Professor of History, University of Wisconsin, Madison. We have also been recommended for educational use by the following publications: Ancient History Encyclopedia Foundation is a non-profit organization registered in Canada. Belisarius. It just made strategic sense to give Belisasrius a smaller army to begin with, and then reinforce him over time if need be. 15 Jan 2021. Even after all his service to Justinian I, Belisarius was accused of corruption (generally understood today as trumped-up charges) and imprisoned in 562 CE. Belisarius had been spectacularly successful for several years by now. Belisarius defeated the Ostrogoths in a series of battles, and reclaimed Rome. The two parts of the Roman Word were very different from the east, mainly Greek-speaking, wealthier and urban, while the west, was mainly Latin speaking and increasingly impoverished. He then commanded Byzantine forces against the Persians, Vandals, Goths, and Bulgars, serving the empire nobly and faithfully until his death. As a member of Justinian’s bodyguard, he came to the emperor’s attention, and he was appointed to a command at about the age of 25. Emperor Justinian became the greatest emperor who ruled the Byzantine Empire. Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. Along the way, he maintained strict discipline among his troops so that none of the populations they passed through were harmed or wronged. He needed all the men under his command to continue the war and so could not leave Rome fortified; he therefore chose to abandon it. What did Belisarius do to help Justinian? Additionally, he is one of the candidates for the title ‘Last of the Romans’, i.e. The Avars lived in the Caucasus region and were related to the Huns. Belisarius was in Constantinople, the capital, when the Nika Insurrection broke out there in January 532, and he further gained the emperor’s confidence by commanding the troops that ended the episode by massacring the rioters. He was not home for long, however, before Justinian I sent him to fight the Persians. 'Belisarius' was his third such novel, and while it is a 'ripping yarn' of a book, Graves's rich knowledge of the history of Christianity and his grasp of the theological conflicts of the day infuse this story of the exploits of one of the greatest generals in history with the … "Belisarius." WHY HE WAS A LOSER. Soon most of Italy was in Justinian’s hands. Volume I. He ensured that Justinian received a Classical education and military training. As a teenage recruit in the Byzantine army, he proved himself an able soldier and obviously made an impression on his superiors because he was elevated in rank during the reign of Justin I and soon after commanded the emperor’s personal bodyguard. Hampered by conflicts within his command, his advance further northward was delayed, but by 540 the Goths, hard-pressed, offered to surrender if Belisarius would rule over them as emperor. He is often regarded as one of the greatest generals of the Byzantine Empire . Back in Constantinople, Belisarius was as popular as ever – far more than Justinian I. Gelimer was later hunted down, captured, and brought back in chains to Constantinople as part of Belisarius’ triumph. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Flavius Belisarius was a Byzantine general who lived during the 6th century AD. Last modified September 20, 2019. Belisarius won his first laurels as commander on the Mesopotamian front against the empire’s eastern neighbour and rival, Sāsānian Persia. His public career thereafter is thoroughly described by the historian Procopius, who was a member of his personal staff for the first 15 years of his campaigns and who observed the general’s activities personally. As Fuller notes, “because correct timing was the prerequisite of success, in a clockless age it would have been a fluke had the three columns engaged simultaneously” (312). In 540 CE, Belisarius took the city of Ravenna and secured Witigis as prisoner. Totila, frustrated, wrote Belisarius that, if the Byzantines did not withdraw from Italy and leave him in peace, he would destroy Rome and execute the senators who were his prisoners. That is also why the National Geographic Society sponsored my Hannibal field research – sending me to every Hannibal battle site and to Carthage in Tunisia, along with Spain, France, Italy and even Turkey where Hannibal concluded his dramatic life – and also why Simon and Schuster published my biography Hannibal this summer. Justinian recalled Belisarius from Italy and replaced him with the general Germanus, second husband of the late Amalasuntha, but Germanus died before he could reach Italy and was replaced by Narses (l. c. 480-573 CE) who would defeat Totila at the Battle of Taginae in 552 CE, killing him and restoring Italy to the Byzantine Empire. Belisarius was incredibly popular among his men as well as among those he conquered and so, in Justinian I’s mind, there was no reason why his general would not rise up against him. The crowds at the Hippodrome in January 532 CE were no happier with the imprisonment verdict than they had been with execution and, during the races that day, they broke out in a riot chanting “Nika!” (“win”) and stormed Justinian I’s palace. Diocletian was first and foremost a soldier, but he made reforms not only in Roman military, but also in its financial system, administration, religion, architecture and changed rules of ruling the Empire. Books Historians gift Belisarius with a … The Goths trusted neither Justinian nor his terms but did trust Belisarius who had behaved honorably toward the conquered throughout the war. While he was off fighting the Persians, the situation in Italy had worsened. He also recaptured the lands of the Western Roman Empire. "Belisarius." In Procopius’s Secret History (Historia arcana), Belisarius is given the least unfavourable treatment of the age’s leading personalities. Despite some successes, Belisarius had difficulties with his unruly soldiers, and then he was stripped of his command on charges of disloyalty. Back in Constantinople, Belisarius was as popular as ever – far more than Justinian I. Totila, King of the Ostrogothsby The Walters Art Museum (CC BY-SA). Totila agreed in a move which scholar Herwig Wolfram (expressing scholarly consensus) refers to as “the momentous mistake of giving up Rome” (356). At one point, when he knew he was outnumbered and the Persian general was trying to gain intelligence on the strength of his forces, Belisarius arrived at a meeting with Persian ambassadors with a large contingent of men (6,000 according to Procopius) dressed as if they were a hunting expedition. Belisarius was Roman. By the time Gelimer arrived, he found only the bodies of his defeated army and his dead brother. He’d made a stunning victory at Dara against the Sassanids. The Ancient History Encyclopedia logo is a registered EU trademark. Will Durant expresses the majority opinion of Belisarius’ reputation, writing: No general since Caesar ever won so many victories with such limited resources of men and funds; few ever surpassed him in strategy or tactics, in popularity with his men and mercy to his foes; perhaps it merits note that the greatest generals – Alexander, Caesar, Belisarius, Saladin, Napoleon – found clemency a mighty engine of war. The country had been stable and prosperous under the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great (r. 493-526 CE) who provided the Byzantine Empire with revenue but, since his death, had fallen into chaos under the rule of self-seeking and weak monarchs. Some Rights Reserved (2009-2021) under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license unless otherwise noted. Something that we today are not robbed because of his actions. His next engagement, however, the Battle of Callinicum in 531 CE, was not so successful as he was defeated with heavy losses. ... Belisarius, to Vandal-controlled North Africa in 533 with a fairly small force of soldiers and cavalry, and within a year Belisarius had soundly defeated the Vandal army and retaken North Africa for the empire. Web. He then sent emissaries to Constantinople to negotiate a peace but his messengers were denied an audience and then arrested. Mark, Joshua J. Justinian had already come to fear that so popular a commander might win sufficient prestige to aim at his throne. Gelimer fled the field in the face of the Byzantine onslaught, and his troops then fell into a panic and broke ranks. A myth later grew up around this event in which Justinian I had Belisarius blinded and the great general became a beggar on the streets of Constantinople. Persian Wars and Belisarius. Justinian, a great statesman, was known for his hard work.Under Justinian, great conquests were made and magnificent structures were built. The most important early emperor of Byzantium was Justinian, who ruled from 527 to 565. Rome was a famous city, Belisarius noted, and if Totila left it intact, he would be remembered well; if he destroyed it, he would forever be held in disdain. The mob chose the consul Hypatius as their new emperor, and he encouraged their revolt further, speaking to the crowds now packing the Hippodrome. The immediate cause of the conflict was the arrest and imprisonment of two athletes from the two rival chariot-racing sports teams the Blues and the Greens. Belisarius’ native tongue was Thracian with Latin as his second language. Partially restored to favour in 563, he was left in peace until his death, a few months before the death of the ungrateful emperor he had served so well. His commander Belisarius obtained a peace treaty in 531. Justinian also undertook many important projects at home. Justinian also dispatched Belisarius to settle problems in Africa and Europe. In order for the plan to work, everyone had to move at exactly the right time. Even though Belisarius had never given Justinian I any cause, the emperor grew suspicious of his loyalty. In the early 500s, Justin—a high-ranking military commander in Constantinople (now Istanbul)—took Justinian under his wing. Belisarius was defeated a number of times before he seems to have gotten a better grasp of full-scale engagements and the command of large forces. Robert Graves’s vivid novel Count Belisarius (1938) is the best fictionalized treatment of the general’s life. Belisarius was a trooper in Justinian’s bodyguard when he was assigned to a command on the eastern front where war with the Persians had been dragging on since 525. Returning to Constantinople, he was granted a triumphal celebration. He then went to join 4 other important Byzantine officers at Thannuris. Unlike many of them, however, Belisarius valued humility, regularly consulting with his staff before making decisions which would affect them, and consistently adhered to his own code of honor, maintaining his integrity under circumstances which would have corrupted a lesser man. The Western Empire was much weaker than the East and after the collapse of the Rhine frontier in 410 AD it was slowly occupied by various Germanic … This proved a grave error as the officials were corrupt and the people of Italy, especially the Ostrogoths, suffered under their administration. Flavius Belisarius (500 - 565 AD) personified the perfect example of what a general of a powerful empire ought to have been. the last individual who embodied the … This myth, however, has no basis in fact even though many works of art, such as Jacque-Louis David’s painting Belisarius, have depicted it as historical truth. Antonina seems to have utterly captivated him, but her reckless and immoral behaviour brought him embarrassment and humiliation. The Italian wars were left to be completed by other generals, notably the eunuch Narses, who would receive Justinian’s fuller support. Belisarius was defeated a number of times before he seems to have gotten a better grasp of full-scale engagements & the command of large forces. Much of Constantinople was burned down … Justinian I’s policies – especially concerning taxation and the methods of tax collection – were extremely unpopular with the people of his capital city of Constantinople and, in 532 CE, this situation exploded in the so-called Nika Riots. Scholar David L. Bongard comments: A brave and skillful soldier, Belisarius was a talented tactician, bold, wily, and flexible; despite his shabby treatment at the hands of Justinian, he always behaved loyally [even to the point of refusing] the offer of a crown of his own at Ravenna. Justinian I took her counsel and ordered Belisarius to deal with the riot. On his return from the Eternal City, the Belisarius painting gained him entrance to the French Académie (1781) and, for the next 30 years, David was Europe’s most important painter . He defended an empire attack in four directions. His name at birth was Petrus Sabbatius. Theodahad was not up to the task of defending his cities and, further, had proven himself a very poor king in every respect. He is remembered as one of the greatest military commanders in history and, as Durant notes, is regularly compared with the most celebrated generals of all time. When marauding Hun tribes menaced the city in 559, the emperor summoned Belisarius back into service. It was through Justin that Justinian advanced. The most famous had him actually blinded by Justinian and forced to beg in the streets in his old age. The recovery of Italy from the Ostrogoths began in 535. Roman Emperor at the Hippodromeby Radomil talk (CC BY-SA). Cite This Work Ring in the new year with a Britannica Membership, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Belisarius, Ancient History Encyclopedia - Biography of Belisarius, Ancient Origins - Biography of Belisarius. But his conduct was so meek, and his manners so affable, that he seemed like a very poor man, and one of no repute. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. Belisarius took Sicily first in 535 CE and then Naples and Rome in 536 CE. As one of the last important figures in the Roman military tradition, he led imperial armies against the Sāsānian empire (Persia), the Vandal kingdom of North Africa, the Ostrogothic regime of Italy, and the barbarian tribes encroaching upon Constantinople (Istanbul). The Byzantines hoped that the Slavs would be too busy fighting the Avars to raid the Balkans. The impression was that, if a mere hunting party numbered so many, Belisarius’ army must vastly outnumber the Persians. He was assassinated by Amalasuntha’s son-in-law Witigis (also given as Vitiges, r. 536-540 CE) in 536 CE who then organized defense of his realm but did no better than Theodahad. Justin I was so impressed by the young man that he made him an officer and then promoted him to command. Totila sent word to Constantinople that he was open to negotiations but Justinian I wrote back that he should deal with Belisarius. In 535 CE Belisarius was sent against the Ostrogoths in Italy. Belisarius stops these with this talent build which makes him especially important in PvP battles and in Expedition depending on the type of commanders you are fighting. Photo by Mark Kiel Belisarius the Roman Commander. Furthermore, he had a fine figure, and was tall and remarkably handsome. Under the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the sixth century general reclaimed vast tracts of Western Roman territory, from northern Africa to the Italian peninsula. From the Earliest... Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. Even after all his service to Justinian I, Belisarius was accused of corruption & imprisoned in 562 CE. He’d won the Vandal War in North Africa in an astonishingly short time. Justinian I privately gave up without a fight and was going to flee the city with his supporters but was stopped by his wife Theodora (l. 500-548 CE) who strongly advised against this by pointing out that he might save his life by deserting the city but would afterwards find it a life not worth living as there would be no honor or dignity in it. About this time, meanwhile, Belisarius married the widowed Antonina, who, as an old friend to the empress Theodora, had influence at court that was later to be of great importance to him. One of the most important achievements of Diocletian was the “tetrarchy” – ruling of four. Belisarius’ native tongue was Thracian with Latin as his second language. Imperial rule had broken down in Italy under Belisarius’s incompetent successors. He sent another army to conquer Spain. The Roman Empire had been divided by the Emperor Theodosius I into an Eastern and Western state. Belisarious , Justinian’s General , that the Emperor loved to hate . Justinian I commuted the sentences of the last two from execution to imprisonment when it became clear how unhappy the populace was with his previous choices. (Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, 76). Belisarius is remembered for saving Rome in a time of need. Historian Will Durant cites Procopius in reporting how the people of the city regarded the general: The Byzantines took delight in watching Belisarius as he came forth from his home each day… For his progress resembled a crowded festival procession, since he was always escorted by a large number of Vandals, Goths, and Moors. Updates? Justinian inherited conflict with the Persians. In reality, Belisarius was probably much more mundane, which for me makes him all the more interesting to study. The Vandals had conquered the African provinces of the former Roman Empire under the leadership of their king Gaiseric (r. 428-478 CE). He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level. Belisarius took the city afterwards, repaired and strengthened the walls, and garrisoned it, in an effort to deny Totila a significant resource in any future negotiations. Belisarius pretended to accept their proposal but, loyal to Justinian I and knowing himself an abler soldier than statesman, went along with all their preparations to crown him at Ravenna and then had the ringleaders of the plot arrested and claimed all of the Ostrogoth Empire, and all of the treasury, in Justinian I’s name. (108). The rebellion crushed, Justinian I then sent Belisarius against the Vandals in 533 CE to win back African provinces to the empire and 'liberate' Trinitarian (Nicene) Christians from the perceived tyranny of the Vandals who practiced Arian Christianity. The Byzantine officials, whom Justinian had given governorship to, had so misused their powers that a Gothic uprising, led by a charismatic, nationalist Ostrogoth named Totila (birth name Baduila-Badua, r. 541-552 CE), had thrown the region into chaos. Totila was a charismatic and effective general while the Byzantine commanders sent against him by Justinian I were more concerned with how they could profit personally from the campaign. I think the reason why it was successful in Europe and the Middle East (until the rise of Islam) was because of it's similarities to the pagan religion. By the time of the Gothic Wars, Belisarius was very popular. Whatever promise Justin I saw in Belisarius, it was not proven by his first engagements. The largest, most important and still most famous Byzantine building is the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, dedicated to the holy wisdom (hagia sophia) of God. Theodora died in 548, and he was soon recalled. Justin I was so impressed by the young man that he made him an officer and then promoted him to command. Since these ports and adjacent lands were no longer governed by the empire, they were not generating any income for Justinian I, whose popularity was at an all-time low following the Nika Riots and other setbacks and who needed a great victory (and more money) to restore his prestige. Wh… His reputation endured for centuries, and later legends, often mixed with stories about others, developed about him. Mark, published on 20 September 2019 under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. Written by Joshua J. Whether Justinian I actually ordered the invasion of North Africa to stop these persecutions is still debated as is the question of whether he ordered the invasion at all since some scholars, citing the work of Procopius, point out that the invasion was actually Belisarius’ idea. Belisarius could not do so, however, as an honorable man and soldier. Ancient History Encyclopedia Foundation is a non-profit organization. Ultimately, like Hannibal, Belisarius (and Justinian) wasted time and resources dicking around Italy, when there was really nothing of worth to win there. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. He put down the Nika uprising in Constantinople in 532 CE, the result of resentment against Justinian I, slaughtering between 20-30,000 people. Belisarius, Byzantine general, the leading military figure in the age of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (527–565). Gelimer’s plan relied on a precisely coordinated attack led by himself, his brother Ammatus, and his nephew Gibamund. The emperor recalled him from Italy in temporary disfavour but sent him in the following year to fight again in Mesopotamia against the Sāsānians. 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