read, with grief and shame,
the victorious letters of his brother Zano, who expressed a sanguine
confidence that the king, after the example of their ancestors, had
already chastised the rashness of the Roman invader. "Alas! my brother,"
replied Gelimer, "Heaven has declared against our unhappy nation. While
you have subdued Sardinia, we have lost Africa. No sooner did Belisarius
appear with a handful of soldiers, than courage and prosperity deserted
the cause of the Vandals. Your nephew Gibamund, your brother Ammatas,
have been betrayed to death by the cowardice of their followers. Our
horses, our ships, Carthage itself, and all Africa, are in the power of
the enemy. Yet the Vandals still prefer an ignominious repose, at the
expense of their wives and children, their wealth and liberty. Nothing
now remains, except the fields of Bulla, and the hope of your valor.
Abandon Sardinia; fly to our relief; restore our empire, or perish by
our side." On the receipt of this epistle, Zano imparted his grief to
the principal Vandals; but the intelligence was prudently concealed from
the natives of the island. The troops embarked in one hundred and
twenty galleys at the port of Cagliari, cast anchor the third day on
the confines of Mauritania, and hastily pursued their march to join the
royal standard in the camp of Bulla. Mournful was the interview: the two
brothers embraced; they wept in silence; no questions were asked of the
Sardinian victory; no inquiries were made of the African misfortunes:
they saw before their eyes the whole extent of their calamities; and
the absence of their wives and children afforded a melancholy proof that
either death or captivity had been their lot. The languid spirit of the
Vandals was at length awakened and united by the entreaties of their
king, the example of Zano, and the instant danger which threatened their
monarchy and religion. The military strength of the nation advanced to
battle; and such was the rapid increase, that before their army reached
Tricameron, about twenty miles from Carthage, they might boast, perhaps
with some exaggeration, that they surpassed, in a tenfold proportion,
the diminutive powers of the Romans. But these powers were under the
command of Belisarius; and, as he was conscious of their superior merit,
he permitted the Barbarians to surprise him at an unseasonable hour.
The Romans were instantly under arms; a rivulet covered their front; the
cavalry formed the first line, which Belisarius supported in the centre,
at the head of five hundred guards; the infantry, at some distance, was
posted in the second line; and the vigilance of the general watched
the separate station and ambiguous faith of the Massagetæ, who secretly
reserved their aid for the conquerors. The historian has inserted, and
the reader may easily supply, the speeches of the commanders, who,
by arguments the most apposite to their situation, inculcated the
importance of victory, and the contempt of life. Zano, with the troops
which had followed him to the conquest of Sardinia, was placed in the
centre; and the throne of Genseric might have stood, if the multitude
of Vandals had imitated their intrepid resolution. Casting away their
lances and missile weapons, they drew their swords, and expected the
charge: the Roman cavalry thrice passed the rivulet; they were thrice
repulsed; and the conflict was firmly maintained, till Zano fell, and
the standard of Belisarius was displayed. Gelimer retreated to his camp;
the Huns joined the pursuit; and the victors despoiled the bodies of
the slain. Yet no more than fifty Romans, and eight hundred Vandals were
found on the field of battle; so inconsiderable was the carnage of a
day, which extinguished a nation, and transferred the empire of Africa.
In the evening Belisarius led his infantry to the attack of the camp;
and the pusillanimous flight of Gelimer exposed the vanity of his recent
declarations, that to the vanquished, death was a relief, life a burden,
and infamy the only object of terror. His departure was secret; but as
soon as the Vandals discovered that their king had deserted them, they
hastily dispersed, anxious only for their personal safety, and careless
of every object that is dear or valuable to mankind. The Romans entered
the camp without resistance; and the wildest scenes of disorder were
veiled in the darkness and confusion of the night. Every Barbarian who
met their swords was inhumanly massacred; their widows and daughters,
as rich heirs, or beautiful concubines, were embraced by the licentious
soldiers; and avarice itself was almost satiated with the treasures of
gold and silver, the accumulated fruits of conquest or economy in a long
period of prosperity and peace. In this frantic search, the troops, even
of Belisarius, forgot their caution and respect. Intoxicated with lust
and rapine, they explored, in small parties, or alone, the adjacent
fields, the woods, the rocks, and the caverns, that might possibly
conceal any desirable prize: laden with booty, they deserted their
ranks, and wandered without a guide, on the high road to Carthage; and
if the flying enemies had dared to return, very few of the conquerors
would have escaped. Deeply sensible of the disgrace and danger,
Belisarius passed an apprehensive night on the field of victory: at the
dawn of day, he planted his standard on a hill, recalled his guardians
and veterans, and gradually restored the modesty and obedience of the
camp. It was equally the concern of the Roman general to subdue the
hostile, and to save the prostrate, Barbarian; and the suppliant
Vandals, who could be found only in churches, were protected by his
authority, disarmed, and separately confined, that they might neither
disturb the public peace, nor become the victims of popular revenge.
After despatching a light detachment to tread the footsteps of Gelimer,
he advanced, with his whole army, about ten days' march, as far as
Hippo Regius, which no longer possessed the relics of St. Augustin.
The season, and the certain intelligence that the Vandal had fled to an
inaccessible country of the Moors, determined Belisarius to relinquish
the vain pursuit, and to fix his winter quarters at Carthage. From
thence he despatched his principal lieutenant, to inform the emperor,
that in the space of three months he had achieved the conquest of

Belisarius spoke the language of truth. The surviving Vandals yielded,
without resistance, their arms and their freedom; the neighborhood of
Carthage submitted to his presence; and the more distant provinces were
successively subdued by the report of his victory. Tripoli was confirmed
in her voluntary allegiance; Sardinia and Corsica surrendered to an
officer, who carried, instead of a sword, the head of the valiant Zano;
and the Isles of Majorca, Minorca, and Yvica consented to remain an
humble appendage of the African kingdom. Cæsarea, a royal city, which in
looser geography may be confounded with the modern Algiers, was situate
thirty days' march to the westward of Carthage: by land, the road was
infested by the Moors; but the sea was open, and the Romans were now
masters of the sea. An active and discreet tribune sailed as far as
the Straits, where he occupied Septem or Ceuta, which rises opposite to
Gibraltar on the African coast; that remote place was afterwards adorned
and fortified by Justinian; and he seems to have indulged the vain
ambition of extending his empire to the columns of Hercules. He received
the messengers of victory at the time when he was preparing to publish
the Pandects of the Roman laws; and the devout or jealous emperor
celebrated the divine goodness, and confessed, in silence, the merit of
his successful general. Impatient to abolish the temporal and spiritual
tyranny of the Vandals, he proceeded, without delay, to the full
establishment of the Catholic church. Her jurisdiction, wealth, and
immunities, perhaps the most essential part of episcopal religion,
were restored and amplified with a liberal hand; the Arian worship was
suppressed; the Donatist meetings were proscribed; and the synod of
Carthage, by the voice of two hundred and seventeen bishops, applauded
the just measure of pious retaliation. On such an occasion, it may
not be presumed, that many orthodox prelates were absent; but the
comparative smallness of their number, which in ancient councils had
been twice or even thrice multiplied, most clearly indicates the decay
both of the church and state. While Justinian approved himself the
defender of the faith, he entertained an ambitious hope, that his
victorious lieutenant would speedily enlarge the narrow limits of his
dominion to the space which they occupied before the invasion of the
Moors and Vandals; and Belisarius was instructed to establish _five_
dukes or commanders in the convenient stations of Tripoli, Leptis,
Cirta, Cæsarea, and Sardinia, and to compute the military force of
_palatines_ or _borderers_ that might be sufficient for the defence of
Africa. The kingdom of the Vandals was not unworthy of the presence of a
Prætorian præfect; and four consulars, three presidents, were appointed
to administer the seven provinces under his civil jurisdiction. The
number of their subordinate officers, clerks, messengers, or assistants,
was minutely expressed; three hundred and ninety-six for the præfect
himself, fifty for each of his vicegerents; and the rigid definition of
their fees and salaries was more effectual to confirm the right than to
prevent the abuse. These magistrates might be oppressive, but they
were not idle; and the subtile questions of justice and revenue were
infinitely propagated under the new government, which professed to
revive the freedom and equity of the Roman republic. The conqueror was
solicitous to extract a prompt and plentiful supply from his African
subjects; and he allowed them to claim, even in the third degree, and
from the collateral line, the houses and lands of which their families
had been unjustly despoiled by the Vandals. After the departure of
Belisarius, who acted by a high and special commission, no ordinary
provision was made for a master-general of the forces; but the office
of Prætorian præfect was intrusted to a soldier; the civil and military
powers were united, according to the practice of Justinian, in the chief
governor; and the representative of the emperor in Africa, as well as in
Italy, was soon distinguished by the appellation of Exarch.

Yet the conquest of Africa was imperfect till her former sovereign was
delivered, either alive or dead, into the hands of the Romans. Doubtful
of the event, Gelimer had given secret orders that a part of his
treasure should be transported to Spain, where he hoped to find a secure
refuge at the court of the king of the Visigoths. But these intentions
were disappointed by accident, treachery, and the indefatigable pursuit
of his enemies, who intercepted his flight from the sea-shore, and
chased the unfortunate monarch, with some faithful followers, to the
inaccessible mountain of Papua, in the inland country of Numidia. He was
immediately besieged by Pharas, an officer whose truth and sobriety were
the more applauded, as such qualities could seldom be found among the
Heruli, the most corrupt of the Barbarian tribes. To his vigilance
Belisarius had intrusted this important charge and, after a bold attempt
to scale the mountain, in which he lost a hundred and ten soldiers,
Pharas expected, during a winter siege, the operation of distress
and famine on the mind of the Vandal king. From the softest habits of
pleasure, from the unbounded command of industry and wealth, he
was reduced to share the poverty of the Moors, supportable only to
themselves by their ignorance of a happier condition. In their rude
hovels, of mud and hurdles, which confined the smoke and excluded the
light, they promiscuously slept on the ground, perhaps on a sheep-skin,
with their wives, their children, and their cattle. Sordid and scanty
were their garments; the use of bread and wine was unknown; and their
oaten or barley cakes, imperfectly baked in the ashes, were devoured
almost in a crude state, by the hungry savages. The health of Gelimer
must have sunk under these strange and unwonted hardships, from
whatsoever cause they had been endured; but his actual misery was
imbittered by the recollection of past greatness, the daily insolence
of his protectors, and the just apprehension, that the light and
venal Moors might be tempted to betray the rights of hospitality. The
knowledge of his situation dictated the humane and friendly epistle
of Pharas. "Like yourself," said the chief of the Heruli, "I am an
illiterate Barbarian, but I speak the language of plain sense and an
honest heart. Why will you persist in hopeless obstinacy? Why will
you ruin yourself, your family, and nation? The love of freedom and
abhorrence of slavery? Alas! my dearest Gelimer, are you not already the
worst of slaves, the slave of the vile nation of the Moors? Would it
not be preferable to sustain at Constantinople a life of poverty and
servitude, rather than to reign the undoubted monarch of the mountain
of Papua? Do you think it a disgrace to be the subject of Justinian?
Belisarius is his subject; and we ourselves, whose birth is not inferior
to your own, are not ashamed of our obedience to the Roman emperor. That
generous prince will grant you a rich inheritance of lands, a place
in the senate, and the dignity of patrician: such are his gracious
intentions, and you may depend with full assurance on the word of
Belisarius. So long as Heaven has condemned us to suffer, patience is a
virtue; but if we reject the proffered deliverance, it degenerates into
blind and stupid despair." "I am not insensible," replied the king of the
Vandals, "how kind and rational is your advice. But I cannot persuade
myself to become the slave of an unjust enemy, who has deserved my
implacable hatred. _Him_ I had never injured either by word or deed: yet
he has sent against me, I know not from whence, a certain Belisarius,
who has cast me headlong from the throne into his abyss of misery.
Justinian is a man; he is a prince; does he not dread for himself a
similar reverse of fortune? I can write no more: my grief oppresses me.
Send me, I beseech you, my dear Pharas, send me, a lyre, a sponge, and
a loaf of bread." From the Vandal messenger, Pharas was informed of the
motives of this singular request. It was long since the king of Africa
had tasted bread; a defluxion had fallen on his eyes, the effect of
fatigue or incessant weeping; and he wished to solace the melancholy
hours, by singing to the lyre the sad story of his own misfortunes. The
humanity of Pharas was moved; he sent the three extraordinary gifts; but
even his humanity prompted him to redouble the vigilance of his guard,
that he might sooner compel his prisoner to embrace a resolution
advantageous to the Romans, but salutary to himself. The obstinacy of
Gelimer at length yielded to reason and necessity; the solemn assurances
of safety and honorable treatment were ratified in the emperor's name,
by the ambassador of Belisarius; and the king of the Vandals descended
from the mountain. The first public interview was in one of the suburbs
of Carthage; and when the royal captive accosted his conqueror, he burst
into a fit of laughter. The crowd might naturally believe, that extreme
grief had deprived Gelimer of his senses: but in this mournful state,
unseasonable mirth insinuated to more intelligent observers, that the
vain and transitory scenes of human greatness are unworthy of a serious

Their contempt was soon justified by a new example of a vulgar truth;
that flattery adheres to power, and envy to superior merit. The chiefs
of the Roman army presumed to think themselves the rivals of a hero.
Their private despatches maliciously affirmed, that the conqueror of
Africa, strong in his reputation and the public love, conspired to
seat himself on the throne of the Vandals. Justinian listened with too
patient an ear; and his silence was the result of jealousy rather than
of confidence. An honorable alternative, of remaining in the province,
or of returning to the capital, was indeed submitted to the discretion
of Belisarius; but he wisely concluded, from intercepted letters and
the knowledge of his sovereign's temper, that he must either resign his
head, erect his standard, or confound his enemies by his presence
and submission. Innocence and courage decided his choice; his guards,
captives, and treasures, were diligently embarked; and so prosperous was
the navigation, that his arrival at Constantinople preceded any certain
account of his departure from the port of Carthage. Such unsuspecting
loyalty removed the apprehensions of Justinian; envy was silenced and
inflamed by the public gratitude; and the third Africanus obtained the
honors of a triumph, a ceremony which the city of Constantine had never
seen, and which ancient Rome, since the reign of Tiberius, had reserved
for the _auspicious_ arms of the Cæsars. From the palace of Belisarius,
the procession was conducted through the principal streets to the
hippodrome; and this memorable day seemed to avenge the injuries of
Genseric, and to expiate the shame of the Romans. The wealth of nations
was displayed, the trophies of martial or effeminate luxury; rich armor,
golden thrones, and the chariots of state which had been used by the
Vandal queen; the massy furniture of the royal banquet, the splendor
of precious stones, the elegant forms of statues and vases, the more

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 10 of 49)