In the course of researching Belisarius’ various campaigns, I can’t help but marvel at the insubordination and outright incompetence of some of the commanders he was saddled with.
While there are some hints of idiocy in the African campaign against the Vandals, the real problems start to arise in Italy. It’s a major testament to Belisarius’ leadership that he was able to corral such a collection of hotheads, thieves, and morons and actually defeat the Goths. But once he was called to the east to fight the Persians in 540…wow…it’s like the three stooges take over.
In the three years from 540-543, the generals that remained in Italy managed to basically lose most of the peninsula to an enemy that was on the verge of total extinction when Belisarius departed. The bickering, the infighting, and the total lack of cooperation are really something to behold.
And when Belisarius is sent back to Italy to clean up the mess, well, things are so far gone, and the resources at his disposal so limited, that there’s not much he’s able to do. If he’d had a solid officer corps, or if he’d been facing a daft enemy, maybe, but poor Belisarius gets stuck with guys like Isaac the Armenian, who’s ordered to guard the city of Portus while Belisarius tries a desperate resupply run to a besieged Rome. So what does Isaac do? Takes 100 guys out, loots a Gothic camp, and goes and gets himself captured.
I’ve always admired Belisarius for what he was able to accomplish with what he was given, but researching his story in-depth, I have to admit I feel a huge amount of sympathy for the crap and incompetence he had to put up with on a daily basis.
But at least it’ll make for some great storytelling…