Story of the Goths - Henry Bradley

The Year-Long Siege

The story of the long siege of Rome is one continuous record of wonderful patience, resolution, and readiness of resource on the part of Belisarius, and of miserable incompetence on the part of his antagonist. The first thing which King Witigis attempted to do was to enclose Rome with a circle of stockaded camps. But the scale on which these camps were constructed was so ample that even the immense army of the Goths was insufficient to supply men to occupy more than seven of them, which blockaded eight out of the fourteen gates, leaving the six gates on the southern side of the city uninvested. The seven camps, each containing more than thrice the number of men who formed the garrison of Rome, were fortified with as much elaborate care as if they were intended to withstand an assault from an overwhelming force. King Witigis's principle of action was that it is never possible to be too secure.

The next thing which the Goths did was, in imitation of Belisarius's own proceedings at Naples, to destroy the aqueducts that supplied Rome with water. Belisarius did not intend that Rome should be captured as he had taken Naples, and therefore he took care that the underground passages should be solidly walled up. The cutting off of the supply from the aqueducts put an end to the enjoyment of the public baths, the great luxury of Roman life, and the complaints of the citizens were bitter. But with the river flowing through the city, and the wells belonging to private houses, there was not much reason to fear that want of water would compel Belisarius to surrender.

One of the aqueducts, however, had furnished the water-power to the corn-mills, and the consequence of the cutting-off of the stream was that the daily supply of flour could not be doled out to the soldiers and the citizens. Belisarius therefore contrived to have two barges moored just below the Aelian Bridge, near the northern wall of the city, with a water-wheel between them, so that the stream, rushing with force from under the arch of the bridge, should turn the wheel, and so drive the mills which were placed on the barges. The Goths were informed of this device by deserters, and sent floating down the river a quantity of large trunks of trees and bodies of dead Romans, and by this means managed to upset the machinery. However, Belisarius's ingenuity was equal to this occasion also. He caused long iron chains to be drawn across the opening of the bridge, which intercepted everything that came down the stream, and men were employed from time to time to clear away the obstructions which had accumulated. This contrivance served a double purpose, for it prevented the possibility of a night attack being made by boats sailing under the bridge.

After a few days had passed Witigis began to think that the capture of Rome would not prove so easy an undertaking as he had fancied. He therefore determined to see whether Belisarius could be induced to surrender by the offer of honourable conditions. A Gothic chief named Albcs, accompanied by several other nobles, was sent into the city with a communication to Belisarius. He found the general surrounded by his staff and the principal senators, and addressed him in a formal speech, bidding him look from the walls at the vast numbers of the besiegers and consider whether it would not be mere foolhardiness to think of resisting them.

Belisarius grimly replied that the question whether resistance was "foolhardiness" or not was his concern and not theirs, and that he did not intend to be guided by the advice which they offered him. Resist he would, and a time would come when the Goths would be glad to hide themselves if they could even in the bramble-bushes. Rome belonged to the emperor; the Gothic intruders who had stolen it had been turned out, and so long as Belisarius lived they should not come back.

After Belisarius had spoken, Albcs and his companions looked expectantly at the senators. They had heard from deserters how fiercely some of the principal Romans had talked (in private) about the conduct of Belisarius, and they thought that the appeal made by Albcs would call forth such a burst of indignation as would compel the general to yield, But the senators sat pale and trembling, and none of them dared to speak a word except a certain Fidelius, whom Belisarius had made Praetorian Prefect, and who loaded the Goths with abuse.

The envoys went back to the Gothic camp, and were received by Witigis with the eager inquiry, "What sort of a man is Belisarius? Is he going to give way?" They replied with emphasis that the Goths had made a great mistake in thinking they could frighten that man by anything they could say or do. On receiving this report the king hurried on his preparations for taking the city by storm.

The preparations were on a magnificent scale. All the machines which the military engineers of those times were able to devise for the assault on a fortress were constructed in large numbers. There were wooden towers on wheels equal in height to the walls of the city. These were intended to be dragged by oxen close up to the walls, so that the archers on the top could fight on a level with the defenders of the ramparts. Then there were the battering-rams, which consisted of huge beams of wood, each carrying a block of iron at the end and suspended in chains from a wooden framework. The machine moved on four wheels, and was worked from within by fifty men who dragged back the heavy "ram," and then allowed it to swing against the wall. The whole structure was covered with skins to protect the men who were inside. Scaling-ladders, too, were prepared to be used when the soldiers on the wooden towers should have succeeded in clearing a portion of the wall of the defenders; and fascines, that is to say, bundles of reeds and brushwood, were made in order to fill up the ditch so as to make a road across it for the machines.

Belisarius for his part was equally busy in organizing the defence. His army had dwindled down to five thousand men, and it cost him a great deal of thought to distribute this little force to the best advantage. The tomb of the great emperor Hadrian, a vast building faced with marble, which stood in the line of the city wall at the western end of the Aelian Bridge, was converted into a fort, and such it has continued to be till this day, when it is known as the Castle of St. Angelo. All round the walls of the city Belisarius mounted those destructive engines which served the Romans as artillery—machines which hurled immense stones and bolts of iron with tremendous velocity and effect.

[Illustration] from The Goths by Henry Bradley


It was not till the eighteenth day of the siege that the Goths considered themselves ready to begin the attack. As soon as the sun rose the Romans gathered on the northern wall saw with terror the countless host of the enemy approaching with their battering-rams and their siege-towers drawn by oxen. The citizens gave themselves up for lost, but their fears became mixed with indignation when Belisarius, instead of seeming to appreciate the gravity of the situation, actually burst out laughing, and ordered the soldiers not to shoot an arrow till he gave the word. "What might such conduct mean? Was it madness, or worse than madness?" were the questions which one asked of another among the crowd. At last, when the enemy had reached the very edge of the moat, Belisarius took up a bow and aimed at one of the Gothic leaders. The man was clothed in armour, but the arrow hit him in the neck, and he fell to the ground mortally wounded. The Romans, startled out of their discontent, burst into a great cheer, which was renewed when the general again drew his bow with a like result. And then Belisarius gave the signal to the whole army to discharge their arrows, ordering those in his own neighbourhood to aim only at the oxen. In a few moments all the oxen were killed, and the huge machines which they drew were rendered useless. It was easy to see now what Belisarius had been laughing at, and why he had allowed the enemy to come so close before allowing his archers to use their weapons.

When Witigis saw that the attack on the northern side of the city had failed, he determined to direct his efforts to the eastern side—to the neighbourhood of the Praenestine gate, towards which another body of Goths was approaching, also with their siege-towers and battering-rams. But he left a large detachment of his army on the northern side, leaving orders that they should not make any attempt to storm the walls, but should keep up a vigorous discharge of arrows, so that Belisarius might not suspect that the main assault was being attempted elsewhere. Those who were left behind did their best to carry out these instructions, but fighting on the level ground against men posted on the wall they were not able to produce much effect. There was, however, amongst them one famous warrior of noble rank, who found a substitute for the siege-tower in a tall tree, to the top of which he climbed, notwithstanding the weight of his helmet and cuirass, and from that elevated position was able to do much execution amongst the defenders of the ramparts. At last he was hit by a shot from one of the Roman engines. The iron bolt went right through the man's steel-clad body, and pinned him to the tree. His comrades were so much aghast at the sight that they retired to a safe distance out of the way of those terrible machines, and the defenders of that portion of the walls were no more molested.

But now Belisarius received a message to say that the assault on the eastern fortifications had begun. He hastened to the spot, and by a few timely words encouraged his soldiers, who had begun to lose heart when they saw the numbers and equipment of the enemy. Near the Praenestine gate was a space enclosed between the city rampart and an outer wall, where in heathen days were kept the wild beasts intended for the cruel sports of the amphitheatre. The Goths broke through the outer wall, and crowded into the enclosure. The inner wall, they had been truly informed, was much decayed, and they thought it would give them little trouble. But Belisarius directed one of his chief officers to make a sally upon the throng collected between the walls. The unexpected attack threw the Goths into confusion, and they were slaughtered by thousands almost unresisting, thinking only of making their escape by the breach through which they had entered. Then, opening the gate, Belisarius issued with the main body of his army to pursue the fugitives, who imparted their terror to their comrades beyond the outer wall. Soon the besiegers were all in headlong flight, and Belisarius ordered a great fire to be made of their forsaken towers and battering-rams.

What happened else during this eventful day need not be told in detail. It may be mentioned that in their attack on the fort that had been Hadrian's tomb the Goths were nearly winning, until it occurred to the defenders to pull down the statues, and hurl them, whole or in fragments, upon the heads of their assailants. More than one famous work of Greek sculpture has been found in modern times in the moat which surrounds the Castle of St. Angelo; probably many another lies buried there still. The sacrifice of the statues saved the fortress: the besiegers abated the fury of their assault, and then the imperial soldiers, set free by the termination of the fighting in other parts of the city, came up and coon put them to flight.

On all sides the Gothic attack had ended in disaster. Thirty thousand Goths had been slain, and many thousands wounded, and the towers and the battering-rams were captured and burnt. It was far on in the evening when the battle ceased. "The Romans spent the night in singing songs of victory, extolling the fame of Belisarius, and displaying the spoils taken from the slain; the Goths in attending on their wounded comrades, and in wailing for those that were no more."

After this crushing failure no further attempt was made to storm the walls of Rome. Through the remainder of the long siege the aim of Witigis was to compel Belisarius to surrender under pressure of hunger, or to tempt him to squander the lives of his little garrison in fruitless sorties.

Belisarius guessed at once that the Goths, now that their assault had decisively failed, would endeavour to establish an efficient blockade. He, therefore, promptly took measures for economizing the stock of provisions in the city. On the very day after the battle he ordered that the daily rations of food to the soldiers should be reduced to one-half, the diminution being compensated by increased pay in money; and all the women, children, and slaves in the city were sent away to Naples, some of them being conveyed in boats, others travelling on foot along the Appian Way. It would have been to the interest of the Goths to prevent this procession of non-combatants from escaping from Rome; but they were so discouraged by their defeat of yesterday that nothing was done. And so the fugitives all found their way to Naples, whence some of them were removed to the other south Italian towns, and others took refuge in Sicily.

What made Belisarius anxious was that he received no tidings of the additional troops that the emperor had promised to send him. They had sailed from Constantinople about Christmas, but, meeting with stormy weather, had sought shelter on the western coast of Greece, and there they still remained. Belisarius could not understand this strange delay, and wrote a letter to Justinian, telling him that unless aid came speedily Rome must surely fall. The letter concluded with these words: "I know that it is my duty to sacrifice even my life in your service, and therefore no force shall make me abandon this place while I live. But what sort of fame will be yours if you allow Belisarius to come to such an end?"

Justinian was deeply moved by this appeal, and sent peremptory orders to the lagging commanders, Valerian and Martin, that they should push forward with all speed to Rome. He also made vigorous efforts to raise a new army to be sent to the aid of his heroic general. In a few days Belisarius was able to cheer the hearts of his soldiers by reading to them the emperor's letter, announcing that the wished-for reinforcements were on their way.

It was not until twenty-two days after the attempted storm that Valerian and Martin, with sixteen hundred men, arrived in Rome. The Goths had made little use of the delay; indeed they were so discouraged by the failure of their assault that they scarcely attempted to guard the roads leading to Rome from the south, but remained idle in their entrenchments.

By way of revenge for the losses he had sustained, Witigis despatched orders that the senators detained as hostages at Ravenna should be put to death. According to the laws of war these men had forfeited their lives; but the execution of the penalty was as foolish as it was cruel, for the only effect it could have was to embitter the hatred which the Romans felt for their former barbarian masters, and to inspire them with the resolve to fight to the bitter end.

When the sixteen hundred new soldiers had entered Rome, Belisarius ventured to send out skirmishing parties of mounted archers to make attacks upon the Goths. Their tactics were to avoid all close fighting, but simply to discharge their arrows at the enemy, and when their quivers were empty to gallop back to the gates. This mode of combat proved perfectly successful. The little bands did fearful execution with their bows, and the pursuit of the enemy was easily stopped by volleys of stones from the engines on the walls. After this manoeuvre had been repeated several times, Witigis thought he had discovered a valuable secret of Roman warfare. It was plain that small bodies of light horse were more easily managed than masses of heavy troops, and afforded the most effective means of inflicting damage Upon an enemy. Accordingly, he sent a troop of five hundred cavalry, with orders to take up their position near the Roman fortifications. What happened was that a thousand picked men issued from one of the gates some distance away, and, under cover of the inequalities of the ground, came suddenly on the, five hundred Goths, took them in the rear, and left only a few of them alive to return to their camp. King Witigis raved and stormed about their cowardice, and said he would soon find others who would succeed where they had failed. Three days afterwards a second five hundred, chosen for their known bravery out of all the seven camps, were sent to avenge the defeat of their comrades, and, before setting out, were harangued by the king, who bade them act worthily of the fame they had won in former battles. Bravely they may have fought, but they were met by a Roman force of three times their number, and perished almost to a man.

Belisarius wished to continue this method of skirmishing, by which he was able to do the enemy a great deal of mischief with very little loss on his own side. His troops had been thoroughly trained in the art of using the bow on horseback; to the Goths that mode of warfare was quite unfamiliar, so that when it was employed against them they did not know how to meet it. But unfortunately for the Romans, Their easily won victories had inspired them with an unwise contempt for the enemy, and they implored Belisarius to lead them in one grand assault on the Gothic camp. He was very unwilling to do this, but the army showed great discontent at his refusal, and the feeling was encouraged by the citizens, who actually assailed the general with reproaches for his want of courage, because he dared not risk a pitched battle with an enemy that outnumbered his own troops more than tenfold. At last Belisarius thought it might be better to yield to the demand than to provoke a mutiny. Perhaps, after all, he thought, just at this moment, when the Romans were full of ardour, and the enemy was disheartened by continued ill-fortune, it might be possible to win a battle even against such overwhelming odds.

It was with grave anxiety that Belisarius led forth his little army against the foe. King Witigis had been informed by deserters of the intended attack, and he marshaled all his troops in battle array, leaving none in the camps but the sick and wounded. His speech to his soldiers, as reported by the Roman historian, was not without dignity. "You know," he said, "that I have always treated you more as friends and fellow-soldiers than as subjects. Some of you may think that I, in so doing, have merely flattered you because I feared the loss of my crown; and you may think that it is from the same motive that I now call on you to put forth all your valour. Such suspicions are natural, and I cannot blame them. But, in truth, I would thankfully lay aside this purple robe to-day, if I knew that another Goth would wear it in my stead. Whatever ill might happen to myself, it would not be without consolation, if my people did not share in it. But I remember the fate of the Vandals. I seem to see the Goths and their children sold for slaves, their wives abandoned to the insults of the vilest of men, and their queen, the child of Theoderic's daughter, led away whithersoever it might please our enemies. Will you not chose a glorious death rather than safety on such terms?. I f such be your spirit, you will easily vanquish these few wretched Greeks, to whom you are as far superior in valour as in numbers, and will inflict on them the chastisement they deserve for all the wrongs and insults they have made you suffer."

The result of the battle justified the misgivings of Belisarius. After much hard fighting, the Romans were put to flight, the enemy pursuing them hotly almost to the walls. A few of them succeeded in passing through the gates, and hastily closed them, leaving their comrades gathered in a dense mass between the ditch and the wall. Their spears were broken, and they were so crowded together that they could not use their bows. If the Goths had ventured to cross the ditch they might have massacred their enemies without difficulty; but the soldiers and citizens began to assemble upon the wall, and the besiegers were afraid to pursue their advantage. They retired to their encampment with shouts of exultation over their victory.

The Roman soldiers had received a severe lesson, and never again ventured to distrust the sagacity of their general. Belisarius resumed his plan of skirmishing with mounted archers, and, as before, was nearly always victorious. So passed away the next three months of the siege. The historian Procopius, who was with Belisarius in Rome, has preserved for us many incidents of the conflicts that took place during this period. One of these stories is perhaps worth repeating here. On a certain evening it happened that the Roman soldiers had been worsted in a skirmish, and one of them in his flight fell through a hole into an underground vault, from which he could find no means of escape. He did not dare to cry out, lest he should be heard by the Goths, and so he remained there all the night. The next day a Gothic soldier suffered the same mishap and the Goth and the Roman, finding themselves prisoners together, became good friends, and agreed that if either of them succeeded in getting out of the trap he would help the other to escape also. They both shouted with all their might, and at last they were heard by a party of Goths, who stooped down to the hole, and called out "Who is there?" "A comrade," the Gothic soldier replied, in his own language; "I fell into this hole this morning, and cannot get out." A rope was lowered into the vault, and there ascended, not the Goth, but the Roman! The Gothic soldiers were stupefied with amazement. "There were two of us," the Roman explained; "your comrade is still below. We knew very well that if he had come out first you would not have troubled yourselves about me." So the rope was let down again, and this time it brought up the Goth, who said that he had given his word that his fellow-prisoner should be set at liberty. The promise was respected, and the Roman soldier was allowed to return to the city, none the: worse for his adventure.

About midsummer a certain Euthalius landed at Terracina, sixty-two miles from Rome along the Appian Way, bringing with him the pay which was due to the soldiers. The treasure was conveyed safely into Rome, but at that moment food would have been more welcome than gold; for the besieged people were now beginning to feel the pangs of hunger.

Probably Witigis got" to hear that a large sum of money had been brought into Rome, and this may have been what made him think of blockading the southern approaches to the city. It is strange that he should not have done this long before, but he seems to have clung to the hope that the place might be taken by storm. Now, however, he took possession of a point about four miles from Rome, where two lines of aqueducts cross one another twice within a few hundred yards, and he converted the arches of the aqueducts into a fortress, commanding the Appian and the Latin Ways. Here he placed a guard of seven thousand men.

There was now no hope that any further supplies could be imported into the city. The soldiers had still a stock of corn, but all their other provisions were exhausted. The citizens were obliged to feed on the grass and weeds that grew inside the walls. Famine and fever were every day lessening the numbers of the besieged.

Until July was ended, the courage of the defenders was sustained by superstition. For some months past people had quoted a couplet which professed to be a prophecy of the ancient Sibyl, and which said that "when Quintilis (the old name of July) had come, a new emperor would ascend the throne, and Rome should never again fear the Gothic sword." Christians though the Romans were, they still believed in the Sibyl, and eagerly accepted every foolish verse that was uttered in her name. But Quintilis came and went, and still Justinian reigned, and still the Goths surrounded Rome.

The last hope of the citizens was gone, and in desperation they went to Belisarius, and begged him to give them arms. "Let us fight for ourselves," they said, "and either conquer or end our miseries by a speedy death." Belisarius ridiculed their demand, and told them that having never learned to fight they would be worse than useless in the field. "But," he added, "I expect in a few days the arrival of the greatest army that the empire has ever mustered. These new troops have already landed in the south of Italy, and will bring with them ample supplies of provisions. I promise you that they will bury the enemy's camp with the multitude of their darts."

This was only an empty boast. There was indeed a rumour that an imperial army was on the way, but Belisarius knew nothing for certain. However, he despatched his secretary Procopius to Naples to see what truth there was in the story, and if it should not be true, to collect what soldiers he could, and to send victuals by sea to relieve the needs of the Romans.

Procopius reached Naples in safety; the expected troops had not yet been heard of, but he was able to get together a band of five hundred men, and to fit out a large number of ships and load them with provisions. Before his preparations were completed, the promised army arrived from Constantinople not the innumerable host of which Belisarius had boasted, but only about five thousand men. Late in the autumn this body of soldiers arrived at Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, half of them having travelled by the Appian Way, and the rest having come by sea in charge of the victualing fleet collected by Procopius.

Meanwhile King Witigis had managed matters so badly that his own army was suffering from want of food. Famine and fever too were rapidly thinning the ranks of the besiegers, and they grew so spiritless that the Romans were able to assume the offensive, and even to intercept the supplies of corn and of cattle on their way to the Gothic camp.

So when the Goths heard that "an immense army"—for this was what rumour called it was coming to the relief of Rome, they abandoned all hope of victory, and were anxious to treat for peace. Our old friend, Cassiodorus, accompanied by two Gothic chiefs, was sent into the city to try to induce Belisarius to come to terms.

The envoys were admitted into the general's presence, and Cassiodorus began by saying that as the war hitherto had been productive of nothing but misery to either party, it would be to the interest of both if by mutual concession they could arrive at some understanding so as to put an end to the struggle. He proposed that the matter should be discussed, not in set speeches, but in an informal conversation, so that each point should be fully dealt with at the time when it was raised. "Very well," said Belisarius, "there is no objection to that, if only what you have to say is to the purpose." But Cassiodorus could not resist the temptation to make a long speech, in which he argued that the emperor had no justification for the attack he had made upon the Goths. Theoderic had not taken Italy by force from the empire: it had been made over to him by Zeno, on condition of his putting down the tyrant Odovacar. He had fulfilled the condition, and he and his successors had ruled Italy according to Roman law, and with every regard to the welfare of the native inhabitants. It was therefore the duty of the Romans to desist from their unjust encroachments. Let them retire from Italy with the booty they had taken, and leave the Goths to govern their rightful dominions in peace.

All this reasoning was very sound, but it was not likely to make any impression on Belisarius. He replied that Theoderic had been sent to conquer Italy for the empire to which it belonged, and instead of fulfilling his commission he had usurped the throne himself. "I do not see," he added, "much difference between robbery and embezzlement: The country belongs to the emperor, and it is useless to ask me to give it to anyone else. If you have any other request to make say on."

"You know very well," answered Cassiodorus, "that we have spoken nothing but the truth. But as a proof of our wish to make every honourable concession, we agree that you shall retain possession of Sicily"—and then, with his accustomed eloquence, he proceeded to favour Belisarius with statistics about the size of the island, and the revenues which it yielded every year, and to enlarge on its importance from a military point of view.

"We are greatly obliged to you," said Belisarius. "In return for so great generosity, we will grant you the possession of the whole of Britain. That is larger island than Sicily, and it, used to belong to us, just as Sicily once belonged to you."

The Goths then suggested that they might give up Naples and the whole south of Italy, and agree to pay a yearly tribute to the emperor. But Belisarius had only one reply: that he had no authority to surrender any of the territories of the empire.

Well then," said Cassiodorus, "will you agree to a truce for a fixed time, so that we may send ambassadors to Constantinople to negotiate a treaty with the emperor himself?"

Belisarius accepted this proposal, and the envoys went back to their camp.

Several days were spent in settling the conditions of the truce, and in debating what hostages should be given on each side. In the meantime Belisarius had brought the new soldiers, and the cargoes of the provision ships, safely up from Ostia into Rome. The Goths dared not offer any opposition, thinking that if they did so, Belisarius would break off the negotiations.

At length, however, about Christmas, the articles were signed for a truce of three months; the hostages were exchanged, and the Gothic ambassadors set out for Constantinople, accompanied by a Roman escort. Belisarius then sent two thousand soldiers, under the command of a certain John, of whom we shall often hear again, to Alba Fucentia, seventy miles east of Rome. John was instructed to remain quiet so long as the truce was unbroken; but as soon as the Goths committed any act of hostility, he was to ravage the Gothic territories to carry off the women and children as slaves, and to bring back all the plunder of every kind that he could.

The required pretext was not long wanting. It seems almost incredible that Witigis should have been foolish enough to violate the truce which he had sought with so much eagerness, but the historian tells of three different attempts which he made to surprise the city. One dark night a sentinel, looking out from the watch-tower at the Pincian gate, reported that he had seen a sudden flash of light close to the ground a short distance from the wall. His comrades thought he had seen the flaming eyes of a wolf. But when, on the following day, Belisarius heard the story, he guessed at once that the Goths, imitating his own stratagem at Naples, were trying to get into the city through an, aqueduct, and that what the man had seen was the light of their torches streaming for a moment through a crack in the tunnel. The aqueduct was examined, and there were found in it the droppings of torches and some Gothic lamps. The party of explorers had been stopped by the wall with which Belisarius had blocked up the passage, and they had carried away one of the stones to show to Witigis in proof of the truth of their story. Belisarius placed a guard over the aqueduct, and the Goths made no attempt to enter the city by that means.

On another occasion the Goths had prepared scaling-ladders and torches to make an attack during the hour of the soldier's midday meal, but the plan was discovered, and the assaulting party was dispersed with some loss. The third scheme of Witigis was to bribe two Romans who lived, near the part of the wall bordering on the Tiber, to treat the sentinels with drugged wine. When the sentinels had fallen asleep, the Goths were to make their entrance by means of boats and ladders. One of the Romans who had entered into the plot betrayed it to Belisarius; and pointed out his accomplice, who confessed his guilt and was sent to the Gothic camp tied upon an ass and with his nose and ears cut off.

After these events, Belisarius of course considered himself to be no longer bound by the truce, and he sent letters to John ordering him to commence hostilities at once. John was nothing loth to obey; he was the bravest of the brave, but as cruel as he was fearless (John the Sanguinary, he was called in his own clay), and the sight of burning farms and strings of weeping captive women and children only filled his heart with brutal joy. With his two thousand horsemen he hurried northward, plundering and destroying all that belonged to Gothic owners, but respecting scrupulously the possessions of the native Italians. An army of Goths, under Wilitheus, the uncle of King Witigis, came to meet him, but the battle resulted in the death of Wilitheus and the slaughter of most of his men. After this victory, John marched forward unopposed to Rimini, on the Adriatic, whither he was invited by the Roman inhabitants. The Gothic garrison, as soon as they heard of his approach, ran away to Ravenna, and John occupied Rimini without a struggle.

While John was at Rimini he received letters from Queen Mataswintha, offering to betray the Goths into his hands and to become his wife. No doubt the proposal included the murder of Witigis, whom she hated with all her heart for having forced her to marry him.

In pressing forward to the Adriatic, John was disobeying Belisarius's orders, which were to assault every fortress that he came to, and if he were unable to capture it then to proceed no further, lest his retreat should be cut off. He thought, however, that when the Goths heard that he had captured Rimini, which was only a day's march from Ravenna, they would at once abandon the siege of Rome. He had calculated rightly. The three months of truce was ended; nothing had been heard from Constantinople; the camp was destitute of provisions, and the city was in a better condition of defence than ever. And when to all these discouraging circumstances there was added the news that Ravenna was threatened by the enemy, Witigis delayed no longer. Early one morning (near the end of March, 538), the sentinels on the walls of Rome reported that the seven Gothic camps had been set on fire, and that the whole army of the besiegers was moving northward along the Flaminian Way.

Belisarius was somewhat taken by surprise at this sudden departure, and felt at first doubtful whether it would not be best to allow the enemy to retreat unmolested. But the fact that the Gothic army would have to cross the Milvian Bridge, two miles from Rome, rendered it possible for an attack on their rear to be successfully made with a small force. Belisarius armed all his soldiers, and, waiting till most of the Goths had crossed the river, he led a furious charge on those that were still on the nearest bank. After some hard fighting, and heavy losses on both sides, the Goths fled in confusion, and many thousands of them perished, some by the swords of their enemies, while others, in their frantic haste to escape, were crushed to death by their comrades, or fell into the river loaded with their armour and were drowned.

So ended the first siege of Rome by the Ostrogoths. Perhaps never in the history of warfare were such splendid advantages of numbers so shamefully thrown away through the incompetence of a general. But in spite of all, the nation continued faithful to the king of its own choice.