ePub 版

CHAP cries of five children, who vainly called on their XLIII. father for bread, he ordered them to follow his

steps, advanced with calm and silent despair to one of the bridges of the Tyber, and, covering his face, threw himself headlong into the stream, in the presence of his family and the Roman people. To the rich and pusilanimous, Bessas * sold the permission of departure ; but the greatest part of the fugitives expired on the public highways, or were intercepted by the flying parties of Barbariars. in the meanwhile, the artful governor soothed the discontent, and revived the hopes, of the Ronians, by the vague reports of the fleets and armies which were hastening to their relief from the extremities of the East. They derived more rational comfort from the assurance that Belisarius had landed at the port; and, without numbering his forces, they firmly relied on the humanity, the courage, and the

skill of their great deliverer. Attempt of

The foresight of Totila had raised obstacles Belisarius. worthy of such an antagonist, Ninety furlongs

below the city, in the narrowest part of the river, he joined the two banks by strong and solid timbers in the form of a bridge ; on which he erected two lofty towers, manned by the bravest of his Goths, and profusely stored with missile wea



* The avarice of Bessas is not dissembled by Procopius (1. iii. c. 17. 20.). He expiated the loss of Rome by the glorious conquest ot Petræa (Goth. I. iv. c 12.): but the sau vices followed him from the Tyber to the Phasis (c. 13.); and the historian is equally true to the merits and defects of his character. The chastisement which the author of the romance of Belisaire has inflicted on the oppressor of Rome is more agreeable to justice than to history.

[ocr errors]

pons and engines of offence. The approach of the c H A P. bridge and towers was covered by a strong and XLIII. massy chain of iron; and the chain, at either end, on the opposite sides of the Tyber, was defended by a numerous and chosen detachment of archers. But the enterprise of forcing these barriers, and relieving the capital, displays a shining example of the boldness and conduct of Belisarius. His ca. valry advanced from the port along the public road, to awe the motions, and distract the attention of the enemy. His infantry and provisions were distributed in two hundred large boats; and each boat was shielded by an high rampart of thick planks, pierced with many small holes for the discharge of missile weapons. In the front, two large vessels were linked together to sustain a floating castle, which commanded the towers of the bridge, and contained a magazine of fire, sulphur, and bitu

The whole fleet, which the general led in person, was laboriously moved against the current of the river. The chain yielded to their weight, and the enemies who guarded the banks were either slain or scattered. As soon as they touched the principal barrier, the fire-ship was instantly grappled to the bridge ; one of the towers with two hundred Goths, was consumed by the flames; the assailants shouted victory; and Rome was saved, if the wisdom of Belisarius had not been defeated by the misconduct of his officers. He had previously sent orders to Bessas to second his operations by a timely sally from the town; and he had fixed his lieutenant, Isaac, by a peremptory command, to the station of the port. But avarice



CH A P. rendered Bessas im'noveable; while the youthfid
XLIII. ardour of Isaac delivered him into the hands of a

superior enemy. The exaggerated rumour of his defeat was hastily carried to the ears of Belisarius : he paused ; betrayed in that single moment of his life some emotions of surprise and perplexity; and reluctantly sounded a retreat to save his wife Antonina, his treasures, and the only harbour which he possessed on the Tuscan coast. The vexation of his mind produced an ardent and almost mortal fever; and Rome was left without protection to the mercy or indignation of Totila. The continuance of hostilities had embittered the national hatred, the Arian clergy was ignominiously driven from Rome; Pelagius, the archdeacon, returned without success from an embassy to the Gothic camp; and a Sicilian bishop, the envoy or nuncio of the pope, was deprived of both his hands, for darinig to utter falsehoods in the service of the church and state.

Famine had relaxed the strength and discipline the Goths, of the garrison of Rome. They could derive no A.D.546. effectual service from a dying people ; and the

inhuman avarice of the merchant at length ab. sorbed the vigilance of the governor. Four Isaurian centinels, while their companions slept; and their officers were absent descended by a rope from the wall, and secretly proposed to the Gothic king to introduce his troops into the city. The offer was entertained with coldness and suspicion; they returned in safety; they twice repeated their visit; the place was twice examined; the conspiracy was known and disregarded ; and no sooner had Totila



Rome taken by

Dec 17



consented to the attempt, than they unbarred the cha P. Asinarian gate, and gave admittance to the Goths. Till the dawo of day they halced in order of battle, apprehensive of treachery or ambush ; but the troops of Bessas, with their leader, had already escaped ; and when the king was pressed to disturb their retreat, he prudently replied, that no sight could be more grateful than that of a flying enemy. The patricians, who were still possessed of horses, Decius, Basilius, &c. accompanied the governor ; their brethern, among whom Olybrius, Orestes, and Maximus, are named by the historian, took refuge in the church of St. Peter; but the assertion, that only five hundred persons remained in the capital, inspires some doubt of the fidelity either of his narrative or of his text. As soon as daylight had displayed the entire victory of the Goths, their monarch devoutly visited the tomb of the prince of the apostles; but while he prayed at the altar, twenty-five soldiers, and sixty citizens, were put to the sword in the vestibule of the temple. The archdeacon Pelagius * stood before him with the gospels in his hand. “ O Lord, be merci“ ful to your servant.” “ Pelagius," said Totila with an insulting smile, your pride now condescends “ to become a suppliant." “ I am a suppliant, replied the prudent archdeacon; " God has now " made us your subjects, and as your subjects,


. During the long exile, and after the death of Vigilius, the Roman church was governed, at first by the archdeacon, and at length (A. D. 555.) by the pope Pelagius, who was not thought guiltless of the sufferings of his predecessor. See the original lives of the popes under the name of Anastasius (Muratori, Script. Rer. Italicarum, tom. iii. P. i. p. 130, 131.), who relates several curious incidents of the sieges of Rome and the wars of Italy.

CHAP. we are entitled to your clemency.” At his XLIII. humble prayer, the lives of the Romans were

spared ; and the chastity of the maids and matrons was preserved in violate from the passions of the hungry soldiers. But they were rewarded by the freedom of pillage, after the most precious spoils had been reserved for the royal treasury. "The houses of the senators were plentifully stored with gold and silver; and the avarice of Bessas had laboured with so much guilt and shame for the benefit of the conqueror. In this revolution the sons and daughters of Roman consuls tasted the misery which they had spurned or relieved, wandered in tattered garments through the streets of the city, and begged their bread, perhaps without success, before the gates of their hereditary mansions. The riches of Rusticiana, the daughter of Symmachus and widow of Boethius, had been generously devoted to alleviate the calamities of famine. But the Barbarians were exasperated by the report, that she had prompted the people to overthrow the statues of the great Theodoric ; and the life of that venerable matron would have been sacrificed to his memory, if Totila had not respected her birth, her virtues, and even the pious motive of her revenge. The next day he pronounced two orations, to congratulate and admonish his victorious Goths, and to reproach the senate, as the vilest of slaves, with their perjury, folly, and ingratitude ; sternly declaring, that their estates and honours were justly forfeited to the companions of his arms. Yet he consented to forgive their revolt, and the senators repaid his clemency


« 上一頁繼續 »