The Battle of Taginae – July 552AD   Leave a comment

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I

Justinian I, later known as Justinian the Great, had ideas and plans throughout his extremely long reign to capture territory in what had been the Western Roman Empire and to recreate the glory of Rome as it had been.

In the mid 6th century he decided on a campaign to try and retake the Italian peninsular, the centre of the old empire, and with this in mind he assembled an army some 25,000 men strong to invade Italy and remove the Ostrogoths who had settled there and established their own Kingdom of Italy fifty years earlier. As was typical of Byzantine armies of the time, as it had been in the late Roman era, the army was bulked up with large numbers of foreign allied troops, in this case Lombards, Huns, Heruls and Gepids. Command of this mixing pot of soldiers was given to the Empire’s Imperial Chancellor, the Armenian eunuch called Narses, who after assembling his forces in modern day Croatia, opted to march them north and around the land route into northern Italy before then turning to march directly on Rome.

Defending the Kingdom of Italy was Ostrogoth King Totila. He was veteran of fighting the Byzantines and had defeated a previous attempt to invade Italy by Justinian, even though he had been greatly outnumbered. This time he had the same problem; his main army numbered only 12,000 as he marched north to intercept the invaders, but he hoped that an extra 2,000 cavalry would meet up with him before he had to do battle.

The two armies met on the morning of July 1st on the great plain west of Taino near a small village called Taginae, and before Totila’s reinforcements had arrived. As the two armies deployed Totila could see he was vastly outnumbered and decided to play for time. He started by sending an envoy to supposedly discuss terms with Narses, but Narses knew this was a ploy, after-all Totila had not responded to any previous requests by the Byzantines to have talks before the invasion and had even now deployed for battle, so the envoy was sent back to his army without discussions. Totila’s next ploy was to send out a “champion” from his ranks and request a one to one contest. A soldier volunteered from the Byzantine ranks and the two rode out to meet each other, as the huge Goth warrior charged for the kill, it was recorded the smaller, lighter armed Byzantine was able to turn his horse at the last minute and sidestep the Goth before thrusting his own spear into his body and killing him, with huge cheers coming from the Byzantine ranks. Still not deterred, Totila put on a suit of ceremonial armour, covered in gold and decorated with purple cloth and feathers (the colour of Emperors), he rode out onto the plain and began by all accounts, give a display of his horsemanship, performing jumps and rearing up, while at the same time throwing his spear up into the air and catching it like a cheerleader’s baton. He did this for some time, while making sure he kept out of archery range from his enemy, then when seeing a signal from his officers that the reinforcements were arriving he rejoined his army and changed to less conspicuous armour so not be picked out in battle. It was now around midday and the two armies prepared for battle.


Suggested initial set up for the Battle of Taginae



Narses – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, skilled tactician, respected leader

Right Flank

Dismounted Horse Archers (4,000 men) 4 to 6 bases – Medium Infantry, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow with stake to front

Hun Cavalry (1,000 men) 2-3 bases – Light Cavalry, open order, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow


Dismounted Allied Cavalry (Lombards, Gepids, Heruli) (10,000 men) 10-14 bases – Heavy Infantry, close order, experienced, veteran, spears, swordsmen, shields.

Left Flank

Dismounted Horse Archers (4,000 men) 4 to 6 bases – Medium Infantry, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow with stake to front

Lombard Cavalry (1,000 men) 2-3 bases – Medium Cavalry, experienced, veteran, spear, shield.

Extreme Left Flank

Dismounted Horse Archers (1,500 men) 2 to 3 bases – Medium Infantry, experienced, veteran, good shots, bow

Kavallaroi (1,000 men) 2-3 bases – Medium Cavalry, experienced, veteran, bow.


King Totila – Commander-in-Chief – Experienced, veteran, excellent tactician, inspirational leader

Front Rank

Medium Cavalry (1,200 men) 3-4 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Heavy Cavalry (1,200 men) 3 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Heavy Cavalry Totila’s Guard (1,200 men) 3 bases – Experienced, veteran, elite, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Heavy Cavalry (1,200 men) 3 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Medium Cavalry (1,200 men) 3-4 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield

Rear Rank

Goth Warriors (8,000 men) 8-10 bases – Experienced, veteran, impetuous warriors, spear, swordsmen, shield


Totila, reinforced, but still outnumbered had limited options. He had attempted to capture the high ground to his right as he first arrived on the plain but had beaten to it by the Byzantines.

He had beaten the Byzantines before against these odds, so must have felt there was a good fighting chance of success. He opted fr a full force and full frontal cavalry charge, hoping to punch a hole through the Byzantine infantry which were notoriously the weakest element of their army, but he was ignorant to the fact that the Byzantine “infantry” were in fact predominantly dismounted warrior and noble cavalry, with much better fighting skills and morale.

To inspire his men, Totila took up position in the centre unit with his personal guard and the army’s champion warriors. He ordered his men to only fight with the lance and probably in true Gothic fighting style they moved forward with their lances at shoulder height, their heads down and their shields held high over them. Starting a trot to cantor they gradually crossed the plain and launched into a full speed galloping charge. At this point the Byzantine archers opened fire, their position allowing them to shoot into the flanks of the charging Goths. Totila’s men began falling in significant numbers but still they pressed on, but when they reached the “infantry” they found a solid wall of shields bristling with spears that their horses refused to ride into. Despite this, the Goth lances were longer and Totila’s men jabbed at any gap they could find or make in the wall, while in response the Byzantine’s tried to jab at the horses and men as they whirled around in front of them.

The Goths tried several times to pull back slightly to regroup and recharge, but as once they stayed too far from the Byzantine infantry they would come under a renewed barrage of arrows from the flanks. It was approaching dusk when during one of these regrouping manoeuvres that Totila was struck by an arrow not fatally, but certainly seriously, to the extent that a bodyguard of men had to escort him to the rear. Rumours rapidly spread through the ranks, some that he was wounded and others that he was dead. He was lucid enough to order his infantry forward to finish off the job of breaking the centre, but at around the same time the cavalry decided that the rumours were worth retreating for and turned to flee.

Goth and Byzantine cavalry clash at Taginae

The sight of the fleeing cavalry approaching persuaded the Goth infantry to stop their advance and retreat as well. It was also a green light for the Byzantine army to make a full assault in pursuit, with all their mounted units charging forward to engage the fleeing soldiers.

As always in these cases, it was in the rout that the greatest casualties occurred, and over 6,000 Goths were killed, including at some point King Totila himself.

Narses advanced and took Rome with little resistance, although a successor to Totila emerged, Teia, the Ostrogoths suffered another and final defeat at the Battle of Mons Lactarius later that year. The Byzantines would establish some control over Italy again which they held, in part for nearly another 600 years, and the Lombards would also carve out their own domain in the country; the destruction of both these holdings within Italy would come to an end thanks to the request for military assistance and the employment of mercenaries who then decided “why fight for others, when we can fight and make our own kingdom” – the Normans.


This battlefield is extremely easy to recreate with a virtually flat plain with the exception of a one hill on the flank (see map).

Figures wise, we would say unless you are a 28mm fan with the resources to kit out the forces then we would suggest 15mm. The Plastic Soldier Company make and excellent range of plastic Goths, which can be found in our online store or can be purchased directly from The Plastic Soldier Company. For the Byzantines, we would recommend the Early Byzantine range from Lurkio Miniatures at

Rules are always a personal choice, but Mortem Et Gloriam or L’Art De La Guerre seem the most popular two rule sets right now for bigger and fast play battles.

Posted 13/09/2021 by The Little Corporal in The Dark Ages

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