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Totila (died July 1, 552) was king of the Ostrogoths from 541 until his death. He waged the Gothic War against the Byzantine Empire for the mastery of Italy. Most of the historical evidence for Totila consists of chronicles by the Byzantine historian Procopius, who accompanied the Byzantine general Belisarius during the Gothic War.



"Totila" was the nom de guerre of a man whose real name was Baduila, as can be seen from the coinage he issued. "Totila" is how he was referred to by the historian Procopius. Born in Treviso, Totila was elected king after the death of his uncle Ildibad, having engineered the assassination of Ildibad's short-lived successor, his cousin Eraric in 541. The official Byzantine position, adopted by Procopius and even by the Romanized Goth Jordanes, writing just before the conclusion of the Gothic Wars, was that Totila was a usurper: Jordanes' Getica (551) overlooks the recent successes of Totila.[1]

His life's work was the restoration of the Gothic kingdom in Italy, and he entered upon the task from the very beginning of his reign, collecting together and inspiring the Goths, defeating a poorly led Byzantine attack on the Gothic stronghold of Verona in the winter of 541, and scattering the stronger Byzantine army at Faenza (Battle of Faventia) in the spring of 542.[2]

Having gained another victory in 542, this time, avoiding stoutly defended Florence, in the valley of Mugello, where Totila showed his nature by treating his prisoners so well that they were induced to serve under his banner, he left a well-defended Tuscany with his enlarged forces, while three of the Byzantine generals withdrew from Florence, dividing their forces, to Perugia, Spoleto, and Rome, cities which Totila would have to take by siege.

In the meantime, instead of pursuing the conquest of central Italy, where the Imperial forces were too formidable for his small army, he decided to transfer his operations to the south of the peninsula [3], where he captured Beneventum and received the submission of the provinces of Lucania and Bruttium, Apulia and Calabria, essentially the whole of the Greek south; their Imperial taxes were now diverted to his benefit.

Totila's strategy was to move fast and take control of the countryside, leaving the Byzantine forces in control of well-defended cities, and especially the ports. When Belisarius eventually returned to Italy, Procopius relates that "during a space of five years he did not succeed once in setting foot on any part of the land... except where some fortress was, but during this whole period he kept sailing about visiting one port after another."[4] Totila circumvented those cities where a drawn-out siege would have been required, razing the walls of cities that capitulated to him, such as Beneventum. Totila's conquest of Italy was marked not only by celerity but also by mercy, and Gibbon says "none were deceived, either friends or enemies, who depended on his faith or his clemency." After a successful siege of a resisting city, such as at Perugia, however, Totila could be merciless, as the Byzantine historian Procopius recounts. Procopius also left a word portrait of Totila before his troops drawn up for battle:

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