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Belisarius as a Beggar, by François-André Vincent, 1776.

Legend-based painting of Belisarius as a Beggar, by François-André Vincent, 1776.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Justinian

Emperor Justinian making an offering. Written on border: Mosaic in San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.

NYPL Digital Gallery

Belisarius (c. A.D. 500-65) was Byzantine Emperor Justinian's famous barbarian-defeating general. He was married to a former actress, Antonina, and is known primarily through the writings of Procopius.

Persian Wars and Africa

Justinian deployed Belisarius to quell ongoing battles with the Sassanian Persians, which he did with success outside the Mesopotamian city of Dara (530); however, a defeat in 531 outside Callinicum (northern Iraq) resulted in his demotion. Belisarius won Justinian's favor again the following year suppressing the Nika Riots in Constantinople (532). Justinian deployed Belisarius to recapture Africa from the Vandals. While Belisarius landed his fleet, the Vandals were dealing with a previously set skirmish in Sardinia, planted by Belisarius just to distract them. The timing and distraction helped Belisarius defeat the Vandals in only 2 battles.

Belisarius and the Goths

Belisarius, now holding a consulship (535), led a campaign to western Italy. Justinian wanted his general to restore the Western Empire and help him get rid of Arianism; however, it proved difficult. The people of the country were ambivalent; the Arian Ostrogoths, who controlled Italy, resilient, and Belisarius' force too small. The battles lasted nearly 20 years. Though the Ostrogoths finally surrendered Ravenna in 540, they never reached a permanent settlement and Vitigis, the Ostrogoth king, still held cities in northern Italy.

Belisarius' Dwindling Favor and Conspiracy

Belisarius led subsequent, disappointing campaigns, and his relations with Justinian tensed. In 563 Belisarius, accused of conspiracy, fell out of favor, allegedly became a street beggar in Constantinople, and died in 565.

Sources: Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean, and The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

Examples: Belisarius is a contender for the title "last of the Romans."

More on Belisarius from Melissa Snell, Medieval History at About.com.

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