Theoderic-art - 7/28/94
"Theoderic the Great" by Mistress Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester.
NOTE: See also the files: Margery-Kemp-msg, Charlemagne-art, Otto-T-Great-art,
Margaret-art, Isabella-art, Lamoral-art, Joan-of-Arc-art.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefanšs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
An article on one of my favourite medieval rulers. I did most of my
MA work on Theoderic and sometimes wonder how I kept this article
so short :-)
Theoderic the Great
--Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester
The "fall of the Roman Empire" is one of the great benchmarks of
history in modern thought. Yet it was not until the Renaissance that
the populace of Europe realized that it had fallen; to those living
in the Middle Ages, Charlemagne had been as much a Roman Emperor as
had Augustus. Charlemagne, of course, is well-known. Less famous,
but in many ways more compelling as a transitional figure, is
Theoderic the Great, one of the last monarchs to rule a unified Italy
until the nineteenth century.
Theoderic's people, the Ostrogoths, had originally came from the area
now known as the Ukraine. Inroads by the Huns had gradually pushed
them east starting in the fourth century, until they reached central
Europe, where they were subjugated by the Huns. The death of the
great Hunnic leader Atilla in 451, however, caused the Hunnic
confederation to break down and allowed the Ostrogoths to rule
themselves once more. Three brothers of the royal Amal line assumed
joint leadership. Theoderic, born about 451, was the son of
Thiudimir, one of the brothers.
The establishment of an Ostrogothic kingdom inevitably brought contact
and conflict with their neighbors to the south--the Romans. This
early period is marked by alternating good and bad relations, as the
Romans used the Ostrogoths, who sought to become a client kingdom, as
a bargaining chip in their own political turmoils. The result of one
treaty sent the young Theoderic, aged eight, to Constantinople as a
royal hostage. This was no dishonour, and Theoderic, at the very
least, was given the good treatment due to a son of a king. If his
later behaviour is any indication, Theoderic gained in this formative
period a great appreciation for Roman culture--especially in the area
The rise of another Ostrogoth named Theoderic--nicknamed "Strabo",
which means "squinter"-- caused the Romans much alarm. Strabo claimed
royal blood and seemed dangerously close to assembling a force that
would threaten Roman power. Thus Theoderic, now eighteen years old,
was sent home as encouragement to his father and uncle to counter this
rise. The young Theoderic was given his own command and won a
stunning victory over a rebellious town; as a result, he was elevated
to the joint kingship. Four years later, his father was dead and his
uncle had moved further west to form his own kingdom, leaving
Theoderic as sole king. The problem of Strabo was not easily solved,
however. Over the next decade and a half, the two Theoderics vied
for the loyalty of the Ostrogothic people. It was only Strabo's
accidental death that gained Theoderic the final victory.
Theoderic had now succeeded in doing what the Romans had feared
most--uniting the Ostrogoths under one ruler. Their own political
situation was unstable. Something had to be done. Theoderic was
appointed Consul in Constantinople--the highest honour which could be
given to a Roman. His people were promised land to meet their needs.
The emperor Anastasius, however, continued to delay the final
settlement. Theoderic was on the verge of marching on Constantinople
when an agreement was finally reached: Theoderic would reclaim Italy
for the Empire.
In 476, the last Roman Emperor in the West had been deposed by
Odovacar, one of his military officials. Odovacar changed the forms
of government very little; but unlike his predecessors, he was
unwilling to be merely the power behind the throne. The remaining
Empire in the East, however, mourned the loss of control in the West.
Enter Theoderic. Anastasius would allow him and his people to journey
to Italy, regain it from Odovacar, and to rule there in his name
until he could come in person. After a long journey and two years of
fighting and siege, Theoderic agreed to share the kingship with
Odovacar on March 5, 493. Ten days later, Odovacar was slain at a
feast--legend says by Theoderic's own hand. This act of violence,
ironically, initiated thirty years of peace in Italy.
Theoderic is remembered as a patron of learning. His court fostered
such scholars as Cassiodorus, whose diplomatic correspondence in the
name of the king is marked by ornate Latin and contains letters
addressed to all variety of officials---from low-level military and
bureaucratic functionaries to Emperors and kings such as Clovis. The
philosopher Boethius was also a court treasure and friend of the king.
Despite the fact that he was an Arian Christian and thus considered a
heretic by the Catholic church, Theoderic was asked by the Pope to
mediate a schism. Throughout his reign, Theoderic put much effort
into building and restoration throughout Italy, but particularly in
Ravenna, his capital. Several buildings built by Theoderic, including
the church of San Apollinaire, famed for its mosaics, stand to this day.
While Theoderic kept the peace in Italy, he was active in wars
elsewhere. Until the death of Clovis in 511, Theoderic had to be
constantly on guard against the threat of Frankish expansion. He was
able to stop Frankish advances towards Visigothic Spain, and upon the
death of Alaric II in 507, he became king of all the Goths, uniting
Spain and Italy under one rule. Theoderic also formed marriage
alliances by sending his daughters to several Germanic kings. He
himself married Audofleda, the sister of Clovis. Theoderic gave all of
his daughters (he had no sons) an education in classical
culture--particularly Amalasuintha. Amalasuintha was given in
marriage to Eutharic, a Visigothic prince, in hopes that this would
permanently cement the two Gothic nations. Unfortunately, this did
not happen. Though Eutharic and Amalasuintha had a son, Athalaric,
Eutharic died prematurely.
This was not the only matter to go awry in Theoderic's final years.
Old Emperor Anastasius, who had never been strong enough to come to
Italy in person, had at last died. His successor was Justin, who was
also advanced in years, but who had an energetic young nephew by the
name of Justinian. Theoderic himself, now in his seventies, had only
Athalaric, his infant grandson, as an heir. Rumours came to
Theoderic's ear that some within his own court were conspiring against
him in favour of a return to direct imperial rule. Furthermore, the
Catholic church, its internal problems solved, was now turning against
the Arian Theoderic. Several leading senators were arrested on
suspicion of conspiracy, including Boethius. It was while he was
imprisoned awaiting execution that this philosopher wrote the famous
Consolation of Philosophy. Theoderic's last years were unfortunately
marked by growing suspicion and distrust, as the fragile union of
Goths and Romans he had forged began to unravel. He died in 526,
naming the boy Athalaric as his heir and his daughter Amalasuintha as
regent. His kingdom outlived him barely a decade before falling
before the Byzantine forces under Belisarius and Justinian. Yet he is
remembered as "great"--for in the turmoil of the fifth and sixth
centuries, he somehow united Goths and Romans for three decades of peace.
Excerpta Valesiana , J. Moreau and V. Velkov, ed. Leipzig, 1968.
Jones, A.H.M. The Later Roman Empire . Baltimore, 1986.
Procopius, History of the Wars V-VI , H.B.Dewing, trans.London,1919.
Wolfram, Herwig, History of the Goths . Berkeley, 1988.
Copyright 1994 by Susan Carroll-Clark, 53 Thorncliffe Park Dr. #611,
Toronto, Ontario M4H 1L1 CANADA. Permission granted for
republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited
and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
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