The confusion of the second Gothic war, in which the future of the world and the major interests of man were in jeopardy, may be divided into three parts. The first of these is that in which the whole administration precariously established by Belisarius fell to pieces before the earthquake that was Totila, who, never systematically met and opposed, by the year 544 held all Italy with the exception, as I have said, of Ravenna, Rome, Spoleto, Perugia, Piacenza, and a few other strongholds. The second is that in which Belisarius again appears, and from the citadel of Ravenna, without ceasing or rest, but without much success, opposes him everywhere. In this period Rome was occupied and reoccupied no less than four times, and, as I have said, in 546 was left utterly desolate. Nevertheless, when for the second time Belisarius was recalled, in 548, he left things much as he had found them. He had at least—and with what scarcity of men and money we may see in his letters to the emperor—opposed and perhaps stemmed the overwhelming Gothic advance. At his departure the imperialists held Ravenna, Rome (but after the sack of 546), Rimini, Spoleto, Ancona, and Perugia. But before he arrived in Constantinople, Perugia had fallen; in the same year, 549, a mutiny in Rome gave the City to the Goths and Rimini was betrayed. In the year 551, the year of Narses’ appointment as general-in-chief in Italy and the opening of the third period, only Ravenna and Ancona, with Hydruntum (Otranto) and Crotona in southern Italy, remained to the empire.
In that year, 551, however, everywhere the Gothic cause began to fail. In a sea-fight off Sinigaglia the imperial forces disposed of the Gothic sea power and relieved Ancona, which was in grave danger. About the same time Sicily was delivered from the Gothic yoke, and in the spring of 552 Crotona was relieved. Meanwhile, in Illyricum, Narses gathered his army, in which Ardoin, King of the Lombards, rode at the head of two thousand of his people, and prepared for the great march into Italy.
He came through Venetia round the head of the Adriatic, close to the sea (for a formidable Frankish host held the great roads), crossing with what anxiety we may guess, the mouths of the Piave, the Brenta, the Adige, and the Po by means of his ships, and having thus turned the flank of the Frankish armies he triumphantly marched into Ravenna. There he remained for nine days, as it were another Caesar about to cross the Rubicon.