The Early Career of Belisarius

June 17, 2009

As with so many other prominent figures from antiquity, pretty much nothing is known about Belisarius‘ childhood or the earliest stages of his career. We know only that he was born somewhere between 500 – 505 in the town of Germana (in modern Bulgaria).

Though we cannot know for certain, Belisarius likely hailed from a relatively noble family. This would explain his rapid rise in the army, as well as Procopius‘ silence on his upbringing in the Secret History (in contrast to the vitriol directed at the mean origins of Justinian, Theodora, and Belisarius’ wife, Antonina).

Whatever the circumstances of Belisarius’ upbringing, he appears to have enlisted in the military at an early age and risen rapidly through the ranks. By the time we meet up with him in 527 A.D., he is serving as an officer in Justinian’s bodyguard. At that time, the Roman Empire was at war with the neighboring Persian Empire, and Justinian, acting as commander of the eastern campaign, sent Belisarius and Sittas into Persarmenia to plunder the countryside in retaliation to Persian attacks on the regions of Iberia and Lazica. The expedition was a success, and Belisarius and Sittas returned with booty and captives.

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Who the #$@* is Belisarius?

May 29, 2009

If you read the name Belisarius and your first thought is “Beli-who?”, don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. Belisarius hails from a period of history oft-neglected by teachers and professors – even at the collegiate level.

To put it succinctly:

Belisarius was a general who served under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the mid-6th century A.D. He fought wars against Persia and, more famously, spearheaded Justinian’s campaign to reconquer the Western Roman Empire. He is widely regarded as a brilliant tactician and one of the best field commanders of the ancient and early medieval periods. The historical accounts also show that he possessed a rare streak of nobility in an age of rampant intrigue and corruption.

There’s much more to Belisarius’ story, but that will be revealed in good time.

If you’re interested in further reading, I recommend Belisarius’ wikipedia entry and this thoroughly readable account of the Siege of Rome.