Friday, March 23, 2018

March 23, AD 536 ~ Mutiny of Justinian's Army in Africa under Solomon the Eunuch

6th century mosaic of Saint Vitalis attired as a gray-haired late Roman soldier.
After his stunning re-conquest of Roman north Africa, and destruction of the Vandalic kingdom, Belisarius returned to Constantinople late in AD 534. He left prematurely because a conspiracy had sprung up accusing him of seeking to usurp the imperial power and set himself up as king of Africa. To defuse suspicion, he packed up his household and returned to the capital, his ships laden with the Vandal royalty as captives and the legendary Vandal treasure.

Once in Constantinople, Belisarius received a traditional Roman triumph. But while the imperial court celebrated, the situation in Africa deteriorated. Belisarius had left his former steward, Solomon, to govern the province and he was effective. However, three aspects of the situation in the region worked dangerously against him. Procopius describes them as follows:
After the Vandals had been defeated in the battle, as I have told previously, the Roman soldiers took their daughters and wives and made them their own by lawful marriage. And each one of these women kept urging her husband to lay claim to the possession of the lands which she had owned previously, saying that it was not right or fitting if, while living with the Vandals, they had enjoyed these lands, but after entering into marriage with the conquerors of the Vandals they were then to be deprived of their possessions. And having these things in mind, the soldiers did not think that they were bound to yield the lands of the Vandals to Solomon...This was one cause of the mutiny.  
And there was a second, concurrent, cause also...It was as follows: In the Roman army there were, as it happened, not less than one thousand soldiers of the Arian faith; and the most of these were barbarians, some of these being of the Erulian nation. Now these men were urged on to the mutiny by the priests of the Vandals with the greatest zeal. For it was not possible for them to worship God in their accustomed way, but they were excluded both from all sacraments and from all sacred rites. For the Emperor Justinian did not allow any Christian who did not espouse the orthodox faith to receive baptism or any other sacrament....
And as if these things were not sufficient for Heaven, in its eagerness to ruin the fortunes of the Romans, it so fell out that still another thing provided an occasion for those who were planning the mutiny. For the Vandals whom Belisarius took to Byzantium were placed by the emperor in five cavalry squadrons, in order that they might be settled permanently in the cities of the East; he also called them the "Vandals of Justinian," and ordered them to betake themselves in ships to the East. Now the majority of these Vandal soldiers reached the East, and, filling up the squadrons to which they had been assigned, they have been fighting against the Persians up to the present time; but the remainder, about four hundred in number, after reaching Lesbos, waiting until the sails were bellied with the wind, forced the sailors to submission and sailed on till they reached the Peloponnesus. And setting sail from there, they came to land in Libya at a desert place, where they abandoned the ships, and, after equipping themselves, went up to Mt. Aurasium and Mauretania. [Procopius, History of the Wars, Book III, Chapter XIV]
These causes combining, the mutiny came to a head during the Easter season in AD 536. Procopius tells us that even the guards and servants of Solomon became embroiled in the conspiracy due to their desire for lands. Despite this, Solomon remained completely in the dark. Easter Sunday, March 23, 536, was set as the day for the uprising. But something went wrong. Procopius continues:
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And when the appointed day had now come, Solomon was sitting in the sanctuary, utterly ignorant of his own misfortune. And those who had decided to kill the man went in, and, urging one another with nods, they put their hands to their swords, but they did nothing nevertheless, either because they were filled with awe of the rites then being performed in the sanctuary, or because the fame of the general caused them to be ashamed, or perhaps also some divine power prevented them. And when the rites on that day had been completely performed and all were betaking themselves homeward, the conspirators began to blame one another with having turned soft-hearted at no fitting time, and they postponed the plot for a second attempt on the following day. [Procopius, History of the Wars, Book III, Chapter XIV]
They tried again the next day, and failed again for the same reasons. At this point, some of them panicked. Worried that they would be discovered, a contingent of the mutineers fled Carthage and began acting as a rebellious army, plundering the countryside and manhandling the common folk.

Recognizing the danger, Solomon begged the soldiers who remained in Carthage to remain loyal to the emperor. He still had little idea of exactly how far the mutiny had progressed among his own men. At first, he seemed to be succeeding. However...
....On the fifth day, when [the soldiers] heard that those who had gone out were secure in their power, they gathered in the hippodrome and insulted Solomon and the other commanders without restraint. And Theodorus, the Cappadocian, being sent there by Solomon, attempted to dissuade them and win them by kind words, but they listened to nothing of what was said. Now this Theodorus had a certain hostility against Solomon and was suspected of plotting against him. For this reason the mutineers straightway elected him general over them by acclamation, and with him they went with all speed to the palace carrying weapons and raising a great tumult. There they killed another Theodorus, who was commander of the guards, a man of the greatest excellence in every respect and an especially capable warrior. And when they had tasted this blood, they began immediately to kill everyone they met, whether Libyan or Roman, if he were known to Solomon or had money in his hands; and then they turned to plundering, going up into the houses which had no soldiers to defend them and seizing all the most valuable things. [Procopius, History of the Wars, Book III, Chapter XIV]
With the revolt now raging in Carthage itself, Solomon and his few loyal guardsmen fled. They made for the harbor and set sail for Syracuse where Belisarius was quartered with his army in preparation for his impending campaign in Italy. Interestingly, Procopius himself was with Solomon, having been an eyewitness to the mutiny he records.

What happened next was but a footnote in the legendary career of Belisarius--but no less amazing than any of his other accomplishments. Here is snippet of the event I wrote for the forthcoming third novel of my Belisarius trilogy, The Final Victory. At this point in the tale, Stozas has taken control of the rebel army outside of Carthage and young Theodorus, to whom Solomon had entrusted the city, has just seen his envoy, Joseph, slain in cold blood:
“He slew Joseph like an animal, Theodorus! We have to surrender or we’re all dead men,” said Philip, a young tribune of barely 24 years. 
The tribune Theodorus sighed as he collapsed onto a waiting chair. A young man himself with hardly two years of seniority on Philip, he felt overwhelmed, overmatched and more than a little fearful. Outnumbered a hundred to one. How long can I hold the city against such odds? But dare I surrender to those butchers?
“Tribune, a dromon has entered the harbor,” a balding dekarch announced. “They are disembarking without permission. Please come.”
“I am coming,” Theodorus replied. “Philip, guard the walls. Let me know immediately if Stotzas makes any moves.” Donning his helmet, he ran from the governor’s palace to the harbor with the dekarch and two bodyguards at his side. As he arrived, a gasp escaped his lips.
“You look as if you’ve seen a vision of Hell, Theodorus,” Belisarius said, clapping the man on the shoulder.
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“Magister! Thank the good Theotokos!” Theodorus replied.
Within minutes a chattering crowd had gathered around Belisarius, and a path had to be cleared for him and his men as they marched into the city toward the palace, followed by three-score stevedores hauling heavy handcarts. As they went, Theodorus became aware of the paucity of Belisarius’s force and his jubilation soon turned back to anxiety.
“Where are the rest of the men?” he whispered to Procopius.
“This is more than enough,” Procopius replied without expression.
“But it’s barely a hundred.”
Procopius shook his head. “Tribune, do you not know that the name Belisarius alone is worth 10,000 men? When we get to the palace, you will see how he can create an army from the winds and sand.”
Book three, tentatively titled, The Final Victory, is still in progress, so you'll have to wait until I'm finished to find out what happened. Or, if you can't wait, check out Procopius's account and read the original source material for yourself!

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