(c. 480-574)
   Byzantine general and eunuch, Narses was an important figure in the administration of the emperor Justinian (r. 527-565) and his wife Theodora. A highly loyal member of the court, who may have shared Theodora's faith, Narses played a key role in support of the emperor during the Nika Revolt of 532. He later took charge of Byzantine forces during the reconquest of Italy. Taking over from Belisarius, Narses brought the Gothic Wars to a close and achieved final victory for Justinian. He also played a key role in the reorganization of the administration of the peninsula after the conquest and then struggled against the Lombards as they advanced into Italy.
   Narses was probably already in his forties when he arrived at court at the beginning of Justinian's reign. He came from Armenia, a slave eunuch who entered imperial service and by the later 520s was commander of the emperor's bodyguard. He was probably close to Justinian as a result, and his loyalty to the emperor brought him into the confidence of Theodora. Although not an educated man, Narses could unravel a problem quickly and was noted for his humanity and dignity in all situations. Indeed, he was a man of such decency that the fifth-century Byzantine historian Procopius never mentions him in his Secret History. His loyalty and many talents were displayed most clearly during the Nika Revolt in 532, when he joined with Belisarius and others to bring an end to the revolt. His role as the commander of the imperial bodyguard was of particular importance, and he and his guard helped in the massacre that brought an end to the rebellion.
   His service in the Nika Revolt led to advancement for Narses, and, in 538, he was sent to Italy to determine whether the war could be ended more quickly. His appointment essentially made him Belisarius's commander, and the two fell into repeated conflict. These disagreements, along with Belisarius's prominence, led to the appointment of Narses as commander of the armies in Italy and the recall of Belisarius. Narses, having witnessed the troubles of Belisarius, insisted that he himself be granted the tools necessary to complete the job. In 551, Narses was given command of the war in Italy, and in 552 he invaded with a large force that included a substantial number of Lombards as mercenaries. Although opposed by the armies of the Ostrogothic king Totila, Narses proceeded along the coast to Ravenna. He was joined by a second Byzantine army and then met the Gothic king at a decisive battle in late June or early July. The Battle of Busta Gallorum, on a plain in the northern Apennines, was a complete disaster for the Goths, who left 6,000 dead on the battlefield and withdrew with their king mortally wounded. In October, Narses again met in battle with the Goths and again defeated them. This time, however, an armistice was settled between the two sides. But the war was still not at an end, and Narses and various Gothic leaders met in battle several more times in 554 and 555. For the next several years, Narses was able to restore imperial authority over Italy. In 561, the Ostrogoths once again rose up and once again were defeated by Narses, and this time it was the final defeat of the Goths, who disappeared from history at that point.
   Narses remained in Italy after the final defeat of the Ostrogoths and after the death of Justinian. As conquering general, Narses remained in authority for the next several years, but he was deposed from office, after enriching himself greatly, because the Italian population complained that his rule was worse than that of the Goths. His position might have remained secure had he not lost the favor of Justinian's successor, Justin II (r. 565-578), who sacked the old general. After losing his military command, Narses retired from imperial service. The invasion of the Lombards in 568 under their king, Alboin, led to the recall of Narses, even though, according to the Lombard historian Paul the Deacon, the general himself had invited the Lombards in because of the treatment he received from Justin. Whatever the case, the Lombards proved too powerful even for Narses, who had little success against them; he once again retired from public life and died a few years later, after a career of long and effective service to the empire.
   See also
 ♦ Barker. J. W. Justinian and the Later Roman Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960.
 ♦ Browning, Robert. Justinian and Theodora. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987.
 ♦ Burns, Thomas S. A History of the Ostrogoths. Bloomington: Indiana University 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.
 ♦ Christie, Neil. The Lombards: The Ancient Langobards. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Llewellyn, Peter. Rome in the Dark Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993.
 ♦ Paul the Deacon. History of the Lombards. Trans. William Dudley Foulke. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.
 ♦ Procopius. The History of the Wars; Secret History, 4 vols. Trans. H. B. Dewing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914-1924.
 ♦ Wickham, Chris. Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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