A few days later the guards at the Tiburtine Gate of Rome were hailed, before dawn, by a number of Greek soldiers in the disarray of flight. It was a portion of the garrison of Tibur: the town had been betrayed at sunset, by certain of its inhabitants who watched at one of the gates. The soldiers fought their way through and most of them escaped, and had fled hither through the darkness. Before the end of the day came news more terrible. A peasant from a neighbouring farm declared that all the people of Tibur, men, women, and children, had perished under the Gothic sword, not even ministers of religion having found mercy. And very soon this report, at first doubted, was fully confirmed. The event excited no less astonishment than horror, contrasting as it did with Totila’s humanity throughout the war. Some offered as explanation the fact that many Goths lived at Tibur, whose indifference or hostility had angered the king; others surmised that this was Totila’s warning after the failure of his proclamation to the Romans. Whatever the meaning of such unwonted severity, its effect upon the Romans was unfavourable to the Gothic cause. Just about this time there happened to arrive two captains, sent by Belisarius with a small troop for the reinforcement of Bessas. The addition to the strength of the garrison was inconsiderable, but it served to put the city in heart once more. The Patricius himself would not be long in coming, and when did the name of Belisarius sound anything but victory?
This confidence increased when Totila, instead of marching upon Rome, as all had expected, turned in the opposite direction, and led his forces across the Apennines. The gates were thrown open; the citizens resumed their ordinary life, saying to each other that all fear of a siege was at an end; and when certain ships from Sicily, having by good luck escaped the Gothic galleys, landed a good supply of corn, there was great exultation. True, only a scanty measure of this food reached the populace, and that chiefly by the good offices of the archdeacon Pelagius, now become as dear to the people as Pope Vigilius was hateful; the granaries were held by Bessas, who first of all fed his soldiers, and then sold at a great price. As winter went on, the Romans suffered much. And with the spring came disquieting news of Totila’s successes northwards: the towns of Picenum had yielded to him; he was moving once more in this direction; he captured Spoletium, Assisium, and still came on.
Belisarius, meanwhile, had crossed to Italy, and was encamped at Ravenna. Why, asked the Romans, impatiently, anxiously, did he not march to meet the Gothic king? But the better informed knew that his army was miserably insufficient; they heard of his ceaseless appeals to Byzantium, of his all but despair in finding himself without money, without men, in the land which but a few years ago had seen his glory. Would the Emperor take no thought for Italy, for Rome? Bessas, with granaries well stored, and his palace heaped with Roman riches, shrugged when the nobles spoke disrespectfully of Justinian; his only loyalty was to himself.