A curious and certainly an unproved accusation hangs over his name. It seems that his government of Italy was not wholly grateful to the Italians, who it must be remembered were ruined and whom many years of eager self-denial would hardly render solvent again. Now the business of Narses was to achieve this solvency and to pay out of Italy some sort of interest upon the enormous sums Justinian had disbursed for the great war. If he incurred the hatred of the Italians it would not be surprising, nor would it lead us to accuse him of tyranny. “Where Narses the eunuch rules,” they said, “he makes us slaves.” This cry came to the ears of the emperor for whom it was meant. No doubt, being a fool, he was anxious to be rid of Justinian’s pro-consul. However that may be, Narses was recalled, the empress, it is said, sending him a message to the effect that as he was a eunuch she would appoint him to apportion the spinning to the women of her household. To this Narses is reported to have replied, doubtless with much the same smile as that with which he had greeted the equestrian display of Totila, that he would spin her a thread of which neither she nor the emperor Justin would be able to find the end. In the course of time this mysterious threat, which was probably never uttered, was said to refer to the enormous catastrophe which within three years of Narses’ recall fell upon Italy—the Lombard invasion. And Narses, who had employed the Lombards in the last campaign against Totila, was said to have revenged himself by inviting them into Italy to possess it.
The accusation rests upon no good authority, and is altogether unlikely when we remember how great a part of his life had been devoted to the incorportion of Italy within the empire. But there is this much truth in it we may perhaps think; that had the great eunuch been left in command, Alboin would not have dared to come on, and if he had dared, would have found an army and an Italy ready to fling him back into his darkness.
THE CITADEL OF THE EMPIRE IN ITALY
It was upon the second day of April 568, upon the Monday within the octave of Easter, that Alboin set out to cross the Julian Alps, to descend upon an Italy which even the great Narses had not been able, in the short sixteen years of peace he had secured her, to recover from the utter exhaustion of a generation of war. No army awaited him, no attempt was made to crush his rude and barbarous army in the marches, he was unopposed, save that the bishop of Treviso begged him to spare the property of his church, and presently the whole province of Venetia, with the exception of Padua, Mantua, and Monselice, was in his hands. Those who could, doubtless fled away, for the most part to that new settlement in the Venetian lagoons which was presently to give birth to Venice and which