Lost to the West
managed to conquer Sicily, southern Italy, and Rome. The Byzantine success, however, was mostly smoke and mirrors. The moment Vitiges realized that the fearsome Belisarius was holding Rome with only five thousand men, the entire conquest would be in danger of crumbling. The triumphant entry into Rome became a desperate race to repair the walls before Vitiges learned the truth.
    When the master of Ravenna found out that he had lost nearly half his kingdom to so few, he was enraged, and within three months a massive Gothic army was drawn up before the gates of Rome. Within moments of their arrival, they almost caught Belisarius and ended the struggle before it began. After fortifying the Milvian Bridge with a tower, the general had ridden out to survey the enemy positions, secure in the belief that the Goths couldn’t cross the Tiber in time to endanger him. Unfortunately, the guards charged with defending the tower fled at the first sight of the enemy, and the Goths poured over the bridge unmolested. Belisarius found himself suddenly surrounded by their vanguard and cut off from the Flaminian Gate. Conspicuous on his bay horse, he flailed about trying to break freewhile Roman deserters pointed out his position to the Goths. He fought with desperate courage, shouting encouragement to his men and spurring his horse forward. The Goths, surprised by the ferocity of his attack, fell back, and Belisarius was able to slip back inside the city with his men.
    With his face covered with blood, dust, and sweat, and his voice hoarse from shouting, he was almost unrecognizable and had to remove his helmet to stop a rumor that he had been killed. After reassuring his men, the exhausted commander visited every post, personally infusing his troops with his infectious optimism. Only when he had convinced himself that nothing more could be done did he allow his wife to lead him away to get some much-needed sleep.
    Unaware how close he had come to victory, Vitiges ordered the cutting of all ten aqueducts to Rome, which for more than a millennium had supplied public fountains, plumbing, and the hydraulic mills that made the city’s flour. Belisarius improvised by using the rivers that ran through the city to power the mills—ensuring a constant supply of flour and bread—and braced for the next attack. Vitiges had constructed huge towers to breach the Roman walls, and a few weeks later he put them into action. The fighting was desperate as the Goths attacked two sections of the wall simultaneously. Time and again they came within inches of overwhelming the defenders, but Belisarius seemed to be everywhere at once, firing arrows from the walls and hacking at the scaling ladders. By the end of the day, more than thirty thousand Goths were dead, and Vitiges’ towers lay in a smoking ruin. Looking out over the walls, however, it was hard to see a dent in the waves of enemy soldiers. Belisarius knew that he would be hard-pressed to defend further attacks of this kind and hastily wrote to Justinian asking for reinforcements.
    This wasn’t the first time that the general had written requesting more men, and, at first, Justinian simply ignored him. Belisarius had humbled Africa with a mere handful of men, repeatedly performing miracles of improvisation to keep his campaigns going, and this caused the emperor to repeatedly underestimate the men and materialsneeded to retake Italy. But there was something else, a dim flicker of uneasiness in his queen, a gnawing fear that things were not quite what they seemed. Theodora began to suspect that the constant calls for a larger army were merely a ruse. Surely these barbarian opponents could be vanquished with the troops available. Perhaps the general was preparing to turn the sword against the master. The emperor finally sent a few thousand reinforcements, but Theodora remained suspicious. This general would need careful watching.
    The new men tipped the balance in favor of Belisarius, and the general soon

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