The Wars of Justinian


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Books 3-4. (Vandalic War)

During the crisis of the 3rd century, the Roman Empire was being invaded by Germanic coalitions, such as the Goths, and the Sasanian Persian empire. With the new defensive military system, the Roman Legions were reduced from the 5, troops, with a similar number of auxilia, into a much smaller and mobile unit of 1, soldiers. Underwood 4 The function of the new military divisions was as follows the limitanei were the frontier defense with the primary purpose of holding off invasions while also operating as border control force. The comitatenses worked as the mobile field army, mainly cavalry but not entirely; that could respond to any breaks in the limitanei defensive line.

Upon his ascension, Justinian inherited five armies of comitatenses with each commanded by a magister militum Master of soldiers. Two of the five comitatenses armies were stationed in Constantinople, two were stationed in Illyricum and Thrace, and one was stationed in Antioch. The foederati have been used in the Roman Army before but with the elimination of the limitanei by Justinian; the foederati become a more integral force in the defense of the Byzantine Empire, in particular with the defense of a possible invasion of the Arabian Peninsula.

Also, with the removal of the limitanei, Justinian now has more money to fund his wars of expansion. Now with his updated Byzantine military Justinian prepares to launch his first war of expansion, the war against the Vandal Kingdom but before Justinian begins his invasion he has to deal with his greatest threat; the Sasanian Empire. This period was a time when the Roman Empire dealt with civil war, economic collapse, foreign invasions, and massive depopulation due to starvation and plague.

However, the King of Palmyra Odaenathus was able to drive Shapur back and defend the province of Syria. After Aurelian re- integrates the Palmyrene Empire into the Roman Empire, the eastern borders were again opened up to conflict. The Roman Emperor Carus was able to launch a major invasion into the Sasanian territory and even sack the capital Ctesiphon.

These wars between Sasanian Persian and the Roman Empire cemented the status between the two empires as being hostile towards each other.

Justinian’s Reconquest: Notions of Return in Procopius’ Gothic Wars

However, neither nor the Romans or Sasanians could deliver a decisive blow against each other, and the Sasanian Empire and the Roman Empire would continue to fight off and on wars between each other continuing up to the reign of Justinian. Chosroes price of peace for Justinian was centuries8 of gold that the Byzantine Empire had to pay the Sasanians for peace. If anyone were to say, O king, putting it all in a word, that you have given up your kingdom and all your men to Justinian, he would be speaking correctly…if he is able to crush the Goths utterly, he will march against the Persians with 7 G.

Underwood 7 us and those he has already enslaved, neither considering the name of friendship nor respecting any of his sworn promises.

The peace that Justinian achieved with the Sasanian Empire, while short lived, allowed Justinian to focus his foreign policy on his wars of expansion in the west. The first of these wars Justinian would launch in his expansionist foreign policy would be of the Vandal Kingdom. Following the failed attack and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire enjoyed relatively peaceful relations with the Vandal Kingdom.

Underwood 9 conquering the Ostrogoths. Of course the jewel of reconquering the Roman Empire for Justinian would be the recapturing of Italy and the city of Rome itself. From the onset this was going to be a challenging task as Italy was now home to the newly formed Ostrogoth Kingdom and, as Hannibal Barca discovered in the Second Punic War, conquering Italy is a very challenging military endeavor.

A significant difference between the Ostrogoth Kingdom and the Vandal Kingdom is that the Ostrogoths, under King Theoderic, had been sent to Italy in by emperor Zeno to throw over the rule of Odovacer.

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However, Justinian and Belisarius were very optimistic for the campaign because of the success and speed of the campaign against the Vandals. The siege of Naples lasted a relatively short time when compared to contemporary siege warfare at the time, and Belisarius was able to take Naples in AD.


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Underwood 10 As the Byzantine army departed Naples it split into two forces, one destined for Rome under Belisarius which he would besiege Rome and capture it in AD. And the other intended to head north of Rome, under Konstantianos, to Tuscany to take the city of Ravenna. Procopius accounts for this: Belisarius took over the entire perimeter of Rome as far as the river Tiber, and strengthened it. When he thought his preparations were complete, he gave to Konstantianos a large number of his guardsmen together with many spearmen, including the Massagetai Zarter, Chorsomanos, and Aischmanos, and army besides, commanding him to go into Tuscany and win over towns there.

It seemed the Byzantine armies were able to complete the re-conquest of Italy with the capture of the Ostrogoth capital of Ravenna Figure 2. Unfortunately, for Justinian the Sasanian launched an invasion in AD and diverted resources from the Gothic campaign to counteract the Sasanian threat. Thus ending what would be the first phase of wars in Gothic Italy.

The Wars of Justinian

Following the diverting of men and resources to halt the Sasanian onslaught the Goths and Franks launched a counter-offensive against the Byzantine forces in Italy. This second phase of the Gothic Wars was a much longer and more challenging affair in comparison to the first stage when it seemed that Belisarius, Narses, Alexandros, Ioannes, and Konstantianos had defeated the Goths in a four-year conflict.

The second phase of the Gothic campaign began in AD with an Ostrogoth counter attack under the Ostrogoths newly elevated king Totila A little later he entered Tuscany and made trial of the places there, but no one was willing to yield to him, so he crossed the Tiber and, carefully avoiding the territory of Rome, advanced 19 Procopius, The Wars of Justinian, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, , Underwood 11 quickly into Campania and Samnium. During this period of bogged down war, Procopius gives an excellent synopsis of the Byzantine situation: At this point in the war, the barbarians became unquestionably masters of the whole west.

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Though the Romans had been first decisively victorious in the Gothic War, as I have previously recounted, the result for them was that they had not only spent and lives in huge amounts and to no advantage, but they had also lost Italy besides, and had to look on while practically all of Illyria and Thrace were being ravaged and destroyed in confusion by the barbarians, who were now their neighbors.

Under his expansionist policy, the Byzantine Empire was able to recapture a respectable portion of the land lost during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The war against the Vandals was a brilliantly calculated war that was a massive success for the Byzantines in the amount of land conquered and the relative low cost. The war against the Ostrogoth Kingdom was, initially, very successful.

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But after Chosroes launched an invasion against the Byzantine Empire the Gothic campaign became bogged down in a second phase that became a war of attrition between the Byzantines and Goths. The invasion of Byzantine territory required Justinian to pull the Byzantine general Belisarius and send him with an army to counter-attack the Persian forces. The Persian forces were propelled but not before they were able to sack the wealthy eastern city, Antioch. To compile this set back a great plague sweep through the Byzantine and Sasanian Empire in AD that halted the advances of both armies.

Because of these factors the war in Italy dragged on for many years and drained the finances of the Byzantine Empire and weakened the forces on the eastern border even more. The Wars of Justinian. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Secondary Sources: Whately, Conor. History of Warfare; Volume Leiden: Brill, Fisher, Greg.


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Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, While acknowledging Dewing's original translation, Kaldellis has corrected some mistakes and brought much needed nuances to some passages, but has also completely adapted the text, sentence by sentence, for a modern audience. Furthermore, Kaldellis' revision not only makes the text more elegant and appealing to modern readers, but also serves pedagogical purposes, by tidying up passages that were often challenging to undergraduate--and even graduate--students.

In the end, Kaldellis achieves a faithful, generally more accurate, and overall authoritative rendering of an often complex text. He duly presents the author and his works, as well as the historical context in which they were produced. He offers an interesting overview of the armies of Justinian, as well as a thorough explanation of the historical context and military realities of the sixth century, which are essential to understanding Prokopios' account.

Most notably, he reminds us that Prokopios shaped his narrative on the model of classical authors such as Thucydides, Herodotos, and Xenophon, a fact sometimes lost to modern readers.

Full text of "Procopius, with an English translation by H.B. Dewing"

Kaldellis also dutifully explains his editorial practices and translation principles. The source itself is clearly edited and presented, and contains hundreds of notes, which are invaluable to understanding the more obscure passages of Prokopios' text namely references to complex military, geographical, or political matters.

The notes also point out citations from classical sources, a significant contribution to modern scholarship. The source is divided into its eight books and Kaldellis has maintained chapter separations that modern editors have traditionally used.

Indicating the corresponding pages from the Loeb edition would certainly have been a convenient and welcome addition for making the transition from Dewing's original translation, which was so widely used in the past and which most likely still permeates the research notes and publications of previous scholars.

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.

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.

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