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Narses (also sometimes written Nerses) (478-573) was, with Belisarius, one of the great generals in the service of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I during the "Reconquest" that took place during Justinian's reign. Narses was a Romanized Armenian[1] from the noble Kamsarakan family, which claimed descent from the royal Arsacid dynasty. He spent most of his life as a relatively important eunuch in the palace of the emperors in Constantinople.



Narses was a man born of Persarmenian descent. The first time he is ever mentioned in any primary sources is by Procopius in CE 530.[2] The year of his birth is unknown and many historians have given the date of 478, 479 and 480. The real question is the year of his death, which ranged 566 to 574, making him anywhere from eighty-six to ninety-six years old at the time of his passing. His family and lineage is also completely unknown, with many different stories told about his origins and how he became a eunuch.

His demeanor was described by Agathias Scholasticus, ‘The Advocate’ of Myrina, who said’ “He was a man of sound mind, and clever of adapting himself to the times. He was not versed in literature nor practiced in oratory, [but] made for it by the fertility of his wit.” Agathias also gave a physical description that Narses was “small and of a lean habit, but stronger and more high-spirited than would have been believed.”[3]


Narses was believed to be a very pious man and gave great attention to the Virgin and mother of God. Evagrius Scholasticus in Ecclesiatica Historia reported that she would tell him the proper time to attack, and Narses never engaged without her consent.[4] Narses also was reported to be very generous to the poor and very zealous when it came to restoring churches. He was so devoted to prayers and vigils that “he obtained victory more by the supplications he poured forth to God, than by arms of war.[5] Before accepting supreme command of the army, Narses had built a church and monastery in Cappadocia, intent upon retirement.[6]

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