Useful Notes / Flavius Belisarius

Spare a penny for Belisarius
— Famous saying

Flavius Belisarius was perhaps the greatest general of the Byzantine Empire, and in his cunning, determination, and his tragic victimization by court politics, is in a way an archetype of the Byzantine state. He is first mentioned as an officer in the bodyguard of The Emperor (first Justin and then Justinian). His first military command was against the Persians. This was a seesaw campaign in which his most notable achievement was the great victory of Dara. His next deed was the bloody subjugation of a revolt by Constantinople's chariot racing fans (yes really!).

After this he was sent to North Africa to fulfill Justinian's ambition to restore the Roman Empire. The Vandals who ruled at the time were led by an ineffectual monarch, and Belisarius was able to outwit him militarily and politically and to gain enough defections to give Justinian a solid base. Belisarius' next campaign was in Italy. While there were many victories including the temporary capture of Rome itself, the campaign was tougher than North Africa. At the height of the campaign, the Gothic rulers of Italy tried to bribe him with the offer of making him an independent emperor. Though he refused, Justinian was suspicious enough to recall him to Rome (this has been alternately seen as a Secret Test of Character). He was sent back again to Italy and then recalled again, in favor of Narses who was a less famous general (he'd started out as a bureaucrat) but a competent one in his own right, with a nigh uncanny skill for logistics.

He was then forcibly retired but called back to repel an invasion of Bulgars. After this he was tried for corruption in Constantinople and found guilty, though opinion is generally that he was innocent and the victim of political rivalry. In any case, he was pardoned by Justinian but he retired and stepped down for good. According to legend he was blinded and spent the rest of his life as a beggar. But modern historians generally believe he was simply relieved of duty and died out of favor but comparatively comfortably.

His skill despite often incredibly unfavorable odds and varying levels of support from his employing government earned him a spot on the list of people who are often claimed to be "Last of the Romans" (a title in reference to the spirit of Ancient Rome, not a literal one) - a list that included the Emperor he served: Justinian. Belisarius also gets the notable honor of being the only Byzantine general and the last in the Roman Empire to be given a Roman Triumph; for his actions in the Vandalic Wars.

Tropes as portrayed in media:

  • Four-Star Badass: While he did lose battles, he gave the Persians a bloody nose, smashed the Vandals, crushed the Goths and beat the Bulgars. If he hadn't been recalled from Italy, where he was on the brink of victory (the incompetence of more than one General Failure led to a canny Gothic leader with only about 1,000 men retake most of the peninsula), the Byzantines might well have kept and consolidated Italy and retaken Spain or Gaul (France).
  • Henpecked Husband: According to Procopius' Secret History anyway.
  • Stoic Woobie: Remembered as this in Longfellow's poem
  • Tragic Hero: How he is most remembered in legend.

Appears in the following works:

  • He is the first Byzantine hero of Age of Empires: Castle Siege, appearing as "Belisarius". He's mostly weak, but has a special ability to destroy walls.
  • Belisarius Series by David Drake and Eric Flint
  • A fictionalized version in The General by David Drake (again) and S.M. Stirling
  • Belisarius by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Count Belisarius by Robert Graves — A historical novel, similar to Graves' more famous I, Claudius
  • A fictionalized version appears in the Foundation story "The General"/"Dead Hand" as General Bel Riose.
  • Plays a major role in the historical novel A Struggle for Rome by Felix Dahn, wherein during his Italian campaign he is The Rival to (the fictional) Cethegus, the ambitious prefect of Rome.
  • Total War: Attila has The Last Roman dlc, which focuses on Belisarius reconquering the fallen territories of the Western Roman Empire from the Barbarian Kingdoms. Belisarius is the faction leader of the Roman Expedition, the Expedition is allied to the Roman Empire but has the option of seperating from it and forming the Roman Kingdom.