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Once he was crowned king, Totila played the long game against his Byzantine foes. Instead of sending the bulk of his army into head-on confrontations, Totila showed patience by ambushing smaller Byzantine detachments and by employing long-range sieges instead of attacking city walls directly. <ref> Burns, p. 23</ref> Totila’s early, modest successes were enough to raise the spirit of the Ostrogoths – he was able to raise an army of 5,000 men in the winter of 541/42 that fought its way to victory that spring in the city of Faenza against a superior Byzantine force. <ref> Wolfram, p. 354</ref>
After a series of victories, Totila turned his eyes to the symbolic target of Rome. Although Rome’s political importance had been lost in the previous centuries to Constantinople and Ravenna, it still inspired a certain amount of awe and reverence among the Ostrogoths and Byzantines alike, so whoever controlled the city could boast of a moral victory. In late 545, Totila led the Ostrogoth army to the gates of Rome, but instead of directly attacking the walls as his predecessors had done, he laid siege to the city by surrounding it. Although there was a small Byzantine garrison guarding the city, Totila negotiated with the non-military Roman natives for a surrender. Totila told the Romans that the siege would not end unless they unequivocally met his three conditions: the walls must come down, no quarter would be given to the Sicilians, and all the Goth slaves would be released. <ref> Procopius of Caesarea. <i>History of the Wars.</i> Translated by H.B. Dewing. (London: William Heinemann, 1916), Book
VI, xvi, 15</ref> The Ostrogoth king knew that the demands would be too much to accept, so he wisely secured his flank by enacting an alliance with the Franks to the north. <ref> Wolfram, p. 355</ref> Totila was then free to put his plan into action.
Just before Christmas, on December 17, 546, Totila’s sacking of Rome began. It was actually quite anti-climatic compared to the previous sackings of Rome and involved more guile than brute force. Totila was aided by the fact that Besssas, the commander of the Byzantine garrison in Rome, was woefully unprepared as he neglected the city’s defenses. The Ostrogoths were then able to bribe some of the gate keepers who had no real allegiance to Rome as they were ethnic Isaurians. After some negotiating, the Isaurians agreed to led the Ostrogoths into the city’s gates. The sixth century Byzantine historian, Procopius, wrote: