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Medieval Sourcebook:
Procopius: The Reconquest of Africa, 534
On the Wars IV.9

Justinian's program of renovatio of the Roman Empire, expressed by his building program, his re-organization of the Law, was perhaps clearest in his wars. Directed ar "reconquering" the Western part of the Empire, they were for the most part successful.

Procopius work, On the Wars provides an excellent source for this aspect of Justinian's program. Below he recounts the success of Belasarius, Justinian's great general, in overthrowing the Vandal Kingdom in northern Africa. This victory was easy, but marked the first stage in the program of reconquest. The triumph which was accorded Belisarius upon his return is described below by Procopius. Note especially the continuity in the old Roman traditions - as Procopius makes clear, the triumph itself was part of the program or restoration.

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Belisarius, upon reaching Byzantium with Gelimer [last king of the Vandals, captured by Belisarius in 534] and the Vandals, was counted worthy to receive such honours, as in former times were assigned to those generals of the Romans who had won the greatest and most noteworthy victories. And a period of about six hundred years had now passed since anyone had attained these honours, except, indeed, Titus and Trajan, and such other emperors as had led armies against some barbarian nation and had been victorious. For he displayed the spoils and slaves from the war in the midst of the city and led a procession which the Romans call a "triumph," not, however, in the ancient manner, but going on foot from his own house to the hippodrome and then again from the barriers [the starting point for the racers at the open end of the Hippodrome] until he reached the place where the imperial throne is. And there was booty,-first of all, whatever articles are wont to be set apart for the royal service,-thrones of gold and carriages in which it is customary for a king's consort to ride, and much Jewelry made of precious stones, and golden drinking cups, and all the other things which are useful for the royal table. And there was also silver weighing many thousands of talents and all the royal treasure amounting to an exceedingly great sum (for Gizeric [leader of the Vandals who had sacked Rome in 455] had despoiled the Palatium in Rome) and among these were the treasures of the Jews, which Titus, the son of Vespasian, together with certain others, had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem [70 A.D.]. And one of the Jews, seeing these things, approached one of those known to the emperor and said: "These treasures I think it inexpedient to carry into the palace in Byzantium. Indeed, it is not possible for them to be elsewhere than in the place where Solomon, the king of the Jews, formerly placed them. For it is because of these that Gizeric captured the palace of the Romans, and that now the Roman army has captured that of the Vandals." When this had been brought to the ears of the Emperor, he became afraid and quickly sent everything to the sanctuaries of the Christians in Jerusalem. And there were slaves in the triumph, among whom was Gelimer himself, wearing some sort of a purple garment upon his shoulders, and all his family, and as many of the Vandals as were very tall and fair of body. And when Gelimer reached the hippodrome and saw the emperor sitting upon a lofty seat and the people standing on either side and realized as he looked about in what an evil plight he was, he neither wept nor cried out, but ceased not saying over in the words of the Hebrew scripture: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." And when he came before the emperor's seat, they stripped off the purple garment, and compelled him to fall prone on the ground and do obeisance to the Emperor Justinian. This also Belisarius did, as being a suppliant of the emperor along with him. And the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora presented the children of Ilderic [one-time king of the Vandals and friend of Justinian; overthrown by Gelimer] and his offspring and all those of the family of the Emperor Valentinian with sufficient sums of money, and to Gelimer they gave lands not to be despised in Galatia and permitted him to live there together with his family. However, Gelimer was by no means enrolled among the patricians, since he was unwilling to change from the faith of Arius.

A little later the triumph [in honor of his inauguration as consul] was celebrated by Belisarius in the ancient manner also. For he had the fortune to be advanced to the office of consul, and therefore was borne aloft by the captives, and as he was thus carried in his curule chair, he threw to the populace those very spoils of the Vandalic war. For the people carried off the silver plate and golden girdles and a vast amount of the Vandals' wealth of other sorts as a result of Belisarius' consulship, and it seemed that after a long interval of disuse an old custom was being revived. . . .

Procopius, History of the Wars, IV, ix, translated by H.B. Dewing (New York: C.P. Putnam's Sons, 1916), pp. 279-283.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall June 1997
halsall@murray.fordham.edu