Belisarius

Belisarius

(c. 505-565)

The greatest soldier of the Byzantine Empire was born in Germane, Ilyria (il-IR-ee-ah), in what later became Yugoslavia. Belisarius served in the imperial bodyguard in Constantinople and developed a life¬ long loyalty to Emperor Justinian I.

Belisarius was given command of the Byzantine army in the Byzantine- Persian War. He defeated the Persians at Daras in A.D. 530, but was himself defeated at Callinicum, Syria, in A.D. 531. This was the only outright loss of his career.

Belisarius was recalled to Constantinople, where he put down the Nika Revolt (a.D. 532), which would otherwise have cost Justinian his throne. In A.D. 533, Justinian sent Belisarius to North Africa to begin a series of campaigns that both men hoped would restore lands the empire had lost to the tribes there.

Belisarius conducted a brilliant cam¬ paign in Africa. With only 16,000 soldiers, he cleared all of North Africa of the Vandal tribe and brought King Gelimer to Constantinople as a prisoner. Thrilled by this success,

Justinian sent his trusted soldier to fight in Sicily and Italy. Commanding only 8,000 men, Belisarius recovered Sicily and southern Italy. His greatest single success came in A.D. 536, when he entered the city of Rome. The greatest city of the ancient world had fallen to numerous attacks since A.D. 410, but Belisarius had now reclaimed it. It appeared as if a new era were dawning, one that would reunite the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

Within weeks of his entry into Rome, Belisarius was besieged by a large Ostrogothic army. He withstood the siege, which lasted until A.D. 538, then he marched north and captured Ravenna, the Ostrogothic capital. Belisarius was recalled to Constantinople and quickly sent eastward to fight against the Persians. He repulsed their attack on Asia Minor in A.D. 542 and was transferred again to Italy. On this, his second mission to the Italian peninsula, Belisarius made only slow progress, and in A.D. 548 he asked to be recalled to Constantinople.

He came out of retirement to repel the Bulgar tribe, which threatened Constantinople in A.D. 559. In A.D. 563, he was accused of conspiring against the emper¬ or. The great Byzantine commander died, probably in Constantinople, in A.D. 565. Belisarius’ conquests were soon undone by other invasions, but his achievement had been substantial during his lifetime. He was, beyond doubt, the most effective commander to ever lead the Byzantine armies.