Flavius Belisarius (Greek: Φλάβιος Βελισάριος, c. 500[2] – 565) was a general of the Byzantine Empire. He was instrumental to Emperor Justinian's ambitious project of reconquering much of the Mediterranean territory of the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century before.

One of the defining features of Belisarius's career was his success despite varying levels of support from Justinian. His name is frequently given as one of the so-called "Last of the Romans".

Belisarius is considered a military genius who conquered the Vandal Kingdom of North Africa in the Vandalic War in nine months from July 533 to March 534. He defeated the Vandal armies at the battles of Ad Decimum and Tricamarum and compelled the Vandal king Gelimer to surrender. After the conquest of North Africa, Belisarius took over most of Italy from the Ostrogothic Kingdom in a series of sieges between 535 and 540 during the Gothic War.


Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna 013
Belisarius may be this bearded figure[1] on the right of Emperor Justinian I in the mosaic in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, which celebrates the reconquest of Italy by the Byzantine army. Compare Lillington-Martin (2009) page 16
Native name
Bornc. 500
Germane, modern-day Sapareva Banya, Bulgaria
Diedc. March 565 (age 65)
Rufinianae, Chalcedon
Saints Peter and Paul, Constantinople
Allegiance Byzantine Empire
Service/branchByzantine army
Commands heldRoman army in the east, land and sea expedition against the Vandal Kingdom, Roman army

Early life and career

Roman-Persian Frontier in Late Antiquity
Map of the Byzantine-Persian frontier

Belisarius was probably born in Germane or Germania, a fortified town of which some archaeological remains still exist, on the site of present-day Sapareva Banya in south-west Bulgaria, within the borders of Thrace and Paeonia, or in Germen, a town in Thrace near Adrianople, in present-day Turkey.[3] Born into an Illyrian[4][5][6][7][8] or Thracian[9] family that spoke Latin as a mother tongue, he became a Roman soldier as a young man, serving in the bodyguard of Emperor Justin I.[10]

He came to the attention of Justin and his nephew, Justinian, as a promising and innovative officer. He was given permission by the emperor to form a bodyguard regiment (bucellarii), of heavy cavalry, which he later expanded into a personal household regiment, 1,500 strong. Belisarius's bucellarii were the nucleus around which all the armies he would later command were organized. Armed with a lance, (possibly Hunnish style) composite bow, and spatha (sword), they were fully armoured to the standard of heavy cavalry of the day. A multi-purpose unit, the bucellarii were capable of shooting at a distance with bow, like the Huns, or could act as heavy shock cavalry, charging an enemy with lance and sword. In essence, they combined the best and most dangerous aspects of both of Rome's greatest enemies, the Huns and the Goths.

Following Justin's death in 527, the new emperor, Justinian I, appointed Belisarius to command the Roman army in the east to deal with incursions from the Sassanid Empire. He quickly proved himself an able and effective commander, defeating the larger Sassanid army through superior generalship. In June/July 530, during the Iberian War, he led the Romans to a stunning victory over the Sassanids in the Battle of Dara, followed by a tactical defeat at the Battle of Callinicum on the Euphrates in 531—this was perhaps a strategic victory in that the Persians retreated to their own borders. This led to the negotiation of an "Eternal Peace" with the Persians, and Roman payment of heavy tributes for years in exchange for peace with Persia, freeing resources for redeployment elsewhere.

In 532, he was the highest-ranking military officer in the Imperial capital of Constantinople when the Nika riots broke out in the city (among factions of chariot racing fans) and nearly resulted in the overthrow of Justinian. Belisarius sought the help of Mundus, the magister militum of Illyricum, Narses, a eunuch and general, and his friend John the Armenian. Together, they suppressed the rebellion, turning the rebels who had gathered in the Hippodrome against each other, by bribing one group to depart in peace and massacring the remainder, by some accounts as many as 30,000 people.[11]

Military campaigns

Against the Vandals

Vandalic War campaign map
Map of the Vandalic War

For his efforts, Belisarius was rewarded by Justinian with the command of a land and sea expedition against the Vandal Kingdom, mounted in 533–534. The Romans had political, religious and strategic reasons for such a campaign. The pro-Roman Vandal king Hilderic had been deposed and murdered by the usurper Gelimer, giving Justinian a legal pretext. The Arian Vandals had periodically persecuted the Nicene Christians within their kingdom, many of whom made their way to Constantinople seeking redress. The Vandals had launched many pirate raids on Roman trade interests, hurting commerce in the western areas of the Empire. Justinian also wanted control of the Vandal territory in north Africa, which was one of the wealthiest provinces and the breadbasket of the Western Roman Empire and was now vital for guaranteeing Roman access to the western Mediterranean.

In the late summer of 533, Belisarius sailed to Africa and landed near Caput Vada (near Chebba on the coast of Tunisia). He ordered his fleet not to lose sight of the army, then marched along the coastal highway toward the Vandal capital of Carthage. He did this to prevent supplies from being cut off and to avoid a great defeat such as occurred during the attempt by Basiliscus to retake northern Africa 65 years before, which had ended in the Roman disaster at the Battle of Cap Bon in 468.

Gelimer had planned to ambush and encircle the Romans along with a force under his brother Ammatas and 2,000 men under his nephew Gibamund. The three attacks were not properly synchronized, however, so that Ammatas and Gibamund's forces were defeated before the forces of Gelimer (who had just executed Hilderic) met Belisarius ten miles from Carthage at the Battle of Ad Decimum on September 13, 533. Despite his bold plan, Gelimer's forces were outnumbered and surprised and disorganised for the positioning of Belisarius' main force, leading to Belisarius routing Gelimer and the remains of his army off the field. With this victory, Belisarius soon took Carthage. A second victory at the Battle of Tricamarum on December 15 resulted in Gelimer's surrender early in 534 at Mount Papua, restoring the lost Roman provinces of north Africa to the empire. For this achievement, Belisarius was granted a triumph when he returned to Constantinople. According to Procopius, the spoils of the Temple of Jerusalem, including many objects looted from Rome 80 years earlier, were paraded in the procession along with Gelimer himself, before he was sent into peaceful exile. Medals were stamped in honor of Belisarius with the inscription Gloria Romanorum, though none seem to have survived to modern times. Belisarius was also made sole Consul in 535, being one of the last private citizens to hold this office, which originated in the ancient Roman Republic. The recovery of Africa was incomplete, however: army mutinies and revolts by the native Berbers plagued the new praetorian prefecture of Africa for almost 15 years.

Against the Ostrogoths

Gothic War - First Phase, 535-540
Map of the operations of the first five years of the war, showing the Roman conquest of Italy under Belisarius

Justinian resolved to restore as much of the Western Roman Empire as he could. In 535, he commissioned Belisarius to attack the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Belisarius landed in Sicily and took the island in order to use it as a base against Italy, while Mundus recovered Dalmatia.[12] The only Ostrogothic resistance was at Panormus, which fell after a quick siege, where Belisarius used archer fire from boats on top of the masts of his ships to subdue the garrison.[13] He made a triumphal entry to Syracuse on 31 December 535.[13] The preparations for the invasion of the Italian mainland were interrupted in Easter 536, when Belisarius sailed to Africa to counter an uprising of the local army.[13] His reputation made the rebels abandon the siege of Carthage, and Belisarius pursued and defeated them at Membresa.[13] Thereupon he returned to Sicily, and then crossed into mainland Italy, where he captured Naples in November and Rome in December 536.[14] Much of Tuscany submitted willingly to Belisarius' troops at this point.[15]

From March 537 to March 538 he successfully defended Rome against the army of the Goth king Witiges. In early 538, Belisarius sent out a force of 2,000 cavalry, which captured Ariminum (modern Rimini) in early 538.[16] The Gothic army was forced to abandon the siege of Rome.[16] Witiges moved northeast and besieged Ariminum. The arrival of a Byzantine relief army under Belisarius and Narses compelled the Ostrogoths to give up the siege and retreat to their capital of Ravenna.[17] Belisarius captured Urbinum (modern Urbino) in December 538 after a three-day siege when the Gothic garrison ran out of water.[18] A Roman revolt against the Goths at Mediolanum (modern Milan) was bloodily suppressed in 538 and early 539 by the Goths, after Belisarius' efforts to relieve the besieged city failed.[19]

In 539, Belisarius set up siege forces around Auximum (modern Osimo) and Faesulae (modern Fiesole), starving both cities to submission by late 539.[20] He then stationed his army around the Ostrogothic capital of Ravenna in late 539.[21] Cut off from outside help by the Byzantine navy patrolling the Adriatic Sea, the Ostrogoths surrendered after negotiations in May 540, and the Byzantine army occupied the city.[21] Shortly before the taking of Ravenna, the Ostrogoths had offered to make Belisarius the western emperor.[21] Belisarius feigned acceptance and entered Ravenna via its sole point of entry, a causeway through the marshes, accompanied by a comitatus of bucellarii, his personal household regiment.[21] Soon afterwards, he proclaimed the capture of Ravenna in the name of the Emperor Justinian.[21] The Goths' offer raised suspicions in Justinian's mind and Belisarius was recalled. He returned home with the Gothic treasure, king and warriors.

Belisarius was recalled in part to deal with the Persian conquest of Syria, a crucial province of the empire, where he repulsed renewed attacks. He defeated the Persian army under Nabades at Nisibis but could not take the city because it was fortified and well defended by the Persians. He captured Sisauranon, a small Persian fort to the east. Here Belisarius sent Harith with 1,200 Roman troops under John the Glutton and Traianus to plunder Assyria. The expedition penetrated far into Persian territory and gathered much plunder. In the campaign of 542, Belisarius's presence just to the west of the Euphrates prevented Khosrow I from advancing further and the king decided to retreat. Belisarius was acclaimed throughout the East for his success in repelling the Persians.[22]

Belisarius returned to Italy in 544, where he found that the situation had changed greatly. In 541 the Ostrogoths had elected Totila as their new leader and had mounted a vigorous campaign against the Romans, recapturing all of northern Italy and even driving the Romans out of Rome. Belisarius managed to recover Rome briefly but his Italian campaign proved unsuccessful, partly because of limited supplies and reinforcements from an empire which had been weakened by the plague of 541–542; according to Procopius, Justinian denied him supplies because he was jealous of his success. However, it is worth noting the letter that Belisarius wrote to Totila, according to Procopius, which reportedly prevented Totila from destroying Rome:

"While the creation of beauty in a city which has not been beautiful before could only proceed from men of wisdom who understand the meaning of civilization, the destruction of beauty which already exists would be naturally expected only of men who lack understanding, and who are not ashamed to leave to posterity this token of their character. Now among all the cities under the sun Rome is agreed to be the greatest and the most noteworthy. For it has not been created by the ability of one man, nor has it attained such greatness and beauty by a power of short duration, but a multitude of monarchs, many companies of the best men, a great lapse of time, and an extraordinary abundance of wealth have availed to bring together in that city all other things that are in the whole world, and skilled workers besides. Thus, little by little, have they built the city, such as you behold it, thereby leaving to future generations memorials of the ability of them all, so that insult to these monuments would properly be considered a great crime against the men of all time ; for by such action the men of former generations are robbed of the memorials of their ability, and future generations of the sight of their works. Such, then, being the facts of the case, be well assured of this, that one of two things must necessarily take place : either you will be defeated by the emperor in this struggle, or, should it so fall out, you will triumph over him. Now, in the first place, supposing you are victorious, if you should dismantle Rome, you would not have destroyed the possession of some other man, but your own city, excellent Sir, and, on the other hand, if you preserve it, you will naturally enrich yourself by a possession the fairest of all; but if, in the second place, it should perchance fall to your lot to experience the worse fortune, in saving Rome you would be assured of abundant gratitude on the part of the victor, but by destroying the city you will make it certain that no plea for mercy will any longer be left to you, and in addition to this you will have reaped no benefit from the deed. Furthermore, a reputation that corresponds with your conduct will be your portion among all men, and it stands waiting for you according as you decide either way. For the quality of the acts of rulers determines, of necessity, the quality of the repute which they win from their acts."[23]

Following this disappointing campaign, mitigated by Belisarius' success in preventing the total destruction of Rome, in 548-9, Justinian relieved him. In 551, after economic recovery (from the effects of the plague) the eunuch Narses led a large army to bring the campaign to a successful conclusion; Belisarius retired from military affairs. At the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (553), Belisarius was one of the Emperor's envoys to Pope Vigilius in their controversy over The Three Chapters. The Patriarch Eutychius, who presided over this council in place of Pope Vigilius, was the son of one of Belisarius's generals.

Deposition of Pope Silverius

During the Siege of Rome an incident occurred for which the general would be long condemned: Belisarius, a Byzantine Rite Christian, was commanded by the monophysite Christian Empress Theodora to depose the reigning Pope, who had been installed by the Goths. This Pope was the former subdeacon Silverius, the son of Pope Hormisdas. Belisarius was to replace him with the Deacon Vigilius, Apocrisarius of Pope John II in Constantinople. Vigilius had in fact been chosen in 531 by Pope Boniface II to be his successor, but this choice was strongly criticised by the Roman clergy and Boniface eventually reversed his decision.

In 537, at the height of the siege, Silverius was accused of conspiring with the Gothic King and several Roman senators to secretly open the gates of the city. Belisarius had him stripped of his vestments and exiled to Patara in Lycia in Asia Minor. Following the advocacy of his innocence by the bishop of Patara he was ordered to return to Italy at the command of the Emperor Justinian and, if cleared by investigation, reinstated. However, Vigilius had already been installed in his place and Silverius was intercepted before he could reach Rome and exiled once more, this time on the island of Palmarola (Ponza), where by one account he is said to have starved to death, while others say he left for Constantinople. However that may be, he remains the patron saint of Ponza today.

Belisarius, for his part, built a small oratory on the site of the present church of Santa Maria in Trivio in Rome as a sign of his repentance. He also built two hospices for pilgrims and a monastery, which have since disappeared.

Later life and campaigns

Justinien 527-565
The enlargement of the Roman Empire possessions between the rise to power of Justinian (red, 527) and his and Belisarius's death (orange, 565). Belisarius contributed immensely to the expansion of the empire.

The retirement of Belisarius came to an end in 559, when an army of Kutrigur Bulgars under Khan Zabergan crossed the Danube River to invade Roman territory for the first time and threatened Constantinople. Justinian recalled Belisarius to command the Roman army. In his last campaign, Belisarius defeated the Kutrigurs at the battle of Melantias and drove them back across the river with the greatly outnumbered force under his command.

In 562, Belisarius stood trial in Constantinople on a charge of corruption. The charge is presumed to have been trumped-up and modern research suggests that his former secretary Procopius of Caesarea may have judged his case. Belisarius was found guilty and imprisoned but not long after, Justinian pardoned him, ordered his release, and restored him to favour at the imperial court.

In the first five chapters of his Secret History, Procopius characterises Belisarius as a cuckolded husband, who was emotionally dependent on his debauched wife, Antonina. According to the historian, Antonina cheated on Belisarius with their adopted son, the young Theodosius. Procopius claims that the love affair was well known in the imperial court and the general was regarded as weak and ridiculous; this view is often considered biased, as Procopius nursed a longstanding hatred of Belisarius and Antonina. Empress Theodora reportedly saved Antonina when Belisarius tried to charge his wife at last.

Belisarius and Justinian, whose partnership had increased the size of the empire by 45 percent, died within a few months of each other in 565. Belisarius owned the estate of Rufinianae on the Asiatic side of the Constantinople suburbs. He may have died there and been buried near one of the two churches in the area, perhaps Saints Peter and Paul.

Legend as a blind beggar

Belisarius by Francois-Andre Vincent
Bélisaire, by François-André Vincent (1776). Belisarius, blinded, a beggar, is recognised by one of his former soldiers
David - Belisarius
Belisarius Begging for Alms, as depicted in popular legend, in the painting by Jacques-Louis David (1781)
Belisarius by Peyron
The outcast Belisarius receiving hospitality from a Peasant by Jean-François Pierre Peyron (1779)

According to a story that gained popularity during the Middle Ages, Justinian is said to have ordered Belisarius's eyes to be put out, and reduced him to the status of homeless beggar near the Pincian Gate of Rome, condemned to asking passers-by to "give an obolus to Belisarius" (date obolum Belisario), before pardoning him. Most modern scholars believe the story to be apocryphal, though Philip Stanhope, a 19th-century British philologist who wrote Life of Belisarius—the only exhaustive biography of the great general—believed the story to be true based on his review of the available primary sources.

After the publication of Jean-François Marmontel's novel Bélisaire (1767), this account became a popular subject for progressive painters and their patrons in the later 18th century, who saw parallels between the actions of Justinian and the repression imposed by contemporary rulers. For such subtexts, Marmontel's novel received a public censure by Louis Legrand of the Sorbonne, which contemporary theologians regarded as a model exposition of theological knowledge and clear thinking.[24] Marmontel and the painters and sculptors depicted Belisarius as a kind of secular saint, sharing the suffering of the downtrodden poor—for example, the bust of Belisarius by the French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Stouf. The most famous of these paintings, by Jacques-Louis David, combines the themes of charity (the alms giver), injustice (Belisarius), and the radical reversal of power (the soldier who recognises his old commander). Others portray him being helped by the poor after his rejection by the powerful.

In art and popular culture

Belisarius was featured in several works of art before the 20th century. The oldest of them is the historical treatise by his secretary, Procopius. The Anecdota, commonly referred to as the Arcana Historia or Secret History, is an extended attack on Belisarius and Antonina, and on Justinian and Theodora, indicting Belisarius as a love-blind fool and his wife as unfaithful and duplicitous. Other works include:

Belisarius as a character


  • Belasarius: a play by Jakob Bidermann (1607)
  • The life and history of Belisarius, who conquer'd Africa and Italy, with an account of his disgrace, the ingratitude of the Romans, and a parallel between him and a modern hero: a drama by John Oldmixon (1713)
  • Belasarius: a drama by William Philips (1724)


  • El ejemplo mayor de la desdicha: a play by Antonio Mira de Amescua (1625)
  • Bélisaire: a novel by Jean-François Marmontel (1767)
  • Belisarius: A Tragedy: by Margaretta Faugères (1795). Though she wrote it as a play, Faugères "intended [this work] for the closet," i.e., to be read and not performed. Her preface voices complaints about "maledictions" and long-winded rhetoric in popular tragic drama, which she says tend to bore and even outrage a reader, and announces her intent to "substitute concise narrative and plain sense." The drama's plot and character development are secondary to moral conflicts, mainly between vengeance and mercy/pity, respectively associated with pride and humility.
  • Beliar: 18th-century poem by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque.
  • Kampf um Rom: an historical novel by Felix Dahn (1867)
  • Belisarius, 19th-century poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
  • Count Belisarius: a novel by Robert Graves (1938); Ostensibly written from the viewpoint of the eunuch Eugenius, servant to Belisarius's wife, but actually based on Procopius's history, the book portrays Belisarius as a solitary honorable man in a corrupt world, and paints a vivid picture of not only his startling military feats but also the colorful characters and events of his day, such as the savage Hippodrome politics of the Constantinople chariot races, which regularly escalated to open street battles between fans of opposing factions, and the intrigues of the emperor Justinian and the empress Theodora.
  • Lest Darkness Fall: an alternative history novel by L. Sprague de Camp (1939). Belisarius appears first as the Roman opponent of the time traveler Martin Padway who tries to spread modern science and inventions in Gothic Italy. Eventually Belisarius becomes a general in Padway's army and secures Italy for him.
  • The Belisarius series: six books by Eric Flint and David Drake (1998–2006). Science Fiction/Alternative History.
  • The character "Bel Riose" in Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov is based on Belisarius (1952)
  • A Flame in Byzantium: an historical horror fiction novel by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1987)




  • Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings: A video game by Ensemble Studios (1999). Belisarius is a "Hero" that can only be accessed in the map editor. He has the appearance of a Cataphract, the Byzantine unique unit. The second official expansion pack for the game, Age of Empires II: The Forgotten (2013), added a few campaigns in which Belisarius is featured as a player controllable unit.
  • Age of Empires: Castle Siege: A video game by Microsoft Studios (2014). Belisarius is a "Hero" associated with the Byzantines civilization, with a special ability to undermine walls.
  • Civilization IV: A video game by Take-Two Interactive (2005). Belisarius is a "Great Person"; specifically, one of many "Great Generals" that arise through gameplay via warfare with other civilizations (excluding barbarians).
  • Civilization V: Belisarius, as in Civilization IV, appears as a "Great General".
  • Total War: Attila: A video game by The Creative Assembly. The player can command the army of Belisarius at the Battle of Ad Decimum. He is also featured as the main protagonist in "The Last Roman" Campaign Pack where the player can take the role of Belisarius, tasked with reclaiming the former territory of the Western Empire. The campaign ends either with the player successfully recovering territory for the Eastern Roman Empire, or alternatively with Belisarius's forces declaring independence from the Eastern Roman Empire and resurrecting the Western Roman Empire.
  • He is in a tutorial level of Empire Earth.


See also


  1. ^ Mass, Michael (June 2013). "Las guerras de Justiniano en Occidente y la idea de restauración". Desperta Ferro (in Spanish). 18: 6–10. ISSN 2171-9276.
  2. ^ The exact date of his birth is unknown. PLRE III, p. 182
  3. ^ Robert Graves, Count Belisarius and Procopius's Wars, 1938
  4. ^ Treadgold, Warren T. (1997). A history of the Byzantine state and society. Stanford University Press. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-8047-2630-6. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  5. ^ Barker, John W. (1966). Justinian and the later Roman Empire. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-299-03944-8. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  6. ^ History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the death of Justinian volume 2, by J. B. Bury p.56
  7. ^ The Age of Faith: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant, Chapter V
  8. ^ Count Marcellinus and His Chronicle by Brian Croke, p.75
  9. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2010). Battles that changed history : an encyclopedia of world conflict (1st ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-59884-429-0.
  10. ^ Evans, James Allan (2003-10-01). The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian. University of Texas Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-292-70270-7. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  11. ^ This is the number given by Procopius, Wars (Internet Medieval Sourcebook.)
  12. ^ Petersen 2013, pp. 501–502.
  13. ^ a b c d Petersen 2013, p. 502.
  14. ^ Petersen 2013, pp. 502–504.
  15. ^ Petersen 2013, p. 504.
  16. ^ a b Petersen 2013, p. 507.
  17. ^ Petersen 2013, p. 509.
  18. ^ Petersen 2013, pp. 511–512.
  19. ^ Petersen 2013, pp. 509–510.
  20. ^ Petersen 2013, pp. 514–516.
  21. ^ a b c d e Petersen 2013, p. 517.
  22. ^ The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars AD 363-628 by Geoffrey Greatrex,Samuel N. C. Lieu, p. 108-110
  23. ^ Procopius (November 4, 2018). "History of the wars" (PDF). Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  24. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: "Louis Legrand"


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • "Belisarius" Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 27 Apr 2009
  • Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Belisarius" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  • R. Boss, R. Chapman, P. Garriock, Justinian's War: Belisarius, Narses and the Reconquest of the West, Montvert Publications, 1993, ISBN 1-874101-01-9.
  • Henning Börm, Justinians Triumph und Belisars Erniedrigung. Überlegungen zum Verhältnis zwischen Kaiser und Militär im späten Römischen Reich. In: Chiron 43 (2013), pages 63–91.
  • Glanville Downey, Belisarius: Young general of Byzantium, Dutton, 1960
  • Edward Gibbon has much to say on Belisarius in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 41 online.
  • Lillington-Martin, Christopher 2006–2013:
    • 2006, "Pilot Field-Walking Survey near Ambar & Dara, SE Turkey", British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara:Travel Grant Report, Bulletin of British Byzantine Studies, 32 (2006), pages 40–45;
    • 2007, "Archaeological and Ancient Literary Evidence for a Battle near Dara Gap, Turkey, AD 530: Topography, Texts and Trenches" in: BAR –S1717, 2007 The Late Roman Army in the Near East from Diocletian to the Arab Conquest Proceedings of a colloquium held at Potenza, Acerenza and Matera, Italy edited by Ariel S. Lewin and Pietrina Pellegrini, p 299–311;
    • 2008, "Roman tactics defeat Persian pride" in Ancient Warfare edited by Jasper Oorthuys, Vol. II, Issue 1 (February 2008), pages 36–40;
    • 2009, "Procopius, Belisarius and the Goths" in: Journal of the Oxford University History Society,(2009) Odd Alliances edited by Heather Ellis and Graciela Iglesias Rogers. ISSN 1742-917X, pages 1– 17,;
    • 2010, "Source for a handbook:Reflections of the Wars in the Strategikon and archaeology" in: Ancient Warfare edited by Jasper Oorthuys, Vol. IV, Issue 3 (June 2010), pages 33–37;
    • 2011, "Secret Histories",;
    • 2012, "Hard and Soft Power on the Eastern Frontier: a Roman Fortlet between Dara and Nisibis, Mesopotamia,Turkey, Prokopios' Mindouos?" in: The Byzantinist, edited by Douglas Whalin, Issue 2 (2012), pages 4–5,;
    • 2013a, "La defensa de Roma por Belisario" in: Justiniano I el Grande (Desperta Ferro) edited by Alberto Pérez Rubio, 18 (July 2013), pages 40–45, ISSN 2171-9276;
    • 2013b, "Procopius on the struggle for Dara and Rome" in: War and Warfare in Late Antiquity: Current Perspectives (Late Antique Archaeology 8.1–8.2 2010–11) by Sarantis A. and Christie N. (2010–11) edd. (Brill, Leiden 2013), pages 599–630, ISBN 978-90-04-25257-8.
  • Martindale, John R., ed. (1992). The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire: Volume III, AD 527–641. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 181–224. ISBN 0-521-20160-8.
  • Petersen, Leif Inge Ree (2013). Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD): Byzantium, the West and Islam. Leiden: Brill Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-25199-1.
  • Lord Mahon, The Life of Belisarius, 1848. Reprinted 2006 (unabridged with editorial comments) Evolution Publishing, ISBN 1-889758-67-1
  • Lord Mahon, The Life of Belisarius, J. Murray, 1829. With a new critical introduction and further reading by Jon Coulston. Westholme Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-59416-019-8
  • Ancient Warfare magazine, Vol. IV, Issue 3 (Jun/Jul, 2010), was devoted to "Justinian's fireman: Belisarius and the Byzantine empire", with articles by Sidney Dean, Duncan B. Campbell, Ian Hughes, Ross Cowan, Raffaele D'Amato, and Christopher Lillington-Martin.
  • Hanson, Victor Davis. The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost. Bloomsbury Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-6081-9163-5 online edition

External links

Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus IV,
Flavius Decius Paulinus
Consul of the Roman Empire
Title next held by
John the Cappadocian

The 530s decade ran from January 1, 530, to December 31, 539.

Battle of Callinicum

The Battle of Callinicum took place on Easter Saturday, 19 April 531 AD, between the armies of the Byzantine Empire under Belisarius and a Sasanian cavalry force under Azarethes. After a defeat at the Battle of Dara, the Sasanians moved to invade Syria in an attempt to turn the tide of the war. Belisarius' rapid response foiled the plan, and his troops pushed the Persians to the edge of Syria through maneuvering before forcing a battle in which the Sasanians proved to be the pyrrhic victors.

Battle of Dara

The Battle of Dara was fought between the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire and the Sassanids in 530. It was one of the battles of the Iberian War.

Battle of Melantias

The Battle of Melantias or Battle of Melanthius, which took place in 559, was a battle between the armies of the Kutrigurs, commanded by Zabergan, and the Byzantine Empire, under the able and skilled command of general Belisarius. In spite of its large numerical inferiority the Byzantine army decisively won the battle and forced the Kutrigurs to withdraw in bad order . This was the last time that Belisarius commanded a force in battle.

Battle of Thannuris

The Battle of Thannuris (or Battle of Mindouos) was fought between the forces of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire under Belisarius and Coutzes and the Persian Sassanid Empire under Xerxes in summer 528, near Dara in northern Mesopotamia. As they were trying to build a fortress in Minduous, the Byzantines were defeated by the Sasanian army. Belisarius managed to flee but the Sasanians destroyed the buildings. Despite their victory, the Persians suffered heavy losses, angering Kavadh I, the Sasanian king of Persia.


Belisario (Belisarius) is a tragedia lirica (tragic opera) in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the Italian libretto after Luigi Marchionni's adaptation of Eduard von Schenk's play, Belisarius, first staged in Munich in 1820 and then (in Italian) in Naples in 1826. The plot is loosely based on the life of the famous general Belisarius of the 6th century Byzantine Empire.

It premiered to critical and popular success on 4 February 1836 at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, and was given many additional performances that season, although Donizetti scholar William Ashbrook notes that there would have been more had the opera not been presented so late in the season.However, in spite of its initial short term success and critical reaction, as represented by a review in La Gazzetta privilegiata which stated that "A new masterwork has been added to Italian music.....Belisario not only pleased and delighted, but also conquered, enflamed and ravished the full auditorium", in the long run, had "Donizetti poured music of the calibre of his Lucia di Lammermoor into the score of Belisario the shortcomings of its wayward plot and dramatic structure would matter less". By April 1836, even the composer himself recognized that the work stood below Lucia in accomplishment.

Belisarius Begging for Alms

Belisarius Begging for Alms (French: Bélisaire demandant l'aumône) is a large-format (288 × 312 cm) history painting in oil on canvas by Jacques-Louis David. It depicts the Byzantine general Belisarius, who heroically defeated the Vandals in North Africa in AD 533–534 on behalf of Justinian I, and (according to an apocryphal account probably added to his biography in the Middle Ages) was later blinded by the emperor and reduced to begging for alms on the street. David exhibited the work at the Salon of 1781 after returning from Italy and it proved a great success.

It is now on show at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille.

Byzantine Empire under the Justinian dynasty

The Byzantine Empire had its first golden age under the Justinian Dynasty, which began in 518 AD with the Accession of Justin I. Under the Justinian Dynasty, particularly the reign of Justinian I, the Empire reached its largest territorial point, reincorporating North Africa, southern Illyria, southern Spain, and Italy into the Empire. The Justinian Dynasty ended in 602 with the deposition of Maurice and the ascension of his successor, Phocas.

Count Belisarius

Count Belisarius is a historical novel by Robert Graves, first published in 1938, recounting the life of the Byzantine general Belisarius (AD 500–565).

Just as Graves's Claudius novels (I, Claudius and Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina) were based on The Twelve Caesars of Suetonius and other Roman sources, Count Belisarius is largely based on Procopius's History of Justinian's Wars and Secret History. However, Graves's treatment of his sources has been criticized by the historian Anthony Kaldellis, who writes that "There are many historical novels set in the early sixth century, but none can be recommended that are both historically accurate and well-written. R. Graves's Count Belisarius... is at least well-written."Count Belisarius purports to be a biography written by Eugenius, a eunuch who is a servant of Belisarius' wife Antonina. The novel covers the entire life of Belisarius, with the bulk of the text being devoted to accounts of his life while on campaign in North Africa and Italy. Antonina was often with him during these years, and Graves uses stories about her connections to the court of the Emperor Justinian and his Empress Theodora to incorporate political intrigue and other information into the story of Belisarius' military exploits.

Graves's treatment of Belisarius is mostly respectful: the general is, if anything, hampered by his rigid code of honour and loyalty to his Emperor. Other primary characters do not fare so well. Antonina and Theodora are presented as extremely intelligent and capable individuals who are nevertheless prone to holding grudges and to jealousy. Justinian is portrayed as intelligent but reckless, a tragically poor judge of character, and a spendthrift, though driven by genuine piety. Graves recounts how Belisarius suffers trying to satisfy the whims of the two rulers.

Donald P. Bellisario

Donald Paul Bellisario (born August 8, 1935) is an American television producer and screenwriter who created and sometimes wrote episodes for the TV series Battlestar Galactica (1978), Magnum, P.I. (1980), Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982), Airwolf (1984), Quantum Leap (1989), JAG (1995), and NCIS (2003). He has often included military veterans as characters.


Gelimer (original form possibly Geilamir, 480–553), King of the Vandals and Alans (530–534), was the last Germanic ruler of the North African Kingdom of the Vandals. He became ruler in June 530 after deposing his first cousin twice removed, Hilderic, who had angered the Vandal nobility by converting to Chalcedonian Christianity, as most of the Vandals at this time were fiercely devoted to Arian Christianity.The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, who had supported Hilderic, soon declared war on the Vandals, ostensibly to restore Hilderic. In June 533, Justinian sent an expeditionary force commanded by Belisarius which finally reached Africa in the beginning of September. Meanwhile, in Sardinia, which formed part of the Vandal domain, the governor Godas, a Visigoth, revolted against Gelimer and began to treat with Justinian as an independent sovereign. Gelimer, ignorant or contemptuous of Justinian's plans, sent a large army consisting of most of the available army in Africa under his brother Tzazo to crush the rebellion, meaning that the landing of Belisarius was entirely unopposed.On landing, Belisarius immediately marched for Carthage, finally meeting resistance on 13 September when he was confronted by Gelimer at Ad Decimum, 10 miles from Carthage. Although outnumbered 11,000 to 17,000 the battle was evenly fought by the Vandals until Gelimer's brother Ammatas was killed, at which time Gelimer lost heart and fled. On 14 September 533, Belisarius entered Carthage and ate the feast prepared for Gelimer in his palace. However, Belisarius was too late to save the life of Hilderic, who had been slain at Gelimer's orders as soon as the news of the landing of the imperial army came.However, Gelimer had escaped the Roman pursuit, and on the return of Tzazo from Sardinia the combined Vandal army met Belisarius in battle, this time at a place called Tricamarum about 20 miles from Carthage (December 533). This battle was far more stubbornly contested than that of Ad Decimum, but it ended in the utter rout of the Vandals and, once more, the flight of Gelimer. He retreated to Mons Pappua on the border of Numidia, where he soon found himself besieged by Byzantine forces under Pharas. According to Procopius, when summoned to surrender Gelimer instead asked Pharas to send him a loaf of bread, a sponge, and a lyre, to make the winter months on Pappua more bearable.Finally, in March 534, with his followers and their children starving and realizing he had no chance of regaining his kingdom, Gelimer surrendered to Belisarius and accepted the Romans' offer of vast estates in Galatia where he lived to be an old man. According to Byzantine chronicles, on his abdication he achieved some degree of anecdotal fame by crying out the verse from Ecclesiastes, 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity' during Justinian's triumph in Constantinople.

Gothic War (535–554)

The Gothic War between the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Emperor Justinian I and the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy took place from 535 until 554 in the Italian peninsula, Dalmatia, Sardinia, Sicily and Corsica. The war had its roots in the ambition of the East Roman Emperor Justinian I to recover the provinces of the former Western Roman Empire, which the Romans had lost to invading barbarian tribes in the previous century (the Migration Period).

The war followed the Byzantine reconquest of the province of Africa from the Vandals. Historians commonly divide the war into two phases:

From 535 to 540: ending with the fall of the Ostrogothic capital Ravenna and the apparent reconquest of Italy by the Byzantines.

From 540/541 to 553: a Gothic revival under Totila, suppressed only after a long struggle by the Byzantine general Narses, who also repelled an invasion in 554 by the Franks and Alamanni.In 554 Justinian promulgated the Pragmatic sanction which prescribed Italy's new government. Several cities in northern Italy held out against the Byzantines until 562. By the end of the war Italy had been devastated and depopulated. The Byzantines found themselves incapable of resisting an invasion by the Lombards in 568, which resulted in Constantinople permanently losing control over large parts of the Italian peninsula.

Justinian I

Justinian I (; Latin: Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus; Greek: Φλάβιος Πέτρος Σαββάτιος Ἰουστινιανός, translit. Flávios Pétros Sabbátios Ioustinianós; c. 482 – 14 November 565), traditionally known as Justinian the Great and also Saint Justinian the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church, was the Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the historical Roman Empire. Justinian's rule constitutes a distinct epoch in the history of the Later Roman empire, and his reign is marked by the ambitious but only partly realized renovatio imperii, or "restoration of the Empire".Because of his restoration activities, Justinian has sometimes been known as the "last Roman" in mid 20th century historiography. This ambition was expressed by the partial recovery of the territories of the defunct Western Roman Empire. His general, Belisarius, swiftly conquered the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa. Subsequently, Belisarius, Narses, and other generals conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom, restoring Dalmatia, Sicily, Italy, and Rome to the empire after more than half a century of rule by the Ostrogoths. The prefect Liberius reclaimed the south of the Iberian peninsula, establishing the province of Spania. These campaigns re-established Roman control over the western Mediterranean, increasing the Empire's annual revenue by over a million solidi. During his reign, Justinian also subdued the Tzani, a people on the east coast of the Black Sea that had never been under Roman rule before. He engaged the Sasanian Empire in the east during Kavadh I's reign, and later again during Khosrow I's; this second conflict was partially initiated due to his ambitions in the west.

A still more resonant aspect of his legacy was the uniform rewriting of Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many modern states. His reign also marked a blossoming of Byzantine culture, and his building program yielded such masterpieces as the church of Hagia Sophia.


Procopius of Caesarea (Greek: Προκόπιος ὁ Καισαρεύς Prokópios ho Kaisareús; Latin: Procopius Caesariensis; c. 500 – c. 554) was a prominent late antique Greek scholar from Palaestina Prima. Accompanying the Byzantine general Belisarius in Emperor Justinian's wars, Procopius became the principal Byzantine historian of the 6th century, writing the History of the Wars, the Buildings, and the Secret History. He is commonly classified as the last major historian of the ancient Western world.

Siege of Naples (536)

The Siege of Naples in 536 was a successful siege of Naples by the Eastern Roman Empire under Belisarius during the Gothic War. The Byzantine army under Belisarius, having subdued Sicily with ease, landed on mainland Italy in late spring 536, and advanced along the coast on Naples. The citizens of Naples, roused by two orators, decided to resist. The siege dragged on for twenty days with numerous Byzantine casualties, and Belisarius was preparing to abandon it when his soldiers discovered an entrance into the city through the disused aqueduct. After giving the city a final chance to surrender, Belisarius launched his troops in a brutal sack. The Ostrogothic garrison of 800 men was taken prisoner and treated well, but the citizens suffered greatly at the hands of the Byzantine troops, and especially their Hunnic mercenaries. From Naples, the Byzantines marched on to Rome, which they entered in early December.

Siege of Rome (537–538)

The First Siege of Rome during the Gothic War lasted for a year and nine days, from 2 March 537 to 12 March 538. The city was besieged by the Ostrogothic army under their king Vitiges; the defending East Romans were commanded by Belisarius, one of the most famous and successful Roman generals. The siege was the first major encounter between the forces of the two opponents, and played a decisive role in the subsequent development of the war.


Totila, original name Baduila (died July 1, 552), was the penultimate King of the Ostrogoths, reigning from 541 to 552 AD. A skilled military and political leader, Totila reversed the tide of the Gothic War, recovering by 543 almost all the territories in Italy that the Eastern Roman Empire had captured from his Kingdom in 540.

A relative of Theudis, sword-bearer of Theodoric the Great and king of the Visigoths, Totila was elected king by Ostrogothic nobles in the autumn of 541 after King Witigis had been carried off prisoner to Constantinople. Totila proved himself both as a military and political leader, winning the support of the lower classes by liberating slaves and distributing land to the peasants. After a successful defence at Verona, Totila pursued and defeated a numerically superior army at the Battle of Faventia in 542 AD. Building on his victories, Totila followed these victories by defeating the Romans outside Florence and capturing Naples. By 543, fighting on land and sea, he had reconqured the bulk of the lost territory. Rome held out, and Totila appealed unsuccessfully to the Senate in a letter reminding them of the loyalty of the Romans to his predecessor Theodoric the Great. In the spring of 544 the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I sent his general Belisarius to Italy to counterattack, but Totila captured Rome in 546 from Belisarius and depopulated the city after a yearlong siege. When Totila left to fight the Byzantines in Lucania, south of Naples, Belisarius retook Rome and rebuilt its fortifications.

After Belisarius retreated to Constantinople in 549, Totila recaptured Rome, going on to complete the reconquest of Italy and Sicily. By the end of 550, Totila had recaptured all but Ravenna and four coastal towns. The following year Justinian sent his general Narses with a force of 35,000 Lombards, Gepids and Heruli to Italy in a march around the Adriatic to approach Ravenna from the north. In the Battle of Taginae, a decisive engagement during the summer of 552, in the Apennines near present-day Fabriano, the Gothic army was defeated, and Totila was mortally wounded. Totila was succeeded by his relative, Teia, who later died at the Battle of Mons Lactarius. Pockets of resistance, reinforced by Franks and Alemanni who had invaded Italy in 553, continued until 562, when the Byzantines were in control of the whole of the country. The country was so ravaged by war that any return to normal life proved impossible, and only three years after Justinian's death in 565, most of the country was conquered by Alboin of the Lombards, who absorbed the remaining Ostrogothic population.

Vandalic War

The Vandalic or Vandal War (Greek: Βανδηλικὸς Πόλεμος, Vandēlikòs Pólemos) was a conflict fought in North Africa (largely in modern Tunisia) between the forces of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire and the Vandalic Kingdom of Carthage, in 533–534. It was the first of Justinian I's wars of reconquest of the lost Western Roman Empire.

The Vandals had occupied Roman North Africa in the early 5th century, and established an independent kingdom there. Under their first king, Geiseric, the formidable Vandal navy carried out pirate attacks across the Mediterranean, sacked Rome and defeated a massive Roman invasion in 468. After Geiseric's death, relations with the surviving Eastern Roman Empire normalized, although tensions flared up occasionally due to the Vandals' militant adherence to Arianism and their persecution of the Chalcedonian native population. In 530, a palace coup in Carthage overthrew the pro-Roman Hilderic and replaced him with his cousin Gelimer. The Eastern Roman emperor Justinian took this as a pretext to interfere in Vandal affairs, and after he secured his eastern frontier with Sassanid Persia in 532, he began preparing an expedition under general Belisarius, whose secretary Procopius wrote the main historical narrative of the war. Justinian took advantage of, or even instigated, rebellions in the remote Vandal provinces of Sardinia and Tripolitania. These not only distracted Gelimer from the Emperor's preparations, but also weakened Vandal defences through the dispatch of the bulk of the Vandal navy and a large portion of their army under Gelimer's brother Tzazon to Sardinia.

The Roman expeditionary force set sail from Constantinople in late June 533, and after a sea voyage along the coasts of Greece and southern Italy, landed on the African coast at Caputvada in early September, to Gelimer's complete surprise. The Vandal king gathered his forces and met the Roman army at the Battle of Ad Decimum, near Carthage, on 13 September. Gelimer's elaborate plan to encircle and destroy the Roman army came close to success, but Belisarius was able to drive the Vandal army to flight and occupy Carthage. Gelimer withdrew to Bulla Regia, where he gathered his remaining strength, including the army of Tzazon, which returned from Sardinia. In December, Gelimer advanced towards Carthage and met the Romans at the Battle of Tricamarum. The battle resulted in a Roman victory and the death of Tzazon. Gelimer fled to a remote mountain fortress, where he was blockaded until he surrendered in the spring.

Belisarius returned to Constantinople with the Vandals' royal treasure and the captive Gelimer to enjoy a triumph, while Africa was formally restored to imperial rule as the praetorian prefecture of Africa. Imperial control scarcely reached beyond the old Vandal kingdom, however, and the Moorish tribes of the interior proved unwilling to accept imperial rule and soon rose up in rebellion. The new province was shaken by the wars with the Moors and military rebellions, and it was not until 548 that peace was restored and Roman government firmly established.


Vitiges or Witiges (died 540) was king of the Ostrogoths in Italy from 536 to 540.He succeeded to the throne of Italy in the early stages of the Gothic War, as Belisarius had quickly captured Sicily the previous year and was currently in southern Italy at the head of the forces of Justinian I, the Eastern Roman Emperor. According to Procopius, he had a commander in this war named Vacis.

Vitiges was the husband of Amalasuntha's only surviving child, Matasuntha. The panegyric upon the wedding in 536 was delivered by Cassiodorus, the praetorian prefect, and survives, a traditionally Roman form of rhetoric that set the Gothic dynasty in a flatteringly Roman light.

Soon after he was made king, Vitiges had his predecessor Theodahad murdered. Theodahad had enraged the Goths because he failed to send any assistance to Naples when it was besieged by the Byzantines, led by Belisarius.

Justinian's general Belisarius took both Vitiges and Matasuntha as captives to Constantinople, and Vitiges died there, without any children. After his death, Matasuntha married the patrician Germanus Justinus, a nephew of Justinian I by his sister Vigilantia.

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