Narses, Byzantine General, Conqueror and Ruler of Italy

Narses, Byzantine General, Conqueror and Ruler of Italy

“Narses...the first and most powerful of the exarchs…” - Edward Gibbon, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Volume 5


Who he was

Narses was head of the Imperial Treasury in the court of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. He was over the age of 70 and a eunuch when Justinian unexpectedly sent him to fight the Goths in Italy. Nevertheless, it was a task he completed resoundingly by defeating the Goths, expelling them from Italy and reestablishing Justinian’s rule over the land. 

A subject from Persian Armenia, Narses had entered Justinian’s service after the conquest of Persia. Narses had been sent to Italy once before to assist the great Byzantine General Belisarius. Their efforts were marred by miscommunication and infighting, and they were consequently unable to defeat the Goths before the emperor called them both back. 

It was due to Narses’ loyalty to the emperor - and the emperor’s lack of worry that a eunuch would depose him - that he entrusted his subject with the task of regaining Italy. Narses ensured that his men were obedient to his commands but that they were also treated fairly, factors that led him to win multiple victories over the Goths and retake Italy. 

Narses governed Italy for over a decade but was removed when Justinian’s successor, Justinian II, came to power. 

Interesting fact

Though he lived in the 5th century, Narses is rumored to have died at the age of 95, greatly exceeding life-expectancy in that era.

Learn more about him

Narses - Encyclopedia Britannica