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Chapter 2


State of the Roman empire under Zeno--Theodoric king of the
Ostrogoths--Character of Theodoric--Changes in the Roman empire--
New languages--New names--Theodoric dies--Belisarius in Italy--
Totila takes Rome--Narses destroys the Goths--New form of
Government in Italy--Narses invites the Lombards into Italy--The
Lombards change the form of government.

At this time the ancient Roman empire was governed by the following
princes: Zeno, reigning in Constantinople, commanded the whole of the
eastern empire; the Ostrogoths ruled Mesia and Pannonia; the
Visigoths, Suavi, and Alans, held Gascony and Spain; the Vandals,
Africa; the Franks and Burgundians, France; and the Eruli and Turingi,
Italy. The kingdom of the Ostrogoths had descended to Theodoric,
nephew of Velamir, who, being on terms of friendship with Zeno the
eastern emperor, wrote to him that his Ostrogoths thought it an
injustice that they, being superior in valor to the people thereabout,
should be inferior to them in dominion, and that it was impossible for
him to restrain them within the limits of Pannonia. So, seeing himself
under the necessity of allowing them to take arms and go in search of
new abodes, he wished first to acquaint Zeno with it, in order that he
might provide for them, by granting some country in which they might
establish themselves, by his good favor with greater propriety and
convenience. Zeno, partly from fear and partly from a desire to drive
Odoacer out of Italy, gave Theodoric permission to lead his people
against him, and take possession of the country. Leaving his friends
the Zepidi in Pannonia, Theodoric marched into Italy, slew Odoacer and
his son, and, moved by the same reasons which had induced Valentinian
to do so, established his court at Ravenna, and like Odoacer took the
title of king of Italy.

Theodoric possessed great talents both for war and peace; in the
former he was always conqueror, and in the latter he conferred very
great benefits upon the cities and people under him. He distributed
the Ostrogoths over the country, each district under its leader, that
he might more conveniently command them in war, and govern them in
peace. He enlarged Ravenna, restored Rome, and, with the exception of
military discipline, conferred upon the Romans every honor. He kept
within their proper bounds, wholly by the influence of his character,
all the barbarian kings who occupied the empire; he built towns and
fortresses between the point of the Adriatic and the Alps, in order,
with the greater facility, to impede the passage of any new hordes of
barbarians who might design to assail Italy; and if, toward the latter
end of his life, so many virtues had not been sullied by acts of
cruelty, caused by various jealousies of his people, such as the death
of Symmachus and Boethius, men of great holiness, every point of his
character would have deserved the highest praise. By his virtue and
goodness, not only Rome and Italy, but every part of the western
empire, freed from the continual troubles which they had suffered from
the frequent influx of barbarians, acquired new vigor, and began to
live in an orderly and civilized manner. For surely if any times were
truly miserable for Italy and the provinces overrun by the barbarians,
they were those which occurred from Arcadius and Honorius to
Theodoric. If we only consider the evils which arise to a republic or
a kingdom by a change of prince or of government; not by foreign
interference, but by civil discord (in which we may see how even
slight variations suffice to ruin the most powerful kingdoms or
states), we may then easily imagine how much Italy and the other Roman
provinces suffered, when they not only changed their forms of
government and their princes, but also their laws, customs, modes of
living, religion, language, and name. Any one of such changes, by
itself, without being united with others, might, with thinking of it,
to say nothing of the seeing and suffering, infuse terror into the
strongest minds.

From these causes proceeded the ruin as well as the origin and
extension of many cities. Among those which were ruined were Aquileia,
Luni, Chiusi, Popolonia, Fiesole, and many others. The new cities were
Venice, Sienna, Ferrara, Aquila, with many towns and castles which for
brevity we omit. Those which became extended were Florence, Genoa,
Pisa, Milan, Naples, and Bologna; to all of which may be added, the
ruin and restoration of Rome, and of many other cities not previously

From this devastation and new population arose new languages, as we
see in the different dialects of France, Spain and Italy; which,
partaking of the native idiom of the new people and of the old Roman,
formed a new manner of discourse. Besides, not only were the names of
provinces changed, but also of lakes, rivers, seas, and men; for
France, Spain, and Italy are full of fresh names, wholly different
from the ancient; as, omitting many others, we see that the Po, the
Garda, the Archipelago, are names quite different from those which the
ancients used; while instead of Csar and Pompey we have Peter,
Matthew, John, etc.

Among so many variations, that of religion was not of little
importance; for, while combating the customs of the ancient faith with
the miracles of the new, very serious troubles and discords were
created among men. And if the Christians had been united in one faith,
fewer disorders would have followed; but the contentions among
themselves, of the churches of Rome, Greece, and Ravenna, joined to
those of the heretic sects with the Catholics, served in many ways to
render the world miserable. Africa is a proof of this; having suffered
more horrors from the Arian sect, whose doctrines were believed by the
Vandals, than from any avarice or natural cruelty of the people
themselves. Living amid so many persecutions, the countenances of men
bore witness of the terrible impressions upon their minds; for besides
the evils they suffered from the disordered state of the world, they
scarcely could have recourse to the help of God, in whom the unhappy
hope for relief; for the greater part of them, being uncertain what
divinity they ought to address, died miserably, without help and
without hope.

Having been the first who put a stop to so many evils, Theodoric
deserves the highest praise: for during the thirty-eight years he
reigned in Italy, he brought the country to such a state of greatness
that her previous sufferings were no longer recognizable. But at his
death, the kingdom descending to Atalaric, son of Amalasontha, his
daughter, and the malice of fortune not being yet exhausted, the old
evils soon returned; for Atalaric died soon after his grandfather, and
the kingdom coming into the possession of his mother, she was betrayed
by Theodatus, whom she had called to assist her in the government. He
put her to death and made himself king; and having thus become odious
to the Ostrogoths, the emperor Justinian entertained the hope of
driving him out of Italy. Justinian appointed Belisarius to the
command of this expedition, as he had already conquered Africa,
expelled the Vandals, and reduced the country to the imperial rule.

Belisarius took possession of Sicily, and from thence passing into
Italy, occupied Naples and Rome. The Goths, seeing this, slew
Theodatus their king, whom they considered the cause of their
misfortune, and elected Vitiges in his stead, who, after some
skirmishes, was besieged and taken by Belisarius at Ravenna; but
before he had time to secure the advantages of his victory, Belisarius
was recalled by Justinian, and Joannes and Vitalis were appointed in
his place. Their principles and practices were so different from those
of Belisarius, that the Goths took courage and created Ildovadus,
governor of Verona, their king. After Ildovadus, who was slain, came
Totila, who routed the imperial forces, took Tuscany and Naples, and
recovered nearly the whole of what Belisarius had taken from them. On
this account Justinian determined to send him into Italy again; but,
coming with only a small force, he lost the reputation which his
former victories had won for him, in less time than he had taken to
acquire it. Totila being at Ostia with his forces, took Rome before
his eyes; but being unable to hold or to leave the city, he destroyed
the greater part of it, drove out the citizens, and took the senators
away from him. Thinking little of Belisarius, he led his people into
Calabria, to attack the forces which had been sent from Greece.

Belisarius, seeing the city abandoned, turned his mind to the
performance of an honourable work. Viewing the ruins of Rome, he
determined to rebuild her walls and recall her inhabitants with as
little delay as possible. But fortune was opposed to this laudable
enterprise; for Justinian, being at this time assailed by the
Parthians, recalled him; and his duty to his sovereign compelled him
to abandon Italy to Totila, who again took Rome, but did not treat her
with such severity as upon the former occasion; for at the entreaty of
St. Benedict, who in those days had great reputation for sanctity, he
endeavored to restore her. In the meantime, Justinian having arranged
matters with the Parthians, again thought of sending a force to the
relief of Italy; but the Sclavi, another northern people, having
crossed the Danube and attacked Illyria and Thrace, prevented him, so
that Totila held almost the whole country. Having conquered the
Slavonians, Justinian sent Narses, a eunuch, a man of great military
talent, who, having arrived in Italy, routed and slew Totila. The
Goths who escaped sought refuge in Pavia, where they created Teias
their king. On the other hand, Narses after the victory took Rome, and
coming to an engagement with Teias near Nocera, slew him and routed
his army. By this victory, the power of the Goths in Italy was quite
annihilated, after having existed for seventy years, from the coming
of Theodoric to the death of Teias.

No sooner was Italy delivered from the Goths than Justinian died, and
was succeeded by Justin, his son, who, at the instigation of Sophia,
his wife, recalled Narses, and sent Longinus in his stead. Like those
who preceded him, he made his abode at Ravenna, and besides this, gave
a new form to the government of Italy; for he did not appoint
governors of provinces, as the Goths had done, but in every city and
town of importance placed a ruler whom he called a duke. Neither in
this arrangement did he respect Rome more than the other cities; for
having set aside the consuls and senate, names which up to this time
had been preserved, he placed her under a duke, who was sent every
year from Ravenna, and called her the duchy of Rome; while to him who
remained in Ravenna, and governed the whole of Italy for the emperor,
was given the name of Exarch. This division of the country greatly
facilitated the ruin of Italy, and gave the Lombards an early occasion
of occupying it. Narses was greatly enraged with the emperor, for
having recalled him from the government of the province, which he had
won with his own valor and blood; while Sophia, not content with the
injury done by withdrawing him, treated him in the most offensive
manner, saying she wished him to come back that he might spin with the
other eunuchs. Full of indignation, Narses persuaded Alboin, king of
the Lombards, who then reigned in Pannonia, to invade and take
possession of Italy.

The Lombards, as was said before, occupied those places upon the
Danube which had been vacated by the Eruli and Turingi, when Odoacer
their king led them into Italy; where, having been established for
some time, their dominions were held by Alboin, a man ferocious and
bold, under whom they crossed the Danube, and coming to an engagement
with Cunimund, king of the Zepidi, who held Pannonia, conquered and
slew him. Alboin finding Rosamond, daughter of Cunimund, among the
captives, took her to wife, and made himself sovereign of Pannonia;
and, moved by his savage nature, caused the skull of Cunimund to be
formed into a cup, from which, in memory of the victory, he drank.
Being invited into Italy by Narses, with whom he had been in
friendship during the war with the Goths, he left Pannonia to the
Huns, who after the death of Attila had returned to their country.
Finding, on his arrival, the province divided into so many parts, he
presently occupied Pavia, Milan, Verona, Vicenza, the whole of
Tuscany, and the greater part of Flamminia, which is now called
Romagna. These great and rapid acquisitions made him think the
conquest of Italy already secured; he therefore gave a great feast at
Verona, and having become elevated with wine, ordered the skull of
Cunimund to be filled, and caused it to be presented to the queen
Rosamond, who sat opposite, saying loud enough for her to hear, that
upon occasion of such great joy she should drink with her father.
These words were like a dagger to the lady's bosom and she resolved to
have revenge. Knowing that Helmichis, a noble Lombard, was in love
with one of her maids, she arranged with the young woman, that
Helmichis, without being acquainted with the fact, should sleep with
her instead of his mistress. Having effected her design, Rosamond
discovered herself to Helmichis, and gave him the choice either of
killing Alboin, and taking herself and the kingdom as his reward, or
of being put to death as the ravisher of the queen. Helmichis
consented to destroy Alboin; but after the murder, finding they could
not occupy the kingdom, and fearful that the Lombards would put them
to death for the love they bore to Alboin, they seized the royal
treasure, and fled with it to Longinus, at Ravenna, who received them

During these troubles the emperor Justinus died, and was succeeded by
Tiberius, who, occupied in the wars with the Parthians, could not
attend to the affairs of Italy; and this seeming to Longinus to
present an opportunity, by means of Rosamond and her wealth, of
becoming king of the Lombards and of the whole of Italy, he
communicated his design to her, persuaded her to destroy Helmichis,
and so take him for her husband. To this end, having prepared poisoned
wine, she with her own hand presented it to Helmichis, who complained
of thirst as he came from the bath. Having drunk half of it, he
suspected the truth, from the unusual sensation it occasioned and
compelled her to drink the remainder; so that in a few hours both came
to their end, and Longinus was deprived of the hope of becoming king.

In the meantime the Lombards, having drawn themselves together in
Pavia, which was become the principal seat of their empire, made
Clefis their king. He rebuilt Imola, destroyed by Narses, and occupied
Remini and almost every place up to Rome; but he died in the course of
his victories. Clefis was cruel to such a degree, not only toward
strangers, but to his own Lombards, that these people, sickened of
royal power, did not create another king, but appointed among
themselves thirty dukes to govern the rest. This prevented the
Lombards from occupying the whole of Italy, or of extending their
dominion further than Benevento; for, of the cities of Rome, Ravenna,
Cremona, Mantua, Padua, Monselice, Parma, Bologna, Faenza, Forli, and
Cesena, some defended themselves for a time, and others never fell
under their dominion; since, not having a king, they became less
prompt for war, and when they afterward appointed one, they were, by
living in freedom, become less obedient, and more apt to quarrel among
themselves; which from the first prevented a fortunate issue of their
military expeditions, and was the ultimate cause of their being driven
out of Italy. The affairs of the Lombards being in the state just
described, the Romans and Longinus came to an agreement with them,
that each should lay down their arms and enjoy what they already

Niccolo Machiavelli