Belisarius in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

(Slavonic Beli-Tsar, "White Prince"). One of the greatest generals of his time, to whom the emperor Justinian chiefly owed the splendour of his reign. Sprung from an obscure family in Thrace, Belisarius first served in the body-guard of the emperor, but soon obtained the chief command of an army of 25,000 men, stationed on the Persian frontiers, and in A.D. 530 gained a complete victory over a Persian army not less than 40,000 strong. The next year, however, he lost a battle against the same enemy, who had forced their way into Syria-the only battle which he lost during his whole career. He was recalled from the army, and soon became, at home, the support of his master. In the year 532, civil commotions, proceeding from the rival factions of the circus, who called themselves the Green (Prasini) and the Blue (Veneti), and who caused great disorders in Constantinople, brought the life and reign of Justinian in the utmost peril; and Hypatius was already chosen emperor, when Belisarius, with a small body of faithful adherents, restored order. Justinian, with a view of conquering the dominions of Gelimer, king of the Vandals, sent Belisarius, with an army of 15,000 men, to Africa. After two victories, he secured the person and the treasures of the Vandal king. Gelimer was led in triumph through the streets of Constantinople, and Justinian ordered a medal to be struck, with the inscription Belisarius Gloria Romanorum, which has descended to our times. By the dissensions existing in the royal family of the Ostrogoths in Italy, Justinian was induced to attempt the reduction of Italy and Rome under his sceptre. Belisarius vanquished Vitiges, king of the Goths, made him prisoner at Ravenna (A.D. 540), and conducted him, together with many other Goths, to Constantinople. The war in Italy against the Goths continued; but Belisarius, not being sufficiently supplied with money and troops by the emperor, demanded his recall (A.D. 548). He afterwards commanded in the war against the Bulgarians, whom he conquered in the year 559. Upon his return to Constantinople he was accused of having taken part in a conspiracy; but Justinian was convinced of his innocence, and is said to have restored to him his property and dignities, of which he had been deprived. Belisarius died A.D. 565. His history has been much coloured by the poets, and particularly by Marmontel, in his politico-philosophical romance. According to his narrative, the emperor caused the eyes of the hero to be struck out, and Belisarius was compelled to beg his bread in the streets of Constantinople. Other writers say that Justinian had him thrown into a prison, which is still shown under the appellation of the Tower of Belisarius. From this tower he is reported to have let down a bag fastened to a rope, and to have addressed the passers by in these oft-quoted words: "Give an obolus to Belisarius (Date obolum Belisario), whom virtue exalted, and envy has oppressed." Of this, however, no contemporary writer makes any mention. Tzetzes (q.v.), a writer of the twelfth century, was the first who related this fable. Through too great indulgence towards his wife Antonia, Belisarius was impelled to many acts of injustice, and he evinced a servile submissiveness to the licentious Theodora, the wife of Justinian. See Mahon, Life of Belisarius (London, 1829).

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