Edward Gibbon.

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

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the marriage of his children, and the testament of his brother; and
although his conduct was pure and blameless, Justinian was displeased
that he should be thought worthy of the confidence of the malecontents.
The life of Germanus was a lesson of implicit obedience: he nobly
refused to prostitute his name and character in the factions of
the circus: the gravity of his manners was tempered by innocent
cheerfulness; and his riches were lent without interest to indigent or
deserving friends. His valor had formerly triumphed over the Sclavonians
of the Danube and the rebels of Africa: the first report of his
promotion revived the hopes of the Italians; and he was privately
assured, that a crowd of Roman deserters would abandon, on his approach,
the standard of Totila. His second marriage with Malasontha, the
granddaughter of Theodoric endeared Germanus to the Goths themselves;
and they marched with reluctance against the father of a royal infant
the last offspring of the line of Amali. A splendid allowance was
assigned by the emperor: the general contribute his private fortune: his
two sons were popular and active and he surpassed, in the promptitude
and success of his levies the expectation of mankind. He was permitted
to select some squadrons of Thracian cavalry: the veterans, as well as
the youth of Constantinople and Europe, engaged their voluntary service;
and as far as the heart of Germany, his fame and liberality attracted
the aid of the Barbarians. The Romans advanced to Sardica; an army of
Sclavonians fled before their march; but within two days of their final
departure, the designs of Germanus were terminated by his malady and
death. Yet the impulse which he had given to the Italian war still
continued to act with energy and effect. The maritime towns Ancona,
Crotona, Centumcellæ, resisted the assaults of Totila Sicily was reduced
by the zeal of Artaban, and the Gothic navy was defeated near the coast
of the Adriatic. The two fleets were almost equal, forty-seven to fifty
galleys: the victory was decided by the knowledge and dexterity of the
Greeks; but the ships were so closely grappled, that only twelve of
the Goths escaped from this unfortunate conflict. They affected to
depreciate an element in which they were unskilled; but their own
experience confirmed the truth of a maxim, that the master of the sea
will always acquire the dominion of the land.

After the loss of Germanus, the nations were provoked to smile, by the
strange intelligence, that the command of the Roman armies was given to
a eunuch. But the eunuch Narses is ranked among the few who have rescued
that unhappy name from the contempt and hatred of mankind. A feeble,
diminutive body concealed the soul of a statesman and a warrior. His
youth had been employed in the management of the loom and distaff, in
the cares of the household, and the service of female luxury; but while
his hands were busy, he secretly exercised the faculties of a vigorous
and discerning mind. A stranger to the schools and the camp, he studied
in the palace to dissemble, to flatter, and to persuade; and as soon
as he approached the person of the emperor, Justinian listened with
surprise and pleasure to the manly counsels of his chamberlain and
private treasurer. The talents of Narses were tried and improved in
frequent embassies: he led an army into Italy acquired a practical
knowledge of the war and the country, and presumed to strive with the
genius of Belisarius. Twelve years after his return, the eunuch was
chosen to achieve the conquest which had been left imperfect by the
first of the Roman generals. Instead of being dazzled by vanity or
emulation, he seriously declared that, unless he were armed with an
adequate force, he would never consent to risk his own glory and that
of his sovereign. Justinian granted to the favorite what he might have
denied to the hero: the Gothic war was rekindled from its ashes, and the
preparations were not unworthy of the ancient majesty of the empire. The
key of the public treasure was put into his hand, to collect magazines,
to levy soldiers, to purchase arms and horses, to discharge the arrears
of pay, and to tempt the fidelity of the fugitives and deserters. The
troops of Germanus were still in arms; they halted at Salona in the
expectation of a new leader; and legions of subjects and allies were
created by the well-known liberality of the eunuch Narses. The king
of the Lombards satisfied or surpassed the obligations of a treaty,
by lending two thousand two hundred of his bravest warriors, who were
followed by three thousand of their martial attendants. Three thousand
Heruli fought on horseback under Philemuth, their native chief; and the
noble Aratus, who adopted the manners and discipline of Rome, conducted
a band of veterans of the same nation. Dagistheus was released from
prison to command the Huns; and Kobad, the grandson and nephew of
the great king, was conspicuous by the regal tiara at the head of his
faithful Persians, who had devoted themselves to the fortunes of their
prince. Absolute in the exercise of his authority, more absolute in the
affection of his troops, Narses led a numerous and gallant army from
Philippopolis to Salona, from whence he coasted the eastern side of the
Adriatic as far as the confines of Italy. His progress was checked. The
East could not supply vessels capable of transporting such multitudes of
men and horses. The Franks, who, in the general confusion, had usurped
the greater part of the Venetian province, refused a free passage to the
friends of the Lombards. The station of Verona was occupied by Teias,
with the flower of the Gothic forces; and that skilful commander
had overspread the adjacent country with the fall of woods and the
inundation of waters. In this perplexity, an officer of experience
proposed a measure, secure by the appearance of rashness; that the
Roman army should cautiously advance along the seashore, while the fleet
preceded their march, and successively cast a bridge of boats over the
mouths of the rivers, the Timavus, the Brenta, the Adige, and the
Po, that fall into the Adriatic to the north of Ravenna. Nine days he
reposed in the city, collected the fragments of the Italian army, and
marching towards Rimini to meet the defiance of an insulting enemy.

Chapter XLIII: Last Victory And Death Of Belisarius, Death Of Justinian. - Part III.

The prudence of Narses impelled him to speedy and decisive action.
His powers were the last effort of the state; the cost of each day
accumulated the enormous account; and the nations, untrained to
discipline or fatigue, might be rashly provoked to turn their arms
against each other, or against their benefactor. The same considerations
might have tempered the ardor of Totila. But he was conscious that the
clergy and people of Italy aspired to a second revolution: he felt or
suspected the rapid progress of treason; and he resolved to risk the
Gothic kingdom on the chance of a day, in which the valiant would be
animated by instant danger and the disaffected might be awed by mutual
ignorance. In his march from Ravenna, the Roman general chastised the
garrison of Rimini, traversed in a direct line the hills of Urbino, and
reentered the Flaminian way, nine miles beyond the perforated rock,
an obstacle of art and nature which might have stopped or retarded his
progress. The Goths were assembled in the neighborhood of Rome, they
advanced without delay to seek a superior enemy, and the two armies
approached each other at the distance of one hundred furlongs, between
Tagina and the sepulchres of the Gauls. The haughty message of Narses
was an offer, not of peace, but of pardon. The answer of the Gothic
king declared his resolution to die or conquer. "What day," said the
messenger, "will you fix for the combat?" "The eighth day," replied
Totila; but early the next morning he attempted to surprise a foe,
suspicious of deceit, and prepared for battle. Ten thousand Heruli
and Lombards, of approved valor and doubtful faith, were placed in the
centre. Each of the wings was composed of eight thousand Romans; the
right was guarded by the cavalry of the Huns, the left was covered by
fifteen hundred chosen horse, destined, according to the emergencies
of action, to sustain the retreat of their friends, or to encompass the
flank of the enemy. From his proper station at the head of the right
wing, the eunuch rode along the line, expressing by his voice and
countenance the assurance of victory; exciting the soldiers of the
emperor to punish the guilt and madness of a band of robbers; and
exposing to their view gold chains, collars, and bracelets, the rewards
of military virtue. From the event of a single combat they drew an omen
of success; and they beheld with pleasure the courage of fifty archers,
who maintained a small eminence against three successive attacks of the
Gothic cavalry. At the distance only of two bow-shots, the armies spent
the morning in dreadful suspense, and the Romans tasted some necessary
food, without unloosing the cuirass from their breast, or the bridle
from their horses. Narses awaited the charge; and it was delayed by
Totila till he had received his last succors of two thousand Goths.
While he consumed the hours in fruitless treaty, the king exhibited in
a narrow space the strength and agility of a warrior. His armor was
enchased with gold; his purple banner floated with the wind: he cast
his lance into the air; caught it with the right hand; shifted it to the
left; threw himself backwards; recovered his seat; and managed a fiery
steed in all the paces and evolutions of the equestrian school. As soon
as the succors had arrived, he retired to his tent, assumed the dress
and arms of a private soldier, and gave the signal of a battle. The
first line of cavalry advanced with more courage than discretion, and
left behind them the infantry of the second line. They were soon engaged
between the horns of a crescent, into which the adverse wings had been
insensibly curved, and were saluted from either side by the volleys of
four thousand archers. Their ardor, and even their distress, drove them
forwards to a close and unequal conflict, in which they could only use
their lances against an enemy equally skilled in all the instruments
of war. A generous emulation inspired the Romans and their Barbarian
allies; and Narses, who calmly viewed and directed their efforts,
doubted to whom he should adjudge the prize of superior bravery. The
Gothic cavalry was astonished and disordered, pressed and broken; and
the line of infantry, instead of presenting their spears, or opening
their intervals, were trampled under the feet of the flying horse. Six
thousand of the Goths were slaughtered without mercy in the field of
Tagina. Their prince, with five attendants, was overtaken by Asbad,
of the race of the Gepidæ. "Spare the king of Italy," cried a loyal
voice, and Asbad struck his lance through the body of Totila. The blow
was instantly revenged by the faithful Goths: they transported their
dying monarch seven miles beyond the scene of his disgrace; and his
last moments were not imbittered by the presence of an enemy. Compassion
afforded him the shelter of an obscure tomb; but the Romans were not
satisfied of their victory, till they beheld the corpse of the Gothic
king. His hat, enriched with gems, and his bloody robe, were presented
to Justinian by the messengers of triumph.

As soon as Narses had paid his devotions to the Author of victory, and
the blessed Virgin, his peculiar patroness, he praised, rewarded, and
dismissed the Lombards. The villages had been reduced to ashes by these
valiant savages; they ravished matrons and virgins on the altar; their
retreat was diligently watched by a strong detachment of regular forces,
who prevented a repetition of the like disorders. The victorious eunuch
pursued his march through Tuscany, accepted the submission of the Goths,
heard the acclamations, and often the complaints, of the Italians, and
encompassed the walls of Rome with the remainder of his formidable host.
Round the wide circumference, Narses assigned to himself, and to each
of his lieutenants, a real or a feigned attack, while he silently marked
the place of easy and unguarded entrance. Neither the fortifications of
Hadrian's mole, nor of the port, could long delay the progress of the
conqueror; and Justinian once more received the keys of Rome, which,
under his reign, had been five times taken and recovered. But the
deliverance of Rome was the last calamity of the Roman people. The
Barbarian allies of Narses too frequently confounded the privileges of
peace and war. The despair of the flying Goths found some consolation
in sanguinary revenge; and three hundred youths of the noblest families,
who had been sent as hostages beyond the Po, were inhumanly slain by the
successor of Totila. The fate of the senate suggests an awful lesson
of the vicissitude of human affairs. Of the senators whom Totila
had banished from their country, some were rescued by an officer of
Belisarius, and transported from Campania to Sicily; while others were
too guilty to confide in the clemency of Justinian, or too poor to
provide horses for their escape to the sea-shore. Their brethren
languished five years in a state of indigence and exile: the victory of
Narses revived their hopes; but their premature return to the metropolis
was prevented by the furious Goths; and all the fortresses of Campania
were stained with patrician blood. After a period of thirteen centuries,
the institution of Romulus expired; and if the nobles of Rome still
assumed the title of senators, few subsequent traces can be discovered
of a public council, or constitutional order. Ascend six hundred years,
and contemplate the kings of the earth soliciting an audience, as the
slaves or freedmen of the Roman senate!

The Gothic war was yet alive. The bravest of the nation retired beyond
the Po; and Teias was unanimously chosen to succeed and revenge their
departed hero. The new king immediately sent ambassadors to implore, or
rather to purchase, the aid of the Franks, and nobly lavished, for the
public safety, the riches which had been deposited in the palace of
Pavia. The residue of the royal treasure was guarded by his brother
Aligern, at Cumæa, in Campania; but the strong castle which Totila had
fortified was closely besieged by the arms of Narses. From the Alps
to the foot of Mount Vesuvius, the Gothic king, by rapid and secret
marches, advanced to the relief of his brother, eluded the vigilance
of the Roman chiefs, and pitched his camp on the banks of the Sarnus
or _Draco_, which flows from Nuceria into the Bay of Naples. The river
separated the two armies: sixty days were consumed in distant and
fruitless combats, and Teias maintained this important post till he was
deserted by his fleet and the hope of subsistence. With reluctant steps
he ascended the _Lactarian_ mount, where the physicians of Rome, since
the time of Galen, had sent their patients for the benefit of the air
and the milk. But the Goths soon embraced a more generous resolution:
to descend the hill, to dismiss their horses, and to die in arms, and
in the possession of freedom. The king marched at their head, bearing in
his right hand a lance, and an ample buckler in his left: with the
one he struck dead the foremost of the assailants; with the other he
received the weapons which every hand was ambitious to aim against his
life. After a combat of many hours, his left arm was fatigued by the
weight of twelve javelins which hung from his shield. Without moving
from his ground, or suspending his blows, the hero called aloud on his
attendants for a fresh buckler; but in the moment while his side was
uncovered, it was pierced by a mortal dart. He fell; and his head,
exalted on a spear, proclaimed to the nations that the Gothic kingdom
was no more. But the example of his death served only to animate the
companions who had sworn to perish with their leader. They fought till
darkness descended on the earth. They reposed on their arms. The combat
was renewed with the return of light, and maintained with unabated vigor
till the evening of the second day. The repose of a second night, the
want of water, and the loss of their bravest champions, determined the
surviving Goths to accept the fair capitulation which the prudence
of Narses was inclined to propose. They embraced the alternative
of residing in Italy, as the subjects and soldiers of Justinian, or
departing with a portion of their private wealth, in search of some
independent country. Yet the oath of fidelity or exile was alike
rejected by one thousand Goths, who broke away before the treaty was
signed, and boldly effected their retreat to the walls of Pavia. The
spirit, as well as the situation, of Aligern prompted him to imitate
rather than to bewail his brother: a strong and dexterous archer, he
transpierced with a single arrow the armor and breast of his antagonist;
and his military conduct defended Cumæ above a year against the forces
of the Romans. Their industry had scooped the Sibyl's cave into a
prodigious mine; combustible materials were introduced to consume the
temporary props: the wall and the gate of Cumæ sunk into the cavern, but
the ruins formed a deep and inaccessible precipice. On the fragment of
a rock Aligern stood alone and unshaken, till he calmly surveyed the
hopeless condition of his country, and judged it more honorable to be
the friend of Narses, than the slave of the Franks. After the death of
Teias, the Roman general separated his troops to reduce the cities
of Italy; Lucca sustained a long and vigorous siege: and such was the
humanity or the prudence of Narses, that the repeated perfidy of the
inhabitants could not provoke him to exact the forfeit lives of their
hostages. These hostages were dismissed in safety; and their grateful
zeal at length subdued the obstinacy of their countrymen.

Before Lucca had surrendered, Italy was overwhelmed by a new deluge of
Barbarians. A feeble youth, the grandson of Clovis, reigned over the
Austrasians or oriental Franks. The guardians of Theodebald entertained
with coldness and reluctance the magnificent promises of the Gothic
ambassadors. But the spirit of a martial people outstripped the timid
counsels of the court: two brothers, Lothaire and Buccelin, the dukes
of the Alemanni, stood forth as the leaders of the Italian war; and
seventy-five thousand Germans descended in the autumn from the Rhætian
Alps into the plain of Milan. The vanguard of the Roman army was
stationed near the Po, under the conduct of Fulcaris, a bold Herulian,
who rashly conceived that personal bravery was the sole duty and merit
of a commander. As he marched without order or precaution along the
Æmilian way, an ambuscade of Franks suddenly rose from the amphitheatre
of Parma; his troops were surprised and routed; but their leader refused
to fly; declaring to the last moment, that death was less terrible
than the angry countenance of Narses. The death of Fulcaris, and the
retreat of the surviving chiefs, decided the fluctuating and rebellious
temper of the Goths; they flew to the standard of their deliverers, and
admitted them into the cities which still resisted the arms of the
Roman general. The conqueror of Italy opened a free passage to the
irresistible torrent of Barbarians. They passed under the walls of
Cesena, and answered by threats and reproaches the advice of Aligern,
that the Gothic treasures could no longer repay the labor of an
invasion. Two thousand Franks were destroyed by the skill and valor
of Narses himself, who sailed from Rimini at the head of three hundred
horse, to chastise the licentious rapine of their march. On the confines
of Samnium the two brothers divided their forces. With the right wing,
Buccelin assumed the spoil of Campania, Lucania, and Bruttium; with
the left, Lothaire accepted the plunder of Apulia and Calabria. They
followed the coast of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, as far as
Rhegium and Otranto, and the extreme lands of Italy were the term
of their destructive progress. The Franks, who were Christians and
Catholics, contented themselves with simple pillage and occasional
murder. But the churches which their piety had spared, were stripped by
the sacrilegious hands of the Alamanni, who sacrificed horses' heads to
their native deities of the woods and rivers; they melted or profaned
the consecrated vessels, and the ruins of shrines and altars were
stained with the blood of the faithful. Buccelin was actuated by
ambition, and Lothaire by avarice. The former aspired to restore the
Gothic kingdom; the latter, after a promise to his brother of speedy
succors, returned by the same road to deposit his treasure beyond the
Alps. The strength of their armies was already wasted by the change of
climate and contagion of disease: the Germans revelled in the vintage of
Italy; and their own intemperance avenged, in some degree, the miseries
of a defenceless people.

At the entrance of the spring, the Imperial troops, who had guarded
the cities, assembled, to the number of eighteen thousand men, in
the neighborhood of Rome. Their winter hours had not been consumed
in idleness. By the command, and after the example, of Narses, they
repeated each day their military exercise on foot and on horseback,
accustomed their ear to obey the sound of the trumpet, and practised the
steps and evolutions of the Pyrrhic dance. From the Straits of Sicily,
Buccelin, with thirty thousand Franks and Alamanni, slowly moved towards
Capua, occupied with a wooden tower the bridge of Casilinum, covered
his right by the stream of the Vulturnus, and secured the rest of his
encampment by a rampart of sharp stakes, and a circle of wagons, whose
wheels were buried in the earth. He impatiently expected the return of
Lothaire; ignorant, alas! that his brother could never return, and that
the chief and his army had been swept away by a strange disease on the
banks of the Lake Benacus, between Trent and Verona. The banners
of Narses soon approached the Vulturnus, and the eyes of Italy were
anxiously fixed on the event of this final contest. Perhaps the talents
of the Roman general were most conspicuous in the calm operations which
precede the tumult of a battle. His skilful movements intercepted the
subsistence of the Barbarian deprived him of the advantage of the bridge
and river, and in the choice of the ground and moment of action reduced
him to comply with the inclination of his enemy. On the morning of the
important day, when the ranks were already formed, a servant, for some
trivial fault, was killed by his master, one of the leaders of the
Heruli. The justice or passion of Narses was awakened: he summoned the
offender to his presence, and without listening to his excuses, gave the
signal to the minister of death. If the cruel master had not infringed
the laws of his nation, this arbitrary execution was not less unjust
than it appears to have been imprudent. The Heruli felt the indignity;
they halted: but the Roman general, without soothing their rage, or
expecting their resolution, called aloud, as the trumpets sounded, that
unless they hastened to occupy their place, they would lose the honor
of the victory. His troops were disposed in a long front, the cavalry on
the wings; in the centre, the heavy-armed foot; the archers and slingers
in the rear. The Germans advanced in a sharp-pointed column, of the form
of a triangle or solid wedge. They pierced the feeble centre of Narses,
who received them with a smile into the fatal snare, and directed his
wings of cavalry insensibly to wheel on their flanks and encompass their
rear. The host of the Franks and Alamanni consisted of infantry: a
sword and buckler hung by their side; and they used, as their weapons
of offence, a weighty hatchet and a hooked javelin, which were only
formidable in close combat, or at a short distance. The flower of the
Roman archers, on horseback, and in complete armor, skirmished without
peril round this immovable phalanx; supplied by active speed the
deficiency of number; and aimed their arrows against a crowd of
Barbarians, who, instead of a cuirass and helmet, were covered by a
loose garment of fur or linen. They paused, they trembled, their ranks
were confounded, and in the decisive moment the Heruli, preferring glory
to revenge, charged with rapid violence the head of the column. Their
leader, Sinbal, and Aligern, the Gothic prince, deserved the prize
of superior valor; and their example excited the victorious troops to

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 21 of 49)