Key to Umbria: Spoleto

Spoleto during the Gothic War

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The Byzantine general, Flavius Belisarius took Naples and then Rome from the Goths in 536.  He sent another general, Constantine to take Spoleto  but withdrew him when the Goth Witges began what turned out to be a year-long siege of Rome. 

The Gothic revival was short-lived, and Spoleto must have been in Byzantine hands once more by 540, when Belisarius took Ravenna and returned to Constantinople, taking Witiges with him as his prisoner.


Following Belisarius’ withdrawal, the Goths regrouped under a new general, Totila.  He managed to retake much of the territory lost to Belisarius.  Having taken Naples in 544, he moved on Rome.  Belisarius returned to Italy, landing at Ravenna, but he had insufficient resources to stop Totila’s advance. 

In 546, the Byzantine general Herodian surrendered Spoleto to Totila, who destroyed its walls and fortified the ruins of the amphitheatre as a base for his garrison.

Totila then moved on to lay siege to Rome.  When the starving city finally fell to him in late 546, he demolished the walls and expelled the inhabitant before withdrawing (with members of the Senate as his hostages) to Apulia. 

Among the hostages were the wife and children of a young Byzantine soldier called Martinianus, whom Belisarius sent to meet Totila, pretending to be a traitor.  Totila knew of his prowess in single combat and clearly thought highly of him.  He therefore released his wife and one of his children and sent him to join the Goth’s garrison at Spoleto.  There, he subverted a number of Byzantine soldiers who had defected to the Goths and also called on reinforcements from Perugia (then still under siege).   Using surprise as a weapon, they took the city and killed most of the garrison, sending the rest as prisoners to Belisarius. 

Belisarius was recalled to Constantinople in 548 and Totila retook Rome.  He then marched south to drive the remaining Byzantine forces from Italy. 

Exarch Narses

In 552, the Emperor Justinian sent the aged Narses to march against Totila.   When they engaged in battle at Tagina, near modern Gualdo Tadino, Narses emerged victorious and the wounded Totila died as he fled the field.  Narses continued with the remainder of his army along Via Flaminia.

Procopius reports that Narses

  1. “... took Narnia by surrender and left a garrison at Spoletium, which was then without walls, ordering them to rebuild as quickly as possible such parts of the fortifications as the Goths had torn down” (‘History of the Wars’, VIII xxxiii 9).

Narses then drove the remaining Goths from Rome. 

Bishops in the Late 6th Century

Bishop Paolino

Pope Pelagius I (556-60) wrote to Bishop Paolino, authorising him to ordain one of the monks of San Giuliano as a priest.

Bishop Peter

The monk John of Montecassino, who wrote the legend of St John of Spoleto (see below) in the reign of the Emperor Otto II (967-83), referred to the epitaph of Bishop Petrus (Peter) in San Pietro.   According to local historians, he was bishop in the period 563-93.  If this is correct, he would have been the bishop who refused to provide  church for an Arian bishop after the Lombard invasion, causing him to attempt to take San Paolo inter Vineas by force.

An architrave that seems to have formed part of the portico of the early church was discovered [when ??].  It contains an inscription (5th century) that refers to a construction project that was undertaken with the help of God.  It was later embedded in the wall of the adjacent church of San Silvestro and is now in Room 2 of the Museo del Ducato di Spoleto. 

Return to the page on the History of Spoleto.