King of the Ostrogoths (541-552)

A courageous and noble man, Baduila for more than a decade successfully resisted the full power of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire at one of the most powerful periods in its history.

Known in Byzantine sources by the name of "Totila", we know what his real name was because he struck coins throughout the Ostrogothic kingdom as "Baduila Rex" (King Baduila). Although largely forgotten today, he may have been the most able of all the great Gothic kings. Certainly none reigned under such adverse conditions.

Baduila was born about 510, to a military family of the Ostrogoths. He was not a member of Theodoric the Great's family; however, we can infer from his later status that he was of noble birth. He fought as a soldier in the Ostrogothic army against the Franks and later, against the Byzantines and their general Belisarius in the early 530s.

In the latter war, the Ostrogoths lost most of their kingdom to Belisarius' invasion, after agreeing to a peace treaty which surrendered all of Italy save modern Lombardy and Piedmont to the Byzantines. Not only was this treaty unpopular, it was also unilaterally abrogated by Belisarius, who wanted the glory of conquering the entire Ostrogothic kingdom. This cause a resumption in the war and prompted Belisarius' boss, the Emperor Justinian, to recall him.

In 541, Baduila's uncle Ildibad died after a short reign as king. The Ostrogoths elected the warlike Baduila as his successor, in full knowledge that he intended to fight the Byzantines. He did that almost immediately.

In the first year of his reign, Baduila led the Goths in battle at Faenza and won a stunning victory over the Byzantines which restored almost all of northern Italy to him. Then he turned southward, with his eye on the recapture of Rome. In 542, he won a second victory in the valley of Mugello, in modern Tuscany. All of central Italy north of Rome now surrendered to him.

Baduila, unlike his Byzantine enemies, was gracious in victory. It is reported that no one, even those among his own people who collaborated with the conquerors after peace had been made, were mistreated. Many of the Romans of Italy even willingly welcomed the Ostrogoths and their new king back.

In 545, he captured Tivoli and laid siege to Rome itself. That same year, Justinian in desperation recalled Belisarius to Italy, and the great general managed to lift Baduila's siege of the old Imperial capital. However, the victory didn't last long--Baduila simply took Rome by a frontal assault.

He then tried to negotiate peace with Belisarius, but the latter tricked him into abandoning Rome by promising not to reoccupy it. Of course, he did, including restoring its formidable walls. An angry Baduila attacked Rome a second time and was defeated. Belisarius pursued the Goths northward and Baduila defeated him in turn.

When Belisarius left for home once again in 549, Baduila went back on the warpath and recaptured Rome. A general offensive followed, which restored most of southern Italy to the Goths. Then he took to the seas and easily took Sicily, followed by Corsica and Sardinia, which had never been under Gothic control before (Belisarius took them from the Vandals in 533). Then he sailed against Byzantine territory, attacking Greece.

Baduila wanted nothing more than to conclude peace with Justinian, with the Ostrogothic kingdom restored. But Justinian was not one to negotiate. Instead, he commissioned his other great general, Narses, to find a way to defeat Baduila and recover Italy. Because Justinian's constant (and often pointless) wars had bled his empire white, Narses couldn't muster the strength for a new war alone. Instead, he made a deal with the Lombards, a powerful Germanic tribe then living in modern Slovenia, to help him defeat Baduila (a deal that the Byzantines would later rue) and Justinian nearly bankrupted his treasury to finance the war.

With a vast host of Lombards alongside him, Narses marched into Italy from the north and followed the roads southward toward Naples. In July of 552, Baduila came out to meet him at the village of Taginae (modern Busta Gallorum). A surreal scene, in which a Byzantine deserter was defeated in single combat in front of the assembled armies, opened the battle. Baduila then came out and did a war dance in front of the assembled armies, as both sides took a break for lunch. After everyone had eaten, the bizarre battle came to a climax when Baduila, who was badly outnumbered, charged the Byzantine center and was driven back. He was killed in the fighting, and the Ostrogoths, without their leader, were routed.

Within 18 months, the Byzantines had reconquered all of Italy. But their victory didn't last long. Fifteen years later, Justinian's son, the Emperor Justin II, fired Narses. Furious, Narses wrote to Alboin, the King of the Lombards, inviting him to attack Italy and telling him the best routes of invasion. Alboin took him up on it the next year, and by 573 had overrun three-quarters of Italy. The Byzantines never drove them out, and by 700 had lost about 80 percent of Italy to them.