(born circa 480, Armenia—died 574, probably Rome or Constantinople) Byzantine general under Justinian I. A eunuch, he commanded the imperial bodyguard and rose to become grand chamberlain. He helped to quell a riot in 532 and save Justinian's throne; his loyalty to the emperor brought him into the confidence of the emperor's wife Theodora. In 538 Narses was sent on a military expedition to retake Italy, but his inability to cooperate with the commander allowed the Ostrogoths to triumph. He returned to Italy in 551 and conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom. He held power in Italy until removed by Justinian's successor (567). It was rumoured that Narses had invited the Lombards, who conquered much of Italy, into the peninsula in retaliation for his dismissal.
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Narses (also sometimes written Nerses) (478-573) was, with Belisarius, one of the great generals in the service of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I during the so-called "Reconquest" that took place during Justinian's reign. Narses was a Romanized Armenian 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 one of the greatest underrated generals of the Roman Empire.
Narses helped end the Nika Rebellion in 532. He was part of Justinian's plan to put down the rebellion. Narses was given a bag of gold. He took this bag of gold and walked into the Hippodrome filled with a mob that had killed hundreds of people. Narses walked into the Blues' section and spoke with the leaders. He reminded them that Justinian supported them over the Greens. He also told them that Hypatius, the man they were crowning, was a Green. Then he passed out the gold. The Blue leaders conferred among themselves and spoke to their followers. Then they stormed out of the Hippodrome during Hypatius' coronation. The Greens were shocked. Before they could recover, Imperial troops led by Belisarius and Mundus stormed into the Hippodrome, killing the remaining rebels.
According to the historian Andreas Agnellus, Narses was present when Belisarius captured Rome in 536. He had been sent there by the Emperor Justinian to assist, perhaps even spy on, Belisarius. However, Narses quarreled with Belisarius and was brought back to Constantinople. This rivalry, misunderstanding, and antipathy between the two had jeopardized all military operations, leading to the recapture and devastation of Milan by the Ostrogoths. He saved the Emperor Justinian from a possible assassination attempt by John of Cappadocia, the praetorian prefect. However, it is possible that Narses worked with the Empress Theodora, who resented John's power, to remove John from power.
He was 74 in 552, when the ever-suspicious Justinian recalled Belisarius from his campaign against the Ostrogoths in Italy and replaced him with Narses. He had served as the High Chamberlain of the Emperor Justinian. He was known to be extremely popular, especially with the lesser officials and the public. Narses was loyal to the Emperor, having served as an eunuch. He had helped put down the Nika Rebellion. Despite his age, he proved to be as energetic and skilled as his predecessor, though history has generally credited Belisarius with the greater ability.
To the surprise of everyone, except Narses and probably Justinian, the old eunuch chamberlain became famous with the Heruls. They thought, if the great Emperor Justinian is sending such an ancient man to form the army, this man must be very skilled in the art of war. They followed Narses and joined his army.
The old bureaucrat soon had the chance to prove that he was, in fact, very skilled in the art of war. A large army of Slavs massed on the Danube, preparing to invade the Balkans. On his horse, Narses directed his Heruls with so much dexterity that the Slavs were routed with heavy losses.
While Narses was recruiting and leading barbarians, Justinian appointed his own cousin, Germanus, the Supreme Commander of Italy. Germanus took his own armed men and recruited peasants that he paid with his own money. Then Germanus died.
Narses was called upon by the Emperor Justinian. The ancient eunuch bureaucrat was to return to Italy once more; this time he was the Army Commander. His army consisted of Heruls, Huns, Slavs, and Lombards, and incorporated the army of Germanus. But his army was no bigger than that of the Goths in Italy.
In 554 at the Battle of Casilinum he drove the Franks and Alamanni, who had come to help the Ostrogoths, back over the Alps. Eventually, the surviving Ostrogoths surrendered to him and Italy was restored to the empire. Narses remained in Italy as its prefect (governor) but his administration was unpopular. After Justinian's death, his nephew Justin II removed him as prefect and demanded he return to Constantinople. Narses relinquished his post, but refused to leave Italy, instead retiring to a villa near Naples.
The last years of his life are somewhat clouded in suspicion. Many sources at the time say Narses secretly encouraged the invasion of Italy by the Lombards in 568, in revenge for Justin II's taking away his position. However, this report has never been confirmed. Still, Narses, then 90, offered his services to the emperor again but was turned down. By the time Narses died, more than half of Italy had fallen into Lombard hands.