Belisarius – the “Africanus of New Rome” – in the news

It’s not often that a mainstream blog or news outlet posts something on General Flavius Belisarius so I thought that I would pass along this link to a recent post in the Ancient Origins blog which does a decent job of providing an overview of Belisarius’ life and achievements.

The piece also repeats many of the fallacies pioneered by Sir Edward Gibbon 300 years ago that have been repeated in similar pieces and histories about the Justinian era ever since (i.e. the Roman Empire is the “Byzantine” empire, Romans are”Greeks”, etc.).

That said, it’s entertaining nonetheless for those not familiar with the General.

Please click here for the full article.

And please note that for a fictional account of General Belisarius’ life and times, my Legend of Africanus trilogy in which he figures most prominently is now available on here.

Romans in Germany!

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.

gernsheim find

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.

9/13/533 – Belisarius and the battle of Ad Decimum

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 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.

9/4/476 – Romulus Augustulus, Last Western Roman Emperor, Abdicates

On this day (September 4th) in 476CE, the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by the Goth warlord Odoacer.

When Romulus, who was little more than a boy, stepped down from the throne in Ravenna (then capital of the Western Empire), Odoacer took the Imperial regalia and sent it to the Eastern Emperor, Zeno, claiming that Italy no longer needed a Caesar and that the Goths would rule Italy in Zeno’s name, as his vassals.

It’s a fascinating moment in time, one often misinterpreted as marking the “fall” of Rome – a fallacy created in large part by the great historian Edward Gibbon.  The truth is much more complex!

In reality the Western Empire had ceased to exist, in all but name, decades before.  Yet at the same time the essence of Rome would continue in its former Western territories for centuries to come.  And Italy herself would be brought formally back into the Empire during the reign of Justinian, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of General Flavius Belisarius.  There she would remain until after Justinian’s death.

Nonetheless, the day the boy Emperor abdicated and retired to live peacefully on a Goth-provided pension in the Castellum Lucullanum at Neapolis (Naples) was indeed a turning point in human history and deserves to be remembered.

On a final note, though the Roman fortifications on the site were subsequently replaced by the Normans in the 12th century (see image to the right)Il_Castello_dell'Ovo_In_Napoli, one can’t help but imagine the melancholic Caesar looking out from the battlements, dreaming of Empire lost…

Though nothing is known of Romulus’ death he could not have lived to have witnessed Belisarius’ reconquest of Italy (completed in in 540CE).

Following is a post in today’s “New Historian” for those looking for more on the Last Western Emperor.