Episode 14 – The Mystery of Belisarius

We examine six questions which remain about Belisarius and his life.


The Byzantine Empire at the death of Justinian (and Belisarius) in 565.  [By Thomas Lessman CC BY-SA 3.0]

“Belisarius” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

I am poor and old and blind;
The sun burns me, and the wind
Blows through the city gate
And covers me with dust
From the wheels of the august
Justinian the Great.

It was for him I chased
The Persians o’er wild and waste,
As General of the East;
Night after night I lay
In their camps of yesterday;
Their forage was my feast.

For him, with sails of red,
And torches at mast-head,
Piloting the great fleet,
I swept the Afric coasts
And scattered the Vandal hosts,
Like dust in a windy street.

For him I won again
The Ausonian realm and reign,
Rome and Parthenope;
And all the land was mine
From the summits of Apennine
To the shores of either sea.

For him, in my feeble age,
I dared the battle’s rage,
To save Byzantium’s state,
When the tents of Zabergan,
Like snow-drifts overran
The road to the Golden Gate.

And for this, for this, behold!
Infirm and blind and old,
With gray, uncovered head,
Beneath the very arch
Of my triumphal march,
I stand and beg my bread!

Methinks I still can hear,
Sounding distinct and near,
The Vandal monarch’s cry,
As, captive and disgraced,
With majestic step he paced,–
“All, all is Vanity!”

Ah! vainest of all things
Is the gratitude of kings;
The plaudits of the crowd
Are but the clatter of feet
At midnight in the street,
Hollow and restless and loud.

But the bitterest disgrace
Is to see forever the face
Of the Monk of Ephesus!
The unconquerable will
This, too, can bear;–I still
Am Belisarius!

P1010695Thank you for Listening!

Direct Link: 14 – The Mystery of Belisarius

Episode 13 – Belisarian Postbellum

Belisarius is no longer at war.  What happened next?

A summary of the Gothic Wars

David_-_Belisarius Belisarius_by_Peyron Belisarius_by_Francois-Andre_Vincent
Depictions of Belisarius as a blind begger by Jacques-Louis David (1781), Jean-Francois Pierre Peyron (1779) and Francois-Andre Vincent (1776)

The Pincian Gate in Rome, where Belisarius is supposed to have begged.


Edessa (Sanliurfa) – the city protected by Jesus
Dara – which Khusrow attempted to take through trickery
Taganae (Gualdo Tadino)  – site of Totila’s defeat
Cumae – where the Gothic treasury was being kept
Mons Lactarus (Monti Lattari) and River Dracon (Sarno)
– Site of the final showdown.

Direct Link: 13 – Belisarian Postbellum

Episode 12 – Stalemate

Can an under-resourced Belisarius do anything to stop the Goths retaking Italy?

Via_FlaminiaThe Flaminian Way


Spolitum (Spolito) and Asise (Assisi) – Totila’s targets on the way to Rome
Perusia (Perugia) – another stop on Totila’s march to Rome
Placentia (Piacenza) – Totila tried to take this city while besieging Rome
Epidamnus (Durres) – where Belisarius went to collect reinforcements
Portus (Porto) – Rome’s port
Cervarium (Cervaro) – where John waited
Dryus (Otranto) – The Byzantine’s base in the South (location unknown)
Tarentum (Taranto) – captured by John, but with no walls
Tibur (Tivoli) – where Totila retreated after failing to retake Rome
Acherontis (Acerenza) – a fortress besieged by John
Croton (Crotone) – where Belisarius’s fleet was forced to put in by a storm
Rusciana (port of the ruined city of Thurii) – a fortress besieged by the Goths

Direct Link: 12 – Stalemate

Episode 11 – Too Many Cooks

Wars are everywhere, and Belisarius is once again falling in and out of favour.

Places (more well-known cities not listed)

Sergiopolis  – home of Candidus
Heirapolis – where Buzes is fond of hiding
Callinicum (now Rakka) – sacked by Khusrow in 542
  – where the plague first arrived in Byzantine lands
Tarbesium (Treviso) – site of Totila’s first great victory
Caesena (Cesana) – taken by Totila
Dryus (Otranto) – relieved by Belisarius
Pisaurus (Pesaro) – rebuilt by Belisarius as a base
Firmum (Fermo) – besieged by Totila
Asculum (Ascoli) – besieged by Totila

Direct Link: 11 – Too Many Cooks

Episode 10 – Loot, Lust and a Lost Kingdom

Belisarius returns to try to deal with the Persians.  Meanwhile, Antonia is causing trouble closer to home.


Seleucia (where Khusrow went to bathe in the Mediterranean)
Apamea (which Khusrow ‘visited’ after Antioch)
Edessa (now Sanliurfa, the untakeable city)
Carrhae (now Harran, from which Khusrow refused a bribe and left alone)
Constantina (now Viransehir, which paid off Khusrow)
Nisibis (the Persian border fortress)
Ephesus (Theodosius’s hidey-hole)

Walls_of_Rome_6th_centuryMap of Lazica by CPlakidas

Direct Link: 10 – Loot, Lust and a Lost Kingdom