2 March 537: Belisarius saves Rome from the Goths

Nerveless general defies an army 10 times the size of his own


In the first days of AD 537, the people of Rome waited nervously for attack. Once the capital of the world’s greatest empire, now a miserable, ruined shadow, the ancient city had long since yielded its role to Constantinople.

In the fifth century it had fallen to the Goths, but at the end of 536 it was retaken by Constantinople’s greatest general, Belisarius. But since Belisarius had only a few thousand men, he knew he faced a struggle to keep it.

At last, on the second day of March, the enemy revealed themselves. From seven great camps overlooking the city’s main gates, the Goths began their siege of Rome. Equipped with vast siege engines, their armies were 10 times bigger than Belisarius’s little band. But even as the city began to starve, Belisarius refused to panic. His secretary, Procopius, even recorded that the general laughed on seeing the Goths’ great siege towers. He knew that reinforcements were on their way: all he had to do was wait.

When peace talks broke down, Belisarius took the initiative, sending his general John to seize the towns in the Goths’ rear. Some 374 days after the siege had begun, word reached the Goths that Rimini had fallen, leaving John barely a day’s march from their capital, Ravenna.

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As smoke rose from the Goths’ camps, Belisarius knew that his gamble had paid off. He waited until half the retreating Gothic forces were across the Milvian Bridge, and then ordered his troops out of the city. They killed thousands of Goths, and many more were drowned. Belisarius had won. For the time being at least, Rome remained Roman. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

2 March 1141

Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester, met the Empress Matilda in Winchester and agreed to support her claim to the English throne against his brother, King Stephen, who had been captured at Lincoln a month earlier.

2 March 1783

The first printed notice of Ludvig van Beethoven appeared in Carl Friedrich Cramer’s Magazin der Musik. Christian Gottlob Neefe, organist at the court of the Elector of Cologne, wrote that his 12-year-old pupil was a boy “of most promising talent. He plays the piano very skilfully and with power, reads at sight very well… He would surely become a second Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart if he were to continue as he has begun.”

2 March 1930

The novelist DH Lawrence died in a rented villa in Vence on the French Riviera. His ashes were later buried on his widow's ranch at Kiowa, New Mexico.

2 March 1969

The French Concorde makes its maiden flight, taking off from Toulouse for a 27-minute journey piloted by André Turcat. The British prototype will make its maiden flight just over a month later and will go supersonic in October.

2 March 1958

Led by Dr Vivian Fuchs, who will receive a knighthood for the feat, the British Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic expedition completes the first surface crossing of the Antarctic after an epic journey of 99 days and 2,000 miles.


2 March 1972

The first outer-planetary probe, America's Pioneer 10, is launched to Jupiter. It arrives in 1973 and sends back the first close-up images of the planet.

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