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O’ROURKE: LAST EMPEROR TO VISIT ROME

“WHO WAS THE LAST REIGNING ROMAN EMPEROR TO


VISIT ROME?”

Answer: Constans II, in AD 663.

by Michael O’Rourke
Canberra Australia
May 2011

Before we come to Constans II and Rome, let us examine the


Mediterranean world as it was in AD 663.

The Restored Roman Empire

Under Emperor Justinian I, AD 527-565, the ‘East Roman’ or “Byzantine”


Empire [in Greek: Basileia Rhomaion] had reasserted control from the East
‘back’ over much of the western Mediterranean world. Roman armies
returned to conquer the Vandal kingdom of North Africa, and the Goths
were removed from power in Italy.
The following century, 565 to 664, however, saw many reverses for the
restored Roman Empire, caused in part by recurring waves of plague.

The Lombards

In Italy, beginning in 568, the Empire was slowly pushed out by the
Lombards. Originally a Germanic-speaking people, by 650 the Lombards
were ceasing to speak the Lombardic language and slowly becoming a
monolingual Romance (‘Late-Latin’-speaking) people. The main distinction
from their indigenous subjects was cultural rather than linguistic: the
Lombards in Italy lived under a code of Germanic law, while the Romano-
Italians lived (like the Byzantines) under classical Roman law.
The Lombard king ruled from Pavia near Milan, while the Byzantine
governor or Exarch of Italy had his seat at Ravenna on the NE coast. The
border lay in the Modena region, with Bologna a Byzantine stronghold. In
addition there were separate Lombard “duchies” at (1) Spoleto in the
north-central sector, NE of Byzantine Rome, and (2) Benevento in the
south-central sector, inland from Byzantine Naples. Puglia was contested
between the Beneventan Lombards and the Empire, while lower Calabria
and all of Sicily were firmly in imperial hands.
The 650s saw the Lombard monarchy switch from Arian to Catholic
(Trinitarian) Christianity. For Arians God the Son was created by and is
junior to God the Father, and so Mary is not the Mother of God, only of
Jesus. The last Arian king was Rothari, 636-652; and Aripert, 653-661, the
first Catholic king. The political significance of this was that after 653 the
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Catholic Byzantines could no longer call on the Catholic loyalties of their


Romano-Italian subjects to rally against the Lombards.

The Slavs

In Greece too, ‘barbarian’ invasion and settlement, in this case by many


independent ‘pagan’ Slavic tribes, meant that little more than the eastern
littoral remained governed by the Empire. Indeed there were Slavs in
control even of parts of the Aegean coast, notably between Thessaloniki
(to give it its modern name) and the Byzantine capital, Constantinople.

The Arabs

In the East, an altogether more dangerous foe, the Muslim Arabs, had
irrupted out of Arabia to conquer much of the Levant and Persia. By 650
they ruled from SE Asia Minor (Cilicia) and Syria, through Palestine and
Egypt, as far west as our western Libya and lower Tunisia (Byzantine
Tripoli fell in 643).
In 658, as internal strife among the Arabs relieved the pressure on the
eastern front, emperor Constans II, 641-668, undertook a one-off
expedition into “the Sklaviniai”, the regions of the Slavs. There -
according to the chronicler Theophanes - he defeated many tribes and
took many prisoners. This may have taken place in the sector between
Constantinople and Thessalonica, or in outer Thrace (our lower Bulgaria),
or both. But imperial rule was not reasserted. It was all the emperor could
do to hold what he had.

The Emperor

‘Constans’ was a diminutive for Constantine, his official reign name; he


had been baptised Herakleios/Heraclius. The Lombard chronicler Paulus
Diaconus, writing in the later 700s, refers to him as Constantinus
Augustus, qui et Constans est appellatus: “the Augustus [emperor]
Constantine who is also called Constans”. The nickname established itself
in Byzantine texts, and has become standard in modern historiography.
He was aged just 11 when he assumed the throne, and so just 32 years
old in 662 when he set out the western journey that we describe in this
paper.
His other nickname was Pogonatus (‘The Bearded’), after the massive
beard he had grown by about 655. In the sixth century the emperors had
been clean-shaven in the manner of Alexander the Great and Julius
Caesar. Constans, imitating his famous grandfather, Heraclius (died 641),
helped to fix a fashion for beards that would endure until the end of the
empire. Now too the emperors were native Greek-speakers, the last Latin-
speaker having been Justin II, 565-578 (Cameron et al. 2001: 95). The
Emperor Maurice, 582-602, as if to show an intermediate style, was clean-
shaven but a Greek-speaker.

The ‘Themes’
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Beginning in the 650s, Constans and his officials set up a system, initially
in Asia Minor, whereby each province or super-province was allocated a
standing army. Or rather, each region supported a semi-professional
army, because the soldiers were also part-time farmers (or in the upland
interior, ranchers). By giving its soldiers grants of land, the government
was able to greatly reduce their salaries and hence to lower, or to
stabilise, the amount of tax collected. Moreover the soldiers could easily
understand what they were fighting for. This re-organisation is Constans’
main claim to fame.
The provinces and their armies were called ‘Themes’ (Gk themata,
“emplacements”). The first four themes were the Armeniac in NE Asia
Minor, the Anatolic in central Asia Minor, the Thrakesion in west Asia Minor
including the Aegean coast, and the Opsikion: nearest to Constantinople,
namely in inner Thrace and NW Asia Minor. Tredgold 1995: 72-74 offers
estimates of their original strengths in the later 600s as follows: Opsikion
34,000 men; Anatolic 18,000; Armeniac 14,000; and Thrakesion 8,000.
The number of troops in peninsular Italy, Sicily and N Africa is not known,
but one might hazard 10,000 and 2,000 and 5,000 men respectively. The
overall total of soldiers and marines around AD 660 was some 130,0000
men (Treadgold 1995: 162).

The Army

The Byzantine army was distinguished by its sophisticated use of


‘combined arms’: infantry fighting in concert with cavalry, and missile fire
coordinated with shock charges.
The key weapons used by Byzantine soldiers were the long pike (Gk
kontos, kontarion) and the composite bow. The cavalry pike, around 4.4
metres or 14 feet 5 inches long, was used for thrusting and poking
(Dawson 2007: 9). The bow was the composite recurve ‘Hunnic’ bow, in its
smaller form capable of killing at about 80 metres when shot by a horse-
archer. The larger infantry bow could kill at perhaps 200 metres (McGeer,
pp.68, 207). Byzantine troops used a long (85-95 cm) slashing sword
called a spathion, and slings and maces as well.
Byzantine cavalry units were mixed bodies made up of both pike-men
and horse-archers. The typical armour was a corselet of mail. Stirrups had
been recently introduced—in about AD 590—and (except for the steppes
people north of the lower Danube) we would expect to see only Byzantine
troops using them in this period. There were both heavy and light infantry
types: spearmen carrying spears [according to Dawson, around 2.5
metres in length - eight feet two inches], and wearing mail armour, and
unarmoured foot-archers, slingers and/or javelin-men.

Tactics were varied and could be complex, but, to simplify, the main
principles were as follows (for a full discussion see Dennis 2001). Light
cavalry - javelinists and horse-archers - would harass the enemy while the
heavier cavalry stood off as a threat against a counter charge. Or the
heavy cavalry would go forward to attack the enemy formations, aiming

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to pin them down, and so allow the light cavalry to advance via the flanks
to the enemy’s rear. The infantry archers provided the offensive power
among the East Roman infantry, with the infantry spearmen generally
serving as a defensive force. The archers would typically fire from behind
the protection of a shield-wall formed by the front ranks of spearmen.

The Navy

At sea the navies of the Muslim Caliphate and the Christian Empire
contended for dominance in the eastern Mediterranean. The Arabs of
course were not a sea-going people. They were able, however, to borrow
from the maritime traditions of the Levantine people they had conquered,
including the Lebanese and Syrians, descendants of the Phoenicians, and
the Greco-Egyptians of Alexandria. The key bases were at Tyre, Lebanese
Tripoli, Acre in Palestine and Alexandria in Egypt. On the opposing side,
the Byzantine navy had bases in the lower Aegean (Samos, Kos and
Rhodes) and in southwest Asia Minor. The seat of the senior Byzantine
naval commander [strategia ton karabon*, ‘command of the ships’] was
probably at Samos (Treadgold 1995: 73 and 1997: 935, citing Charanis).
The Karabisianoi* (Greek for “ship-men”: marines) are first mentioned in
the 680s, but a permanent fleet probably existed from about 656 (created
following a heavy loss at sea to the Muslims in 655 in which Constans
almost lost his life: see Cosentino 2008).

(*) In medieval Greek the letter beta (b) was pronounced as we


pronounce v, so “Karavisianoi”. Basileus = “vassilefs”, etc.

There were some 19,000 oarsmen and 4,000 marines in all (Treadgold
1995: 75). The largest known crew of a dromon (literally “runner”: war-
galley) is 230 oarsmen and 70 marines; but this type was probably rare
in the seventh century. An ordinary crew numbered 108 oarsmen (bireme
galleys: 4 x 27 oars). There were also smaller monoreme types (galaia)
with 2 x 25 oars. Thus 19,000 oarsmen were enough to man as many as
21 large types, 88 medium types and 95 small types, for a total of, say,
204 vessels. Alternatively, if we calculate using 30 marines per ship (a
figure known from a later period), we obtain 133 dromons as the core of
the fleet (133 x 108 = 14,364 oarsmen: leaving fewer than 5,000 for the
large and small types).

The Journey to the West

The purpose of Constans’ visit to the West, according to Treadgold (1995:


25 and 1997: 318), was to create Themes there and if possible to defeat
the Lombards and Arabs (the latter were encroaching on Byzantine
Tunisia: Libyan Tripoli had been taken by the Arabs in 643). Cyril Mango,
Oxford History p.133 concurs, saying the emperor wanted to stop the slide
of Byzantine Africa and Italy to independence and to distribute land grants
to the soldiers there. Louth in NCMH p.300 sees the move to the West as
transferring the court nearer to the centre of the beleaguered empire and
to create a base in Sicily for the reconquest of the lost regions of
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peninsular Italy. Richards 1979: 194 imagines Constans’ aims were more
modest and negative: just to prevent further losses in the West.

With troops drawn from the Opsikion army and (probably) the Anatolikon
theme (thema)—possibly 20,000* men in all—Constans II proceeded from
Constantinople to Greece and thence to Italy. The emperor was aged 32.

(*) At Naples in 663 Constans had under him at least 20,000 armed
men and perhaps as many as 30,000: see below. It is possible that
the figure of 20,000 included originally unarmed rowers (naval
oarsmen) who had been issued with weapons once they arrived in
Italy. If so, then the number of specialist land-soldiers may have been
as few as 6-7,000.
(Cf Belisarius’s maritime expedition of AD 533, which took place in
a much more prosperous age: 30- or 32,000 rowers plus some 18- or
19,000 fighting men: about 50,000 men in all. –Treadgold 1995: 90
and 1997: 183. Or the 11- or 12,000 men Henry V of England took
across the English channel, ahead of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415:
Curry pp.76-78).
It would seem less likely that the emperor left Greece with such a
large number as 20,000 fighting men. And we may imagine that once
he reached Italy, a few local Greco-Italian (imperial) troops would
have joined him (cf Brown 1984: 84).
Treadgold, 1997: 319, quite reasonably guesses that Constans
would have collected some Carabisian marines in Greece. So the
numbers sailing to Italy may have been made up something like this:
500 Carabisians, 2,000 Opsikians and 5,000 troops from other
themes including the Anatolics. We then add some 12,500+ armed
oarsmen and Italian militiamen to reach the “20,000+” that he
commanded at Naples. —This is of course no better an educated
guess.

Andrew Ekonomou says that elements of the expeditionary force were


drawn from all four themes: the Armeniakon, Anatolikon, Thrakesion and
Opsikion (Ekonomou 2007: 169; also 210, 213). (There is partial indirect
evidence for this: the father of Pope Conon, born ca. 630, r.686-87, was an
officer of the Thrakesion who presumably came to Sicily with Constans in
663: Lib. Pont., trans Davis p.83; Ekonomou p.210.) On the other hand,
Treadgold, 1997: 316 (no source referenced) says that the Armeniakon
army stayed in the East, as indeed one might expect given the threat
there (the first Muslim civil war having just ended).
The army commander who accompanied the emperor was an ethnic
Armenian named Mizizius or Mezezius, Mzhezh in Armenian. He is
variously called comes Obsequium or count [commander] of the Opsikion
and commander of the Anatolikon (Gellatin 1972: 175; Pertusi, cited by
Haldon, Praetorians p.450).
Although “20,000”—if that truly was the number of troops who
departed with Constans—was a very substantial force by the standards of
the 7th century, it was not quite “the bulk” of the Eastern army as Angold

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2001: 47 imagines. The Opsicians and the Anatolics did indeed, at that
time, make up the bulk of the Eastern troops (Treadgold, Army p.74), but,
logistics aside, the emperor can hardly have taken all of them (52,000) as
the Arabs were constantly making incursions into Asia Minor.
Some scholars propose that they sailed (661/62) from Constantinople
to Thessalonica, bypassing Slav-controlled territory, while others (relying
on the Liber Pontificalis: see reference below to Michael McCormick’s
book) suggest that the army marched overland to Macedonia. Treadgold
believes that they sailed (were rowed): “not bothering to clear the land
route from Constantinople of Slavs” (1997, Ch 9).
All agree that the emperor next led his men overland from
Thessalonica south to Athens and Corinth, and spent the winter of 662-63
in Athens, as recorded in the Liber Pontificalis and Paul the Deacon (cited
by Cordi 1983: 111).
The Liber Pontificalis says that the army travelled along the shore to
reach Athens (“venit … de regia urbe per litoraria in Athenas”: ‘came from
the royal city by the coastal parts to Athens’). Also in Paulus Diaconus:
“Constantinopolym egressus, per littora (”through the shores”) iter
habens Athenas venit”. This phraseology does not rule out ship transport,
as galleys always hugged the coast, but I think McCormick, 2001: 220,
rightly interprets this as overland travel, all the way from Constantinople,
through Thessalonica to Athens. One imagines that, as a large army, they
just ignored the Slavs, having no need to clear them from their route.
McCormick also proposes - I believe wrongly - that the statement
means that already the ancient highway, the Via Egnatia, which ran
initially from Constantinople to Thessalonica, had been eclipsed, i.e by a
land route nearer the shore. This is difficult to follow. The Via Egnatia from
Constantinople to Thessalonica (whence it turns west, inland) runs near
enough to the coast of Thrace. And the coast would have been followed
also, for the most part, through Macedonia and Thessaly, from
Thessalonica to Athens; - after all, the usual route south from
Thessalonica today, as in ancient times, is mostly coastal.
The sojourn at Athens shows that not all of Greece had fallen to the
Slavs. His longish stay in Greece may indicate that Constans II’s primary
concern was the reconfirmation of Byzantine authority in the areas he
visited and the subjugation - but not the expulsion - of the local Slavs.
Alternatively the long stay may simply reflect the fact that in the age of
the galley navigation during winter was almost always avoided.
There is archaeological confirmation of the stay in coin finds. The
troops accompanying the emperor left behind a relatively large number of
half-folles [bronze coins: worth 1/840th of a gold coin], all minted in a
single year (659/60), whereas, with just one exception (Catalogue no. 38),
this denomination is not known from anywhere else in the Balkans. The
evidence suggests that in Greece or at least in Athens, small change was
suddenly put into circulation on the eve of the Italian campaign. The coins
seem to cluster along the axis of the Panathenaic Way—the ancient street
running NW-SE past the Agora to the Acropolis—which may indicate the
existence of a “military or paramilitary encampment” on or near the
Areopagus [the hill S of the Agora, W of the Acropolis]. —thus Curta

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2005b.
Ekonomou, p.169, has proposed that the maritime theme of Hellas, or
theme “of the Helladikoi”, our east or SE Greece, was “probably” formed
by Constans at this time, meaning the stationing there of an officer of the
rank of strategos with a separate command. (Unlike land soldiers, marines
seem not to have received land grants from the state.) This is a minority
view. Hellas is first mentioned as a theme in 695, and most scholars think
it was not formed until 687 or 689. If so, then in 662 Athens would have
been an area of responsibility for the strategos of the Carabisians but with
no marines or oarsmen as yet permanently based there (cf Fine 1991: 71;
Treadgold 1995: 26, 72).

The following year, 663, probably having added some of the Carabisian
marines to his army, Constans sailed (rowed), says Paul the Deacon,
“from Athens”. This probably meant from Corinth, or perhaps from Patras,
out through the Gulf of Corinth and across the mouth of the Adriatic to
Taranto (Treadgold 1997: 319; Haldon, Transformation p.60). There his
forces began to attack the Lombards in the duchy of Benevento, under
Grimuald’s son Romuald. King Grimuald himself was in the north, perhaps
because he expected Constans to arrive at Ravenna (Ekonomou p.170).
Evidence for Constans’ activity in Italy is meagre, and limited
substantially to Paul the Deacon and the Life of Pope Vitalian (657–672)
preserved in the Liber Pontificalis. Curiously, neither Greek, nor Syriac, nor
Arabic writers speak about this episode. Theophanes, the major Greek
source for this period, says simply that Constans ‘moved to Sicilian
Syracuse’, without relating any details.

Above: The Via Appia divides at Benevento: the Via Appia


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Traiana is the top route, the older Via Appia proper is the lower
leg from Benevento.

As it appears, Constans led his army northwards into N Puglia (Apulia) and
thence back again to S Puglia. The sources are limited, but it seems that
the Byzantines assaulted Lombard-ruled Bari and reconquered it (Burman
1991: 109). Ekonomou, 2007: 170, guesses, no doubt rightly, that the
Byzantines went first of all up the Via Traiana from Bari. In the north, they
destroyed Lucera, NE of today’s Foggia. They took Bovino too, south of
Foggia; most of its ancient Roman works were destroyed in the assault.
The Lombards of Sipontum, near modern Manfredonia, attributed a
victory on 8 May 663 over the Byzantines to the dramatic intercession of
St Michael, whose shrine was at Monte Gargano (inland north of
Manfredonia). The archangel is said to have appeared with flaming sword
atop the mountain in the midst of a storm on the eve of the battle.
Evidently this refers not to a local event but to the battle of Forino, which
was actually fought on the other side of the peninsula, on the road from
Benevento to Naples (Holweck, 1911; see below for the battle).

King Grimoald, himself lately dux of Benevento, had given the rule of
Benevento to his son Romuald in 662 when he (Grimoald) made himself
king of (all) the Lombards. Paul the Deacon says that Constans “took by
storm Luceria [Lucera], a rich city of Apulia, destroyed it and levelled it to
the ground. Agerentia [our Acerenza: in the central-south], however, he
could not at all take on account of the highly fortified position of the place.
Thereupon he surrounded Beneventum with all his army and began to
reduce it energetically”. War-machines were deployed.
Thus the Lombard chronicler Paulus, v.7: “Beneventanorum fines
invasit omnesque pene per quas venerat Langobardorum civitates cepit.
Luceriam quoque, opulentam Apuliae civitatem, expugnatam fortius
invadens diruit, ad solum usque prostravit. Agerentia sane propter
munitissimam loci positionem capere minime potuit.” - ‘He invaded the
lands of the Beneventans and those (?) through which he had come [i.e. in
Puglia, MO’R] he takes all the towns of the Lombards. [First phase:]
Lucera likewise, a wealthy city of [north] Apulia, is strongly assaulted,
(and) he takes and demolishes (has razed) it, laying it low (pulling it
completely to the ground, ad solum). [Second phase:] Acerenza, however,
on account of its fortifications and the position of the place, he is
insufficiently (minime) able to capture.’ –My translation, MO’R.

After some time, having returned to S Puglia, Constans led his army into
the interior along, or across to, the Via Appia proper, beginning a second
phase. (See map above.) The first inland town or fortress-village to be
attacked during this second phase seems to have been Acerenza; it lies
on the Via Appia west of Gravina-in-Puglia. The Byzantines then continued
NW to Benevento itself, where Romuald awaited their attack.
During the advance the Byzantine army destroyed Aeclanum, which is
modern Mirabella Eclano, a town on the Appian Way, on the SE approach
to Benevento; it survived thereafter in much reduced form as a poor

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village: called Quintodecimo because it was 15 Roman miles from


Benevento (Cordi 1983: 130). Presumably Aecalamun was destroyed to
prevent its serving as a refuge for any Lombards escaping from
Benevento in that direction along the Via Appia proper.
The main fortress-town of Benevento itself held out, and Constans
preferred to strike a truce with Romuald, or perhaps the latter offered a
treaty to buy time. Evidently the duke did not know until the last moment
that reinforcements from the north under his father were quite close. This
may explain why Romuald betrothed his sister Gisa or Gysa to the
emperor; or more likely gave her as a hostage*: she died a little later in
Sicily. Romuald's vigorous defence of the town was failing when his father
Grimuald, or some of the latter’s troops, showed up and forced the
Byzantine menace to depart.

(*) Ekonomou loc.cit. Cf Paulus, v.8: “Acceptaque obside Romualdi


sororem, cui nomen Gisa fuit, cum eodem pacem fecit.” - ‘And
pleased with the pledge of [or: it having been accepted] the sister of
Romuald, whose name was Gisa, he [Constans] makes peace with
them’. Latin obside: ‘as lesser hostage; with the pledge of; for
security’.

St Barbatus, ca. 602/612-683: It is claimed that in AD 663, when the


Byzantines were besieging Benevento, Barbatus correctly predicted that
the assault would fail.
Sent to Benevento as a missionary, Barbatus had made many converts
among the still largely ‘pagan’ population of the interior. The people of
Benevento itself also indulged in many idolatrous behaviours, including
veneration of a golden viper and a local tree, and also held games to
which Barbatus strongly objected. “They expressed a religious veneration
to a golden viper, and prostrated themselves before it: they paid also a
superstitious honour to a tree, on which they hung the skin [or carcass] of
a wild beast, and these ceremonies were closed by public games, in which
the skin served for a mark at which bowmen shot arrows [or threw
javelins] over their shoulder” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints):

“Not far from the city walls of Benevento, as a festival, they


worshipped a holy tree, in which they hung a piece of animal flesh
[sic: corium, ‘skin, leather, hide’]. All who were present, turning their
backs to the tree, rode quickly, bloodying their horses with spurs, so
that each could go in advance of the others. While riding, they cast
spears backwards (retroversis manibus corium iaculabant: ‘they
shot backwards at’*), and they superstitiously took a small piece of
the flesh hit by their spears (iaculato) to eat. Because they made
their foolish votive offerings there, they named the place Votum
[Latin ‘dedicated, consecrated’], after their practice, and it still
retains the name (Anon., Vita Barbati Episcopi Beneventani, c. 900
AD?). (* Jaculare means ‘to shoot at, cast, hurl, throw (a javelin)’;
but can also be used for ‘firing arrows at’.)

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The viper was probably the uraeus, the sacred viper or asp or cobra of
Isis, whose temple in Benevento was excavated in 1903. Isis and Osiris
were occasionally depicted in the amphfisbaena shape, i.e. as crowned
snakes with their tails entwined. According to some, the tree was the
Germanic sacred walnut tree of the Lombards, the Noce di Benevento,
sacred to Wotan; but also sacred to Jupiter, equivalent to Wotan, and to
Diana, who was equated with Isis (see discussion in Martin 1974).
As we have said, it is claimed that in AD 663, when the Byzantine
emperor Constans II was besieging Benevento, Barbatus correctly
predicted that the assault would fail. The people, in their fear, renounced
the practices Barbatus had criticised. He then cut down the tree the locals
had worshipped, and melted the viper into a chalice for use in the church.
After the withdrawal of the Byzantines, or as others say, during the
siege, the Beneventans elected Barbatus as their bishop: traditionally on
10 March 663. He lived to attend the Council of Constantinople in AD 680.

From Benevento, Constans’ army retired south-westwards to Naples, or at


least towards Naples. Romuald then re-took Taranto and Brindisi, much
limiting the Byzantine influence in the region. Thus Paulus, Historia
Langobardorum, v.10. But the imperialists held on to Bari until 668-69.
Paulus Diaconus mentions two battles fought between Constans’ army
and the Lombards in Campania. The first (if there were two clashes) took
place near the Calore River, an affluent of the river Volturno, and the
enemy commander was Mitola, count of Capua. Our Lombard historian
calls it a Lombard victory but more likely it was just a skirmish, as Hodgkin
(p.275) proposes. Paulus, V.9: “The emperor, fearing the sudden approach
of king Grimuald, broke up the siege of Beneventum and set out for
Neapolis (Naples). Mitola, however, the Count of Capua, forcibly defeated
his army near the river Calor (Calore), in the place which up to the
present time is called Pugna (the fight).” The Calore runs through
Benevento and away (north-west) from it before turning south-east to join
the Volturno which in turn runs down to Capua. Thus it seems highly likely
that the battle took place quite near Benevento itself. It is only a guess,
but Mitola possibly brought his troops up the western leg of the old Via
Appia, which connects Benevento more directly with Capua.
In the 1906 translation of Paulus by Foulke [1974 reprint p.222], the
translator says, quoting Waitz [the 1878 editor of Paulus], that Pugna was
actually a site on the Sabato river, the southern trubutary that joins the
Calore at Benevento. If this is correct, then the battle, or more likely
skirmish, was fought immediately south of Benevento.
The Byzantine army then made its way to Naples. Andrew Ekonomou
(p.191) has seen this, and the preceding truce or treaty, as the moment
that the Eastern Empire admitted to itself that the Lombard presence on
the Italian peninsula was permanent and irreversible.
Next (if this was a different battle), part of the army under a senior
commander called Saburrus was sent back from Naples to engage the
Lombards of Benevento. “One of his best men [optimati: nobles,
patricians, aristocrats] whose name was Saburrus [possibly a Latin
rendering of the Persian name Saborios or Shahpuhr]: unus ex eius

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optimatibus, cui nomen Saburrus erat”, offered to lead “20,000” of the


emperor's troops back inland against Romuald and defeat him. (The
Lombards it seems broke the truce and came after the Byzantines.) The
implication may be that the total force that Constans commanded was a
good deal larger than 20,000.
Saburrus took his men from Naples to Forinus where he made camp.
This is our Forino, 40 km east of Naples, inland N of Salerno, S of
Benevento. Romuald attacked him there on 8 May 663 with his own men
and some of the troops of his father Grimoald, and inflicted a crushing
defeat on Saburrus, who returned to the emperor at Naples in disgrace
and with supposedly only a few of his troops surviving: thus Paul. Diac.,
Hist. Lang. V.10; Cordi 1983:140. The figure is not credible, as Constans
would surely have abandoned his plans to set up court in Sicily and
returned to Constantinople if he really lost as many as (say) 15,000 men.
Here is the battle described by Paulus:
« [Romuald] Qui priusquam bellum cum eo iniret, a quattuor partibus
tubas [“trumpets”] insonare praecepit moxque super eos audenter
inrupit. Cumque utraeque acies [“each of the battle-lines”] forti intentione
pugnarent, tunc unus de regis exercitu nomine Amalongus, qui regium
contum [“pike, spear, pole”], quem vulgo vandum [bandum, ‘banner’]
regis dicimus, ferre erat solitus [“was in the habit of”], quendam Greculum
eodem conto utrisque manibus fortiter percutiens, de sella super quam
equitabat sustulit eumque in aera super caput suum levavit. Quod
cernens [“distinguished, picked”] Grecorum exercitus, mox inmenso
pavore perterritus in fugam convertitur, ultimaque pernicie caesus, sibi
fugiens mortem, Romualdo et Langobardis victoriam peperit. Ita Saburrus,
qui se imperatori suo [“for his emperor”] victoriae tropaeum de
Langobardis promiserat patrare, ad eum cum paucis remeans,
ignominiam deportavit; Romuald vero, patrata de inimicis victoria,
Beneventum triumphans reversus est patrique gaudium et cunctis
securitatem, sublato hostium timore, convexit » (Paulus, Hist. Lang. V.36).
In English: “[Romuald], before entering battle with him [Saburrus],
ordered bugles [tubas, ‘trumpets’] to be sounded from four sides and then
quickly and fearlessly charged the enemy. While both sides [utrae acies,
each of the battle-lines] were fighting with great purpose, one of the
king’s army, a man called Amalongus*, who was in the habit of carrying
the contus [lance: Gk kontos] of the king which we generally (vulgo) call
the king’s bandum (banner) [ = he was the king’s standard-bearer], used
it with two hands to strike with force and lift a ‘Greekling’ [Greculus] from
the saddle on which he rode, raising him into the air over his head. Having
seen this, the distinguished army [exercitus cernens] of the Greeks, from
immense fear, was turned to flight, and fled as if from death, giving
victory to Romuald and the Longobards. Thus Saburrus, who had promised
to bring to his emperor the trophy of victory over the Longobards,
returned with just a few [of his men], bringing only disgrace; Romuald
instead obtained the victory over his enemies, and returned triumphant to
Benevento and with joy to his land and safety for all, and so removed fear
of the enemy host.” – My trans., MO’R.

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O’ROURKE: LAST EMPEROR TO VISIT ROME

(*) Amalongus was a Gothic name. The Goths in Italy had been
subjugated by Byzantium during the previous century, but of course
they did not all disappear or assimilate overnight.

Ekonomou, p.170, regards this as all grossly exaggerated; he sees the


Byzantine excursus across the peninsula as successful in achieving its
limited aim of containing Lombard expansion.

Next Constans went on to Rome: the last ever visit by a reigning emperor.
(The transfer of the seat of the western empire to Milan and then Ravenna
meant that before him the last to see Rome was Constantius II in AD 357:
Dyson 2010: 36; Hodgkin p.276.)
After about a month in Naples, Constans led his troops, or at least a
large detachment of his army, towards Rome along the Via Appia as far as
Terracina, on the coast about halfway from Naples to Rome (29 June). qqq
The Byzantine ‘duke’ (dux: governor) of Rome, Georgios, had recently
renovated and embellished the forum at Terracina in anticipation of the
emperor’s arrival. As a symbol of his successes, or presumed successes,
against the Lombards, a column had been erected bearing an inscription
in Greek dedicated to Constans and his sons, for the emperor would
probably not have been able to read Latin. The Greek text was
orthodoxon kai nikiton Basileon: ‘orthodox and victorious Sovereigns’, and
wished him a reign of many years. (The use of “orthodox” skated over the
recently patched up ‘Monothelite’ dispute: Pope Martin I, 649-653, had
opposed Constans over church doctrine and been deposed and exiled by
the emperor for it.) Lower on the column, a Latin inscription recorded
Georgios’s own contribution in having the forum refurbished. This was,
says Ekonomou, 2007: 171, a nice touch of Eastern and Western
symbiosis.
A little later, as the emperor and his party approached Old Rome itself,
at the sixth milestone (8.8 km), pope Vitalian (657-672) and his retinue of
priests and a delegation of the laity (Paulus, V.11: “cum . . . Romano
populo”) came out along the Via Appia to greet them on 5 July 663. This
was, as Humphries p.56 remarks, the last adventus of a Roman emperor
(not counting of course the many triumphal entries into Constantinople by
later emperors).
The pious emperor stayed just 12 days at Rome, hearing mass almost
every second day and in a different church (described in detail by
Ekonomou 2007: 173-75). Constans took up residence in the old imperial
palaces on the Palatine Hill. There is no record of any hostility to the
emperor who had persecuted pope Martin and the venerated monk
Maximus the Confessor (died 652)—a one-time aide to the emperor’s
grandfather—who Constans had put on trial, maimed and imprisoned:

“On Sunday the church of St. Peter's was filled with the Greek
soldiers. All the clergy went forth with due pomp of lighted tapers to
meet the master of that glittering host who was present at the
celebration of Mass — doubtless receiving the consecrated elements
from St. Peter's successor — and again offered his gift upon the

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O’ROURKE: LAST EMPEROR TO VISIT ROME

altar; this time a pallium stiff with gold. On the next Saturday he
visited in equal state the Lateran Church, the home of the great
Western patriarchate; [there in the Lateran] he bathed in the
porphyry font* which legend, then or at a later day, declared to
have been used for the baptism of Constantine the Great, and he
dined in the spacious banqueting-hall which was known as the
Basilica of Vigilius” (Hodgkin p.276-77).

(*) This is most unlikely. In writing “venit ad Lateranis [ = to the


Laterani district] et lavit”, the Lib. Pont. more likely meant that he
bathed in the Lateran Baths, the Balneus Lateranensis, which lay
just to the west of the Lateran baptistery (see Fried & Brandes p.83;
Ward-Perkins, Public Building p.146).
One who did bathe in the Lateran font of Constantine was the
populist rebel and ‘tribune’ Cola di Rienzi in AD 1347, before his
‘coronation’.

The emperor’s troops were ordered to strip antique buildings including the
great Pantheon and latter-day churches of their roof-copper (or gilded
bronze tiles) and statuary, to raise or make money. “Omnia quae erant in
aere ad ornatum civitatis deposuit, sed e ecclesiam B. Mariae ad martyres
quae de tegulis (“roof-tiles”) aereis cooperta discooperuit” (Lib. Pont.) -
‘He pulled off everything that there was in bronze adorning the city, but
[sic: and] he removed from the church of Mary ad Martyres [i.e., the
converted Pantheon] its cover of bronze roof-tiles’. Other sources tell us
the bronze tiles were gilded; traces of gold remained until at least the 12th
Century: Joost-Gaugier 2006: 310.
This was not mere vandalism or mindless greed, or even sacrilegious
plunder, as has so often been asserted, beginning with Gibbon, Decline
and Fall, chapter LXXI. Public buildings were a protected imperial
preserve. The copper or bronze was later struck into coins (Ekonomou
p.175; Barker 2004: 250). Evidently lead was also taken from roofs, to be
moulded into pellets for military slings. Moreover, “[h]ad there been any
blood spilled or any sacred vessels abstracted during the Imperial visit to
Rome, we should assuredly have heard of such atrocities” (Hodgkin
p.279).
Then (17 July 663) Constans returned south to Naples by ship and led
his army overland through Calabria to Reggio and thence across the
straits of Messina to Sicily in September 663. He set up court at Syracuse
(Paulus Diac. V.11; Cordi 1983: 156 ff; Ekonomou p.177).
His rule became increasingly unpopular in Sicily, while the considerable
opposition in Constantinople to his plan to transfer the government to
Sicily on a permanent basis resulted in his wife and three sons being
prevented from joining him by the demes (city factions) and government
officials.
He was assassinated at Syracuse in 668 and his son returned the seat
of government to New Rome (Constantinople).

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