Thursday, 25 October 2012

On This Day in the Third Reich 1941

Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the RSHA and Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia as from 21st September, dine with Adolf Hitler at his Head Quarters. Hitler reminded his two guests of his prophecy regarding the Jews
'This criminal race has the 2 million dead of the World War on its conscience'[i]

His words make it clear that Hitler was very much aware of the SS cavalry attempts at genocide in the Pripet marshes earlier in the year, making an oblique reference
‘Let nobody say to me ‘We can’t send them in to the swamps!’ Who’s worrying about our people?’’[ii]

Given that his two guests were in charge of the genocide, Hitler scarcely needed to say more. He was able to be relatively open about the Holocaust as Himmler and Heydrich were his only guests. Hitler also made it obvious that he was aware that there were rumours to the effect that the Nazis were intent on the destruction of the Jews.
‘A good thing if people are scared by talk that we are exterminating the Jews……The attempt to create a Jewish state will end in failure'[iii]

Hitler claimed the mantle of a cunning politician, who had to wait until the time was right to attack the Jews. He maintained that he had been inactive against the Jews for a long time; a claim that can only refer to their destruction as the Nazis had long been active in reducing the Jews, under their control, to a people without rights.
Huber, Nebe, Himmler, Heydrich & Muller
On 1st August Gruppenfuhrer Heinrich Muller, head of the Gestapo, ordered that all Einsatzgruppen reports on the massacres of Jews and Communists in Russia be sent to the Fuhrer as well as to many other senior Party and government officials.

The planned rout of Russian forces was already way behind schedule and Hitler’s plans had recently been amended to include a drive on Moscow. These plans had been stymied by the change in the weather. The Russian winter was closing in and preparations for the troops had not been made; with the lone exception of the Waffen SS, for whom Himmler had arranged for Jewish furs to be re-tailored for his troops, who also had the advantage of field ovens unavailable to the Wehrmacht troops.

Only two days earlier Himmler had ordered the cessation of any Jewish emigration from the Reich or occupied territories. An official in the Ostministerium[iv] was already recommending the use of T4[v] personnel to construct gas installations to murder Jews.

Ribbentrop and Ciano
 Himmler left Wolfschanze to join Joachim von Ribbentrop on a hunting break at the Foreign Minister’s hunting lodge near Salzburg. One of the other guests was Count Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, a keen hunter and, like Himmler, no friend to von Ribbentrop. There is evidence that Himmler only attended the house party at the insistence of his Fuhrer.

Architect of Genocide – Richard Breitman, Pimlico 1991

Hitler & Stalin – Parallel Lives – Alan Bullock, Harper Collins 1991
The Third Reich at War – Richard J Evans, Allen Lane 2008

Hitler’s Willing Executioners – Daniel Goldhagen, Little Brown & Co 1996
Hitler 1936-1945 Nemesis - Ian Kershaw, Penguin 2001

The Terrible Secret – Walter Laqueur, Little Brown & Co 1980
Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2012

Reichsfuhrer SS – Peter Padfield
The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting – Mark Roseman, Penguin 2003

Hitler’s Table Talk – ed Hugh Trevor-Roper, Phoenix 2003

[i] Heinrich Himmler - Longerich
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Ibid
[iv] Ministry for the East
[v] The code name for the department tasked with the euthanasia of the mentally and physically unfit, based on the address Tiergartenstrasse 4.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Byzantine Empire - The Fall of Byzantium

It was the Ottoman Turk sultan Mehmed II who conquered Constantinople, bringing about the final fall of the Roman Empire in the East. While the defenders of the city were overwhelmed by sheer numbers; the invaders were assisted by the Byzantine feuds and internecine fighting that went on in the upper echelons of the empire.

Mehmed’s father Murad, retired briefly from 1444-6, returning to put down a revolt of the Janissaries[i]; possibly organised by the Grand Vizier Chandarli Halil Pasha. Mehmed’s two older brothers died in mysterious circumstances and Mehmed ascended the throne at the age of eighteen, for the second time, in 1451 on the death of Murad.
The Europeans believed that Mehmed was too young to constitute a threat and Mehmed made a series of treaties with Hungary, Serbia and Venice and sent good will messages to others including the Prince of Wallachia and the Knights of St John. Mehmed also swore to be at peace with the Byzantines sending a fulsome message to Emperor Constantine XI Paleologus. Perhaps the message was overdone because Constantine was one of the earliest rulers to suspect that Mehmed could be a danger to the west.

Mehmed saw the capture of Constantinople as a means of securing the loyalty of his Janissaries, a loyalty he meant to retain by giving them the spoils the to-be captured city. He had also decided to make jihad on the west and the elimination of Halil Pasha. Mehmed intended that these four aims would be complimentary. From the beginning of his reign Mehmed commenced a programme of strengthening the Ottoman navy.
Some of the Ottoman ruler’s subjects in Asia Minor thought to take advantage of Mehmed’s inexperience and within weeks were disillusioned to find the young sultan and his army ready to punish their daring. Mehmed returned home via the Bosphorus, following reports of an Italian squadron sailing in the straits.

Preparing for the Fall

    Constantine XI Paleologus
In 1449 Constantine XI Paleologus[ii] became emperor. He was the brother of his predecessor John VIII Paleologus. Constantine had helped defend Constantinople in 1422 against a siege by Mehmed’s father Murad. Murad had been informed by a Holy man, allegedly descended from the Prophet Mohammed, that the city would fall on Monday 24th August. When this prophecy failed to become reality the superstitious Murad withdrew his troops.
The Byzantines had been assisted by the machinations of one of the defenders intriguing with the Ottoman opposition, who planned to replace Murad with his youngest brother Mustafa[iii]. Murad had to return home to stop the outbreak of civil war. 

John Paleologus VIII    
In November 1423 Emperor John Paleologus began a tour of Europe in a last ditch attempt to see allies to shore up the failing Byzantine Empire. He left the nineteen year old Constantine in charge while he was away, giving him the title of Despot. The Venetians paid John’s expenses for the month he stayed with them, but were unwilling to do more than defend their own interests. If John was able to persuade other countries to help, The Venetian Republic would join in to support the empire.
John toured through Italy meeting the reigning dukes, he also visited Hungary; but nowhere could he enthuse the rulers sufficiently to underwrite or assist in the defence of Byzantium against the infidel. By his return in November 1424 he found that an Ottoman-Byzantine peace treaty had been signed, committing the Byzantines to payment of large amounts of tribute. In March 1430 Thessalonika passed from Venetian rule to the Ottomans. The city fell after a siege and was sacked in Ottoman tradition[iv].

The Byzantine Empire was short of funds and this was clearly visible in the state of the buildings in the capital.
‘The Emperor’s palace must have been very magnificent, but now it is such a state that both it and the city show well the evils which the people have suffered, and which they still endure.’[v]

wrote a Castilian traveller Pero Tafur. The citizens of the empire had little hope of assistance from outside and many able-bodied men and women emigrated to safer havens.
Religion Raises its Head

Disputes in Christendom between the Pope and the Council of Constance merely added to the disarray. In 1437 John Paleologus and the Patriarch left Constantinople in an attempt to persuade the heirs of the Empire in the West to support the little that remained of the Empire in the East. The esoteric deliberations of the church council held in Ferrara and then in Florence finally achieved agreement between the Roman and Orthodox churches. A decree of union; ‘Laetentur Coeli’[vi] was read out from the steps of the cathedral in early July 1439. John Paleologus returned to his capital with very little to show for his absence.
The Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria had already condemned the Orthodox delegates at the council, who had signed the decree of their behalf. In 1442 the emperor’s brother Demetrius tried to seize the throne, in the name of Orthodoxy. Although assisted by the Turks Demetrius’s attempts at a coup failed. But Orthodox dissatisfaction with the Decree of Union grew.

The Pope was meanwhile committed to raise a crusade against the enemies of Byzantium. The Ottoman menace was increasing; in 1439 the fortress of Smederovo, near Belgrade, had surrendered and in 1441 the Ottoman army had marched into Transylvania. The Hungarians, clearly next on the Ottoman list of potential conquests, and the Serbians formed the bulk of the crusade.

    Philip V of Burgundy
The crusade got off to a rousing start and the Sultan found himself under attack at home and abroad. However in November 1444 Murad smashed the Crusader’s army, ending the last crusade from the west against the Turks. This disaster was the end of all John Paleologus’s hopes. His brother Constantine found a new ally in Philip V, Duke of Burgundy. Philip had already provided ships for the failed crusade and in the summer of 1445 sent a contingent of his own men to Constantine’s lands, the Morea[vii]. The combined forces forced the Ottomans to retreat from the Delphi area. In November 1446 Murad, who had retired in favour of Mehmed, now returned to the throne and swept through the lands which returned to his sovereignty. His army boasted a new secret weapon; heavy artillery.
John Paleologus had named his brother Constantine as his successor. His two surviving brothers both wanted the role of emperor for themselves, but Constantine’s mother declared herself Regent and ruled for him until he could arrive from the Morea. His short reign was spent attempting to find succour in the west for the defence of what little remained of the Byzantine Empire. France and England were still reeling from the after-effects of the 100 Years War and few of the other rulers were in a position to aid the stricken remnants of the Roman Empire.

The Fall
The Ottomans had already built a fortress on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and the year after his ascension Mehmed had a second fortress built. But this fortress was built on the European side of the straits, on Byzantine land and built over their ignored objections. The fortress was built in just over nineteen and a half weeks, utilising the skills of over one thousand stonemasons.

By the time of the final fall the city of Constantinople was surrounded by a small island of land; an empire of a few square miles. Over the centuries the dependent lands had split off to form their own countries; or become subsumed into the empire of the Ottomans.
Ready for the attack on Constantinople the Ottoman invasion fleet consisted of

‘Not less than six triremes and ten biremes, fifteen oared galleys, some seventy five fast long boats, twenty heavy sailing barges for transport and a number of light sloops and cutters.’[viii]
The armada assembled off Gallipoli in March 1453, while the army[ix] gathered in Thrace.

It was not until 2nd April 1453 that the Ottoman troops appeared before the walls of Constantinople. Among the troops was a new modified version of a weapon introduced over a hundred years before; the cannon. In 1452 a German engineer named Urban appeared before Mehmed, offering him cannon that would bring down city walls. Mehmed rewarded him with everything he needed and four times the salary requested.

By January the following year Urban had created a 27 foot monster that threw balls weighing1340lbs for a mile, before burying themselves 6 foot in the earth. Two hundred men prepared the roads for this new weapon of mass destruction’s transport to Constantinople.  
Complying with Islamic law Mehmed sent a message to Constantine proclaiming that all the empire’s subjects families and properties would be spared in the event of immediate and voluntary surrender. The offer was rejected and on the 6th April Mehmed’s cannon opened fire. The bombardment continued for 48 days.

Mehmed had decided that he needed to control the Golden Horn and set his engineers to create a roadway to transfer ships. On 21st April some seventy Turkish ships were lowered down into the Horn; the great harbour in Constantinople was no longer secure and a further three and a half miles of wall now required defending, with very limited resources.
The 29th May was chosen as the date of the final assault. This news was not hidden from the defenders of Constantinople. The defenders had 36 hours to make their preparations. On the 29th wave after wave of attackers hit the city, allowing the defenders no respite.

The defenders included a contingent of Genoese, who left the city walls when their leader Guistiniani Longo fell; returning to their ships. The Emperor begged Longo to stay at his position well aware of the effect of his departure. Mehmed, aware that something was wrong with the defenders of the city, launched another Janissary attack. The Janissaries and Turkish troops gained footholds in the defences, and Ottoman troops started pouring into the city through breaches in the walls.
The Ottoman troops had been promised three days of looting as allowed by Islamic tradition; but such was their violence and rapacity that Mehmed called an end to the looting the same day. There were few objections as there was little left to plunder.

After the Fall
After the fall of Constantinople Mehmed engineered the fall of Halil Pasha, whom he blamed for the ending of his first brief reign from 1444-6. Pasha was executed and from now on Mehmed chose his Grand Viziers from amongst his personal entourage. Formerly the viziers had been chosen from the aristocracy or from the ulema[x].

Mehmed regarded himself as the only legitimate heir of the Roman Empire:
‘The world empire must be one, with one faith and one sovereignty. To establish this unity, there is no place more fitting than Constantinople.’[xi]

Mehmed, from now on known as the Conqueror, claimed to unite the Islamic, Turkish and Roman notions of sovereignty, appointing a new Greek Orthodox Patriarch and bringing the Chief Rabbi and the Armenian Patriarch to Constantinople. The Ottomans regarded Mehmed as their most prestigious ruler and he saw himself as fighting on behalf of all Muslims.

Byzantium – The Decline and Fall – John Julius Norwich, Folio Society 2003
The Ottoman Empire – Halil Inalcik, Phoenix 1997

The Ottoman Empire – Andrina Stiles, Hodder & Stoughton 1991

[i] The Ottoman state practised devshirme (a rounding up of Christian boys from the Balkans in lieu of a monetary tax) on a yearly basis. The most talented of these child slaves were trained for work in the palace and the chance to work directly for the sultan. The remainder of the year’s crop were placed in the Janissaries, troops nominally loyal to the Sultan alone and rewarded by being allowed to loot cities. All the devshirme were converted to Islam.
[ii] Also known as Constantine Dragases
[iii] Mustafa was killed in early 1423, garrotted by a bowstring, which became standard practise for a Sultan’s male siblings.
[iv] That is not to say that Christians would have differed
[v] The Decline and Fall - Norwich
[vi] Let the heavens rejoice
[vii] The Peloponnese; Constantine was its Despot
[viii] The Decline and Fall - Norwich
[ix] Up to 100,000 strong
[x] Religious hierarchy
[xi] The Ottoman Empire - Inalcik

Thursday, 11 October 2012

On This Day in the Third Reich 1934

Heinrich Himmler, in a speech to Gestapo officials, makes reference to the Night of the Long Knives on the previous June[i]. In April under pressure from Hitler, Hermann Goering had placed the Prussian Gestapo under Himmler’s control[ii], as a preliminary to the events, which he and Goering had persuaded Hitler to approve.

The hypocritical Himmler spoke of the struggle to
‘Shoot one’s own comrades, with whom one has stood side by side for eight or ten years in the struggle for an ideal and who had then failed, is the bitterest thing that can happen to a man.’[iii]

Himmler had struggled for several years to free the SS[iv] from the control of the SA. His mentor Ernst Rohm had returned from exile to run the SA in January 1931. Almost immediately Rohm had contradicted Himmler’s statement of the previous autumn; that the SS was no longer under the control of the SA leadership.
Goering in SA uniform
In December 1933 Himmler and his sidekick Reinhard Heydrich, started giving Goering, Minister-President of Prussia and in charge of the fledgling Aviation Ministry, the hard sell on Rohm. They persuaded Goering that Rohm wanted the SA to take over the defence of the nation and become Defence Minister, a post that Goering desired for himself.
Himmler’s diligence in undermining the SA was rewarded on 20th July, when Hitler removed the subsidiary status of the SS, making it an independent arm of the Nazi party. One week later Himmler took on responsibility for Wewelsburg Castle from the local council. Now he had a location central to his romantic vision of the SS as a modern revival of the Teutonic knights.
Himmler blamed the June purge on Jews, Catholics and freemasons who had

‘Sent numerous individuals into the SA and the entourage of the former chief of staff and drove him to catastrophe.’[v]
The result would have been chaos; the enemy sought nothing less than the eradication of the Nazi state. The Gestapo were to concentrate on searching for the Jewish enemy who lies behind all subversion. Those detectives who operated with an understanding of the racial conspiracy would be the most successful.

Himmler was also concerned about the Gestapo’s relations with the public.
'The Volk must hold the conviction that the most just the dreaded Gestapo. The Volk must come to the view that, if someone has been seized, he had been seized with right.'[vi]

The public must feel that their problems will be dealt with courteously and sociably and that those seized by the Gestapo have been taken for a reason, rather than whim. The public must realise that the Gestapo consists of the most absolutely useful loyal & obedient people; an organisation to be trusted by the German people.

Himmler informed his audience that he personally signed orders & reports for which he was responsible & that his staff should do likewise. The Gestapo was to handle its business with soldierly speed and avoid bureaucratic red tape. Himmler and Heydrich would create a sense of soldierly camaraderie within the organisation. The Gestapo officers were to view Himmler as a father to his staff and to feel free to bring their problems to him.
‘You will always find my door open if you come to me with a request which you wish to make in connection with yourself or a colleague, which has something to do with official business, or whether it’s a personal request.’[vii]

Foundation of the Nazi Police State – George C Browder, 2004 University Press of Kentucky

Hitler’s Enforcers – George C Browder, Oxford University Press 1996

The Third Reich – Michael Burleigh, Pan Books 2001

Master Race – Catrine Clay & Michael Leapman, BCA 1995

Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2012

Reichsfuhrer SS – Peter Padfield

The Devil’s Disciples – Anthony Read, Pimlico 2004

[i] When the leaders of the SA were imprisoned and executed as traitors to the Fuhrer
[ii] As deputy to Goering
[iii] Master Race – Clay & Leapman
[iv] Schutzstaffel
[v] Master Race – Clay & Leapman
[vi] Hitler’s Enforcers - Browder
[vii] Heinrich Himmler - Longerich

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Byzantine Empire - The End of the Reign

After Theodora

Now the situation in Italy was stalemate and Belisaurus decided to appeal to Justinian through the medium of Antonina for money and re-enforcements. In midsummer 548 AD Antonina arrived in Constantinople to find the city in deepest black. Theodora had died of cancer. Justinian was too wrapped up in his grief to see anyone and was incapable of making decisions. Antonina arranged for Belisaurus’s recall so that the seemingly certain loss of the empire in the west could not be laid at his door.

Belisaurus’s return to Constantinople was greeted with pleasure by Justinian. His doubts about his friend had been nurtured by Theodora, whose death opened a reawakening of the friendship between the two men. Justinian continued to mourn Theodora until he died.

In 550 AD disaffected members of the Byzantine garrison in Rome opened the gates to the Goths, who now gave every indication that they were prepared to stay, taking over empty homes. The senate was re-opened and refugees were encouraged to return; whilst damaged buildings were repaired.

Totila not only presided over games in the Circus Maximus, but his fleets were ravaging the coasts of Italy and Sicily, returning in 551 AD loaded with plunder. In response Justinian decided to send a force under the command of his cousin Germanus, long overlooked as Theodora had conceived a dislike of this able general.

‘Such savage enmity against Germanus had the empress conceived – enmity of which she made no secret at all – that although he was the emperor’s nephew[i] no one dared marry into his family, and his sons remained single until their best years were gone.’[ii]

Germanus had also recently married Matasuntha, widow of an Ostrogoth king who had died in captivity in Constantinople. Matasuntha was the granddaughter of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric.

Germanus had an army larger than any ever assigned to Belisaurus, but his death in Sardica[iii] in the autumn left his army leaderless. The childless Justinian had just lost a potential successor. The recall of the army would lead to a tacit admission that Totila had won his fight for Italy. Instead Justinian sent Narses, now in his late seventies, to Italy to command his troops.

Ancient Generals Victorious

There were only four cities left in Italy under Byzantine control – Ravenna, Hydruntum, Ancona and Crotone. Narses had an army of 35,000 men, larger that commanded by Germanus. They left Constantinople in the spring of 551 AD but spent most of the year in Thrace and Illyria recruiting more troops. The march into Italy began in 522 AD overland to Ravenna, where Narses was able to give the remnants of the local troops their long overdue pay. They then marched down the peninsula

At the end of June the decisive battle for Italy took place near a town called Taginae on the Via Flaminia. The outclassed Goth army fled in the evening and Totila, mortally wounded, died in the village of Caprae[iv]. The Goths elected one of Totila’s generals as their new leader, to continue the struggle. Narses marched south where city after city opened its gates to the victor. Rome fell after a brief siege. Narses had been informed that the majority of Totila’s treasury was held at Cumae. He was determined to emancipate the bullion and treasure before the remnants of the Goth army could reach the town.

The new Goth king had the same aim in reverse and the two armies met at the end of October 552 AD. Again the Goth army was defeated and their king was killed by a javelin, and the following day the few Goths left agreed to terms. They were to leave Italy and agree to indulge in no further fighting against the empire. In return the Goths were allowed to take all their movable goods with them and promised that they would never be forcibly conscripted into the imperial army.

At the same time an imperial army under the command of a general, probably in his mid-eighties - Liberius[v] was marching through Spain. According to Procopius there had previously been a falling out between Justinian and Liberius. Following a dispute with an official who had taken over Liberius’s post in Egypt the two came to blows and the new post holder was killed.

‘Liberius was instantly summoned to Byzantium. Where the Senate, after making a thorough investigation of the case, acquitted him, as he had not been the aggressor but had been defending himself when the dreadful thing happened. The emperor, however, did not allow the matter to drop until he had secretly forced him to pay a heavy fine.’[vi]

    Visigoth gold tremisses in the name of Justinian
In 551 AD Athangild, a relative of the reigning Visigoth king in Spain, Agila, rebelled against his sovereign. Athangild called for help to Justinian, providing the Byzantines with an excuse for intervening. At the same time the citizens of Cordova were in a state of revolt against the Visigoth overlords.

Circa two to three thousand men were despatched from Narses’ army to Spain to support Athangild. The Visigoth army was divided in its loyalties and it did not take Liberius long to take control of the country below a line drawn from Valencia to Cadiz. In 555 AD Agila was murdered by disaffected troops and Athangild assumed the crown. An agreement was reached between the new king and Liberius; the empire would retain the lands it had conquered, keeping control of the Balearic islands, even if it did not possess the soldiers to control the lands that Liberius had conquered.

Religious Issues, Violent Answers

Pope Vigilius felt that his support for Justinian’s edict of 544 AD had been won as the result of blackmail. The Pope had also been concerned by the reaction to his support. His attempts to regain control of the church in the West had brought him into divergence from the emperor. When Justinian issued a second edict on what Justinian believed were the basic tenets of Christianity and ending with a violent condemnation of the works maligned in the first edict, Vigilius protested that the edict went beyond the principles of Chalcedon and urged Justinian to withdraw it.

There appears to have been other issues relating to the priesthood that emperor and Pope disagreed over.

‘But Vigilius, who was in Byzantium at the time, flatly refused to yield to the emperor if he should issue such instructions[vii].’[viii]

In the event Justinian refused to withdraw the edict and an assembly of both eastern and western bishops pronounced against it, and forbad any cleric to say Mass at a church that exhibited the edict. Two clerics ignoring the pronouncement were immediately excommunicated. Justinian flew into a rage and the Pope took refuge in the church of St Peter and St Paul. The city police, members of the imperial guard and the Praetor of the People attempted to drag the Pope out of the church. A crowd had gathered by the time the altar the Pope was clinging too, fell about his head. They vigorously protested this treatment of the Pontiff.

The soldiery departed and the next day Belisaurus arrived to give Vigilius the emperor’s regrets for the invasion, assuring him that he could return to his residence. Upon his return Vigilius discovered that he was being kept under close supervision, approximating to house arrest. In the night of 23rd December 551 AD Vigilius exited the palace that had been loaned to him, taking a small boat to Chalcedon, and positing himself in the Church of St Euphemia. Belisaurus was again sent to plead with the Pope, who this time refused to budge. Vigilius produced an Encyclical giving his side of the dispute. In the spring the Patriarch and other excommunicated bishops, under orders from Justinian, humbled themselves before Vigilius in an attempt to break the stand-off.

Vigilius returned to his palace and Justinian’s latest edict was withdrawn. Justinian now decreed that a new ecumenical council, under the chairmanship of Vigilius, should reconsider the matters under dispute. The new council met on 5th May 553 AD, without Vigilius, who now disagreed with Justinian on the way the council was to work. The council was led by the new Patriarch Eutychius. Vigilius wrote a paper to counteract one written by Justinian. But unfortunately for him, Justinian was in a position where he did not need to pacify Vigilius; as the West of the empire was now firmly in the hands of the Byzantines.

In response Justinian decreed that Vigilius’s name be struck from the diptychs. The ecumenical council formally endorsed the emperor’s decree. Vigilius was sent into exile and told that he would not be allowed to return to Rome until he accepted the council’s findings. Six months later, in great pain from kidney stones, Vigilius capitulated.

The Road to Death

It took Justinian another ten years to die. Years that saw a deterioration in his abilities to rule and which adversely affected the empire. Yet Justinian was unwilling to delegate responsibility. Money was short and whereas in previous years Justinian would have found the monies by one means or another, now he left things to his ministers.

Defence of the empire had always been one of the emperor’s priorities, but by 555 AD Justinian had allowed the imperial army to fall to a mere 150,000 men, from a high of 645,000. The frontier fortresses he had caused to be built in the dynamic years of his reign, now stood abandoned. In his declining years the main focus of Justinian’s energies was religion.

Enormous sums of money, from an almost bankrupt treasury, were paid to the Persians for a fifty year peace treaty in 556 AD. In 559 AD a tribe of Huns swept down into Thessaly and Thrace to within twenty miles of the capital. They followed in the footsteps of Slavs who overran the Balkan peninsula in 548 and 500 AD.

To see off the Huns Justinian called Belisaurus back to duty. Belisaurus and his troops ambushed the Huns and drove them back to their base camp near Arcadiopolis[ix]. Justinian did not allow Belisaurus to wipe out the Huns, as he may have been able to do, but bought them off with promises of subsidies. For this Justinian awarded himself a triumph. It is possible that he was again jealous of Belisaurus’s military capabilities. Belisaurus retired back into private life.

In the autumn of 562 AD a conspiracy against Justinian was uncovered and one of the conspirators named Belisaurus as being involved. There was no proof but Belisaurus had all his dignities and privileges removed. It took eight months to persuade Justinian that Belisaurus was innocent and to reinstate him.

On 14th November 565 AD Justinian died; eight months after Belisaurus. The dynamic Justinian was a force for expansion in his early years as emperor, backed by the indomitable Theodora. Once he lost his wife much of his enthusiasm expired too. His policy of buying off enemies failed to take into account the premise that more enemies might be attracted by the allure of enormous bribes.

Some consideration should be given as to why Procopius was so malevolent towards Justinian and Theodora and the reasons for writing his Secret History, which is often at odds with his publically acknowledged works. As a supporter of Belisaurus, Procopius had some motives for traducing the imperial couple and Antonina.


Byzantium – The Early Centuries – John Julius Norwich, Folio Society 2003

The Secret History – Procopius – Folio Society 1990

[i] There seems to be some discrepancy between Procopius and Norwich as to the relationship between Germanus and Justinian
[ii] Secret History - Procopius
[iii] Sofia
[iv] Capara
[v] Records show that Liberius was Praetorian Prefect in Italy 60 years previously
[vi] Secret History - Procopius
[vii] To reinstate a priest who had treated his flock in Alexandria with cruelty, had been defrocked, and now agreed with Justinian to purchase his priesthood by paying £105,000 to the emperor.
[viii] Secret History - Procopius
[ix] L├╝leburgaz