previous next


Θευδέριχος), or THEODERICUS, surnamed the GREAT, king of the Ostrogoths, was the son of Theodemir by his favourite concubine Eralieva. He was born in the neighbourhood of Vienna in A. D. 455, two years after the death of Attila. His father, and his father's brothers, Walamir and Widimir, had secured the independence of the Ostrogoths by the defeat of the Huns, and ruled their people as the acknowledged descendants of the royal race of the Am ;ali. In the eighth year of his age Theodoric was sent as a hostage to the emperor Leo, who had purchased the assistance of the Ostrogoths by an annual subsidy. Theodoric received his education at Constantinople, and was restored to his father in 473, when he had reached the age of eighteen, as the emperor hoped to gain the favour of the Ostrogoths by this mark of confidence. During his absence Theodemir had become sole ruler of the nation, since Walamir had fallen in battle, and Widimir, the younger of the brothers, had marcher into Italy and Gaul at the head of an army of barbarians. Theodoric had been carefully trained at Constantinople in all martial exercises, and had not lost, amidst the effeminacy of the Greek court, any of the ferocious valour of his people. Soon after his return he gathered around him a body of volunteers, and, without the knowledge of his father, descended the Danube, and conquered and slew in battle a Sarmatian king. Theodoric afterwards accompanied his father and the Ostrogoths, when they quitted their settlements in order to obtain a more fertile territory at the expense of the Byzantine empire. This was in the last year of the reign of the emperor Leo; and Zeno the Isaurian, who succeeded him in 474, hastened to make peace with the Ostrogoths, ceded to them the southern part of Pannonia and Dacia, and entrusted them with the defence of the lower Danube. They had scarcely time to take possession of their new territory, when the death of Theodemir, in 475, placed Theodoric on the throne of the Ostrogoths.

Theodoric was for some time a faithful ally of Zeno. He was of great assistance to the emperor in restoring him to the throne, when he was expelled in 476 [ZENO]; and he carried on war, on behalf of Zeno, with another Gothic prince, Theodoric, the son of Triarius; but the treachery of Zeno, who neglected to supply him with the provisions and the reinforcements of troops he had promised, led the son of Theodemir to conclude a peace with the son of Triarius. To punish the emperor, and, still more, to satisfy the appetite of his subjects for plunder, Theodoric, the son of Theodemir, now ravaged the Byzantine dominions, and laid waste the whole of Macedonia and Thessaly. At length, in 483, Zeno appeased his resentment by conferring upon him the titles of Patrician and Praefectus militiae, by liberal donatives, by adopting him as his son, by erecting his statue in front of the imperial palace, and, finally, by raising him to the consulship in the following year, 484. But these honours did not long retain Theodoric in his allegiance; the restless spirit of his countrymen would not allow him to remain quiet if he had desired it; and accordingly lie again took up arms in 487, and marched upon Constantinople. To save himself and his capital, Zeno gave Theodoric permission to invade Italy, and expel the usurper Odoacer from the country. The proposal was gladly accepted by the king of the Ostrogoths ; but the terms on which the conquered country was to be held seem to have been purposely left in ambiguity. The Greeks afterwards asserted that Theodoric had promised to conquer the country for the emperor; while the Ostrogoths, on the other hand, alleged that Zeno had expressly ceded Italy to their king.

Theodoric commenced his march towards Italy in 488. The reputation of the leader, and the wealth and beauty of Italy, attracted to his standard a vast host of Goths. They were accompanied by their wives and children, and they carried with them all their moveable property. It was, in fact, an emigration of the whole nation. After encountering numerous obstacles and dangers, and fighting his way through various tribes of Bulgarians, Gepidae, and Sarmatians, Theodoric at length entered Italy in the summer of 489. Odoacer had collected a powerful army to oppose him, and the first battle was fought on the banks of the Sontius or Isontius, not far from Aquileia (28th of August, 489). Odoacer was defeated with great loss, but he again collected his troops in the neighbourhood of Verona, and offered battle a second time to Theodoric (27th of September, 489). This second battle was still more disastrous than the former one, and Odoacer was compelled to relinquish the open country to the invaders, and to shut himself up within the strong fortifications of Ravenna. In the following year (490) he sallied out of the town, and at first gained some advantages over the troops of Theodoric in the neighbourhood of Pavia ; but the Gothic king soon rallied his forces, and defeated Odoacer in a third and decisive victory on the banks of the Adda (August, 490). Odoacer again took refuge in Ravenna, where he sustained a siege of three years, while the generals of Theodoric gradually subdued the whole of Italy. At length, in 493, Odoacer agreed to admit the Ostrogoths into Ravenna, on condition that he and Theodoric should rule jointly over Italy. The treaty was confirmed by an oath, but after a few days Odoacer, in the midst of a banquet, was stabbed by the hands or command of his more fortunate rival (5th of March, 493).

Theodoric was now the undisturbed master of Italy, which he ruled for thirty-three years, till his death in 526. The history of his long and prosperous reign does not fall within the plan of the present work. A few particulars only can be mentioned, and the reader must refer for further information to the glowing description of Gibbon. As soon as Theodoric was firmly seated on the throne, he turned his attention to the improvement of the country, which had sunk into the most miserable condition from the long and devastating wars it had gone through. The third part of the lands, which had been previously seized by Odoacer, were assigned to his Gothic warriors, who were thus scattered over the whole country, and formed the standing army of his kingdom. The Italians were secured in the possession of the remaining two thirds of the lands; they were debarred from the use of arms, but they retained all the other rights and privileges which they had previously enjoyed. Theodoric also gradually introduced among his rude warriors a strict discipline, and taught them to respect the lives and property of their Italian neighbours. Although an Arian himself, the most complete toleration was given to the Catholic religion, and Theodoric rather discouraged than promoted conversion to the Arian faith among his Italian subjects. Under his mild and beneficent rule agriculture and commerce flourished, and Italy again became one of the most prosperous countries in the world. Theodoric's relations with foreign nations were marked by principles of justice and integrity, and lie showed no desire to extend his dominions at the expense of his neighbours. Unlike other barbarians, he had sufficient penetration to see that the extension of his dominions would not bring an extension of power, and thus most of the wars in which he engaged were purely defensive. The various Germanic nations looked up to him as their chief, and he cemented his connection with them by intermarriages with most of their royal families. Thus he married his two daughters Theodichusa and Ostrogotha, the former to Alaric II., king of the Visigoths, and the latter to Sigismund, the son of Gundobald, king of the Burgundians; his sister Amalfrida, the widow of a noble Goth, he gave in marriage to Thrasimund, king of the Vandals; and his niece Amalaberga to Hermanfried, the last king of the Thuringians. So widely extended was Theodoric's name that the most distant nations courted his alliance and his friendship, and embassies from the rude people on the shores of the Baltic came to Ravenna to present to him their gifts. He became ruler of the Visigoths on the death of his son-in-law Alaric II. The only legitimate son of Alaric was a child named Amalaric, whom he had by the daughter of Theodoric; and to protect the rights of his grandson against the Franks, he sent an army into Gaul, by which he established his power in that country.

Theodoric usually resided at Ravenna, but he removed his court to Verona, whenever his kingdom was threatened by the neighbouring barbarians. On one occasion (A. D. 500), he visited Rome, where he convened the senate, and assured them of his intention to govern with justice. Although ignorant of literature himself, Theodoric encouraged learned men; and among his ministers were Cassiodorus and Boethins, the two last writers who can claim a place in the literature of ancient Rome. Prosperous as had been the reign of Theodoric, his last days were darkened by disputes with the Catholics, and by the condemnation and execution of Boethius and Symmachus, whom he accused of a conspiracy to overthrow the Gothic dominion in Italy. [BOETHIUS; SYMMACHUS.] Theodoric died in 526. His death is said to have been hastened by remorse. It is related that one evening, when a large fish was served on the table, he fancied that he beheld the head of Symmachus, and was so terrified that he took to his bed, and died three days afterwards. Theodoric was buried at Ravenna, and a monument was erected to his memory by his daughter Amalasuntha. His ashes were deposited in a porphyry vase, which is still to be seen at Ravenna.

Theodoric left no male issue. He bequeathed his dominions to his two grandsons, Athalaric, the son of his daughter Amalasuntha by a prince of the royal race of the Amali, and Amalaric, the son of Alaric II. and Theodichusa. The Rhone was declared to be the boundary of their dominions : Athalaric was to possess Italy and the conquests of the Ostrogoths, while Amalaric was to succeed to the sovereignty of the Visigoths in Gaul and Spain. The great monarch of the Ostrogoths was long celebrated in the old Teutonic songs. He appears in the " Niebelungen-Lied" under the title of Dietrich of Bern, that is, Verona. (Jornandes, de Reb. Get. ; Procopius, de Bell. Goth. ; Ennodius, Panegyricus Theodoric. ; Cassiodorus, Chron. and Variar. ; Cochlaeus, Vit. Theodoric., ed. Peringskjöld, Stockholm, 1699, 4to; Tillemont, Histoire des Empereurs, vol. vi.; Gibbon, Decline and Fall, c. xxxix.; Manso, Geschichte des Ost Gothischen Reiches in Italien, Breslan, 1824.)

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
500 AD (1)
455 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: