ON THIS DAY, December 9th in the year 536CE (AD), Roman General Flavius Belisarius entered the city of Rome through the Asinarian Gate 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 after the Goth warlord Odoacer toppled the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus (the “little Augustus”).

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 the Romans – 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 despite his tender age of ~31. But he arrived woefully understaffed with barely 5,000 Roman knights, 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.

Did Belisarius panic in the face of such impossible odds? This quote from Procopius – an eyewitness to these events – makes the hairs on my neck stand on end every time I read it:

“On the eighteenth day from the beginning of the siege the Goths moved against the fortifications at about sunrise […] and all the Romans were struck with consternation at the sight of the advancing towers and rams, with which they were altogether unfamiliar. But Belisarius, seeing the ranks of the enemy as they advanced with the engines, began to laugh, and commanded the soldiers to remain quiet and under no circumstances to begin fighting until he himself should give the signal.” – Procopius

Belisarius stood atop the Aurelian Walls and drew his bow (a compound bow design that he borrowed from the Huns and improved upon) and in a blur fired three arrows that killed the three Goth field commanders that commanded the attack, causing chaos in the Goth ranks. Then he began to fire one arrow after another at the oxen that drew the siege engines forth and order his knights to do the same, stopping the towers dead in their tracks. The Siege of Rome that followed would last for one year and nine days and its outcome would make indelible history…

Absolutely fascinating stuff!

This Wikipedia link which does a decent job of summarizing the ensuing Siege of Rome.

Justinian I Died on This Day (November 14, 565CE)

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY (NOVEMBER 14) IN THE YEAR 565CE, some one thousand four hundred and fifty two years ago, a truly extraordinary man died – a man who changed our world irrevocably. What’s more, the changes he wrought impact all of us, every single day in ways grand and small and yet most of us have never heard of him. It is safe to say that our world would be quite different had he not lived.

At birth his name was Petrus Sabbatius, citizen of the Roman Empire born to a family of little merit in the grasslands of Thrace, west of the capital of the Roman Empire at Constantinople. A note on that city – at the time of his birth not only was it the seat of government (the Emperor Constantine had moved the capital to Constantinople, formerly known as Byzantium, known today as Istanbul in 335CE) – but it was the grandest city in the entire world, filled with one million souls.

Petrus rose to the throne on August 1st 527, when his uncle – the previous Emperor, Justin I passed away. Petrus had previously served as Commander of the Excubitors, the elite palace guard that protected the Caesars as had the Praetorian Guard back in Old Rome. When Petrus ascended to the throne he assumed the title of Justinian to honor the old man that had plucked him from obscurity – in Latin his title was Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus Augustus. By the time he died, Pietrus was known as the Emperor Justinian “the Great”, Caesar, “Restitutor Orbis” (Restorer of the World) and later Saint of the Orthodox Church.

He was a most peculiar man, married to an equally peculiar woman who went by the name of Theodora – she was as beautiful, brilliant and cunning as Cleopatra herself. For as long as she lived he displayed superhuman endurance and extraordinary vision as he stitched the fraying Empire back together – when she died (too young, before him) his will left him, his brilliance dulled, and the decline and accompany darkness that would haunt his successors began.

Together the Imperial couple were (not by accident) surrounded by some of the most extraordinarily able, creative, and dedicated people that had ever been assembled in support of an idea, a sovereign, or a nation. In the case of Justinian’s cabinet (filled with such luminaries as the General Belisarius who won wars with ideas, John ‘the Cappadocian’ the able administrator, Anthemius of Tralles the architect and inventor responsible for the Santa Sophia, and Tribunian the Qaestor the man who codified the whole history of Roman law), they supported something that was at once of this earth and yet more, aspirational, otherworldly. A single word that captures their cause continues to enchant us for reasons that none can entirely explain so long after it ceased to exist – ROME. It enchanted Justinian as well, it motivated his every breath, for that reason he bears remembering this day.

Justinian ruled Rome (and hence the known world) for 38 years, rising to the throne 51 years after the last Western Emperor was forced off the throne by the Goth warlord Odoacer. This new Caesar did not accept the status quo of a dismembered Empire where barbarian princes ran roughshod over Roman peoples and principles. Eastern Emperors that had ruled before him, after the fall of the West, seemed resigned to this new, diminished, belittled Rome but not Justinian. He dedicated his life to stitching the Empire back together – his unequalled general by the name of Belisarius took a handful of elite Roman knights and reconquered Africa and Italy, defeating vastly superior barbarian armies in the process.

Although Justinian was known by contemporaries as the Last Roman, the very last Caesar of Rome, Constantine XI “Palaiologos” would die in 1465, nine hundred years later, scant decades before Columbus set sail for the New World. Yet Justinian was very much the last Caesar of the ancient world. Many scholars have sought to explain why the Western Roman Empire declined prior to Justinian’s ascension, and to distill the world-rending pressures that would forever change Rome after Justinian (I would warmly recommend “Justinian’s Flea” by William Rosen for any interested in a brilliant and unconventional analysis of Rome’s transition into the Dark Ages – for those interested in a fictional account of his reign I’d be honored if you would see my trilogy on the subject, the “Legend of Africanus” on Amazon).

That said, it is worth repeating a few of the simple reasons why Justinian’s life represents such a milestone in world history and why his controversial reign marks the end of the Ancient World. Here is a short list of my reasons why this man should matter to you.

– Justinian was the last Roman Emperor to speak Latin as his native tongue (after him they would speak Greek first, Latin as an afterthought if at all).

– His remarkable compilation of a thousand years of Roman law formed the basis of most modern Western democracies, continuing to provide their legal framework to this day.

– His legal reforms allowed woman to inherit property and decreed that the beaches of his territory were public property and could not be taken as private property nor could access to them be blocked (a tradition that is still enshrined in our legal system).

– He was the last Caesar to rule over a Roman Empire that included the city of Rome amongst its dominions (thanks to General Flavius Belisarius – another contender for the title of “Last Roman”).

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY PERHAPS, while Justinian lived, Rome remained ‘The One’ – after him, she gradually became one amongst many. She would wax and wane over the next nine hundred years and for as long as there was a Caesar on the Bosporus she would influence the world in infinite ways large and small, but never again as she did under Justinian.

A special request, from the Author

A request from the Author to those of you (special souls and odd ducks all of you) who have read one of my books.MJS Museum

The most important way that indie authors like me can ‘promote’ our books is through the reviews that readers post online, especially on Amazon.com and at book-club sites like Goodreads.

On Amazon, the undeniable Goliath of the book world, the placement of my books is entirely determined by the number and quality of my reviews (good or bad, to an author an honest negative review is more important than a false glowing review!).

To the readers of my books, I ask you to please, pretty please, take two seconds and leave an online review as short or long as you would like online at Amazon – it makes an IMMENSE difference to the humble author plugging away without publicist, editor, ad agency, etc.

To post a review at Amazon please see me here:


And to post on Goodreads, please see me here:



Matthew Jordan Storm

Immortal Africanus a Finalist in National Indie Excellence Awards

I am proud to announce that my third novel, IMMORTAL AFRICANUS, was just recognized as a finalist by the National Indie Excellence Awards in the Historical Fiction category! This is the most prestigious annual book competition for indie authors and I am truly honored, and more than a bit surprised.


Immortal Africanus is the third, and final novel in the Legend of Africanus series. In Immortal Africanus, Caesar sends General Belisarius and his band of Roman knights to Italy to reclaim the City of Rome for the Empire. But the Goth King and his hundred thousand man horde will do whatever they can to crush the Emperor Justinian’s dream of restoring the Western Empire.

For anyone interested in learning more about this lost sliver of Roman history, when the Empire teetered on the cusp of the Dark Ages, please see all three Legend of Africanus novels at matthewjordanstorm.com or look for me on Amazon at amazon.com/author/matthewjstorm.

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 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.

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.



Immortal Africanus – Coming Soon

The third (and final) novel in the Legend of Africanus series, Immortal Africanus, will be available on Amazon.com by September 2015. In Immortal Africanus, Caesar sends General Belisarius, Valentinian, Procopius and a small army of Roman Knights to Italy to reclaim the City of Rome for the Empire.  But the Goth King and his hundred thousand man horde will do whatever they can to crush the Emperor Justinian’s dreams of restoring the Western Empire.

Justinian’s Basilica Cistern

This is an unconventional post for me, but it’s not often that Justinian appears in popular media, so I couldn’t resist posting a link to this decent piece on the grand cistern in Istanbul known as the “Basilica Cistern” due to it’s close proximity to the Hagia Sophia (the breathtaking Church of the Holy Wisdom, Justinian’s stunning cathedral rebuilt after the prior incarnation was incinerated in the Nika Riots).

Note that while the cistern was begun during the reign of Anastasius (not Justinian as the article claims) it’s completion was nonetheless Justinian’s achievement.  For anyone who has visited it in person I’m sure you would agree that pictures can’t properly convey the majesty of this place.  For anyone heading to Istanbul, please do not visit the city without descending below the streets to get a sense of Justinian’s Constantinople.

Here is a link to the Slate article: