Manual History of the Wars of Justinian

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"[A] fluent and accurate rendering of an often complex text of central importance to late Roman and Byzantine history. Prokopios will finally take his rightful.
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He was therefore quite correct in the assertion which he makes rather modestly in the introduction of his history, that he was better qualified than anyone else to write the history of that period. Besides his intimacy with Belisarius it should be added that his position gave him the further advantage of a certain standing at the imperial court in Constantinople, and brought him the acquaintance of many of the leading men of his day.

Thus we have the testimony of one intimately associated with the administration, and this, together with the importance of the events through which he lived, makes his record exceedingly interesting as well as historically important. One must admit that his position was not one to encourage impartiality in his presentation of facts, and that the imperial favour was not won by plain speaking; nevertheless we have before us a man who could not obliterate himself enough to play the abject flatterer always, and he gives us the reverse, too, of his brilliant picture, as we shall see presently.

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Sort order. Boris rated it liked it Oct 12, Matthew Papalia rated it liked it Apr 02, Bruin rated it liked it Nov 20, Daniel rated it did not like it Mar 07, Miltiadis Nikolaos Triantafyllos rated it it was amazing Apr 23, Embargo Jones rated it it was ok May 25, Arshad Khan marked it as to-read May 03, Pim marked it as to-read May 09, Max Planck marked it as to-read Jun 07, The next day, Belisarius entered Carthage.

Gelimer fled westwards and joined his troops who had been recalled from Sardinia, but in mid-December he suffered another defeat at Tricamarum , probably not far from Carthage though the actual site is unknown. Gelimer fled and took refuge with the Berbers. After an uncomfortable winter besieged on "Mt. Papua", he surrendered. As for Belisarius, rumors circulated that he might make himself an independent king in Africa and, to quench them, he chose to return to Constantinople with the Vandal captives and the booty, although Justinian allowed him the option of remaining in Africa.

To celebrate the victory, a version of a Roman triumph was held in the capital, where the procession ended in the Hippodrome, with Belisarius and Gelimer both prostrating themselves before the emperor and empress in the imperial loge. Gelimer was granted an estate in Galatia and some 2, Vandals were conscripted into the imperial army. The Byzantines had yet to face the Berbers, or "Moors" who in the last years of the Vandal kingdom had encroached on Vandal territory in the south.

Belisarius' successor was his domesticus Solomon, a native of the eastern frontier near Daras and a eunuch, though his castration was the result of an accident rather than by design. Appointed both praetorian prefect of the new African prefecture created April, and military commander, initiated a campaign against the Berbers and in order to contain their razzias, he built a string of forts, some of which have survived. But in a revolt broke out in the army, and Solomon had to flee to Sicily to get help from Belisarius who had begun his Ostrogothic campaign.

Belisarius made a lightning trip to Africa and saved Carthage from the rebels but he could not stay, and to meet the growing crisis, Justinian appointed his cousin Germanus whose military abilities should have guaranteed him a great career had not he suffered from Theodora's prejudice. Germanus crushed the revolt and for two years Africa was calm.

In , Solomon was reappointed, and came with fresh troops. Mauretania Prima was annexed and Solomon built defensive works to protect imperial territory. When rebellion broke out again in , the cause was the blundering of Solomon's nephew Sergius, a favorite of Theodora , who was appointed first duke of Tripolitania and then Solomon's successor after his death in Sergius was disliked both by his soldiers and by civilians, and the Berbers despised him. In , Justinian appointed another officer, Areobindus, but he proved incompetent and was assassinated in But later that year, Justinian appointed John Troglita, an experienced commander who was able to win a major victory in , after which Africa was at peace, and it seems to have been reasonably prosperous thereafter until the Arab conquest.

John Troglita's achievement is memorialized by the Johannid , an epic written swiftly by an African schoolmaster, Corippus, who presumably got to Constantinople as a reward, for he was there to write a panegyric on the accession of Justin II when Justinian died. The Ostrogothic campaign did not end until , and it left Italy in ruinous condition. Yet it seems to have begun on a wave of optimism sparked by the successes in Africa. The force which Belisarius led to Sicily in was less than half the size of the one he had taken against the Vandals.

It must have seemed to Justinian that the Gothic regime was tottering and offering a ready opportunity for an easy victory. The great Theodoric had died one year before Justinian's accession. His grandson Athalaric was a minor and the regent, his mother Amalasuintha, was considered too Romanized for the taste of many of the Gothic nobles who were showing a degree of independence now that Theodoric's firm hand was gone.

At one point, Amalasuintha felt so threatened that she contemplated flight and got the promise of refuge in Constantinople, but decided to remain where she was after she succeeded in disposing of three of her enemies. When Athalaric died 2 Oct. Theodahad had her murdered.


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Justinian now had ample justification for war, and high hopes for success. The attack launched in was two-pronged. One spearhead led by Mundo, the magister militum of Illyricum, led a force to Dalmatia where he was to lose his life in a skirmish with the Goths the next year, and the other, commanded by Belisarius landed in Sicily.

Only at Palermo did Belisarius meet any resistance, and on December 31, he entered Syracuse, where he laid down the consulship which he had held for that year. Theodahad attempted negotiation: he sent pope Agapetus I to Constantinople, where he masterminded the deposition of the patriarch Anthimus, who was too friendly to Monophysitism, and consecrated a new patriarch, but he achieved nothing for the Goths. The following spring, Belisarius crossed to the mainland and had an easy advance until he reached Naples, which had a Gothic garrison.

Naples was entered by an unguarded aqueduct after a twenty-day siege and sacked.

Foreign policy and wars

Theodahad's failure to relieve Naples was the last straw as far as the Gothic rank and file were concerned and they chose a new king, Witigis, not of the Amal royal house, raising him on a shield according to German custom. Theodahad fled for Ravenna, but he was overtaken and killed. The Goths, in council with their new king, decided that the more pressing danger came from the Franks in the north whom Justinian had incited to invade Italy. Witigis made for Ravenna where he married Amalasuintha's daughter Matasuintha, who made an unwilling bride, and bought off the Franks.

Belisarius advanced on Rome where Pope Silverius urged the Romans to invite him into the city. Silverius had been only recently elected with Theodahad's support, Agapetus having died in Constantinople, and Witigis had extracted a loyalty oath from him and the Romans, but Italian sympathies were with the imperial forces. Belisarius entered Rome on 9 December, and prepared for the Gothic counterattack. On hearing of the fall of Rome, Witigis raised an army which Procopius numbers at ,, mostly mailed cavalry, and made directly for Rome.

The Gothic siege of Rome was to last one year and nine days, until mid-March, Both the besiegers and the besieged began to suffer from hunger and disease and when Byzantine reinforcements and supplies started to arrive, the Goths sought a truce in order to send envoys to Constantinople to negotiate terms of peace. But Belisarius sent orders to John, the nephew of Vitalian who was wintering in Picenum, that if the Goths broke the truce, he was to plunder Gothic estates in the area, and when the Goths did, in fact, break the truce, John launched a campaign which brought him to Rimini, a day's march from Ravenna where Witigis' unhappy wife Matasuintha contacted him to offer marriage and betrayal.

Alarmed at the threat to Ravenna, Witigis lifted the siege of Rome and retreated. As the Goths retreated northwards, they laid siege to Rimini, shutting in John, the nephew of Vitalian who had remained there in defiance of Belisarius' orders. Belisarius made no great haste to relieve him, until in mid a new army arrived in Italy led by the eunuch Narses, praepositus sacri cubiculi and a friend of John. He argued that John, insubordinate though he might have been, could not be abandoned to the Goths, and a message arrived from John himself saying that Rimini could not last any longer than another week.

Belisarius moved swiftly to relieve it, and John emerged, bitter and ready to ally himself with Narses against Belisarius.

The rift between Belisarius and Narses grew to the extent that they operated independently and one result was the destruction of Milan in , which might have been saved if the Byzantine general staff had cooperated against the Goths. Learning of the fall of Milan, Justinian did not assign blame, but he did recall Narses. Early in , the Goths made a move which portended danger. They made contact with the king of Persia, Khusro, and urged him to set aside the "Endless Peace" and attack the empire.

Khusro was receptive, but the Gothic position in Italy deteriorated too rapidly: Belisarius took Osimo, south of Ancona, and moved to invest Ravenna itself. Witigis had two options: one was to accept an offer from the Merovingian Franks to help in return for sharing the rule of Italy, and the other was to negotiate with the Romans. Justinian's envoys arrived with an offer to leave Italy north of the Po River, and half the Gothic treasure to the Goths, while the rest would go to the Romans.

In the light of future events, this was a prudent settlement: it would have established an Ostrogothic kingdom as a buffer in the north of Italy, and freed Roman troops to deal with the Persian threat. But Belisarius, hoping for another triumph to match what he had won in the Vandal War, aborted this arrangement. The rumors that arose after his victory in Africa surfaced again: that he wanted to make himself king, independent of Constantinople, and the Goths believed them enough to make him an offer: they would proclaim him emperor in the west, reviving an office which had lapsed in with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus.

Belisarius accepted. Procopius indicates that it was a pretended acceptance, and that once Ravenna had surrendered, he would reveal himself as a loyal subject of the emperor. Thus in May, , the Romans entered Ravenna, but Justinian, hearing of the plot, ordered Belisarius to return.

The emperor's motive may have been the danger on the eastern front as much as distrust of Belisarius, but in any case, Belisarius, with important Goths including Witigis and Matasuintha, and the Gothic treasure, made their way to the capital, where the emperor's greeting was cool and mistrustful. Belisarius was not allowed a second triumph. The Goths had already chosen a new leader, Ildibad, nephew of the king of the Visigoths in Spain, and when he was assassinated in , his nephew in turn, Totila as Procopius names him or Baduila as the name appears on his coins was chosen in his place.

Totila was to prove a worthy adversary of the empire. The decade began with a renewed Persian offensive and the sack of Antioch. In Justinian purchased peace on the eastern front but in the Caucasus kingdom of Lazica, the struggle continued.

The Reign of Justinian, 527- 565

In , bubonic plague struck Europe for the first time that has been securely recorded. In Italy, the Ostrogoths recovered much of the ground they had lost, and the empire lacked the resources and the will to make an effective counterattack. In the all-important theological sector, the so-called "Three Chapters" dispute, which Justinian orchestrated along with Theodora until her death, was to prove a turning-point between the Orthodox and the Monophysites.

Theodora died of cancer in and her death left the regime less sensitive to the psyche of the dissidents and perhaps more high-handed in its search for solution to the endless contention between Chalcedonian and Monophysite. On the eastern frontier, Armenia, where Justinian was determined to apply Roman law in matters of marriage and inheritance, provided a casus belli. When trouble broke out, Justinian dispatched a general with experience in Armenia, Sittas, the husband of Theodora's sister Komito, and when he lost his life, his replacement was an officer whom the Armenians had reason to mistrust.


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  • A deputation of Armenians, led by members of the old Armenian royal house, the Arsacids, went to Persia and urged Khusro to make war on Justinian, who, they argued, had already broken the 'Endless Peace'. In early spring, , Khusro crossed into imperial territory and headed for Antioch, exacting money from various towns along the way. Justinian had dispatched his cousin Germanus with men to Antioch but he could do little and he and the patriarch had already evacuated the city when Khusro took it.

    The sack of Antioch was a devastating blow to imperial prestige. In , Belisarius was sent to the Persian frontier with a force that included some Goths brought from Italy, but Khusro had turned his attention to Lazica where the Lazi, like the Armenians had sought an alliance.

    Khusro captured the Laz town of Petra on the Black Sea but when he learned that Belisarius was across the Persian frontier he cut short his campaign. The next year, Khusro advanced once again into Roman territory but Belisarius checkmated him. Then Belisarius was recalled under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The truth or something like it is probably to be found in Procopius' Secret History : word reached the front that Justinian was ill with the plague and some generals including Belisarius were guilty of loose talk about Justinian's successor, saying they would not put up with another emperor like him.

    Theodora heard of it, and recalled the officers. One of them was consigned to a dungeon for two years. The influence of Antonina, Belisarius' wife, saved him, but a year elapsed before he was appointed to another command, which took him back to Italy. Procopius [[19]] gives us a good account of the plague, modelled on Thucydides. This was clearly bubonic rather than the more deadly pulmonary plague, for Procopius indicates that people who cared for the ill did not necessarily contract the plague themselves, and pulmonary plague is directly communicable to another person whereas the bubonic variety is carried by fleas which live on rodents, particularly the black rat.

    Nonetheless bubonic plague is deadly enough: without modern treatment it can result in death in 40 to 70 per cent of its victims. The plague moved from city to city in the empire. In it returned to Constantinople for a new crop of victims. In fact, the number of natural disasters which befell the empire in Justinian's reign is remarkable: earthquakes, floods and plague. In the midst of the plague of , Constantinople was shaken by an earthquake.

    The plague brought a period of economic growth to an end. One estimate suggests that the population of the empire in was only 60 per cent of what it was in The loss of so many taxpayers hurt the treasury, though Justinian does not seem to have greatly curtailed his building program to take declining revenues into consideration. Recruits for the army became harder to find and Justinian had to rely more on barbarian troops. The army in Italy, where Belisarius was in command from to seems in particular to have suffered from lack of new resources to carry on the war against Totila and the Goths.

    Nonetheless, plague or not, in , the Romans fielded an enormous force of 30, troops commanded by the magister militum of the East, Martin, for an invasion of Persian-controlled Armenia. Anyone who cares to argue that Justinian directed his resources to the conquest of the western Mediterranean and neglected his eastern provinces should reflect on this campaign; the army, which Martin had at his disposal, equalled the force which Narses was to take to Italy in to wind up the Ostrogothic war - and by that time, the empire had recovered somewhat from the immediate impact of the plague.

    But the great army which Martin led was routed by a small Persian force and the campaign came to nothing. Next year Khusro attacked Edessa, which fought back hard and saved itself; and Khusro had to be satisfied with the relatively small indemnity of gold pounds. The following year, , Justinian paid Khusro gold pounds for a 5-year peace. It was an uneasy peace but it held. However, in Lazica at the eastern end of the Black Sea, war between the Romans and the Persians continued with various vicissitudes but in general, the Romans had the upper hand and in Khusro dispatched his envoy Izedh Gushnap to Constantinople to negotiate a truce.

    Khusro now had other enemies to deal with: the Ephthalites, or "White Huns", old enemies of Persia, who were now assailed by a new wave of Turkish nomads who offered Khusro an alliance against the Ephthalites. The Persians agreed to evacuate Lazica, and received an annual subsidy of gold pounds, which was less than the gold pounds a year which the emperor Anastasius had agreed to pay Khusro's father.

    Taken altogether, the Romans could claim a modest success. Belisarius in Italy was left starved for troops. In December, , Totila laid siege to Rome, which held out for about a year. Belisarius could not relieve it, and it fell in December Totila considered destroying the city, but Belisarius wrote him to protest, pointing out how it would damage his reputation if he destroyed a city of such beauty, and Totila gave up his plan and instead evacuated Rome, taking with him the senators and sending the rest of the populace into Campania.

    Rome was left empty. Then Belisarius took over the city, repaired its walls and re-populated it, and Totila to his chagrin found that he could not recapture it. In , Belisarius' wife Antonina went to Constantinople to attempt to use her influence with Theodora to secure reinforcements for Italy, but when she arrived, she found Theodora already dead, and believing that Belisarius could do no more in Italy, she sought his recall. After Belisarius' departure, Totila took Rome once again and plundered Sicily. But now Italy had some eloquent advocates in Constantinople.

    Pope Vigilius was there, embroiled in the "Three Chapters" dispute but very aware of the agonies of Rome, and with him were various Roman nobles who had fled the city. In Justinian took action. He put his cousin Germanus in charge of a large expedition to Italy. Theodora had always regarded Germanus and his family as rivals and Germanus' career no doubt suffered as a result, but now Theodora was dead.

    In preparation for the campaign, Germanus married Matasuintha, the granddaughter of Theodoric, but while he was organizing his army, he took sick and died in the autumn of We can only speculate whether or not his marriage portended a change of policy towards the Ostrogoths, which would seek to win the support of the Romanized elements among them for the reintegration of Italy into the empire.

    Wells on Dewing, 'The Wars of Justinian'

    Matasuintha gave birth to a posthumous son named Germanus after his father, but whatever plans for the settlement of the Gothic War Germanus had in mind, they died with him. To replace Germanus, Justinian turned to the Armenian eunuch Narses who took with him an army of some 30, men, quite beyond the power of the Ostrogoths to resist.


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    • Narses was also clearly a leader of great ability who, in contrast with Belisarius, seems to have had no great problem with insubordination among his troops. The Goths were defeated and Totila died of wounds received in the battle. At the end of October, another battle was fought at Mons Lactarius , not far from Naples. After that it was only a matter of mopping up. Nothing illustrates Justinian's opportunism in the west quite as much as the fact that at this same time, he had an army campaigning in Visigothic Spain.

      In Athanagild became king and asked the Romans to withdraw, which they declined to do. Thus the Byzantine empire held on to a small slice of the Spanish coast until the reign of Heraclius. There was a strategic reason for the Spanish campaign: in the Visigoths had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to take Septem and, though the Romans routed them with a surprise attack on a Sunday while they were at a church service, they still posed a potential danger.

      But the overriding reason was that Justinian could not resist what must have seemed a golden opportunity. The theological battlefield, where no one won a victory, left results that were to last longer than the military campaigns of Justinian's reign. At the start of the reign both the Orthodox and the Monophysites resisted the idea of a split in Christendom but by its end, there was a Monophysite hierarchy in place and though there was still no permanent schism de iure , one did exist de facto.

      When Justin I became emperor in , the 'Acacian Schism' still existed and Vitalian, who had raised rebellion twice against the Monophysite emperor Anastasius , driven by a combination of orthodox zeal and ambition, was still lurking in his native province of Scythia Minor with the remains of his military force. Justin immediately sent a letter to Pope Hormisdas inviting him to send legates to Constantinople to discuss healing the breach, and Justinian sent a letter as well, summoning Hormisdas in person.

      Hormisdas did not come. The breach was healed; on Holy Thursday, , the patriarch of Constantinople accepted Rome's conditions. Severus, patriarch of Antioch, the theological luminary of the Monophysites, escaped to Egypt where the patriarch of Alexandria gave him refuge. Vitalian returned to Constantinople where he became Master of the Soldiers in the capital, consul in , and then was murdered, probably at Justinian's instigation. But the settlement was illusive, as Justinian soon realized, and within months he was advocating a compromise put forward by a group of monks from Scythia Minor which got the support of Vitalian, who came from there himself.

      Nonetheless, section numbers are embedded within the chapters which facilitates referencing. Numerous maps, provided by Ian Mladjov, and remarkable for their scope and detail, are a necessary complement to understanding the text. The appendices complete the volume with glossaries, annotated guides to contemporary primary sources, a guide to scholarship in English, lists of rulers and genealogies, and a very detailed and extensive index, all showing the level of perfection and care that was devoted to the preparation of this work. It is sure to be indispensable to a new generation of college and university students, and even scholars who already master Greek, who will use it for its assets and contributions beyond the translation.

      The Wars of Justinian by Procopius

      I can think of no better single translation to hook readers on the captivating world of late antique historiography and, especially, on Prokopios as its most talented exemplar. About the Author:. The Secret History. The History of Rome, Books The Peloponnesian War.

      On Justice, Power, and Human Nature. Quick Overview "At last. Add to Cart. Reviews: " At last.