On this day, December 9th in 536CE, Roman General Flavius Belisarius (pictured above) entered the city of Rome through the Asinarian Gate (seen below) with his small cohort of Roman knights.
The city’s residents had not seen a Roman Legionnaire for almost exactly 60 years, when what remained of the Western armies deserted the Eternal City when the Goth warlord Odoacer toppled the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus.
Since that time, Rome (the city) had been under the control of a series of Goth rulers, including Odoacer, Theodoric (the “Great”), Amalasuntha (daughter of Theodoric), Theodad (cousin of Amalasuntha and her murderer) and at the time of Belisarius’ arrival, the Goth King Vitiges.
Imagine that! For 60 years, the Roman Empire had gone about its business with an Emperor mounted on a throne in Constantinople, while Rome herself – the birthplace of Empire – was held by barbarians. Imagine a United States continuing to exist, and to thrive, with a Washington D.C. belonging to a foreign power. It sounds inconceivable and so it was to the Emperor Justinian who was determined to accomplish what none had dared, to return Rome to Rome.
By the time that Belisarius arrived in Rome his exploits (in Persia and Africa) were the stuff of legend. But he arrived woefully understaffed and soon faced a Goth army that exceeded 100,000 in number surrounding the city, determined to crush Belisarius and with it, Justinian’s aspirations of restoration.
Absolutely fascinating stuff!
Following is a Wikipedia link which does a decent job of summarizing the ensuing Siege of Rome.
Nothing gets my juices flowing like a new archaeological find that illustrates the breathtakingly broad reach of Imperial Rome.
Though this doesn’t date to the era of Rome on the Cusp, this little find is fascinating nonetheless.
Near the modern town of Gernsheim (on the Rhine River), archaeologists from Goethe University just discovered an early 2nd century Roman fort. They estimate that it was abandoned around 120CE when the soldiers stationed there were moved to the Roman frontier with Germania along the Danube. Found in the dig thus far are signs of ordinary life, dice, combs, etc. and a masonry fragment indicating the name of the unit stationed there (see below), the Legio XXII Primigenia Pia Fidelis, part of the Limes Germanicus.
Here is a reminder of what the Roman Empire looked like at that date.
And here is a brief article on the dig in Archaeology.
And a better article in the International Business Tribune.
Humble milestones like the one picture above marked each mile throughout the Roman highway system, spanning the 250,000 miles of roadway that once stretched from modern Scotland to Yemen.
The milestones allowed the traveller to know precisely where they stood in relation to their departure point and destination, long before our slavish devotion to smart phones and GPS.
In what had been Roman Africa, stolen by the Vandals 100 years before, there stood such a stone on the approach to Carthage from the east on the ancient Roman highway that ran along the coast. It was the tenth milestone from Carthage, known simply as Decimum Miliare (the tenth mile).
At the tenth milestone (Ad Decimum), on September 13th of 533, the Roman Army led by General Flavius Belisarius met the Vandal King Gaiseric in a battle that would change the course of history.
The world fully expected the Romans to fail as Roman armies had failed in the field against the Vandals and their Germanic ‘barbarian’ cousins for generations. The Romans were 1,000 miles from home – having set sail with an invasion armada for the first time in decades (on ships that were specially built for the purpose since Rome no longer possessed a deep water navy). If they lost to the Vandals there would be no retreat and no hope of reinforcements. The Western Roman Empire had already ceased to exist with Romulus Augustulus’ abdication in 476 (in great part due to the Vandal theft of Africa and their brutal sack of the City of Rome). If Belisarius lost the battle at the tenth milestone, the Eastern Roman Empire would be in grave jeopardy.
Belisarius and his Roman knights would triumph at Decimum Miliare against all odds and went on to extinguish the upstart Vandal kingdom and to bring Africa back into the Roman fold. This was the first in a string of stunning victories engineered by Belisarius that would restore much of the lost Western Empire in the name of the reigning Caesar, the Emperor Justinian. These recuperated lands (Africa, Italy, parts of Gaul and Hispania) would remain part of the Roman Empire until after Justinian’s death – the moment when the ancient world truly ended and the Dark Ages began.
This moment, the battle that became known as Ad Decimum, figures prominently in the second book of the Legend of Africanus series: Avenging Africanus (available at amazon.com here).
For those that would like to read more of the military history of Ad Decimum, see the excellent Byzantine Military blog by clicking here.