(BYZANTIUM and the SASSANIDS make way for ISLAM -- continued)
In 540, the same year that he faced renewed war with the Sassanid empire, Justinian sent instructions to his general, Belisarius, to make peace in Italy by offering the Ostrogoths territory north of the Po River in Italy in exchange for Justinian keeping all of Italy south of the Po. The Ostrogoths agreed. Meanwhile, Justinian's generals south of the Po River had taken advantage of their power to plunder the Italians, which turned many Italians against Justinian's effort there. The Ostrogoths, under a new leader, resumed their war against Justinian's forces, and they pushed these forces southward, bypassing Rome. In the spring of 543 the Ostrogoths captured Naples, with the new leader of the Ostrogoth army, Totila, treating the city's inhabitants humanely.
The Ostrogoths advanced from town to town. The inhabitants of the town of Isaurius sided with the approaching Ostrogoths, and the town's garrison, loyal to Justinian's cause and to Catholicism, slaughtered them – passions and fear triumphing over Christian principle, as it would for centuries to come.
Totila sent an appeal to Rome's Senate, telling them that his rule of them would be better than Constantinople's, and he gave them his solemn oath not to harm the city's inhabitants. The general in charge of Rome's defense responded by expelling the Arian clergy from Rome, fearing they were agents of Totila.
Around the first part of the year 546, another Ostrogoth siege of Rome began. The city's inhabitants went from eating nettles, dogs and rodents to starvation. From Justinian's commander inside the city, starving Romans requested food, permission to abandon the city or that the army kill them. The commander replied that giving them food was impossible, letting them leave the city would be dangerous and that killing them would be criminal. Then after receiving payment from those who wanted to leave, he allowed them to do so, and all the civilians left except approximately five hundred. Some of those leaving dropped from exhaustion. Some were cut down by the Ostrogoths, and some left unmolested.
In December, 546, a gate into Rome was opened from within, and Totila's forces rushed into the city. Justinian's troops and a few senators fled through another gate. Some within the city took refuge in churches, and a few were cut down by Totila's troops. Totila went to pray at St. Peter's Cathedral. He then had Rome destroyed, including a portion of the city's great walls.
Totila then went north to consolidate his strength there. Again naval superiority allowed Justinian to land troops in Italy, and his forces reoccupied Rome and rebuilt its walls. In 549 Totila and the Ostrogoths returned and began a third and final siege of the city. Bloody battles were fought, and the following year Totila took the city again.
In 551 the superiority of Justinian's navy allowed his forces to obtain the upper hand in Italy. In 552, Justinian's forces seized two strongholds on the southern coast of Spain. And in 554 his armies finally defeated the Ostrogoths – the end of a costly and painful enterprise that had devastated Italy. The Pope and Catholicism now reigned supreme in Rome and central Italy, and this was declared to be the work of God. The Trinity version of Christianity had won against Arianism, violence again deciding a matter of theology.
"Avarice, arrogance and imperial butchery, fused with religiosity for the morality of the time, with the belief that we're all just sinners: Justinian and Theodora described by Procopius in The Secret History, published after his death and perhaps with inaccuracies." (Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University.
In addition to its ruinations and killing a massive number of people, Justinian's conquest of Italy had drained Constantinople's resources. And Justinian's wars weakened his ability to protect his empire's northern frontier along the Danube River and his frontier to the east.
From the steppes just west of the Don River came Bulgars, who raided, ravaged towns and farms north of Constantinople, and left again. From grasslands north of Constantinople's empire, Slavic tribes speaking an Indo-European language invaded Constantinople's empire. Some of the Slavs turned from plunder to seizing the lands and settling into farming in sparsely populated areas and on what had been wasteland. The Slavs were followed by those who in theory are considered to be a Mongolian people – Avars – traditionally herders, bow legged from the constant riding on horseback. Like the Huns before them, they fought in cavalry formation, were organized and disciplined and were interested in plunder.
By the time of Justinian's death in 565, at around 83, much of Constantinople's imperial wealth had been spent. Justinian's successor, his nephew, who took the title Justin II, inherited an empty treasury, and he discontinued Justinian's practice of buying off potential enemies. Justin halted payments to the Avars, ending a truce with the Avars that had existed since 558. United with the Avars were a Germanic tribal people called Lombards who had been moving south from around the Elbe River since the 400s. In 567, north of the empire near what today is Belgrade, they with the Avars annihilated the Gepids. The Lombards moved on, across the Alps, and in 568 they reached Milan in Italy. Justin was unable to stop their march, and soon the Lombards took control of territory between Ravenna and Rome. Justinian's war for Trinity worship in Italy had become for naught.
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