Anecdota

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Justinian & Theodora – The Cracks Begin to Spread – Extra History – #7


Last we’d left off, Belisarius had finally broken the siege of Rome. Reinforcements had arrived. The Ostrogoths had fallen back to Northern Italy to prepare a last defense for Ravenna, the capital of the late Western empire. It looked like soon, Italy, the birthplace of Scipio, Caesar, and Augustus, would be back in Roman hands. But, with new forces came new commanders. One of these commanders was Narses, the eunuch who had helped Justinian suppress the Nika revolt. Another commander who had just started coming to the fore, was a man named John, who led the main cavalry detachment. When these reinforcements arrived, Belisarius ordered John to range north, to raid, and loot, and capture what he could and to leave no enemy behind him, lest he be cut off. John flew north with a speed and fury unmatched. He ravaged the countryside and scattered armies before him. Then, he came to Auximus. Here, there was a strong garrison of Ostrogoths, well armed and ready for war. He decided that his cavalry was not the proper tool for such a siege, and passed by this city on his way north. Then again, at Urbinas, he did the same. But when he came to Ariminum, the Roman population threw open the gates, and seeing their defense lost, the Ostrogothic garrison fled. So John, knowing that Ariminum lay only a day’s march from Ravenna, seized the opportunity, and took the town, hoping that it would force much of the Ostrogothic army in the field to withdraw to their capital. And this it did. For the most part. But as the Ostrogothic forces retreated north, they strengthened their garrisons at the towns that John had left behind. So Belisarius sent swift messengers with word to John to abandon the town of Ariminum, and rejoin the main Byzantine force. But John refused. And by twice not heeding Belisarius’ orders, first by leaving uncaptured towns behind him and then, again, by refusing Belisarius’ direct order now, he found himself cut off, surrounded, and besieged. At Firmum, Belisarius called a council of war. All his generals assembled. He laid out his plan.. They would take a cautious approach north. It was tragic, but he would not risk the whole army to save John from his insubordination. For the most part, the generals murmured in agreement. But then, in the back, Narses stood up. With a wave of his hand, he said that John could be dealt with later if they were to relieve the city, but the loss of 2000 of their best cavalry without a fight would be an unconscionable failure of command. Just then, a ragged horseman burst into the council tent. Having clearly ridden hours on end, he unsteadily stumbled toward Belisarius, and handed him a letter. It was from John. His forces were on the brink of starvation. They could last seven more days, and then they would have to surrender. Reluctantly, Belisarius agreed to Narses’ plan. They would relieve Ariminum. The eunuch smiled. John was his friend, or, at least, his political ally. Wheels were turning out of Belisarius’ control. So Belisarius drew up a new plan. He would relieve Ariminum, but, as was always his method, if he could, he would do it without having to fight. So, he split his armies into three sections: One which would head to Ariminum by sea one which would march up the coast and another which would descend upon it from the mountain passes to the northwest. But the force that was to head up the coast wasn’t to engage. It was simply to approach the Ostrogoths, and then at night light many, many fires, so that they appeared to be a massive horde. And then, the next morning, the sails of the fleet would appear on the ocean and the banners of the remaining force would appear from the mountains and the Ostrogoths, seeing that they were surrounded, would flee. And, unlike most things in military planning it worked EXACTLY as planned. As soon as the ship’s sails appeared on the horizon, the Ostrogoths besieging Ariminum broke and ran. Had John’s cavalry not be so depleted by hunger and exhaustion, they might have been able to end the war right there. But instead, a gaunt and haggard John stumbled out of Ariminum to be greeted by Belisarius, who suggested that he thank the commander of the seabound forces for his rescue. Instead, John answered that his thanks were to Narses And the cracks began to spread. Narses and Belisarius disagreed on the strategy. Much of the original army was loyal to Belisarius, as he had seen them through so much, but a great number of the new troops saw Narses as their commander. After all, as they saw it, without him, they would have lost Ariminum, John, and the 2,000 men with him, when instead, they had easily driven the Ostrogoths back without a fight. Didn’t this clearly show that Narses knew what he was doing? Besides, Narses controlled their pay. All of this finally came to a head around Mediolanum. Mediolanum was the second-richest city in Italy. It had supported the Roman cause, and now it was under siege by the nephew of Vitiges. Bellisarius wanted to focus much of the Byzantine efforts on relieving it. Narses said that this was inefficient, and he would take his forces elsewhere while Bellisarius handled Mediolanum. But this was it. Bellisarius was putting his foot down. He cracked out a letter that Justinian had sent that read, “In sending Narses, our purser, to Italy,” “we do not invest him with the command of the army.” “It is our wish that Bellisarius alone shall lead the whole army as seems good to him,” “and it behooves you all to obey him in the interest of our state.” But Narses, being well-practiced in the ways of the court, seized on this last sentence and proclaimed, “Your plan is not in the interests of the state.” Bellisarius had no answer to this. He would not risk open conflict with the second-most senior commander, so, he consented to march with Narses and John to take Urbinus and secure the road to Urinium before relieving Mediolanum. And so, the three armies marched, theoretically united, but very much a tripartite force with different commanders at its head, and when they finally got to Urbinus, they set up three separate camps. Shortly after reaching Urbinus, even though coming here had been Narses’ idea in the first place, both John and Narses decided that, eh, it was impregnable, and took off. Narses headed to Ariminum to threaten the Ostragothic capital, and John charged off into the countryside to make short work of Forum Cornelii and collapse another Ostragothic province. But Bellisarius stayed, and with that remarkable, Bellisarian luck, in this town which every other commander had said was impregnable, a town that was so well-supplied and so well-defended, suddenly, and for no explicable reason, the town’s spring, their only source of water, ran dry. Without water, the defenders surrendered to Bellisarius in a matter of days. But the siege of Mediolanum was getting worse, a force of 10,000 Burgundian warriors had crossed the Alps to join the Ostrogoths. This was far too much for the beleaguered Byzantine garrison to handle. Belisarius sent out a force to relieve the garrison, but when they saw the size of the opposing army, they stopped in their tracks and just stayed there outside the city. One night, a messenger from the commander in Mediolanum braved enemy lines and reached the relieving force, asking for help, which they promised right away, but still, they didn’t move. Finally, the relieving army asked for reinforcements. They asked that they be sent John’s forces, which were in a neighboring province. Belisarius agreed, and sent the order to John right away, telling him to come assist the relieving army in repelling the siege. But John refused, he would not obey the order unless it was countersigned by Narses. So, exasperated, Belisarius wrote to Narses to sign the order. Which, he did, without hesitation, as clearly Mediolanum needed to be relieved. But then, John fell ill, or at least appeared to, and the relief effort was delayed again. Reduced to eating dogs and mice, the forces of Mediolanum were in dire straits. The Ostrogoths offered the troops honorable captivity, with their life and their status as free men intact, IF they would open the town to them. The Roman commander in Mediolanum replied that he would accept, so long as the people of Mediolanum weren’t harmed. But the Ostrogoths made no secret of the savage vengeance they wished to wreak on this town that had so quickly embraced the Romans. Inside the Roman commander tried to rally his forces for one last desperate sally against the forcer right outside their walls. But hunger and fear had taken their toll, and so, with outside help apparently not coming, the garrison, at last, surrendered. Days later, the relief force finally arrived; they had seen dark smoke from the road. As they approached all was quiet, except for the crows. The walls were rubble in places; the great gate stood open. As they walked through, they were greeted with a sight of horror. Bodies and ash as far as the eye can see. Bodies in numbers unfathomable. Tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands laying in the black soot. Every man in the city had been slaughtered. Every woman and child had been dragged off as a slave. Then the Ostrogoths had put the town to the torch, and nothing of it remained. Amongst the rubble, they found the body of Raparatus, the Praetorian prefect of Italy and the brother of the Pope. He was barely recognizable. His limbs chopped into pieces; his body savaged by dogs. This was the first sign that the Romans might not be able to protect the people of Italy, and things were only about to get worse.

100 thoughts on “Justinian & Theodora – The Cracks Begin to Spread – Extra History – #7

  1. What baffles me is that justinian got known as "the great" this guy was shit. The great is a name only man like Alexander should have the honor of having. Justinian barely did anything except for sending incompetent fools to help his only saving grace. The story should be bellesarius the great and the morons who fucked him. You already know justinian is a garbage leader by the fact he didn't join his army to make sure there is an unquestionable command. Just imagine if justinian was in italy to tell John to STFU and listen to bellesarius. Roman italy is what wouldve happened.

  2. John simply knew how to fight you could say he’s the muscle and Narses was the brain and the one who secured Johns position in the expeditionary force. Had Belisaraus not been such a wise and all around good man, he certainly could have written to Justinian saying the threat of your glorious recon quest of Rome is being hindered by the insubordination of John and Narses. Justinian could cover the costs of pay for the men should loyalties become an issue. Enjoyed this one @Extra Credits

  3. Not to point at the obvious, but when John made his expedition, the siege of rome was not yet lifted. When you look at it that way, a lot of his "mistakes" make a lot more sense

  4. This is exactly the reason why the machinations of politics should not govern wars. Rather it is the politicians responsibility to ensure that a war is governed properly by able commanders. Because in the wrong hands, good, perhaps even great, commanders such as Belisarius are hamstrung by the politicking of fools

  5. If I were Belisarius I would’ve drug John off his horse, thrown him in front of the pile of corpses and just said “This is what YOU caused”. Like Jesus I know war isn’t pretty and is only morally right in very rare cases, but abandoning defenseless people to be slaughtered over a dispute with your superior? Just goddamn.

  6. I'd just kill John and Narses, take their forces and continue the campaign as planned. Can't have enemies within when you're fighting enemies without.

  7. John and Narses are absolutly subpar as millitary comanders. If it wasn't for them Itally would be conquered in time and Justinian would've probbebly conquered hispania to.

  8. Rome is cursed. As soon as it is retaken, the empire immediately falls back into an overly political bloated nightmare.

    The chain of command is simple, follow orders. Morons like John should not be simply allowed to commit such obvious insubordination.

    If I was the commander, of course John would of been left to his fate. Narses' ranting can continue.

  9. Wow, that plan to deliver Ariminium, if it was not in a different continent, I would swore it's directly inspired from Art of War 😀

  10. John is that guy in your school project that keeps screwing things up but acts like he's the project leader anyways.

    Narces is that guy who solves that one problem everyone was stuck on, but then acts like just that was enough for his entire contribution to the project.

    Bellisarius is you.

  11. Idiots in command. Egotistical Idiots are the worse kind. Narses and John's attempt of grandstanding and outdo Belisaurus are both blinded by their egos. Whether they are unaware of their own limitations or are willingly going against any strategy coming from Belisarius no matter how much it makes sense. Whether they believe that they know better, or want to gain more favor from Justinian, they are willing to sacrifice human lives and resources just to further their own ambitions. The massacre in Mediolanum is an unnecessary catastrophe that could have been avoided. Of course, this is easy to conclude this in hindsight. Although it looks pretty obvious Narses and John's intention to outshine Belisaurus (and each other).

  12. Is there any chance you could make a series about the history of the anti-Ottoman Empire group known as the Order Of The Dragon, particularly it's most famous/infamous member, Vlad Tepes? A series on Vlad by himself would be great, don't get me wrong (he's one of several anti-heroes that I idolize), but I really want to hear the full story of the entire Order Of The Dragon to know whether or not my belief that Vlad was the one member who fought the longest and hardest against the Turks is accurate.

  13. John. Narses. Congratulations. Because you didn't follow Belisarius's orders, all those deaths that COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED, happened. Emperor Justinian, please strip BOTH of them of their ranks and throw them into the Gladiator Arena as punishment!

  14. Since when is going on a campaign that your Emperor told you to go on not in the state's best interest?

  15. Imagine being born into a time where people had extravagant names and titles then being named John and being bad at your job

  16. That hymn playing in the background at the end is quite ominous with the storm clouds and the sign.

  17. John and Narses, the youngh idiots who think they know better than the veteran that has literaly fought the same kind of enemyes for many years and against all odds has won many times.

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