The Battle of the Lattari Mountains: death and sweat in Campania

by Roberto Iossa

The Battle of the Lattari Mountains is considered by many to be the bloodiest battle of the Early Middle Ages.

On the one hand the army of the Byzantine Empire, led by general Narsete, on the other hand that of the Ostrogoths following King Teia.

An epochal battle. But, as we know, there is no battle without a war. For this reason it is necessary to take a small step back.

battle of the lattari mountains
Gothic War Map. Photo by MacMoreno, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Greco-Gothic War (535-553)

At the beginning of the sixth century, the Italian peninsula was in the hands of the Ostrogoths, but it will be so for a little while longer!

Justinian, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, wishes win back the peninsula. Thus began the bloody Greco-Gothic war.

The Byzantine army (the other name by which the Eastern Roman Empire was called) first conquers the Africa of the Vandals and then reaches the Sicilian coasts. But it is only the beginning of a long and uncertain confrontation.

The Battle of the Lattari Mountains is in fact only the final act of a war that sees a succession of conquests, kings, generals and merciless battles.

Justinian first relies on general Belisario and then, on his death, to Narses. The Ostrogoths, on the other hand, will be governed by several kings: Theodato, Vitige, Ildibaldo, Erarico but above all Totila and Teia.

the battle of the lattari mountains
General Narses represented in an engraving by Nuremberg Chronicles (1493)

The Greco-Gothic war saw first one faction and then the other prevail in an alternating way. Although the fate of the entire Italian peninsula was at stake, it was above all Central-Southern Italy that was strategically important for the fate of the clash.

Before the Battle of the Lattari Mountains, in fact, several important cities were conquered and lost within a few years: Naples, Cuma, Rome and also the territories of the present Agro Nocerino-Sarnese, including the city of Nuceria.

In short, a highly uncertain clash which, however, over time, thedecisively began to lean in favor of Justinian.

The main source is Procopius of Caesarea, author of the "Stories of the Justianian Wars", largely dedicated to the Gothic war.

A pivotal event for the geo-political balance of the Early Middle Ages. And the Battle of the Lattari Mountains represents the keystone of the story.

the battle of the lattari mountains
The Lattari Mountains. Photo by Marie Thérèse Hébert & Jean Robert Thibault, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Battle of the Lattari Mountains

Agro Nocerino-Sarnese was the place chosen for the decisive battle.

Initially, in 552 the two rival armies stationed themselves on opposite banks of the river Draconte, the current river Sarno. Given the depth of his bed, no one dared to cross it and for two months they were limited to throwing arrows and stones.

Teia could count on numerous boats which, going up the river, constantly supplied her army with food and weapons. But Narses managed to corrupt the Ostrogoth fleets, thereby weakening the rival army.

Consequently, Teia decided to take shelter in the Lattari Mountains, trusting to find enough game to feed the army and a suitable shelter for war. We have almost reached the final acts of the Battle of the Lattari Mountains.

the battle of the lattari mountains
Representation of the river Sarno from the Gallery of Geographical Maps in the Vatican Museums

On his arrival, however, the Ostrogothic general found a very different situation, noting the amenity of the place. Narsete placed his army on the slopes of the mountain, waiting for the right moment.

Realizing the mistake and now cornered, without enough food for his men, Theia and the Ostrogothic army descend the slopes of the hill and attack the Byzantine army.

The Battle of the Lattari Mountains begins!

The irrepressible fury of Teia and the end of the fighting

King Teia was the real protagonist of the Battle of the Lattari Mountains.

Sources describe his irrepressible fury, with which he wiped out dozens and dozens of Byzantine enemies.

Despite Narses' army relentlessly targeting him with arrows, the Ostrogothic ruler did not quench his thirst for blood. With one hand he shielded himself from the darts with a shield, and with the other he killed the enemies.

Addiriturra it is said that, once the shield was filled with too many arrows, thus becoming unusable, Teia replaced it with another one carried by a servant, without however interrupting his murderous fury.

the battle of the lattari mountains
Alexander Zick, The Gothic battle of the Lattari Mountains on Vesuvius, 1890.

He changed dozens and dozens of shields but in the end, caught in a moment of little lucidity, he was hit by an arrow and killed by the Byzantines. His head was cut off and he was driven into a shaft, to put the Ostrogoth army in fear.

Despite this, the Ostrogoths continued to fight valiantly, although they were in the minority.

The Battle of the Lattari Mountains lasted several days. An extraordinary fact, if you consider that these fights usually lasted a few hours!

Now at the end of their strength, the Ostrogoths surrendered to Narses, submitting to him. Theia was thus the last king of the Ostrogoths!

The Battle of the Lattari Mountains was therefore the key event that sanctioned the definitive conquest of the Italian peninsula by the Eastern Roman Empire. A gigantic historical event, which had the territories of our beloved Campania as its theater.

Sources

  • F. Belsito - C. De Pascale, History of Pagani in brief. Monuments, characters, traditions, Editrice Gaia, Angri 2014.
  • G. Orlando, History of Nocera de 'Pagani, Editrice Gaia, 2018.
  • Procopius of Caesarea, Lto Gothic War, book 4, XXXV
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izLXIvAYmTE

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1 Comment

Liberated Wisdom 4 April 2022 - 16:48

Compelling story that focuses on what is unfortunately today the most polluted river in Europe and which was then the field of one of the decisive victories of the Byzantine Empire. My grandmother told me that Scafati was often nicknamed the Venice of the south.

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