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Bizantinistica

Rivista di Studi Bizantini e Slavi

SERIE SECONDA
Anno XV - 2013

FONDAZIONE

CENTRO ITALIANO DI STUDI SULLALTO MEDIOEVO


SPOLETO

INDICE

ANTONELLA CONTE, Libert di parola e atima negli scritti


di Gregorio Nazianzeno ........................................... pag.

MAR MARCOS, Falsificacin literaria y propaganda durante la Gran Persecucin: las Acta Pilati entre paganos, judos y cristianos ............................................

15

JUANA TORRES, The Power of Rethoric in Conflict Resolution.


Theodoret of Cyrus and a Cure for Pagan Maladies

33

EUGENIO RUSSO, Lintervento di Isidoro il Giovane nella


semicupola ovest di S. Sofia di Costantinopoli ..........

51

PABLO FUENTES HINOJO Y MANUEL PARADA LPEZ DE CORSELAS, El trono del Seor : poder y simbologa en el
Mediterrneo Tardoantiguo .....................................

65

EZIO ALBRILE, Le soglie della percezione Anime e visioni


tra gnosticismo e Iran .............................................

103

DANIELE MOROSSI, The governors of Byzantine Spain ........

131

CARMELO CRIMI, Parola e scrittura nel bios di S. Nilo da


Rossano ..................................................................

157

ENRIQUE SANTOS MARINAS, Messianism and invading peoples


in Iberian and Slavonic Apocalypotic Literature .......

175

M. MARCELLA FERRACCIOLI - GIANFRANCO GIRAUDO, Venezia,


Costantinopoli e lidea dellImpero cristiano ............

189

VI

INDICE

RECENSIONI
ALESSANDRA MALQUORI, Il giardino dellanima. Ascesi e propaganda nelle Tebaidi fiorentine
del Quattrocento (Massimo Bernab), p. 199; Corpus della pittura monumentale bizantina
in Italia. I. Umbria (Massimo Bernab), p. 201; Byzantine Art and Renaissance Europe
(Massimo Bernab), p. 204; ALESSIO MONCIATTI, Larte nel Duecento (Massimo Bernab), p.
207; KATHLEEN MAXWELL, An Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book (Paris. Gr. 54) and the
Union of Churches (Massimo Bernab), p. 211

DANIELE MOROSSI

The governors of Byzantine Spain


E.A. Thompson rightfully states that the conquest of Spain was the last
and most obscure stage in his [Justinians] grandiose effort to restore the old
Roman Empire 1, as the only undisputed fact is that the Byzantines held
part of the Iberian Peninsula for about seventy years. Its conquest can be
dated between 551 and 554, while the Visigoths occupied the last imperial
cities either in 624 or in 625 2.
There are no other certainties about these seventy years of Byzantine
administration.
Even the extent of this region is not clear, as some researchers think that
Constantinople only controlled the south-eastern coast of the peninsula
(roughly from Jerez de la Frontera to Cartagena) 3, while others believe that
This article is the result of some of the research carried out whilst writing my MA thesis
about Byzantine Spain. I would like to thank Professor Paolo Cammarosano and Professor Roberta Cervani for supervising and co-supervising my thesis, and I am extremely grateful to Dr.
Peter Brown, Director of the British School of Trieste, who kindly spent time on a language review of this article.
1
E. A. THOMPSON, The Goths in Spain, Oxford, 1969, p. 320.
2
Cfr. notes 49 and 147 below.
3
J. W. BARKER, Justinian and the Later Roman Empire, Madison, 1966, p. 138; F. J. SALVADOR
VENTURA, Reflexiones sobre las causas de la intervencin bizantina en la Pennsula, in Antigedad y
Cristianismo, III (1986), pp. 69-73; THOMPSON, The Goths in Spain cit. (note 1), pp. 320-323; W. POHL,
Justinian and the Barbarian Kingdoms, in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian, ed. by M.
MAAS, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 448-476 (in particular p. 465); A. BARBERO, M. I. LORING, The Formation of
the Sueve and Visigothic Kingdoms in Spain, in The New Cambridge Medieval History, I, c.500-c.700,
ed. by P. FOURACRE, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 162-192 (in particular pp. 182-183); and J. VIZCANO SNCHEZ,
La presencia bizantina en Hispania (Siglos VI-VII). La documentacin arqueolgica, in Antigedad y

132

DANIELE MOROSSI

Cordova and the land south of the Guadalquivir River also belonged to the
empire 4.
In recent decades, scholars have also discussed the possibility of the
existence of a fortified border (limes) between the Byzantine and Visigothic
territories in Spain 5.
In addition to this, most historians have given great importance to the
conversion of the Visigoths to Orthodoxy (in 589) as a key event which
caused a fracture between a period of Byzantine superiority and the
following Visigothic predominance 6. E.A. Thompson, though, had a
Cristianismo, XXIV (2009), pp. 33-60, all share this view. R. COLLINS, Visigothic Spain 409-711, Malden
(MA), 2004, pp. 48-49 and M. VALLEJO GIRVS, Hispania y Bizancio. Una relacin desconocida, Madrid,
2012, also seem to agree with this opinion, though Collins does not exclude the possibility that the
Byzantines might have also held Cordoba.
4
This view can be found, among the other works cited, in Ch. DIEHL, Justinien et la civilisation
byzantine au VIe sicle, Paris, 1901 (republished New York, 1969); F. GRRES, Die byzantinischen
Besitzungen an den Ksten des spanisch-westgotischen Reiches (554-624), in Byzantinische Zeitschrift,
XVI (1907), pp. 515-538 (in particular p. 516); E. S. BOUCHIER, Spain under the Roman Empire, Oxford,
1914, pp. 54-55; J. B. BURY, History of the Later Roman Empire. From the Death of Theodosius I. to the
Death of Justinian, II, London, 1923 (republished New York, 1958), p. 287; P. GOUBERT, Byzance et
lEspagne wisigothique (554-711), in tudes Byzantines, II (1944), pp. 5-78; ID., Le Portugal Byzantin, in
Bulletin des tudes Portugaises et de lInstitut Franais au Portugal, XIV (1950), pp. 273-282; E. STEIN,
Histoire du Bas-Empire, III. De la disparition de lEmpire dOccident a la mort de Justinian (476-565),
Paris-Bruxelles-Amsterdam, 1949 (republished Amsterdam, 1968), p. 563; G. OSTROGORSKY, Storia
dellimpero bizantino, 2nd edn., Torino, 1993, p. 68; K. F. STROHEKER, Das spanische Westgotenreich und
Byzanz, in K. F. STROHEKER, Germanentum und Sptantike, Zrich-Stuttgart, 1965, pp. 207-245 (in
particular p. 214); and in F. J. PRESEDO VELO, La Espaa bizantina, Sevilla, 2003, pp. 35-43.
5
Some of the most important articles dealing with this problem are L. A. GARCA MORENO,
Organizacin militar de Bizancio en la Pennsula Ibrica (ss. VI-VII), in Hispania, XXXIII (1973), pp.
5-22; G. RIPOLL LOPEZ, Acerca de la supuesta frontera entre el Regnum Visigothorum y la
Hispania bizantina, in Pyrenae, XXVII (1973), pp. 251-267; P. FUENTES HINOJO, Sociedad, ejrcito y
administracin fiscal en la provincia bizantina de Spania , in Studia Historica. Historia antigua, XVI
(1998), pp. 301-330; P. C. DAZ, En tierra de nadie: Visigodos frente a Bizantinos. Reflexiones sobre la
frontera, in Bizancio y la Pennsula Ibrica. De la Antigedad Tarda a la Edad Moderna, eds. I. PREZ
MARTN & P. BDENAS DE LA PEA, Madrid, 2004, pp. 37-60; D. MONTANERO VICO, La problemtica sobre el
limes bizantino en la Pennsula Ibrica: Realidad histrica o construccin historiografica?, in Ex Novo:
Revista dHistria i Humanitats, II (2005), pp. 45-63; and J. WOOD, Defending Byzantine Spain: Frontiers
and Diplomacy, in Early Medieval Europe, XVIII (2010), pp. 292-319.
6
GRRES, Die byzantinischen Besitzungen cit. (note 4), pp. 526-527; BOUCHIER, Spain under the
Roman Empire cit. (note 4), p. 58; M. TORRES, Las invasiones y los reinos germnicos de Espaa (Aos
409-711), in Historia de Espaa, III. Espaa visigoda (414-711 de J.C.), ed. R MENNDEZ PIDAL, Madrid,
1940, pp. 3-140 (in particular p. 110); P. GOUBERT, Byzance avant lIslam, II, Byzance et lOccident sous
les successeurs de Justinien. I. Byzance et les Francs, Paris, 1955, pp. 13-14, 72; STROHEKER, Das
spanische Westgotenreich cit. (note 4), pp. 219-221; A. N. STRATOS, Byzantium in the Seventh Century, I,

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

133

completely different opinion regarding this aspect which I find quite


convincing: according to him, the conversion of the Visigoths was not a key
factor as the Orthodox are not known to have co-operated politically or
militarily with the Byzantines 7 before 589, and since the Spanish Arian
rulers rarely actively persecuted the Orthodox population 8.
Historians have also dealt with the problem of the administrative
position of Byzantine Spain: according to some, these lands formed an
autonomous province 9, while according to others they were a part of a
wider province including some African lands as well 10. These different
views depend on the interpretation authors give to some lines of George of
Cyprus Descriptio orbis romani, a list of the imperial possessions during the
reign of Maurice 11, and to the credit they give to this Byzantine geographer.
However, in this article I am not going to deal with these problems, as I
think there is one more aspect of the Byzantine occupation of southern Spain
which is really intriguing: the role of the imperial governors.
602-634, engl. trans. Amsterdam, 1968, p. 122; J. N. HILLGARTH, Coins and Chronicles: Propaganda in
Sixth-Century Spain and the Byzantine Background, in Historia, XV (1966), pp. 483-508 (in particular
pp. 499-500); J. VILELLA MASANA, Hispania durante la poca del III Concilio de Toledo segn Gregorio
Magno, in Concilio III de Toledo. XIV Centenario 589-1989, Toledo, 1991, pp. 485-494 (in particular p.
487); L. A. GARCA MORENO, The Creation of Byzantiums Spanish Province. Causes and Propaganda, in
Byzantion, LXVI,1 (1996), pp. 101-119 (in particular pp.116-119); A. BARBERO, M. I. LORING, The
Catholic Visigothic Kingdom, in The New Cambridge Medieval History, I, c.500-c.700, by P. FOURACRE,
Cambridge, 2005, pp. 346-370 (in particular pp. 346-347).
7
THOMPSON, The Goths in Spain cit. (note 1), p. 27.
8
Ibid., pp. 28-37, 78-87.
9
Ibid., p. 329; according to FUENTES HINOJO, Sociedad, ejrcito y administracin fiscal cit. (note 4), p.
307, Spain was a circunscripcin distinta a la provincia de Mauretania Secunda . Garca Moreno also
seems to agree with Thompson, as in GARCA MORENO, The Creation cit. (note 6), pp. 114,117,119 he
always writes about the Byzantine province of Spania . Finally, according to BARBERO, LORING, The
Catholic Visigothic Kingdom cit. (note 6), p. 183, even though Spain was a province, it was part of the
African prefecture.
10
BOUCHIER, Spain under the Roman Empire cit. (note 4), p. 55; H. SCHLUNK, Relaciones entre la
Pennsula Ibrica y Bizancio durante la poca visigoda, in Archivo Espaol de Arqueologa, XVIII
(1945), pp. 177-204 (in particular p. 183); P. GOUBERT, Administration de lEspagne Byzantine (suite), in
Revue des tudes Byzantines, IV (1946), pp. 71-134 (in particular pp. 76-77); ID., Byzance avant lIslam,
II, Byzance et lOccident sous les successeurs de Justinien. II. Rome, Byzance et Carthage, Paris, 1965,
pp. 192, 195; M. VALLEJO GIRVS, Bizancio y la Espaa tardoantigua (SS. V-VIII): un captulo de historia
mediterrnea, Alcal de Henares, 1993, pp. 358, 363-365; EAD., Byzantine Spain and the African
Exarchate: an Administrative Perspective, in Jahrbuch der sterreischischen Byzantinistik, XLIX
(1999), pp.13-23 (in particular pp. 19-20); EAD., Hispania y Bizancio cit. (note 3), pp. 165-169, 288-294.
11
Georgii Cyprii Descriptio orbis romani, ed. H. GELZER, Teubner, Lipsiae, 1890, pp. 34-36, ll.
670-674.

134

DANIELE MOROSSI

Even if, according to the literary and epigraphic sources, it appears as if


five known officials and three anonymous ones might have been sent to
govern that region, in most cases we lack the information to be certain
whether they were actually present.
Despite these problems, I will give my view on the authenticity of their
appointments.

LIBERIUS
According to Jordanes, Liberius was the commander of the Byzantine
army which was sent to Spain during the early 550s, though we shall see that
this information should not be taken for granted.
Another troublesome aspect about Petrus Marcellinus Felix Liberius 12
regards his birth. While he probably came from Liguria, where his relative
Avienus 13 grew up 14, we have no detailed information about when he was
born, though J.J. ODonnells opinion 15 seems not to have been disputed
thus far. His estimate was calculated considering that Liberius was still alive
in 554, when he is last mentioned in one of Justinians Novellae 16, and that
he probably died soon after, either in 554 or one year later. The officer was
probably buried in Ariminum, as his tombstone was found in that area. The
gravestone had one inscription carved on it, which attested to the fact that he
had died just short of his ninetieth birthday 17.
ODonnell gives credit to this information and, since he assumes that
Liberius was appointed praetorian prefect by Theoderic just after the
Ostrogothic conquest of Italy (493), he states that the officers birth probably
dated back to 465, as it was highly unlikely to be appointed to serve that
office before his late twenties 18.
My opinion is that the information on the tombstone should be taken
with a pinch of salt, as it is renowned that in Late Antiquity and in the Early
12

The full name of the patrician can be found in Concilium Arausicanum A. 529 in Concilia Galliae
A. 511- A. 695, ed. C. DE CLERCQ, Brepols, Turnholti, 1963, p. 65.
13
Magni Felicis Ennodi Opera, ed. F. VOGEL, Berolini, 1885 (M.G.H. Auct. Ant. VII), Ep. 9.7, p. 296.
14
Ibid., Ep. 9.32, p. 320.
15
J. J. ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician, in Traditio, XXXVII (1981), pp. 31-72.
16
Corpus Iuris Civilis, III, Novellae, eds. R. SCHOELL and W. KROLL, Apud Weidmannos, Berolini,
1954, II. Appendix constitutionum dispersarum, VII, pp. 799-802.
17
Inscriptionum Aemiliae Etruriae Umbriae latinae, in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, XI, Pars
prior, ed. E. BORMANN, Apud Georgium Reimerum, Berolini, 1888, Regio VIII, Ariminum, nr. 382, p. 85.
18
ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), pp. 34, 70.

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

135

Middle Ages any information about peoples ages was generally unreliable.
Therefore, even though I do not dispute that Liberius was extremely old
when he died, I doubt that he was almost ninety years old.
In addition to this, ODonnells observation that he was appointed
praetorian prefect either in 493 or in 494 19 is only supported by a word in
one of Theoderics letters to the Roman Senate. The king, in fact, wrote that
Liberius had joined him after Odoacers death (493) and that mox 20 he was
given the praetorian prefecture dignity 21. Yet, since this letter was written in
509 22, I think that the word mox could be used even to refer to an event
which had taken place in the late 490s.
My hypothesis is that Liberius first entered the army under Odoacer
while in his late teens 23 and at the time of his masters death he would have
been in his early twenties. At this time, he already held an important role in
the army, probably serving as a tribune 24. Some years later, when he was
about twenty-five years old, he was appointed praetorian prefect of Italy.
If my assumption is correct then Liberius was probably born in the early
470s; therefore, he died when he was in his early eighties.
Liberius held extremely high offices under the Ostrogoths, as he first
served as the praetorian prefect of Italy and then he held the same office in
Gaul. During both of these tenures, contemporary intellectuals praised him
for how he handled his task.
As I have already mentioned, Cassiodorus informs us in one of his
Variae, a letter Theoderic addressed to the Senate of Rome (probably in
509), that patricius Liberius started his military career under Odoacer.
According to this epistle, Liberius remained loyal towards the King of Italy
19

Ibid., p. 37.
Latin; soon.
21
Cassiodori Senatoris Variae, ed. Th. MOMMSEN, Berolini, 1894 (M.G.H. Auct. Ant. XII), II, Ep. 16,
pp. 55-56.
22
The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, ed. S. J. B. BARNISH, Liverpool, 1992, II.16,
pp. 28-30.
23
In 353 a law by Emperor Constantius II set eighteen years as the minimum age of recruits: Codex
Theodosianus, II, ed. I. GOTHOFREDI, Lipsiae, 1737 (republished Hildesheim-New York, 1975), VII.13.1,
p. 371; A. H. M. JONES, The Later Roman Empire. 284-602, III, Oxford, 1964, p. 185 n. 19 (according to
whom, decurions were not enrolled under 18 or recruits under 19 ); P. SOUTHERN, K. R. DIXON, The Late
Roman Army, London, 1996, p. 73 (who state that the minimum recruitment age of veterans sons was 20
in 326, and that it was later reduced to 18). It is possible that some recruits were even younger, as,
according to Vegetius, it was preferable for men to join the army incipientem pubertatem (cfr. Vegetius,
Epitoma Rei Militaris, ed. A. NNERFORS, Teubner, Stutgardiae et Lipsiae, 1995, I.4, pp. 13-14).
24
JONES, The Later Roman Empire cit. (note 23), II, pp. 638-642 states that progress in military
careers after few years of service was already possible in the fourth century.
20

136

DANIELE MOROSSI

until his death (493); only after this event, did he join Theoderic. As a reward
for his utter loyalty to his former master, the King of the Ostrogoths had
decided to appoint Liberius praetorian prefect of Italy 25, an office that,
according to Ennodius, he served brilliantly 26.
According to the Anonymus Valesianus, Liberius was appointed
patrician during Theoderics decennalia in 500 27, and a Theodorus was
appointed to succeed him as prefect of Italy. Liberius, though, probably
stayed on in Italy, since some years later (supposedly in 506) he oversaw the
election of a new bishop in Aquileia 28.
After starting his career in Italy, the patrician became praetorian prefect
of Gaul in late 511 or early 512 29 and his tenure lasted two decades, stretching
from the final fifteen years of Theoderics life to most of Athalarics reign.
Avitus of Vienne testifies that he served his office with integrity 30.
During his stay there, between 517 and 520 Liberius received Apollinaris
of Valence grandly during the latters visit to Arles 31, while other sources
inform us that the patrician was seriously wounded while fighting against the
Visigoths - but Caesarius of Arles miraculously healed him 32- and that he
subscribed the canons of the Second Council of Orange (529) 33.
By 533 Liberius had come back to Italy and had received the praesentanea
dignitas from Athalaric 34.
Even though exactly when this happened is unknown, Liberius also built
a monastery dedicated to Saint Martin in some of the land he owned in
25

Cassiodori Senatoris Variae, II, Ep. 16, pp. 55-56. The dating is provided by BARNISH, in The
Variae cit. (note 22), II.16, pp. 28-30.
26
Magni Felicis Ennodi Opera, Ep. 9.23, pp. 307-308.
27
Excerpta Valesiana, in Ammianus Marcellinus, with an English translation by John C. Rolfe, III,
ed. by J. C. ROLFE, London-Cambridge (MA), 1952, 12.67-12.68, pp. 550-551.
28
Magni Felicis Ennodi Opera, Ep. 5.1, pp. 153-154; ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note
15), p. 41.
29
Magni Felicis Ennodi Opera, Ep. 9.23, pp. 307-308; ibid., Ep. 9.32, p. 320; ODONNELL, Liberius
the Patrician cit. (note 15), pp. 44-46.
30
Alcimi Ecdicii Aviti Viennensis episcopi Epistulae Homiliae Carmina, ed. R. PEIPER, Berolini, 1883
(M.G.H., Auct. Ant. VI Pars Posterior), ep. 35, p. 65.
31
Vita Apollinaris episcopi Valentinensis, ed. B. KRUSCH, Hannoverae, 1896 (M.G.H., SS rer. Merov.
III), chap. 10, p. 201; ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), p. 47.
32
Vitae Caesarii Episcopi Arelatensis Libri Duo, ed. B. KRUSCH, Hannoverae, 1896 (M.G.H., SS rer.
Merov. III), II, 10-12, pp. 487-488.
33
Concilium Arausicanum A. 529, pp. 55, 65.
34
Cassiodori Senatoris Variae, XI, Ep. 1, pp. 327-330.

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

137

Campania. This religious foundation is mentioned by Gregory the Great in


some of his letters 35 and in his Vita Sancti Benedicti 36.
In the Spring of 534 Liberius was one of the addressees of a letter sent by
Pope John II: the patrician was to avoid any contact with Acoemetae
monks 37.
This appears to be the last information regarding Liberius as an Ostrogothic
officer, as some months later he went over to the Byzantines after deciding
not to accomplish a mission he had been given by the new King Theodahad,
who had succeeded Athalaric.
Soon after his predecessors death, in fact, Theodahad had imprisoned
Amalasuntha and sent Liberius and senator Opilius to Constantinople to
justify his actions and to deceive Justinian, trying to convince him that the
queen had actually suffered no harm. Despite his task, Liberius decided not
to lie to the emperor 38 and did not go back to Italy, where he would have
been considered a traitor. He stayed in Constantinople and became a
Byzantine dignitary.
Liberius spent his final two decades as an Eastern Roman officer, but his
later life is not covered in detail. He probably spent most of his final years in
Constantinople.
He supposedly stayed there for some years, until 538 or 539, when he
was appointed prefect of Alexandria 39. While in Egypt, Liberius followed
Empress Theodoras advice and impaled or crucified Arsenius, a Samaritan
who had converted to Christianity and had been a favourite of Justinians
wifes but by that time had fallen out of favour 40.
35

Gregorio Magno, Lettere, I, ed. V. RECCHIA, Roma, 1996, II, ep. 23, pp. 414-415; ID., Lettere, II, ed.
V. ECCHIA, Roma, 1996, ep. 33, pp. 166-169; ibid., V, ep. 50, pp. 234-235; ibid., III, IX, ep. 163, pp.
364-367; ID., Lettere, III, ed. V. RECCHIA, Roma, 1998, IX, ep. 165, pp. 368-369; ODONNELL, Liberius the
Patrician cit. (note 15), p. 52; J. R. MARTINDALE, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, II, A.D.
395-527, Cambridge-London-New York-New Rochelle-Melbourne-Sydney, 1980, Liberius 3, p. 681.
36
Vita Sancti Benedicti (ex Libro II Dialogorum S. Gregorii Excerpta), in P.L., LXVI, XXXV, cols.
195-200.
37
III. Ad senatores, in Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, VIII, ed. J. D. MANSI,
Florentiae, 1762 (republished Graz, 1960), cols. 803-806; ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note
15), p. 47.
38
Procopio di Cesarea, La Guerra Gotica, I, ed. D. COMPARETTI, Roma, 1895, I.4, pp. 27-34.
39
ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), pp. 63-64.
40
According to Procopius (Procopio, Storie segrete, ed. F. CONCA, Milano, 2010, chaps. 27.3-27.20,
pp. 328-335), Arsenius was impaled; whilst according to Liberatus of Carthage (Liberati archidiaconi
ecclesi Carthaginensis Breviarium caus Nestorianum et Eutychianorum, ed. J. GARNIER, Parisiis, 1675,
chap. XXIII, pp. 160-161, 164), he was crucified.

138

DANIELE MOROSSI

After an undisclosed amount of time, Justinian decided he was going to


depose Liberius and give his office to John Laxarion; Pelagius, who became
pope after Vigilius death and was a friend of Liberius, heard about these
rumours and asked the emperor if they were true. Justinian said they were
not and gave Pelagius some letters which he then sent to Liberius: the
patrician was to keep his position and was not allowed to let anybody take
his place.
Unfortunately, John Laxarion received similar letters from the emperor
and went to Alexandria to serve as the imperial prefect of the city. He asked
Liberius to leave him the office, but the patrician refused; a fight took place
between the retinues and John was killed. The former Ostrogothic dignitary
was summoned to Constantinople to be tried before the Senate, but he was
acquitted 41.
There is no surviving information about the patrician for the following
decade.
Soon after that, though, he was sent to Italy to take part in the Gothic
War. However, Procopius and Jordanes, the only surviving sources, give us
different information about his role during this conflict.
According to Procopius, after Belisarius had moved from Italy back to
Constantinople in 549, Justinian chose Liberius as his replacement but in the
end did not send him to fight against the Ostrogoths 42. The patrician was
later chosen to replace Germanus, Justinians nephew, who had been sent to
Italy to command the army. The emperor, though, changed his mind once
again, so Liberius remained in Constantinople 43.
In early 550 he was finally sent to Sicily in order to try to stop the
Ostrogoths from reconquering the island, but Justinian very soon regretted
his decision and sent Artabanes to Sicily as the replacement for the patrician.
According to Procopius, Liberius was too old and lacked military experience 44.
Artabanes was hindered by a storm and Liberius had to remain in Sicily;
he led his fleet into the port of Syracuse (the city was being besieged by the
Ostrogoths), but after he realized that his army was not strong enough either
to defeat the enemies or to relieve the Syracusans, he moved to Palermo 45.
41

Procopio, Storie segrete, ed. CONCA, cit., chaps. 29.1-29.11, pp. 342-345.
Procopio di Cesarea, La Guerra Gotica, II, ed. COMPARETTI, Roma, 1896, III.36, pp. 433-434;
ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), p. 66.
43
Procopio di Cesarea, Storie segrete, ed. CONCA, cit., III.37, pp. 444-445.
44
Ibid., III.39, pp. 452; ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), p. 66.
45
Procopio di Cesarea, Storie segrete, ed. CONCA, cit., III.40, pp. 461-462; ODONNELL, Liberius the
Patrician cit. (note 15), pp. 66-67.
42

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

139

Artabanes was able to reach Sicily only in 551; according to Procopius,


after his arrival Liberius went back to Constantinople 46.
Jordanes, on the other hand, writes very little about Liberius role in the
war against the Ostrogoths and his information is in contrast with
Procopius: according to a passage in Romana, Liberius went to Sicily
together with Artabanes 47.
Despite the sparseness of Jordanes information in this work, the writer
does give some key information about Liberius in his Getica. Even though
this passage is not extremely detailed, it owes its importance to its being the
only source according to which Liberius ever went to Spain as the
commander of the invading Byzantine army.
While writing his list of the Visigothic kings, in fact, the author informs
us that, during Agila Is reign (549-554), Athanagild rebelled against the
monarch and asked for Roman support. According to Jordanes, the emperor
either appointed Liberius to lead an army to Spain or sent him there 48 in
order to help Athanagild 49.
After this involvement in Justinians western wars, Liberius went back to
Byzantium, where he was given a delicate task. In May 553, in fact, the
emperor summoned an ecumenical synod in Constantinople in order to
condemn the Three Chapters, some writings by Theodore of Mopsuestia,
Theodoret of Cyrus and Ibas of Edessa which Justinian considered to be
Nestorian and, therefore, heretical.
The emperors decision had not been accepted in Western Europe (in
particular in Italy), and when the council was summoned even Pope Vigilius,
who was living in Constantinople, was against their condemnation and was
not willing to attend the synod.
46
Procopio di Cesarea, La Guerra Gotica, III, ed. COMPARETTI, Roma, 1898, IV.24, p. 183;
ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), p. 67.
47
Iordanis, De summa temporum vel origine actibusque gentis Romanorum, ed. Th. MOMMSEN,
Berolini, 1882 (M.G.H., Auct. Ant. V pars prior), chap. 385, p. 51.
48
J. FOSSELLA, Waiting for a Pretext : a New Chronology for the Sixth-Century Byzantine Invasion
of Spain, in Estudios Bizantinos, I (2013), pp. 30-38 (in particular pp. 36-37) rightfully underlines the fact
that destinatur might have two different meanings in this context.
49
Iordanis, De origine actibusque Getarum, ed. Th. MOMMSEN, Berolini, 1882 (M.G.H., Auct. Ant. V
pars prior), chap. 303, p. 136. According to the first draft of Isidore of Sevilles History of the Goths
(Isidori Iunioris episcopi Hispalensis Historia Gothorum, ed. Th. MOMMSEN, Berolini, 1894, M.G.H., Auct.
Ant. XI, chap. 46, pp. 285-286), the rebellion took place during Agilas third year of reign, i.e. 551,
therefore the Byzantine intervention could not have been earlier than during that year. FOSSELLA, Walting
for a Pretext cit. (note 48) states that it is likelier that the imperial expedition took place in 554, since,
according to the aforementioned passage by Isidore, the Byzantines had not invaded Spain yet when
Athanagild had Agila killed during that year.

140

DANIELE MOROSSI

Therefore, Liberius was given the task of trying to convince Pope


Vigilius to take part in the Second Council of Constantinople and to
condemn publicly the Three Chapters. Despite the patricians efforts, the
pontiff did not attend the synod 50.
The patrician was still alive in 554, when one of Justinians Novellae was
issued. This law attests that the emperor had previously awarded to Liberius
half of a donation Theodahad had given to a certain Maximus 51.
Petrus Marcellinus Felix Liberius probably died near Ariminum later in
554 or shortly afterwards 52.
Despite Jordanes passage in Getica, Liberius status as the first Byzantine
governor of Spain is disputed, and so is his actual presence in the Iberian
Peninsula. While until some decades ago most scholars used to trust Jordanes
testimony 53, many historians have recently questioned that passage.
J.J. ODonnell, considering the differences between what Jordanes and
Procopius information and the latters much more detailed account, does
not believe Jordanes was accurate when writing about Liberius role in the
Gothic War and thinks that even the monks testimony about the patrician
leading the Byzantine army in Spain is unreliable. In fact, according to the
American scholar, it is very unlikely that Liberius was sent to fight the
50
Quinta Synodus generalis, Constantinopolitana II, in Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima
collectio, IX, ed. J. D. MANSI, Florentiae, 1763 (republished Graz, 1960), Collatio secunda, cols. 197-199;
ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), pp. 68-69; G. FEDALTO, Le Chiese dOriente, I, Da
Giustiniano alla caduta di Costantinopoli, 3rd edn., Milano, 2010, pp. 26-27.
51
Novellae, Corpus Iuris Civilis, III, II. Appendix constitutionum dispersarum, VII, pp. 799-802.
52
Inscriptionum Aemiliae cit. (note 17), Regio VIII, Ariminum, nr. 382, p. 85. According to
ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), pp. 70-71, he probably died in 555 or 556.
53
Among the others, Diehl (DIEHL, Justinien cit. note 4, pp. 204-206), Pauly (A. F. PAULY, ed., Paulys
Realencyclopdie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XXV, Stuttgart, 1926, Liberius 2, col. 97)
who thinks that Liberius, after leading the Byzantine forces in Spain, probably became the governor of
that region , Grres (GRRES, Die byzantinischen Besitzungen cit. note 4, p. 518) who trusts Jordanes
and, even though he states there is no actual proof that Liberius was proclaimed imperial governor of
Spain, thinks that the patrician was actually appointed to this office , Sundwall (J. SUNDWALL, Petrus
Marcellinus Felix Liberius, in Abhandlungen zur Geschichte des ausgehenden Rmertums, 2nd edn., New
York, 1975, p. 135) who just mentions that Liberius led the imperial expedition to support Athanagild ,
Goubert (GOUBERT, Byzance et lEspagne wisigothique cit. note 4, pp.7-11; P. GOUBERT, LAdministration
de lEspagne Byzantine. I. Les Gouverneurs de lEspagne byzantine, in tudes Byzantines, III, 1945, pp.
127-142, in particular pp.127-129) and Stroheker (STROHEKER, Germanentum und Sptantike cit. note 4,
pp. 210-212). According to Martindale (The Prosopography cit. note 35, p. 680), Liberius was only sent
to Spain to command the army. He does not mention the possibility of the patrician serving as a governor
there.

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

141

Visigoths after Justinian had removed him from command in Sicily because
of his old age and lack of military experience 54.
M. Vallejo Girvs also thinks that it is unlikely that Justinian gave him
such a task after the patrician had been sent back to Constantinople for the
reasons mentioned by Procopius 55. In addition to this, the Spanish historian
thinks that sixth-century navigation conditions did not allow Liberius to
move from Sicily to Constantinople, from Byzantium to Spain - where the
Byzantine conquest of part of the coast took at least some months - and
finally back to Constantinople in just two years 56.
Finally, according to J. Fossella, Liberius was probably appointed as
commander of the invasion force, but never actually sent to Spain 57.
Personally, I agree with M. Vallejo Girvs views; I do not think, despite
his frequent changes of mind, that Justinian could have sent a general to
Spain whom he had previously dismissed, and I also consider it unlikely that
an octogenarian could travel so much and in such a short time. Were J.
Fossellas hypothesis correct it would give further credence to such a theory.
To sum up, I think it is highly unlikely that Liberius ever governed Spain,
since he probably never went there.
NARSES
According to one source, the Historia Langobardorum Codicis Gothani,
Narses, the eunuch general who destroyed the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy,
went to Spain between 569 and 570 58.
I think this information is not trustworthy at all. First of all, the only
source which briefly mentions this event is a late one (early ninth century);
secondly, many authors wrote about Narses career but according to no other
source did he ever leave Italy after the 550s.
To recapitulate, I agree with J.R. Martindale, who writes that the
information on the Codex Gothanus is certainly wrong 59: I think that Narses
never actually travelled to Spain.
54

ODONNELL, Liberius the Patrician cit. (note 15), pp. 67-68.


VALLEJO GIRVS, Bizancio y la Espaa tardoantigua cit. (note 10), pp. 103-105.
56
VALLEJO GIRVS, Hispania y Bizancio cit. (note 3), pp. 141-145.
57
FOSSELLA, Waiting for a Pretext cit. (note 48), pp. 33, 37.
58
Historia Langobardorum Codicis Gothani, ed. G. WAITZ, Hannoverae, 1879 (M.G.H., SS rer.
Lang.), p. 9. According to this work, the event took place after the Longobard invasion, more precisely in
the third indiction, i.e. between September 569 and August 570 (J. R. MARTINDALE, (ed.), The
Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, IIIb, A.D. 527-641, Cambridge, 1992, Narses 1, p. 925).
59
Ibid., Narses 1, p. 925.
55

142

DANIELE MOROSSI

THE ANONYMOUS PREFECT


There is no further news about the presence of another Byzantine officer
in Spain for about a decade. The author who provides information about the
next Eastern Roman dignitary in the Iberian Peninsula is Gregory of Tours,
according to whom one praefectus imperatoris resided in Spain around 580.
Before writing about this prefect, though, some events about the
Visigothic kingdom need to be mentioned. From 579 to 584, in fact, almost
three decades after Athanagilds rebellion, another revolt took place in
Visigothic Spain. This time, it was led by Hermenegild, King Leovigilds
elder son 60.
According to Gregory of Tours, the prince asked for help from the
Byzantines, but Leovigild bought the neutrality of the praefectus imperatoris
with a gift of 30,000 solidi. The king went on to repress the rebellion and his
son was imprisoned 61 and killed 62.
It is possible that some Byzantine soldiers had supported Hermenegild,
though it is not clear if this only happened before or after Leovigilds
payment. That would be extremely important information, as it would
determine whether the Visigothic kings investment was a good or bad one.
Gregory of Tours, in fact, only mentions, during the princes rebellion,
that he had joined the duces imperatoris Tiberii 63, but does not write
anything which would make it possible to relate this event with the previous
one chronologically.
Despite this inaccuracy, we can affirm that according to Gregorys
testimony, in the late 570s or in the early 580s (Tiberius II died in 582) a
Byzantine prefect lived in Spain and that he had some duces as his
subordinates.
Unfortunately, the historian does not name the officer; therefore it is not
possible to identify him.
It is unthinkable that the prefect could be either Liberius (who probably
never went to Spain and, even if he did, had died decades earlier) or Narses
(who had died as well). In addition to this, there is no possibility that the first
60
Iohannis abbatis Biclarensis Chronica, ed. Th. MOMMSEN, Berolini, 1894 (M.G.H., SS Auct. Ant.
XI), aa. 579-584, pp. 215-217; COLLINS, Visigothic Spain cit. (note 3), pp. 56-59.
61
Gregorio di Tours, La Storia dei Franchi, I, ed. M. OLDONI, Milano, 1981, V, chap. 38, pp. 510-515.
62
Ibid., II, VII, chap. 28, pp. 288-289. Hermenegild was actually killed in 585: cfr. Iohannis abbatis
Biclarensis Chronica, a. 585, p. 217.
63
Gregorio di Tours, La Storia dei Franchi cit. (note 61), II, VI, chap. 18, pp. 58-59.

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

143

known magister militum who was sent to Spain, Comentiolus, could have
been there before 587.
Since no name is given to the prefect, it is even harder to be certain of his
presence in Spain, but I think that Gregory of Tours testimony should be
given credit.
The Byzantines have always been renowned for their ability of taking
advantage of their enemies misfortunes. Therefore, I would not exclude
that, unless an imperial prefect was already in the Iberian Peninsula before
the beginning of Hermenegilds rebellion, Tiberius might have sent one of
his generals to Spain as soon as he heard about the problems the Visigoths
were facing, in order to try to exploit the situation.
In any of these circumstances, the presence of an imperial prefect in that
region during Hermenegilds rebellion means that the Byzantines did care a
lot about these lands even during Tiberius IIs reign, when the Byzantines
were facing bigger problems, such as a renewed war against the Persian
Empire and conflicts against the Longobards in Italy 64.

COMENCIOLUS/COMITIOLUS
The following information regarding the presence of Byzantine officers
in Spain is from the turn of the sixth to the seventh century.
According to separate sources 65, two Byzantine officials with similar
names (Comenciolus and Comitiolus) appear to have resided in the Iberian
Peninsula, the former in 589 or 590 and the latter before 603.
Comenciolus presence in Spain is only attested in one inscription,
carved to commemorate the rebuilding of the fortifications of Cartagena.
According to this epigraph, which was produced between September 589
and August 590, Spain would always be glad to have Comenciolus as her
governor 66.
Comitiolus is known to us thanks to a letter from Gregory the Great. The
pope sent defensor Iohannes to Spain in August 603, where he was given the
task of reinstating former bishops Ianuarius and Stephanus to the head of
64

OSTROGORSKY Storia dellimpero bizantino cit. (note 4), pp. 68-69.


Pars tertia. Tarraconensis, XXII Carthago Nova, in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, II, ed. E.
BORMANN, Berolini, 1869, nr. 3420, p. 466; Gregorio Magno, Lettere (XI-XIV, Appendici), ed. V. RECCHIA,
Roma, 1999, epp. XIII, 46, 48-49, pp. 296-311.
66
Pars tertia. Tarraconensis, XXII Carthago Nova, nr. 3420, p. 466.
65

144

DANIELE MOROSSI

their own dioceses. They had been deposed by gloriosus Comitiolus. If his
guilt were to have been confirmed, Comitiolus would have been sentenced to
compensate Ianuarius (former bishop of Malaga) for his expenses, and to
pay damages and to give back the goods he had wrongfully taken from
Stephanus and his church. Had the rumours according to which Comitiolus
had died been true, his heir would have owed the bishops compensation for
those wrongdoings 67.
Further investigations show that, according to eastern sources (in
particular, Theophylact Simocatta), there was another Byzantine figure who
was a contemporary of both Comenciolus and Comitiolus and whose name
was extremely close to theirs, Komentolov.
Komentolov (whom from now on I will call Komentiolos) was a Thracian 68 general, whose career stretched from 583 to 602, covering most of
Maurices reign. In that year, the commander was killed by Phocas, a
usurper who had overthrown Maurice after a successful rebellion. Since
Komentiolos had supported the deposed emperor, Phocas had him killed.
Komentiolos had previously fought against the Slavs in Thrace, against
the Avars on the Danube border of the Byzantine Empire, and against the
Persians in present-day south-eastern Turkey, northern Syria and northern
Iraq.
Komentiolos career started in 583 when he acted as a diplomat during
peace talks between the Byzantines and the Avars.
At that time, when he was an imperial bodyguard, he was sent to
Anchialus 69 to negotiate a peace treaty with the Avar Chagan. After a very
arrogant speech by the nomadic leader, Komentiolos replied in an equally
arrogant way and barely avoided being imprisoned by the Chagan 70.
67
Gregorio Magno, Lettere (XI-XIV, Appendici), ep. XIII, 46, pp. 296-301. Gregory did not write the
name of the diocese Stephanus had been appointed to, but M. Vallejo Girvs supposes the diocese might
have been Medina-Sidonia in M. VALLEJO GIRVS, El exilio bizantino: Hispania y el Mediterrneo
occidental (siglos V-VII), in Bizancio y la Pennsula ibrica. De la Antigedad Tarda a la Edad
Moderna, eds. I. PREZ MARTN & P. BDENAS DE LA PEA, Madrid, 2004, pp. 117-154 (in particular p. 119).
68
According to Evagrius Scholasticus (Evagrii Scholastici Ecclesiasticae Historiae Libri VI, in P.G.,
LXXXVI, pars posterior, VI, chap. 15, cols. 2867-2868) and Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos
(Nicephori Callisti Xanthopuli Ecclesiasticae Historiae Libri XVIII, in P.G., CXLVII, XVIII, chap. 18,
cols. 363-364).
69
Present-day Pomorie, in south-eastern Bulgaria.
70
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, I, chaps. 4-6, pp. 41-45; Theophanis Chronographia,
I, ed. I. CLASSEN, Bonnae, 1839, A.C. 575, pp. 389-390; J. R. MARTINDALE (ed.), The Prosopography of the
Later Roman Empire, IIIa, A.D. 527-641, Cambridge, 1992, Comentiolus 1, p. 321.

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

145

In the following two years, Komentiolos defeated the Slavs twice and
received his first promotion.
In 584 the bodyguard was given the command of an army which defeated
the Slavs near the Erginia River. After this victory, he was appointed magister
militum praesentalis. Then, probably in 585, he moved to Adrianople where
he faced an enemy army led by Ardagast, which fled 71.
Later, Maurice gave Komentiolos the command of the war against the
Avars 72, but this time he was not as successful as he had been against the
Slavs. In 587 he tried to attack the Avars near Marcianopolis 73, but no major
battle was fought as the Chagans troops managed to flee 74.
Two years later, Komentiolos was sent to the eastern front, where he
remained for about two years, first fighting against the Persians, later helping
King Khosrau II to recover the throne his general Bahram had usurped. The
Byzantine commander was removed from the command of his army after
Khosrau complained to Maurice about Komentiolos behaviour.
According to Theophylact Simocatta, Evagrius Scholasticus and Theophanes the Confessor, the Thracian commander was sent to fight the Persians
near Nisibis 75 in late 589; a battle was fought at Sisarbanon: the Roman
army prevailed, but Komentiolos either fell off his horse (according to Evagrius
Scholasticus 76) or fled until he reached Theodosiopolis 77 (according to
Theophylact Simocatta 78). Despite this, the Thracian commander was later
able to conquer Martyropolis 79 and Okbas/Akbas 80.
71

Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, I, chap. 7, pp. 46-447; The History of
Theophylact Simocatta, eds. Mi. WHITBY & Ma. WHITBY, Oxford, 1986 (republished New York, 1988), I,
chap. 7, p. 29; Theophanis Chronographia, A.C. 576, p. 391; MARTINDALE, The Prosopography cit.,
Comentiolus 1, pp. 321-322.
72
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, I, chap. 8, p. 49.
73
Present-day Devnya, near Varna.
74
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, II, chaps. 10-15, pp. 87-100; Theophanis
Chronographia, A.C. 579, pp. 396-397. See The History of Theophylact Simocatta cit. (note 71), p. 57, n.
28 for the dating of the events.
75
Present-day Nusaybin, in south-eastern Turkey, close to the Syrian border.
76
Evagrii Scholastici Ecclesiasticae Historiae Libri VI, VI, chap. 15, cols. 2867-2868.
77
Present-day Ras al-Ayn, in north-eastern Syria, close to the Turkish border and about 120
kilometres from Nusaybin.
78
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, III, chap. 6, p. 123.
79
Evagrii Scholastici Ecclesiasticae Historiae Libri VI, VI, chap. 15, cols. 2867-2868. Martyropolis
is present-day Silvan, a town by the Batman River, in the Turkish province of Diyarbakir.
80
Ibid., VI, chap. 15, cols. 2869-2870 (according to whom Okbas was a fortress located on the
Batman River, on the opposite bank of Martyropolis); Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo,
IV, chap. 2, p. 159.

146

DANIELE MOROSSI

Meanwhile, in Persia, King Hormidz IV had been killed and his son and
successor, Khosrau II, had been deposed by general Bahram 81. The
overthrown king of kings asked for Byzantine help to be restored on the
Persian throne. He was hosted in Circesium 82 by Probus, the Roman
commander of the fort. There, the deposed king wrote a letter to the Byzantine Caesar; Probus sent it to Komentiolos, who was in Hierapolis 83. When
Emperor Maurice received Khosrau IIs letter, he agreed to help him get
back his throne 84; consequently, the Persian king joined Komentiolos in
Hierapolis 85 and they reached Constantina 86 together 87. There, Komentiolos
executed Sittas and other Romans who had previously handed over the city
of Martyropolis to Hormidz 88.
After Khosrau sent an ambassador to Maurice accusing Komentiolos of
insulting him and of delaying the arrival of auxiliary troops, the Thracian
general was- probably in January 591- demoted from the command of the
army and replaced by Narses, previously one of his bodyguards 89.
Komentiolos remained in the area for a while, as he commanded the right
wing of Narses army during the crossing of the Little Zab River between
present-day Arbil and Koi Sanjab, both located in present-day northern
Iraq 90.
After the events near the border with Persia, eastern sources 91 write
nothing about Komentiolos until 598, the first of three consecutive years he
spent fighting against the Avars. During these military operations, according
to Theophylact Simocatta, he displayed little courage, and he even faced the
humiliation of being wrongly accused of treason.
81

Evagrii Scholastici Ecclesiasticae Historiae Libri VI, VI, chaps. 16-17, cols. 2869-2870.
Present-day Al-Busayrah, in eastern Syria.
83
Present-day Manbij, in north-western Syria.
84
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, IV, chap. 10, pp. 179-180.
85
Ibid., IV, chap. 12, pp. 183-184; Theophanis Chronographia, A.C. 580, p. 409.
86
Present-day Viransehir, in south-eastern Turkey.
87
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, IV, chap. 14, pp. 190-191.
88
Ibid., IV, chap. 15, pp. 195-196.
89
Ibid., V, chap. 2, p. 208; MARTINDALE, The Prosopography cit. (note 70), Comentiolus 1, p. 324.
90
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, V, chap. 8, p. 219; The History of Theophylact
Simocatta cit. (note 71), p. 142, ns. 31-33.
91
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, p. 196, n. 60, p. 197; Theophanis
Chronographia, A.C. 592, p. 429; Nicephori Callisti Xanthopuli Ecclesiasticae Historiae Libri XVIII,
XVIII, chap. 28, pp. 383-384.
82

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

147

According to Theophylact Simocatta, in early April 598 92, the Thracian


general was sent to fight the Avars. He advanced from Nicopolis 93 to
Zikidiba 94, then retreated to Iatrus 95. The enemies were very close to the
Roman army, but Komentiolos soldiers were taken by surprise and retreated.
The generals flight did not stop until he reached Drizipera 96, more than 300
kilometres south-east of Iatrus. The inhabitants of Drizipera did not open the
gates of the city to Komentiolos, so he was forced to continue his retreat until
he reached the Long Walls of Constantinople, while the Avars sacked Drizipera.
After the generals entry in Constantinople, panic spread throughout the city,
as many inhabitants were afraid that the Avars might even conquer the
capital of the empire, but this threat soon came to an end as the Chagan
accepted the Byzantine peace offer 97.
Later, Komentiolos was accused of treachery by some of the Thracian
soldiers, but Maurice acquitted him and reappointed him general 98.
According to John of Antioch and to Theophanes, one of the ambassadors
the Thracian army sent to the emperor was Phocas, who would later depose
Maurice himself. John of Antioch also states that Komentiolos was replaced
by Philippicus 99.
After the trial and Maurices decision to break the peace treaty with the
Avars, Komentiolos went to Singidunum 100, where he joined Priscus. The
Roman generals then followed the course of the Danube until they reached
the island of Viminacium 101, where Komentiolos fell sick. After the Avars
had failed to block the Byzantines on the island, the Thracian general was
afraid of facing the Chagan, so, in order to make his reluctance to fight seem
more respectable, he inflicted a slight wound on himself on purpose. Since
the Avar threat was getting even more serious, Priscus took the command of
92
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VII, chap. 13, pp. 293-294; The History of
Theophylact Simocatta cit. (note 71), p. 196, n. 60, p. 197.
93
Present-day Nikyup, in northern Bulgaria.
94
Present-day Medgidia, in south-eastern Romania.
95
Present-day Yantra, less than fifteen kilometres north-west of Nicopolis.
96
Present-day Byk Karistiran, almost halfway between Edirne/Adrianople and Istanbul.
97
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VII, chaps. 13-15, pp. 293-299; Theophanis
Chronographia, A.C. 592, pp. 429-432.
98
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VIII, chap. 1, pp. 314-315.
99
Iohannis Antiocheni Fragmenta ex Historia Chronica, ed. U. ROBERTO, Berlin, 2005, frag. 316, pp.
546-547; Theophanis Chronographia, A.C. 592, pp. 432-433.
100
Present-day Belgrade.
101
Near present-day Stari Kostolac, ninety kilometres south-east of Belgrade.

148

DANIELE MOROSSI

the Roman army and finally persuaded Komentiolos to leave Viminacium 102.
Priscus would go on to defeat the Chagans army 103.
After recovering from the illness he had contracted on the Danube,
Komentiolos reached Novae 104 in Autumn 599. Then, in order to spend the
winter in Constantinople, he set off for and managed to pass through the
Gate of Trajan 105 despite the freezing weather which caused the death of
many of his men and baggage animals, and then to reach Philippopolis 106
where he spent the remainder of winter. At the beginning of spring (year
600), he finally arrived at Constantinople, where, during that summer, he
was again proclaimed general by the emperor 107.
Komentiolos death in late 602 is documented in many Byzantine chronicles
and histories.
After the outbreak of Phocas rebellion, Maurice appointed the Thracian
general to command the guards of Constantinoples walls 108. Phocas was
nonetheless able to enter the imperial capital and to be crowned emperor.
Maurice, his family and many of his lieges, including Komentiolos, were
executed 109.
POSSIBLE COMMON IDENTITY OF COMENCIOLUS, COMITIOLUS AND KOMENTIOLOS
Because of the extremely close periods of activity and due to the
similarity of their names, some historians have proposed that at least two of
these individuals could be the same person.
102
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VIII, chaps. 1-2, pp. 315-316; Theophanis
Chronographia, A.C. 593, pp. 434-435.
103
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VIII, chaps. 2-3, pp. 316-319.
104
Near present-day Svishtov, in northern Bulgaria.
105
Mountain pass located fifty-five kilometres south-east of present-day Sofia.
106
Present-day Plovdiv, in south-central Bulgaria.
107
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VIII, chap. 4, pp. 320-321; The History of
Theophylact Simocatta cit. (note 71), p. 214, n. 15; Theophanis Chronographia, A.C. 593, p. 436.
108
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VIII, chap. 8, p. 328; Theophanis
Chronographia, A.C. 594, p. 444.
109
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VIII, chaps. 10-13, pp. 334-341; Theophanis
Chronographia, A.C. 594-595, pp. 446-449; ibid., A.C. 600, p. 456; Chronicon Paschale, in P.G., XCII,
year 602, cols. 971-972 (according to which, Komentiolos corpse was devoured by dogs); Nicephori
Callisti Xanthopuli Ecclesiasticae Historiae Libri XVIII, XVIII, chap. XLI, cols. 409-412.

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

149

For example, F. Grres thinks that Comenciolus and Komentiolos can be


identified with one only person, different from Comitiolus 110.
P. Goubert, in one of his articles, writes that the three officials were
probably the same person, but he does not exclude either the possibility that
only Comenciolus and Komentiolos might be the same person or that all
three could be different men 111.
J. Orlandis shares Gouberts opinion: the Spanish scholar wrote that,
even though it is impossible to prove it, Komentiolos, Comenciolus and
Comitiolus were probably the same person 112.
In his Prosopography J.R. Martindale uses the same entry for Komentiolos
and Comenciolus (as Comentiolus 1) 113 and a different one for Comitiolus,
but his explanation for doing so is somewhat confused. According to this
text, the gloriosus cannot be identified with Komentiolos (the author states
that, according to the tone of Gregorys letter, Comitiolus was still alive in
603, while Komentiolos had died one year earlier), but he and Comenciolus
could be the same man 114. In this case, since, according to Martindale,
Comenciolus and Komentiolos are the same person, they would be identified
with Comitiolus as well, but, as previously reported, Martindale states that
Comitiolus and Komentiolos cannot be the same man.
F.J. Presedo Velos theory is similar to Martindales. The Spanish historian
is sure that Comenciolus and Comitiolus are the same person, but finds it
more difficult to identify Komentiolos with the other two figures 115.
Finally, M. Vallejo Girvs is sure that the three men were the same
person 116.
Historians have also discussed the dating of his/their presence in Spain.
According to F. Grres, Comenciolus (sic) did not arrive in Spain before the
110

GRRES, Die byzantinischen Besitzungen cit. (note 3), pp. 534-535.


GOUBERT, LAdministration de lEspagne Byzantine cit. (note 53), pp. 129-134.
112
J. ORLANDIS, Gregorio Magno y la Espaa visigodo-bizantina, in J. ORLANDIS, Hispania y Zaragoza
en la Antigedad Tarda. Estudios varios, Zaragoza, 1984, pp. 87-103 (in particular pp. 98-99).
113
MARTINDALE, The Prosopography cit. (note 70), Comentiolus 1.
114
Ibid., Comitiolus 2, p. 329.
115
PRESEDO VELO, La Espaa bizantina cit. (note 4), pp. 74-77.
116
VALLEJO GIRVS, Bizancio y la Espaa tardoantigua cit. (note 10), p. 234, n. 88; EAD.,
Commentiolus, Magister Militum Spaniae missus a Mauricio Augusto contra hostes barbaros . The
Byzantine perspective of the Visigothic Conversion to Catholicism, in Romanobarbarica, XIV
(1996-1997), pp. 289-306 (in particular pp. 291-292, n. 5); EAD., Hispania y Bizancio cit. (note 3), pp.
294-295.
111

150

DANIELE MOROSSI

second half of 582 and left the Iberian Peninsula in 589/590 117. P. Goubert,
on the other hand, thinks that Comentiolus left Persia for Spain during the
seventh indiction (588/89) and that, after repairing the walls of Cartagena in
589/90, he kept governing the Byzantine possessions for quite a long time (at
least until 598) and deposed the Bishop of Malaga between 595 and 599 118.
Martindale writes that Comentiolus (sic) was in Spain only during the year
589 119, but he does not give any possible date for Comitiolus presence in
that area 120. According to F.J. Presedo Velo, the Byzantine official initially
stayed in Spain until 589, but if he actually came back later then he deposed
the bishops in his second term as governor 121. Vallejo Girvs thinks that
Comentiolus-Comitiolus only stayed in the Iberian Peninsula for a brief
period, between 587 and 589 122.
Personally, I think that Komentiolos, Comenciolus and Comitiolus can
be identified with only one person; so I agree with Goubert, Orlandis and
Vallejo Girvs.
This theory is given credit by the news that Comitiolus had deposed a
bishop from the Byzantine territories in Spain and that he was probably dead
by August 603. It is, therefore, extremely likely that Comitiolus was an
imperial officer and it is possible to identify him with Komentiolos, as the
latter had been killed one year earlier, in 602, during Phocas coup dtat.
Other elements give credit to the theory that Comenciolus and Komentiolos
could be the same person. Since Byzantine sources provide no information
about Komentiolos between 587 and late 589, nor from early 591 to late
March 598, nor between the summer of 600 and late 602, it is likely that he
was actually sent to Spain during one of these intervals. Such a theory is
corroborated by the fact that the inscription which attests the rebuilding of
the fortifications in Cartagena was carved between September 589 and
August 590. It is, therefore, highly likely that Comenciolus commissioned
this construction at the end of his mandate in Spain, i.e. during the spring or
summer of 589. Since during these months Komentiolos presence in other
117

GRRES, Die byzantinischen Besitzungen cit. (note 3), p. 537.


GOUBERT, LAdministration de lEspagne Byzantine cit. (note 53), pp. 135-138; GOUBERT,
Administration de lEspagne Byzantine cit. (note 10), p. 77. In the latter article, though, Goubert writes
that Comentiolus was called back to the East around 598.
119
MARTINDALE, The Prosopography cit. (note 70), Comentiolus 1, p. 323.
120
Ibid., Comitiolus 2, p. 329.
121
PRESEDO VELO, La Espaa bizantina cit. (note 4), pp. 76-77.
122
Stated in her latest work, VALLEJO GIRVS, Hispania y Bizancio cit. (note 3), p. 296.
118

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

151

areas of the empire is not attested by any Greek sources, it is highly probable
that actually he and Comenciolus were the same person.
If both of these assumptions are true then by the same token we can
equally assume that Comenciolus and Comitiolus were also the same man,
whom I will call Comentiolus.
Were this hypothesis true then Comentiolus governed Spain between no
earlier than 587 and 589 (when he commissioned the rebuilding of the
fortifications of Cartagena), and when he deposed the two bishops.
However, it is difficult to find out when these depositions took place, as
Gregorys letters to Iohannes, the only source which testifies these events,
provide no information about it other than setting year 603 as ante quem.
M. Vallejo Girvs assumes that this act (such as the rebuilding of the
fortifications) took place no later than 589. She also states that probably
Pope Gregory had already sent a legate to Malaga in 592 or a few years later
with the task of managing the delicate situation the city was facing after the
deposition of its bishop 123. King Reccared, in fact, mentions a priest the
pontiff had sent to Malaga in a letter he sent to Gregory the Great between
596 and 599 124.
However, I think that this dating should not be taken for granted,
especially considering that, according to Vallejo Girvs theory, Gregorys
letter to Iohannes would have been written at least fourteen years after the
deposition of the bishops. My opinion is that it is highly unlikely that such a
great span occurred between these events.
In 1991 M. Vallejo Girvs herself stated that Comitiolus had probably
sentenced the deposition of Ianuarius and Stephanus later. The historian
noted that Iohannes was sent to Spain after Ianuarius appealed to the pope
with a procedure which was to be followed if the metropolitan of that See
was absent. Since Licinian, bishop of Cartagena and probably the metropolitan
of that region, died in Constantinople in exile and his final letter was written
in 595 (when he was still in Spain), the two bishops were deposed later than
595. In addition to this, since the scholar identified Comitiolus with Komentiolos
123

Ibid., pp. 296-298.


Gregorii I Papae Registrum Epistolarum. Libri VIII-XIV, ed. L. M. HARTMANN, Berolini, 1899
(M.G.H., Epp. 2), Ep. IX.227a, p. 221. However, I think it is possible that the priest mentioned by
Reccared was Probinus, a presbyter who acted as Pope Gregorys intermediary in Spain in 595 and in
599 (cfr. Gregorio Magno, Lettere, II cit. note 35, Ep. V.53, pp. 240-241; Gregorio Magno, Lettere
(XI-XIV, Appendici), IX.229, pp. 494-495), and who probably had the same role at the time the letter was
written.
124

152

DANIELE MOROSSI

and the latter was fighting the Avars in the year 600, then the depositions
took place between 595 and 600 125.
Unfortunately, I think this hypothesis has a flaw, as Vallejo Girvs
assumes that the Bishop of Malagas appeal took place immediately after his
deposition, while it is possible that Ianuarius had already previously asked
for help from his metropolitan in order to be restored and only later appealed,
as his last resort, to the pope. In addition to this, I have already mentioned the
fact that Comentiolus started his second military campaign against the Avars
in 598, and not in 600, as the Spanish historian wrote in her article.
This problem could be solved if the year of Ianuarius anointment as the
Bishop of Malaga were known. Since Gregorys letters are the only sources
about this prelate, it is not possible to identify this date.
Finding out when his predecessor Severus died, though, would give a post
quem of Ianuarius deposition. Contemporary sources do not provide much
help, though, as the only author providing some information about Severus
life is Isidore of Seville. One of the chapters of his De viris illustribus is a brief
biography of this bishop of Malaga, who floruit under Emperor Maurices
reign (582-602) and quo etiam regnante vitam finivit 126. Therefore, this
source is not extremely useful, since it only excludes the possibility that
Severus might have died before the second half of the 580s.
It appears as if modern works provide more information about Severus.
According to both P.B. Gams and the Biographical Index of the Middle Ages
Severus died in 601 127. However, I think that in both of these works the year of
Severus death is taken from a statement by Enrique Florez, who wrote that,
according to what Isidore wrote about Severus, the latter probably died in 601 128.
Unfortunately, this is a mere assumption and it cannot be considered a reliable
piece of information.
It is, therefore, possible to date Severus death (and, consequently, the beginning of Ianuarius bishopric) only not earlier than 585 and certainly not later
than 602.
125

M. VALLEJO GIRVS, Bizancio ante la conversin de los visigodos: Los obispos Jenaro y Esteban, in
Concilio III de Toledo. XIV Centenario 589-1989, Toledo, 1991, pp. 477-483 (in particular pp. 478-480).
126
Sancti Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi De viris illustribus liber, in P.L., LXXXIII, chap. 43, col. 1105.
127
P. B. GAMS, Die Kirchengeschichte von Spanien, II.1, Regensburg, 1864, p. 419; ID., Series
Episcoporum Ecclesiae Catholicae, Regensburg, 1873 (republished Graz, 1957), p. 49; B. WISPELWEY
(ed.), Biographical Index of the Middle Ages, II, Mnchen, 2008, p. 1013. On the other hand, the
introduction of Severi Episcopi <Malacitani (?)> in Evangelia Libri XII, ed. O. ZWIERLEIN, Mnchen,
1994, pp. 7-37 gives no dating of Severus death.
128
E. FLOREZ, Espaa Sagrada. Theatro geographico-historico de la Iglesia de Espaa, XII, Madrid,
1754, p. 307.

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

153

Even though I am not able to solve this chronological problem, I believe


that Comentiolus probably served as a governor in Spain for two different
terms: first between 587 and 589 (when he commissioned the rebuilding of
the fortifications of Cartagena), then- when he deposed Ianuarius and
Stephanus- either sometime between 591 and 598 or sometime between 600
and 602.
In addition to the point M. Vallejo Girvs mentioned in her article about
the deposition of the bishops 129, I think there might be another reason which
makes it seem likelier that he returned to Spain between 591 and 598.
Comentiolus, in fact, might have been sent there after falling out of favour
with Khosrau II (and, consequently, with Maurice). As M. Vallejo Girvs
wrote in another work, Spain had more than once been a destination of
exiled Byzantines due to its remoteness from the centre of the empire 130. In
this case, Comentiolus, though not an exile, might have been sent there in
order to keep him as far as possible from the Persian border.
In any case, I would not exclude that Comentiolus might have been to
Spain between 600 and 602. In fact, his first tenure in the West did not last
very long either (less than three years). In addition to this, Theophylact
Simocatta writes that in 600 Comentiolus was proclaimed a strathgv 131.
However, since it looks as though the Thracian commander did not fight
again in the East until late 602, his office might have actually been the one as
magister militum Spaniae.
If this theory is correct then the Thracian commander was sent to the
West in 600 or slightly later and then called back to Constantinople soon
after Phocas rebellion in order to help Maurice try to crush it.

CAESARIUS
After a gap of about fifteen years in the documentation about the
presence of any imperial officer in the Iberian Peninsula, a series of letters
informs us that a Byzantine patrician named Caesarius was active in Spain
around 615 and that he was able to negotiate peace successfully with
Sisebut, King of the Visigoths.
129

VALLEJO GIRVS, Bizancio ante la conversin cit. (note 125), pp. 478-480.
VALLEJO GIRVS, El exilio bizantino cit. (note 67).
131
Theophylacti Simocattae Historiarum Libri Octo, VIII, chap. 4, pp. 320-321.
130

154

DANIELE MOROSSI

Caesarius was the one who started the talks through a very pompous
letter he wrote to the Gothic monarch. He promised Sisebut to intercede on
his behalf with the emperor, Heraclius, if only the king would agree to sign a
peace treaty with the Byzantines. The patrician also reminded Sisebut he had
already shown his own good will to help end the conflict by releasing
Cicilius, a Visigothic bishop who had been captured by the imperial army 132.
Sisebut commissioned a certain Ansemund to act as an intermediary
between the armies and thanked Caesarius for sending him a bow as a gift 133.
The patrician sent a legation to the emperor in Constantinople and, after
the emissaries came back, he wrote another letter to the king 134. Caesarius
sent two legati to Sisebut to give him first-hand information about the
agreements that had been reached in Constantinople 135.
Even though Caesarius was undoubtedly in Spain, where he had an
important role within the Byzantine administration, it is not clear which
office he actually held: was he just a magister militum Spaniae or one of the
exarchs of Africa?
H. Gelzer first raised this problem 136; later, F. Grres 137, J.R. Martindale 138
and M. Vallejo Girvs 139 wrote that Caesarius only governed Spain, while P.
Goubert 140, K.F. Stroheker 141, D. Claude 142 and F.J. Presedo Velo 143 did not
take any position over this dispute. Even Ch. Diehl, who put Caesarius in his
list of the African exarchs, expressed his doubts by having the patricians
name followed by a question mark 144.
As these letters provide the only surviving data about Caesarius, it is
difficult to find a solution to his role within the Byzantine administration.
132

Epistolae Wisigoticae, ed. W. GUNDLACH, Berolini, 1892 (M.G.H., Epp. 3), ep. 3, pp. 663-664.
Ibid., ep. 4, pp. 664-666.
134
Ibid., ep. 5, pp. 666-667.
135
Ibid., ep. 6, pp. 667-668.
136
Georgii Cyprii Descriptio orbis romani, p. XLII.
137
GRRES, Die byzantinischen Besitzungen cit. (note 3), pp. 535-536.
138
MARTINDALE, The Prosopography cit. (note 70), Caesarius 2, pp. 258-259.
139
VALLEJO GIRVS, Hispania y Bizancio cit. (note 3), pp. 351-354.
140
GOUBERT, LAdministration de lEspagne Byzantine cit. (note 53), pp. 141-143.
141
Who just writes that Caesarius was a Statthalter; cfr. Stroheker 1965, p. 222.
142
D. CLAUDE, Die diplomatischen Beziehungen zwischen dem Westgotenreich und Ostrom (475-615),
in Mitteilungen des Instituts fr sterreichische Geschichtsforschung, CIV (1996), pp. 13-25 (in
particular pp. 21-22).
143
PRESEDO VELO, La Espaa bizantina cit. (note 4), p. 82.
144
Ch. DIEHL, LAfrique byzantine. Histoire de la domination byzantine en Afrique (533-709), Paris,
1896 (republished New York, 1959), p. 597.
133

THE GOVERNORS OF BYZANTINE SPAIN

155

Even though the most interesting study on this topic, M. Vallejo Girvs
linguistic analysis of the titles Sisebut attributes to the patrician, has not led
to significant results 145, I think that logic can help solve this problem. I feel
that the lack of other documents referring to Caesarius seems easier to
explain if the office he actually held was not as high as the exarchate. It is
much likelier that the patrician only governed Spain. Despite the soundness
of the counterargument that in normal circumstances a simple magister
militum would not normally start peace talks with an enemy king, I think that
exceptionally Caesarius could have done that not only because of the
remoteness of the Spanish province within the empire, but also considering
the difficulties Heraclius was facing in the East against the Sasanians 146.

THE ANONYMOUS PATRICIANS


Caesarius is the last named Byzantine official who stayed in continental
Spain, but probably not the last one overall. According to a late source, in
fact, when the Visigothic king Suintila conquered the last remaining imperial
possessions in Spain, he also captured two patricians.
Suintila took the last remaining Byzantine possessions in 624 or 625 147.
While Isidore of Seville, who was an exact contemporary, writes nothing
about any Roman governor the king might have faced, according to a late
ninth century source, the Crnica Albeldense, Suintila did capture duos
patricios romanos 148.
I am rather sceptical that Heraclius could actually manage to keep two
generals and/or governors (the title of patrician was exclusively given to
people of high social rank who could only hold such offices in an extremely
peripheral province) in Spain simultaneously with the beginning of his
counter-offensive against the Persians 149. However, since the emperor could
145

VALLEJO GIRVS, Hispania y Bizancio cit. (note 3), pp. 352-353.


Cfr. Ostrogorsky, Storia dellimpero bizantino cit. (note 4), p. 87.
147
Both of Isidore of Sevilles historiographical works end in 625, when Suinthila had just conquered
the whole Spain (cfr. Isidori Iunioris episcopi Hispalensis Historia Gothorum, chap. 62, p. 292; Isidori
Iunioris episcopi Hispalensis Chronica Maiora, ed. Th. MOMMSEN, Berolini, 1894 (M.G.H., Auct. Ant. XI),
chap. 416b, p. 480).
148
Crnica Albeldense, in Crnicas Asturianas, eds. J. G. FERN, J. L. MORALEJO & J. I. RUIZ DE LA
PEA, Oviedo, 1985, chap. 25, p. 170.
149
Cfr. Ostrogorsky, Storia dellimpero bizantino cit. (note 4), pp. 91-92.
146

156

DANIELE MOROSSI

afford to keep one governor (Caesarius) in that area during the Sasanian
advance, I think there is a slight possibility that two Byzantine patricians
could have actually been in Spain in 624/625. Yet, even if we give credit to
the Crnica Albeldense, we cannot be sure about their identity, as the
chronicle does not mention the name of either patrician. While one of them
might be Caesarius, who was in Spain only ten years earlier, it is quite
impossible to guess the name of the other patrician.

CONCLUSIONS
At the end of this analysis, I can assert that there is a high degree of
probability that only three Byzantine officials (the unknown prefect,
Comentiolus, and Caesarius) actually governed Spain, since Liberius and
Narses probably never travelled there, Comitiolus and Comenciolus could be
identified as being the same person and it is not certain that two Byzantine
patricians were really captured by Suintila.
However, I think that the presence of (at least) three governors nevertheless
shows that Justinians successors were keenly interested in keeping the
Spanish possessions of the empire strictly under direct control.
The main reason they cared so much about these lands seems to be that
the coasts were strategically necessary so that the empire could successfully
control the Western Mediterranean. In addition to this, as the Vandals had
proven in the first half of the fifth century, Spain was the ideal point of
departure for navies which meant to attack Africa from Europe. Therefore,
even though I think the Visigoths were not strong enough to initiate a successful
expedition across the Straits of Gibraltar 150, controlling the Mediterranean
coasts of the Iberian Peninsula would have been seen as the key to preventing
attacks against the prefecture (later the exarchate) centred around Carthage.
150

Even though they had conquered Septem (present-day Ceuta) during Theudis reign, the city was
nonetheless soon retaken by the Byzantines; cfr. Isidori Iunioris episcopi Hispalensis Historia Gothorum,
chap. 42, p. 284.