‘Waiting Only for a Pretext’: A New Chronology for the Sixth-Century Byzantine Invasion of Spain

Justinian‘Waiting Only for a Pretext’: A New Chronology for the Sixth-Century Byzantine Invasion of Spain

Jason Fossella

Estudios bizantinos: 1 (2013) 30-38


In the mid-sixth century, the Emperor Justinian sent an army to Spain, under the pre tense of intervening in a dynastic dispute among the Visigoths. This expedition ended in the acquisition of territory for the Empire in modern Adalusia, Murcia, and Valencian. Referred to as the province of Spania, this region would remain in Byzantine hands until the 620s. This article argues that the common modern version of the invasion, in which Byzantine forces arrived in 552, fought on the side of the usurper Athanagild until 555, and then fought against Athanagild for a brief period before concluding a treaty with him, is flawed and, relying on a more precise reading of the sources, proposes a new chronology and narrative, in which Byzantine  forces did not arrive until 554. This new version has implications for the reign of Justinian and the motives behind his “restoration” of the Western Roman Empire.


From 533 to 555, the Emperor Justinian undertook his most ambitious project, the “restoration” of the Roman Empire, eventually reconquering Italy, Africa, and a portion of Spain, which had all been lost to Germanic invaders during the fifth century. While the reconquests of Italy and Africa were well documented by the historians Procopius and Agathias, that of Spain received almost no contemporary attention. Because of the lack of textual evidence it has been necessary for modern historians seeking to reconstruct the invasion to work from indirect evidence and circumstantial arguments to answer fundamental questions.

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