Byzantine conquest of Italy in the Sixth-Century, according to the Chronicle of Marcellinus

Chronicle of Marcellinus ComesWhile Procopius, the Greek historian who wrote an account of the wars the Byzantines fought during the reign of Justinian (527-565), gives the most widely known account of the Byzantine invasion of Italy in the sixth century, other works also provide valuable information. In this anonymous addition to the Chronicle of Marcellinus Comes, the events from 534 to 547 are described, with much of the text devoted to the conquest of Italy by the Byzantine general Belisarius.

1 Sept. 534- 31 Aug. 535  13th indiction, consulship of Belisarius alone

1. After Carthage and Libya together with their king Gelimer had been subjugated by Belisarius, the emperor tumed his attention to Rome and Italy. Another expedition and another fleet were prepared and the same general, who had been elected consul, set a course direct for Sicily and without delay invaded Catina, Syracuse and indeed the whole of Trinacria. When he found out there that civil war had flared up in Africa, and that the army was rebelling against its own leader, he took a few of his men and set out for Africa, and provided assistance for Solomon, who was in charge. Partly through encouraging his army and partly through punishing it he took measures for the good of the empire by putting the terrible tyrant to flight and, resetting his course, he returned to Trinacria.

2. Agapitus, the fiftieth bishop of the city of Rome, was sent on an embassy by Theodahad, king of the Goths, and came to Constantinople.

3. The patrician Tzitta was found engaging with the Bulgar enemy at Iatrus in Moesia and was victorious.

4. Epiphanius, bishop of the royal city, died before the arrival of the Roman pontiff. Anthimus left the church of Trebizond and, against ecclesiastical regulations, usurped Epiphanius’ see.

1 Sept. 535-31 Aug. 536 14th indiction after the consulship of Belisarius

1. Evremud, son-in-law of Theodahad, deserted the royal army in Bruttium and fled to Belisarius in Sicily.

2. In Africa, however, Germanus succeeded Solomon, who  had likewise fallen out with his army, and sent him back to the  emperor.

3. Belisarius crossed Campania and laid waste Naples.

4. Being distrustful of Theodahad, the Gothic army admitted  Vitigis into the kingship and he immediately usurped the  kingdom in the Barbarican plains.  

5. With his campaign completed, king Vitigis arrived in  Rome where, since Agapitus had already died in  Constantinople, Theodahad had called Silverius to the  episcopate. While living there he controlled Ravenna.

6. He killed Theodahad in a place called Quintus beside the  river Santernus and advanced through Tuscany himself,  plundering all the wealth which Theodahad had gathered in  Insula and Urbs Vetus.

7. After entering Ravenna, he joined to himself as a partner  in the kingdom Matasuentha, the niece of Theodoric, through  duress rather than affection.

8. With the Lord’s blessing, Belisarius advanced to Rome.

9. Germanus administered Africa successfully.

10. Bishop Agapitus, coming to Constantinople from Rome,  as we said above, banished Anthimus, calling him an adulterer  in ecclesiastical terms because he left one see and solicited  another. In his place Agapitus ordained the priest Mennas as  bishop and he himself reached his life’s end. He contemplated  nothing contrary to the faith just as he was adjoined by the  emperor.

11. Indeed in that very year, on account of the excessive drought the pasture land of Persia was destroyed and about fifteen thousand Saracens with the phylarchs Chabus and Hezidus were driven across the border of Euphratesia by Alamundarus. There the general Batzas encouraged them partly by flattery and partly by peaceful restraint and repressed their desire for war.

1 Sept. 536-31 Aug. 537 – 15th indiction, again after the consulship of Belisarius

1. The usurper Vitigis gathered his army together and laid  siege to Rome. Belisarius removed from his see Pope Silverius  who was at that time favourable to Vitigis, and ordained the  deacon Vigilius in his place.

2. After Vitigis had been besieging Rome for a long time  Belisarius was hard-pressed within by hunger and patrols and  asked the emperor for reinforcements. Martin and Valerian,  both Masters of the Soldiery, were sent to him. However,  Vitigis did not slacken off the siege.

3. In Africa, Germanus put the rebellious soldiers, together  with the usurper Stotzas, to flight into the desert country of the  Moors, through a clash of arms.

4. In the East too, John Cottistis was killed at Dara while  usurping power before he could undertake any hostile action  against the emperor.

5. The great church in Constantinople, built by the emperor  Justinian in a manner unique in this world, was dedicated on  27 December.

1 Sept. 537-31 Aug. 538 – In the 1st indiction, John alone

1. Vitigis was still lingering in the siege of Rome when the Master of the Soldiery John, together with the illustrious Batzas, Conon, Paul and Rema and a large well-equipped army, neared Italy and pitched camp at Portus Romanus, and then came to the assistance of hard-pressed Rome. On perceiving their approach Vitigis confirmed a three-month truce with Belisarius and sent his ambassadors to the emperor.

2. During this peace Belisarius went back to Campania to secure a supply of corn for Rome. When he returned from Campania he did away with the patrician Constantine, an opponent of his.

3. But John, leaving the camp which he had set up in the harbour, advanced into the Samnite region and, after attacking the town of Atemum, he stood with his men before Tremo, the Gothic general, and at the same time also invaded Ortona and, after pillaging Picenum, occupied Ariminum.

4. When he had heard this Vitigis left the siege of the city in which he had been still stationed after the peace was broken and, leaving Rome, he crossed the Appenines over the rampart of Clodia and Tuscia Annonaria and, pitching his camp on the bank of the Rubicon river, he besieged Ariminum.

5. Being driven out of there by Narses coming from Constantinople, and by Belisarius coming from Rome, he fled to Ravenna.

6. His nephew Oraio weakened Milan through a lengthy starvation, besieging Mundilas and Paul, the generals stationed there together with their soldiers.

7. While Narses was encamped at Ariminum, Belisarius took Urbinum in surrender, as well as Urbs Vetus and the island of Lake Bolsena, on his way to Rome to spend the winter.

1 Sept. 538-31 Aug. 539 –  2nd indiction, consulship of Apion alone

1. Narses returned to Constantinople.

2. After a seven month siege Belisarius entered Auximum  and at the same time Faesulae as well.

3. The Goths entered Milan and tore down its walls, took  booty and killed all the Romans. They led the generals  Mundilas and Paul off to Ravenna.

4. Theudebert, king of the Franks, advanced with an  enormous army and devastated the whole of Liguria and  Aemilia. He subjugated and looted the town of Genoa located on the shore by the Tyrrhenian sea. Afterwards, in order to  assist his disease-stricken army, he made an agreement with  Belisarius and returned to Gaul.

5. Getmanus was summoned to Constantinople from Africa.  Solomon again took charge there.

6. Calluc, the Master of the Soldiery, fought against the  Gepids at first successfully, and later unsuccessfully, and was  killed.

1 Sept. 539-31 Aug. 540 – 3rd indiction, consulship of Justin the Younger alone

1. The Parthians invaded Syria and overthrew many cities. Germanus took up arms and marched against them with his son Justin the consul, while he was actually in office.

2. Antioch the Great was ravaged and demolished by the Persians.

3. Belisarius entered Ravenna and, on the summons of count Marcellus, returned to the emperor accompanied by king Vitigis and his queen and all their wealth, as well as the most noble of the Goths.

4. Solomon fought successfully and put down rebellions in Africa.

5. The Goths living across the Po, with their generals Oraio, the nephew of Vitigis, and Ildibadus, were ready to revolt on hearing that king Vitigis and his queen, with the wealth of the palace and the Goths, had been driven from their thrones and taken to the East by Belisarius. They elected Ildibadus as their king.

6. The patrician Bessas came up to Placentia from Ravenna to fight Ildibadus, after Constantine had been sent by the emperor to Rome from Dalmatia to take command of the army.

1 Sept. 540-31 Aug. 541 –  4th indiction, consulship of the first year of Basil alone

 1. Since the Persians continued to be hostile, Belisarius  undertook the Eastern expedition after Germanus had  returned to the royal city.

 2. After Ildibadus had been killed the Goths elected Erarichus as their king.

 3. Solomon was killed in Africa. Sergius succeeded him as  general in the war and governor of the province.

1 Sept. 541-31 Aug. 542 –  5th indiction, 2nd year after the consulship of Basil

1. While the soldiers who had secretly entered Verona were  fighting over the booty in their covetous avarice, they were  shamefully banished from the city by the Goths emerging  from their hideouts.

2. When king Erarichus had been killed the Goths put Totila  on the throne. To Italy’s detriment, he soon crossed the Po  and overwhelmed the Roman army in the city of Faventia in  Aemilia, put the generals to flight, occupied Caesena and  Urbinum, Mons Feretris and Petra Pertusa, and devastated Italy  as he rushed from place to place.

3. Again in Tuscia Annonaria he overcame the Roman army  near Mugellum, through his generals Ruderit, Viliarid and  Bleda. In that battle the patrician Bessas was wounded and escaped while the others, who fled in all directions, were unharmed.

1 Sept. 542-31 Aug. 543 –  6th indiction, 3rd year after the consulship of Basil

1. Totila devastated Campania and, destroying walled cities,  he laid siege to Tibur with his own men

2. A great pestilence ravaged the land of Italy, and also the  Orient and Illyricum which had been already similarly  affected.

3. In the East while the conflict between the Persians and our  army continued, Sergius was being subdued in Africa by the  rebellions of Stotzas and the Moors.

1 Sept. 543-31 Aug. 544 –  7th indiction, 4th year after the consulship of Basil

1. Totila besieged Firmum and Asculum, invaded Naples and plundered it, as well as Tibur. 2. Rome, however, was under siege for a long time when the Master of the Soldiery John was in command there. 3. While Belisarius was stationed in the East, John the patrician and Praetorian Prefect, formerly consul, was exiled and his house given to Belisarius.

1 Sept. 544-31 Aug. 545 –  8th indiction, 5th year after the consulship of Basil

1. Totila entered Firmum and Asculum under pledge. When  the Roman soldiery had been sent away together with their  equipment he exercised his cruelty towards the Romans by  stripping and killing them all.

2. In Africa, John, making an attack on the usurper Stotzas,  killed him and was himself killed by his armour‑bearer. In  that usurpation a certain John was elected and called Stotzas  the Younger.

3. Belisarius was summoned from the East and, although  running into enmity and serious danger and being exposed to  envy, he was again sent back to Italy. On his arrival at Rome he put Bessas in charge and sent John to the emperor.

4. After Picenum had been devastated Totila was victorious  in a battle near Auximum. Rushing from there through  Tuscany he destroyed Spoletium, took the towns of Assisi and Clusium and besieged Perusia.

1 Sept. 545-31 Aug. 546 –  9th indiction, 6th year after the consulship of Basil

1. Vigilius, the fifty-ninth pope from the apostle Peter, was  summoned by the emperor, left Rome and came to Sicily.

 2. Totila occupied Lucania and Bruttium and overran Naples,  and besieged Rome.

 3. Sergius was summoned from Africa and Ariobindus,  having married the emperor’s niece, was put in charge as  governor there.

 4. In the East a treaty was sealed with the Parthians through  Constantianus, the Master of the Soldiery, and the army returned to Constantinople.

1 Sept. 546-31 Aug. 547 –  10th indiction, 7th year after the consulship of Basil

1. The Goths sent an embassy to the emperor through the bishop of the town of Asinatum, Aventius by name.

2. John, the Master of the Soldiery, hastened to Italy.

3. Belisarius left Ravenna and came to Dyrrachium, from  where John was directed to Calabria and he himself reached  Rome by way of Sicily.

4. Pope Vigilius entered Constantinople on 24 January.

5. Through the treachery of Isaurians, Totila entered Rome  on 17 December, knocked down the walls, put several homes  to the torch and received the possessions of all the Romans as  booty. He led these very Romans off as prisoners into  Campania. After this destruction Rome was so desolated that  for forty days or more neither man nor beast stayed there. So,  when Belisarius came he rebuilt part of the walls and on  Totila’s approach opposed him in battle.

6. Also in that year, the emperor’s niece returned from  Africa. She was widowed after her husband, Ariobindus, had  been killed by the usurper Guntharic, while he was negotiating  with the younger Stotzas. But Artabanes, having seized both,  killed Guntharic and had John, that is Stotzas the Younger,  bound and sent to the emperor. After several days John  [Troglita] was sent to Africa and Artabanes was summoned to  receive the office of Master of the Soldiery in the imperial  presence.

The previous section is from The Chronicle of Marcellinus, edited and translated by Brian Croke (Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1995).  We thank the Australian Association for Byzantine Studies for allowing us to republish this section.  For more information about this and other publications, please visit the AABS website.


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