Witigis

(fl. 536-540)
   Ostrogothic king in Italy from 536 to 540 who led his people against the Byzantine armies sent by Justinian to conquer the peninsula and restore imperial rule there. Although not of the royal line of Theodoric the Great, Witigis was a successful general, whose prominence led to his election as king. He adopted an aggressive strategy against the Byzantine armies led by Belisarius and took the offensive against Byzantine territory outside of Italy. He also pursued diplomatic ties with the Merovingian Franks and the Lombards. His efforts, however, proved fruitless, and he eventually succumbed to Belisarius, whom the Goths hoped to elect as emperor.
   On the death of Theodoric's last heir, Theodohad, in 536, the Goths turned to Witigis, who had enjoyed some success in the campaigns against the armies of the Eastern Empire. Theodohad's failure to save the city of Rome led to his death, and the Goths hoped to have someone worthy of Theodoric to take the throne. Witigis, not of the royal line, proclaimed himself a member of Theodoric's family because the deeds he and the great king performed were of similar stature. To confirm his position on the throne, however, Witigis married Amalaswintha's daughter Matasuntha. His own propaganda to the Goths never stressed this marriage, but he did inform Emperor Justinian of the marriage. The new king also suggested that Justinian's purpose in the war, avenging the murder of Amalaswintha, had been fulfilled by the murder of Theodohad and the marriage, which restored Amalaswintha's line to the throne. His argument, however, did not persuade Justinian, and both the emperor and the new Gothic king were fully committed to war.
   Shortly after his election as king in late 536, Witigis moved his Gothic armies south to meet Belisarius, who had recently taken possession of the city of Rome. Along with his march on Rome, Witigis secured a peace treaty with the Merovingian king of the Franks that guaranteed that the Franks would not invade Italy and take advantage of the uncertain situation. He also launched a campaign against the Byzantines in Dalmatia. Indeed, Witigis took the initiative in the hopes of ending the invasion of the Byzantines. Upon reaching Rome, Witigis began a siege of the city that lasted almost a year in the hopes of capturing it outright or forcing Belisarius into open battle. Over the next year, the Goths launched repeated assaults on the city walls, often leading to numerous casualties on their side. The Byzantine forces suffered as well, although not only from Gothic attacks but also from shortage of food and the spread of disease. Attempts to find a diplomatic solution failed, and the arrival of Eastern Roman armies forced Witigis to accept a truce in late 537.
   Despite his aggressive efforts, Witigis was doomed to failure, and events began to turn against him by early 538. The Dalmatian campaign failed, and Belisarius, no longer hampered by the siege, decided to take the initiative and ordered a cavalry force to attack a nearby town where the families of the Gothic soldiers resided. His plan succeeded; Witigis was forced to break off the siege and returned to the royal city of Ravenna. He then faced a series of attacks by Belisarius and other forces. The Byzantine general began a march north from Rome to defeat his rival. The Alemanni raided northern Italy, and the devastation contributed to famine conditions on the peninsula. Even worse, an imperial army under the command of Narses arrived to aid Belisarius and counter Gothic numeric superiority. But the arrival of Narses offered the Gothic king a glimmer of hope because of the rivalry that existed between Narses and Belisarius, which often paralyzed the Byzantine war effort.
   Witigis in 538 and 539 came to the realization that he would not overcome the Byzantines militarily and sought to win through diplomatic negotiations. Here too, however, Witigis was unsuccessful. Indeed, his earlier treaty with the Franks did not prevent the Merovingian king Theudebert from raiding northern Italy in 539. The Goths no longer trusted the Franks and refused further offers of assistance from them. Witigis's efforts to establish an alliance with the Lombards also proved a failure. And as his diplomatic initiatives came to nothing, Witigis faced a resurgent Belisarius, who managed to unite the Roman armies in 539 and lay siege to Ravenna. By 540, the end of Witigis was near, as the Goths started to abandon him. But Ravenna was nearly impregnable, and so the king began negotiations, at first with other barbarian peoples and with the Persians, and then finally with Constantinople. He hoped for a settlement and was willing to accept terms from Justinian. But Belisarius seemed unwilling to come to terms and may have given the Goths the impression that he was willing to accept the imperial dignity from them. The Goths were willing to elevate him to the rank of emperor, and there is some possibility that he seriously considered it. Ultimately, however, Belisarius remained loyal to Justinian, and accepted the surrender of Witigis, entering Ravenna in May 540. The reign of Witigis had come to an end, but the Goths continued the struggle against the Byzantine invaders under the next Gothic king, Totila.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Browning, Robert. Justinian and Theodora. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987.
 ♦ Burns, Thomas. A History of the Ostrogoths. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1984.
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.
 ♦ Cassiodorus. The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus. Trans. S. J. B. Barnish. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1992.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Procopius. History of the Wars. Trans H. B. Dewing. 1979.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
 ♦ ---. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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