It’s 530 A.D., and the Eastern Roman Empire thrives under Emperor Justinian.
General Flavius Belisarius, a young man of honor, duty, and diligence, displays his prowess on the battlefield, when for the first time, and against incredible odds, Rome emerges victorious against the iron-fisted Persian army.
Belisarius returns to Constantinople and enjoys the honor due him. Empress Theodora introduces him to a startling beauty whose sordid past does not bother him. They marry, but on their wedding night, a cloud of misunderstanding and dismay hangs over them.
Well-connected and seemingly beloved by all, Belisarius’s military career ascends with victory after victory, first in Persia and then in the capital, Constantinople, which he liberates from a hostile mob attempting to overthrow the Emperor.
Justinian entrusts Belisarius to recover the lost lands in North Africa. Reconquest is Belisarius’s expertise, but trans-Mediterranean travels and living in distant lands distress his wife, Antonina. Soon, she wanders into the bed of a younger, more charming man. News of her shameful behavior eventually reaches Belisarius, but he is not ready to accept the accusations against the wife he adores.
Despite long odds and underpaid troops, Belisarius wins territory after territory for his Emperor. His reputation builds, even as his wife’s indiscretion tears it down.
Despite the admiration of the Roman people, Belisarius yearns only for a simple existence and the fidelity of his beloved wife. Can Belisarius secure peace through military action? Will Justinian’s expansive empire hold?
They watched the ape-necked Persian giant emerge from the battle line riding a well-muscled chestnut horse. Impatiently, he moved back and forth along the Roman trench, just shy of the archers’ range, taunting the Roman general, mocking his reluctance to accept the challenge of a duel.
“That Persian is at it again, General,” Commander Pharas said to his old friend Flavius Belisarius. He gave Belisarius a grim but sympathetic look. Belisarius raised his eyebrows.
“What now?” He was no longer laughing at the daylong harangue.
“This time, he says he will cleave your skull and drink your wine from it.”
Belisarius sighed and shook his head. “What kind of woman raises a child to talk like that?” He hunched over in his saddle as a feeling of nausea overcame him. A voice in his head suggested he would rather be in the Persian’s saddle than his own. He knew that the leader of Persia’s Ten-Thousand Immortals had every confidence his army would once again triumph over the Romans, as they had in every battle for the past century. He knew his chances of winning either in individual combat or battle were slim. He considered the short careers of the commanders before him who had either been killed on the battlefield or escaped, only to be disgraced or executed in Constantinople, a veritable graveyard for failed ambitions.
“When are the Persians going to attack, Pharas? What are they waiting for?”
“They’re waiting for you to make the first move.”
“We tried that at the battle of Thannuris and fell into pits. We’re not doing that again.”
“But what?” Belisarius interrupted before realizing that his impatience was worrying his staff around him. Keep calm and keep your fears to yourself. Three years on the Roman-Persian frontier had accomplished little more than a reduction of the size of his army. He looked around at his men. All eyes were on him, and they could not hide their apprehension as well as he could.
“The men and horses have been standing in the hot sun all day,” Pharas said coolly.
“They’re in no condition to fight now.” Belisarius nodded his agreement.
The two men looked over the hot and dusty border between the Roman and Persian empires. The formidable fortress of Dara stood behind them, a mile back, protecting their rear. Between the army and Dara, a thousand white tents littered the ground where the Roman army slept at night. A few fires around their camp prepared their evening meal, and the pleasant aroma left Belisarius feeling hungry. On their left and right were hills, too steep and covered with scrub for the cavalry to charge over them. Two miles off in front of them stood an army twice their size. Over them was a sun so hot that his men could not touch their armor without singeing their skin. Below them was the dry and dusty ground of Roman Mesopotamia, a productive land fed by mountains whose waters flowed slowly into the Euphrates River. A green and pleasant land, Belisarius thought; they were safe—for now.
Meet Robert Bruton
Robert Bruton is an American author and former CIA intelligence officer primarily assigned to Africa and the former Soviet Union. He has a BA in History from the University of Saint Thomas and an MA in World History from Norwich University, where he completed his thesis on the role of climate change in the decline of the Roman Empire. He lives near Washington, D.C. area with his family.
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