Accession of the Emperor Justinian--His place in history--Overthrow of the Vandal kingdom in Africa by Belisarius--Battles of Ad Decimum and Tricamaron--Belisarius' triumph--Fall of the Burgundian kingdom--Death of Amalaric, king of Spain--Amalasuentha's troubles with her subjects as to her son's education--Secret negotiations with Justinian--Death of Athalaric--Theodahad made partner in the throne--Murder of Amalasuentha--Justinian declares war.
Our special subject, the life of Theodoric, is ended, but so closely was the king identified with the people that the narration can hardly close without a sketch of the fortunes of the Ostrogothic nation during the generation which followed his death. I shall not attempt any detailed history of this period, but shall draw merely its broadest outlines.
Notwithstanding the melancholy and apparently threatening circumstances which attended the death of Theodoric, his descendants succeeded to his power without a contest. In Spain, his grandson, Amalaric, who had probably by this time attained his majority, was hailed as king of the Visigoths. In Italy, Athalaric, now barely ten years old, became the nominal ruler, the real powers being exercised by his widowed mother, Amalasuentha, who was guided more implicitly than her father had been by the counsel of Cassiodorus, and availed herself of his fertile pen for the proclamations in which she addressed the subjects of her son. In writing to the Roman Senate, Cassiodorus made his child-sovereign enlarge on the felicity of the country in which the accession of a new ruler could take place without war or sedition or loss of any kind to the republic. "On account of the unsurpassed glory of the Amal race, the promise of my youth has been preferred to the merits of all others. The chiefs, glorious in council and in war, have flocked to recognise me as King, so gladly that it seems like a Divine inspiration, and the kingdom has been changed as one changes a garment. The general consent of Goths and Romans has crowned one King, and they have confirmed their allegiance by an oath. You, though distant from my person, are as near to me in heart as they, and I therefore call on you to follow their example. We all know that the most excellent fathers of the Senate love their King more fervently than other ranks of the State, in proportion to the greater benefits which they have received at his hand".
To the Senators, who had witnessed the denunciation of Albinus, and who had been compelled with anguish of heart to vote the condemnation of Boëthius, this allusion to the great benefits which they had received from their Gothic sovereign might seem almost like mockery: yet there can be little doubt that the Senate did hail the accession of Athalaric with acclamations, and that Amalasuentha's administration of affairs was popular with the Roman inhabitants of Italy. It might well be so, for this princess, born under an Italian sky, and accustomed from her childhood to gaze upon the great works which Rome had constructed for the embellishment of the peninsula, was no Goth at heart, but enthusiastically, even unwisely, Roman. In religious matters we are almost surprised to find that she adhered to the Arian creed of her father and her husband, but all talk of persecution of the Catholics ceased, and no more was heard of the enforced cession of their churches to the Arians. And in everything else but religion the sympathies of the new ruler were entirely on the side of the subject, not the dominant, nationality. As it had been said of old that "Captive Greece subdued her conquerors", so now was it with subject Italy and its Gothic mistress. A diligent student of Greek as well as of Latin literature, able to discourse with the ambassadors of Constantinople in well-turned Attic sentences, or to deliver a stately Latin oration to the messengers of the Senate, she could also, when the occasion required brevity, wrap herself in the robe of taciturnity which she inherited from her Teutonic ancestors, and with few, diplomatically chosen words, make the hearer feel his immeasurable inferiority to the "Lady of the Kingdoms". A woman with a mind thus richly stored with the literary treasure of Greece and Rome was likely to look with impatient scorn on the barren and barbarous annals of her people. We in whose ears the notes of the Teutonic minstrelsy of the Middle Ages are still sounding, we who know that Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe were all one day to arise from beneath the soil of Germanic literature, can hardly conceive how dreary and repulsive the national sagas, and even the every-day speech of her people, would seem in that day to a woman of great intellectual endowments, nor how strong would be the antagonism between culture and national patriotism in the heart of a princess like Amalasuentha.
Thus the position of things during the reign of the young Athalaric was strangely altered from that which had existed under his grandfather. The "King of the Goths and Romans" was under the sway of a mother who would make him virtually "King of the Romans", only leaving the Goths outside in moody isolation. Of course every step that Amalasuentha, in the enthusiasm of her love for things Roman, took towards the Roman Senate carried her farther from the traditions of her people, and lost her the love of some stern old Gothic warriors. And, moreover, with all her great intellectual endowments, it is clear that this highly cultivated, statuesque, and stately woman had little skill in reading character, little power in estimating the force of human motives. She had read (we may conjecture) Virgil and Sophocles, but she did not know what was in the heart of a child, and she knew not how long a scoundrel will wait for his revenge.
At the time that the Gothic kingdom was thus being administered by a child and a woman, the Roman Empire, which had seemed effete and decaying, was astonishing the world by its recovered and increasing vigour. Since the death of Theodosius (more than one hundred and thirty years before that of Theodoric) no great historic name had illustrated the annals of the Eastern Empire, But now, a year after the accession of Athalaric at Ravenna, the death of Justin, in the palace at Constantinople, (1st Aug., 527) brought upon the scene an Emperor who, whatever his faults, however disastrous (as I hold it to have been) his influence on the general happiness of the human race, made for himself undoubtedly one of the very greatest names in the whole series from Julius to Palaeologus--the world-famous Emperor Justinian.
With Justinian's long wars on the Eastern frontier of his Empire we have here no concern. He was matched there against a terrible rival, Chosroes Nushirvan, and at most succeeded (and that not always) in upholding the banner of Europe against triumphant Asia. His domestic affairs, his marriage with the actress Theodora, the strange ascendancy which she exerted over him through life, his magnificent buildings, the rebellion in Constantinople (springing out of the factions of the Hippodrome) which had all but hurled him from his throne,--these also are all beyond our province. So too is his noblest title to immortality, the composition by his orders of that magnificent legal trilogy, the Code, the Digest, and the Institutes, which summed up whatever was most worthy of preservation in the labours of Roman lawyers for nine centuries in the past, and sent it forward for at least thirteen centuries into the future to ascertain the rights and to mould the institutions of men dwelling in lands of the very existence of which no Roman, from the first Julius to the last Constantine, ever dreamed. Justinian as legislator is as much out of our present focus as Justinian the antagonist of Persia.
But what we have here briefly to concern ourselves with is that marvellous display of renewed energy by which the Empire, under Justinian, made its presence felt in Western Europe and Africa. During the thirty-eight years of his reign the great world-kingdom, which for five generations had been losing province after province to the Barbarians, and which, when she had once lost a game had seemed never to have the heart to try her fortune again on the same battle-field, now sent out her fleets and her armies, apparently with the same confidence of success which had once animated her Scipios and her Sullas, again planted her victorious standards on the citadel of Carthage, made the New Carthage in Spain, Malaga, and distant Cadiz her own, and--what concerns our present subject more nearly--once more asserted the unrestricted dominion of the Roman Augustus over Italy "from the Alps to the Sea". Let us beware of thinking of all these great changes as strange and precarious extensions of "the Byzantine Empire". To do so is to import the language of much later ages into the politics of the sixth century. However clearly we may now see that the relations thus established between Constantinople and the western shores of the Mediterranean were artificial, and destined not to endure, to Justinian and his contemporaries these were not "conquests by Constantinople", but "the recovery of Africa, Italy, and part of Spain for the Roman Republic".
The first of the Teutonic states to fall was the kingdom of the Vandals. Its ruin was certainly hastened by the estrangement between its royal house and that of the Ostrogoths. We left Theodoric's sister, the stately and somewhat domineering Amalafrida in prison at Carthage. Soon after her brother's death she was executed or murdered, by order of her cousin the Catholic reformer, Hilderic. This outrage was keenly resented by the court of Ravenna. Hostilities between the two states were apparently imminent, but probably Amalasuentha felt that war, whether successful or unsuccessful, would be too dangerous for the dynasty, and sullen alienation took the place of the preparation of fleets and armies. In June, 531, five years after the accession of Athalaric, the elderly and effeminate Hilderic was deposed by his martial subjects who had long chafed under the rule of such a sovereign, and his cousin, the warlike Gelimer, ascended the throne. The deposition of Hilderic, followed for the present not by his death but by his close imprisonment, furnished the ambitious Justinian with a fair pretext for war, since Hilderic was not only the ally of the Empire, and a Catholic, but was descended on his mother's side from the great Theodosius and related to many of the Byzantine nobility. In spite of the opposition of the more cautious among his counsellors, Justinian decided to despatch an expedition for the conquest of Carthage, and about Midsummer, 533, a fleet of 500 ships, manned by 20,000 sailors and conveying 15,000 soldiers (10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry), sailed forth from the Bosphorus into the Sea of Marmora, bound for the Libyan waters. At the head of the army was Belisarius, now about twenty-eight years of age, a man who came, like his Imperial master, from the highlands of Illyricum, but who, unlike that master, was probably of noble lineage. Three years before, he had won the battle of Daras, defeating the Persian general, whose army was nearly twice as numerous as his own, and he had already shown signs of that profound knowledge of the science, and that wonderful mastery of the art of war which he was afterwards to display in many a hard-fought campaign, and which entitled him to a place in the innermost circle of the greatest generals that the world has seen.
The voyage of the Imperial fleet was slow and tedious, and had the Vandal king been well served by his ambassadors there was ample time to have anticipated its attack. But Gelimer seems to have been quite ignorant of the projected expedition, and had actually sent off some of his best troops under the command of his brother, Tzazo, to suppress a rebellion which had broken out in Sardinia. Moreover, the estrangement between Vandals and Ostrogoths was a most fortunate event for the Imperial cause. In consequence of that estrangement Belisarius was able to land in Sicily to refresh his soldiers wearied with a long voyage, and to obtain accurate information as to the preparations, or rather no-preparations, of the enemy.
Early in September the army landed at the promontory of Caput-vada, about one hundred and thirty miles south-east of Carthage, and began their march towards the capital. They journeyed unopposed through friendly Catholic villages, and royal parks beautiful in verdure and abounding in luscious fruits, until, after eleven days, they arrived at the tenth milestone from Carthage, and here came the shock of war. Gelimer had planned a combined attack on (13th Sept., 533) the Imperial army, by himself, operating on their rear, and his brother Ammatas making a vigorous sally from Carthage and attacking them in front. If the two attacks had been really simultaneous, it might have gone hardly with the Imperial army; but Ammatas came too soon to the field, was defeated and slain. Gelimer arriving later on in the day inflicted a partial defeat on the troops of Belisarius, but, coming to the spot where lay the dead body of his brother, he stayed so long to bewail and to bury him that Belisarius had time to rally his forces and to convert defeat into victory. Gelimer fled to the open country. Belisarius pressed on and without further opposition entered the gates of Carthage, where he was received by the majority of the citizens, who spoke the Latin tongue, and professed the Catholic faith, with unconcealed rejoicing. Some Roman merchants who had been confined for many weeks in the dungeon were (15th Sept., 533) liberated by their anxious gaoler. But the Imperial victory came too late for the captive Hilderic, as he had been already put to death in prison by order of his successor. There was thus neither friend nor foe left to bar Justinian's claim to rule as Augustus over Africa.
[Footnote 141: Ad Decimum.]
Belisarius was accompanied in this, as in many subsequent expeditions, by his secretary and counsellor, the rhetorician Procopius, who has written the story of their wars in a style worthy of his hero-chief. He describes the sensations of surprise at their own good fortune, with which Belisarius and his suite found themselves at noon of the 15 th September, sitting in Gelimer's gorgeous banquet-hall, served by the Vandal's lackeys and partaking of the sumptuous repast which he had ordered to be prepared in celebration of his anticipated victory. At this point Procopius indulges in a strain of meditation which is not unusual with him: "We may see hereby how Fortune wantons in her pride, how she teaches us that she is mistress of all things, and that she will not suffer Man to have anything which he can call his own".
Though Carthage was taken, the war was not yet over. Tzazo, who, in the midst of his victories in Sardinia, heard of the ruin of his country, hastened home with a valiant and hitherto triumphant army, and joined his brother, Gelimer, on the plain of Bulla, in Numidia. When the two brothers met they clasped one another round the neck and for long could not loosen their hold, yet could they speak no word to each other, but wrung their hands and wept; and so did each one of the companions of Gelimer with some one of the officers of the army of Sardinia. But tears soon gave place to the longing for revenge, and the two armies, forming one strong and determined host, moved eastward to Tricamaron, about twenty miles distant from Carthage, and began a partial blockade of the capital. On the 15 th December Belisarius met the Vandals in battle-array. The fight was more stubbornly contested than that of Ad Decimum; but Tzazo fell in the thickest of the battle, and again the impulsive nature of Gelimer was so moved by the sight of a brother's blood that he renounced the struggle for his crown and galloped away from the field.
Now the conquest of Africa was indeed completed, but Belisarius was set upon capturing the person of the fugitive king, as an ornament to his triumph and the pledge of victory. The tedious task was delegated to a Teutonic chief named Pharas, who for three months beleaguered the impregnable hill on the confines of Mauritania, on the summit of which was the fortress in which Gelimer had taken refuge. The incidents which marked his final surrender have been often described. He who had been of late the daintily-living lord of Africa found life hard indeed among the rough, half-savage Moors, who were partly his body-guard and partly his gaolers. An ambassador sent by Pharas to exhort him to surrender and cast himself on the clemency of Justinian brought back his proud refusal to submit to one who had done him so much undeserved wrong, but brought back also a pathetic request that his courteous foe would grant him three things, a lyre, a sponge, and a loaf of bread. The loaf was to remind him of the taste of baked bread, which he had not eaten for months; the sponge was to bathe his eyes, weakened with continual tears; the lyre, to enable him to set to music an ode which he had composed on the subject of his misfortunes. A few days more passed by, and then came Gelimer's offer to surrender at discretion, trusting to the generosity of the Emperor. What finally broke down his proud spirit was the sight of a delicately nurtured child, the son of one of his Vandal courtiers, fighting with a dirty little Moor for a half-baked piece of dough, which the two boys had pulled out of the ashes where it was baking.
Gelimer, whose reason was perhaps somewhat unhinged by his hardships, gave a loud laugh--professedly at the instability of human greatness--when brought into the presence of Belisarius. He and his captors soon embarked for Constantinople, where they arrived probably about the middle of 534. It had thus taken less than a year to level with the ground the whole fabric of Vandal dominion, reared a century before by the terrible Gaiseric, and to reunite Africa to the Roman Republic. Belisarius received a splendid triumph, the chief figure of which was of course the captive Gelimer, who, with a purple robe on his shoulders, paced through the streets, shouting ever and anon in a melancholy voice, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity". When the procession reached the palace, Gelimer by constraint and Belisarius willingly prostrated themselves at the feet of "Justinianus Augustus". The promises on the faith of which the Vandal king had surrendered himself were well kept. He might have been raised to the dignity of Patrician, if he would have renounced his Arian creed. As it was, he lived in honourable exile on the large estates in Galatia, which he had received from the bounty of the Emperor.
In the same year (534) which witnessed the triumph of Belisarius over the conquered Vandals came the final overthrow of the Burgundian monarchy. In 523 Sigismund, the son-in-law of Theodoric, the convert to Catholicism who ordered the murder of his son, had been defeated in battle by the sons of Clovis, and together with his wife and two sons had been thrown down a deep well and so slain. Theodoric, incensed at the murder of his grandson, had taken part against Sigismund and obtained a large accession of territory in Dauphiné as the price of his alliance with the Franks. But a brother of Sigismund's, named Godamir, rallied the beaten Burgundians, defeated the Franks in a battle in which one of their kings was slain, and succeeded in maintaining for eleven years longer the independence of his nation. In the year 532, however, the Frankish kings again entered the valley of the Rhone with their desolating hosts, and in 534 they completed its conquest and added it to the great unwieldy monarchy over which they ruled in a kind of family partnership.
In Spain too the Frankish kings had achieved some successes, and at the cost of a descendant of Theodoric. Amalaric, king of the Visigoths, had married, probably after his grandfather's death, Clotilda, daughter of Clovis, and for a time seems to have pursued a tolerant policy towards the Catholics, but gradually drifted into a position of unreasoning and barbarous hostility towards them, hostility from which his own wife was not exempted. He caused filth to be cast at the devout Clotilda, when she was on her way to the Catholic basilica, nay, he even lifted his hand to strike her. The cowardly blow brought blood, and the drops of this blood, royal and Frankish, collected on a handkerchief and sent northward over the Pyrenees, brought the two brother-kings of the Franks into Spain (431). Amalaric was defeated, fled to Barcelona, and sought to escape thence by sea, probably to Italy; but his passage to the harbour was barred by his own mutinous soldiers, and he perished by a javelin hurled by one of them. The Franks returned, enriched with great booty, to their own land, and Theudis, the Ostrogothic noble, whose power had long overshadowed his master's, and who was accused by some of having caused the mutiny of his troops, succeeded to his throne.
[Footnote 142: At Narbonne. The part of Languedoc called Septimania was still held by the Visigoths.]
So had the great Arian league and the network of family alliances, by which Theodoric had sought to guard it from the spoiler, passed away into nothingness: and thus did the Ostrogothic kingdom now stand alone and without allies before the rejuvenated Empire, flushed with victory, and possessing such a head as Justinian, such a terrible right arm as Belisarius. Not many months had elapsed from the battle of Tricamaron when the ambassadors of the Empire appeared at Ravenna to present those claims out of which Greek ingenuity would soon fashion a pretext for war. The town of Lilybæum, in Sicily had long ago been handed over by Theodoric to the Vandal king Thrasamund as part of Amalafrida's dowry. Apparently it had been recaptured by the Goths after the death of the Vandal queen, but Justinian urged that it was still the rightful possession of Gelimer, and therefore of himself, who now by the fortune of war was Gelimer's master. Then there were certain Huns, deserters from the Emperor's service, who had been allowed by the governor of Naples to enlist in the Gothic army. A Gothic general who had to conduct some warlike operations near Sirmium had crossed the Danube and sacked Gratiana, a city in Moesia. All these grievances were rehearsed by the Imperial ambassador, who hinted, not obscurely, that war would follow if they were not redressed.
In fact, however, the real object of the embassy which came with this formal statement of grievances was to discuss a strange proposition which had been made by Amalasuentha, one for the understanding of which we must go back a few years (we are not told exactly how many) to an event which illustrates the manner in which the Gothic princess conducted the education of her son. She wished, we are told, to have him brought up in all respects after the manner of the Romans, and forced him every day to go to the house of a grammarian to learn his lessons. Moreover, she chose out three Gothic ancients, men of wisdom and of calm, reasonable temperament, and assigned these venerable persons to Athalaric as his constant companions. This manner of training the kingly boy did not at all suit the ideas of the Goths, the Roman historian says, "because they wished him to be trained in more barbaric style in order that they might have the more liberty for oppressing their subjects": a modern historian may suggest, "because they remembered their own childhood and knew what was in the heart of a boy", of which Amalasuentha, who was evidently elderly and wise in her cradle, had no conception. One day, for some childish offence, the young king was slapped in the face by his mother, and thereupon, in a tempest of passionate tears, he burst out of the women's apartments and appeared sobbing in the men's hall of audience. All Gothic hearts were stirred when they saw the princely Amal thus mishandled, and the warriors began to hint the insulting suspicion that Amalasuentha wished to educate her child into his grave, that she might marry again and make her new husband king of the Goths and Romans. The nobles of the nation were gathered together, and seeking an audience with the princess, their spokesman thus addressed her: "O lady, you are not dealing justly by us, nor doing that which is expedient for the nation, in your way of educating your son. Letters and book-learning are very different from manly courage and fortitude, and to hand a lad over to the teaching of greybeards is generally the way to make him a coward and a caitiff. He who is to do daring deeds and win glory in the world must be emancipated from fear of the pedagogue and be practising martial exercises. Your father Theodoric would never suffer his Goths to send their sons to the grammarian-school, for he used to say: 'If they fear their teacher's strap now they will never look on sword or javelin without a shudder.' And he himself, who won the lordship of such wide lands, and died king of so fair a kingdom which he had not inherited from his fathers, knew nothing even by hearsay of this book-learning. Therefore, lady, you must say 'good-bye' to these pedagogues, and give Athalaric companions of his own age, who may grow up with him to manhood and make of him a valiant king after the pattern of the barbarians".
Amalasuentha listened with outward calmness to this harangue, and though filled with secret indignation recognised the people's voice to which she was forced to bow. The meek old men were removed from Athalaric's bed-chamber; he was released from his daily attendance on the grammarian; and some young Gothic nobles were assigned to him as associates. But the rebound was too sudden. His barbarian comrades led astray the young king's heart after wine and women. His health began to be undermined by his excesses, and the surly ill-nature which he manifested towards his mother was a sure indication of the defenceless position in which she would find herself as soon as her son should assume the reins of government. Feeling these reins slipping from her grasp, she opened secret negotiations with Justinian to assure herself of his protection in case she should be driven from Italy by rebellion. But in the meantime she singled out three of the Gothic nobles who had been prominent in the revolt against her authority and sent them, on one pretext or another connected with the defence of the realm, to widely separated towns on the extreme borders of Italy. Though severed, they still found means to hold mutual communications and to plot the downfall of the princess. Informed of this conspiracy, she freighted a vessel with forty thousand pounds' weight of gold (£1,6000,000) and sent it to Dyrrhachium, on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, to await her further orders. If things should go ill with her she would thus, in any event, have a line of retreat opened towards Constantinople and a comfortable subsistence assured to her in that capital. Having taken these precautions, she gave a commission to some of her bravest and most devoted followers (for she evidently had a strong party in her favour) to seek out the three disaffected nobles in their various places of banishment and put them to death. Her henchmen obeyed her bidding; no popular tumult was excited; the sceptre seemed to be more firmly than ever grasped by the hand of the princess; the ship, without having discharged its cargo, was ordered back from Dyrrhachium, and there came a slight lull in the underground negotiations with Constantinople.
But another candidate for the favours of Justinian was also appearing in the royal family of the Goths. Theodahad, son of Amalfrida, and therefore nephew of Theodoric, was a man now pretty far advanced in middle life. He had received in his boyhood that literary and rhetorical training which Amalasuentha yearned to bestow on her son; he was well versed in the works of the Roman orators and could discourse learnedly on the dialogues of Plato. Unhappily, this varnish of intellectual culture covered a thoroughly vile and rotten character. He was averse to all the warlike employments of his forefathers, but his whole heart was set on robbery, under the form of civilisation, by means of extortion and chicane. He had received from his uncle ample estates in the fertile province of Tuscany, but he was one who, as the common people said, "could not endure a neighbour", and, on one pretence or other, he was perpetually adding farm after farm and villa after villa to his enormous property. Already during his uncle's reign the grave pen of Cassiodorus had been twice employed to censure Theodahad's avarice, "a vulgar vice, which the kinsman of the king and a man of Amal blood is especially bound to avoid", and to complain that "you, who should have shown an example of glorious moderation, have caused the scandal of high-handed spoliation". After Theodoric's death the process of unjust accumulation went on rapidly. From every part of Tuscany the cry went up that the provincials were being oppressed and their lands taken from them on no pretext whatever; and the Counts of the Royal Patrimony had to complain that even the king's domain was suffering from Theodahad's depredations. He was summoned to the Comitatus or King's Court, at Ravenna; his various acts of alleged spoliation were inquired into; their injustice was clearly proved, and he was compelled by Amalasuentha to restore the wrongfully appropriated lands.
It was perhaps before this process was actually begun, but after Theodahad was made aware that the clamour against him was growing louder and had reached the ears of his cousin, that he sought an interview with the Bishops of Ephesus and Philippi, who had come over to Italy on some ecclesiastical errand from the Emperor to the Pope. To these clerical ambassadors Theodahad made the extraordinary proposal that Justinian should buy of him the province of Tuscany for a certain large sum of money, to which was to be added the dignity of a Senator of Constantinople. If this negotiation could be carried through, the diligent student of Plato and Cicero proposed to end his days in dignified retirement at the Eastern capital.
We may now return to the palace of Ravenna and be present at the audience granted, probably in the summer of 534, by Amalasuentha to Alexander, the ambassador of Justinian. To the demands for the surrender of Lilybæum and the complaints as to the enlistment of Hunnish deserters, Amalasuentha made, in public, a suitable and sprited reply: "It was not the part of a great and courageous monarch to pick a quarrel with an orphaned king, too young to be accurately informed of what was going on in all parts of his dominions, about such paltry matters as the possession of Lilybæum, a barren and worthless rock of Sicily, about ten wild Huns who had sought refuge in Italy, and about the offence which the Gothic soldiers had, in their ignorance, committed against a friendly city in Moesia. Justinian should look at the other side of the account, should remember the aid and comfort which his soldiers, on their expedition against the Vandals, had received from the friendly Ostrogoths in Sicily, and should ask himself whether without that aid he would ever have recovered possession of Africa. If Lilybæum did belong by right to the Emperor it was not too great a reward for him to bestow on his young ally for such opportune assistance".
This was publicly the answer of Amalasuentha--a bold and determined refusal to surrender the rock of Lilybæum. In her private interview with the ambassador, she assured him that she was ready to fulfil her compact and to make arrangements for the transfer to the Emperor of the whole of Italy.
When the two sets of ambassadors, civil and ecclesiastical, returned to Constantinople the Emperor perceived that here were two negotiations to be carried on of the most delicate kind and requiring the presence of a master of diplomacy. He accordingly despatched to Ravenna a rhetorician named Peter, a man of considerable intellectual endowments--he was a historian as well as an orator--and one who had, eighteen years before, held the high office of consul. But it was apparently winter before Peter started on his journey, and when he arrived at Aulon (now Valona), just opposite Brindisi, he heard such startling tidings as to the events which had occurred on the Italian side of the Adriatic, that he waited there and asked for further instructions from his master as to the course which he was to pursue in the existing position of affairs. (2nd Oct., 534.)
First of all came the death of the unhappy lad, Athalaric, in his eighteenth year, the victim of unwise strictness, followed by unwise licence, and of the barbarian's passion for swinish and sensual pleasures. When her son was dead, Amalasuentha, who had an instinctive feeling that the Goths would never submit to undisguised female sovereignty, took a strange and desperate resolution. She sent for Theodahad, now the only surviving male of the stock of Theodoric, and, fashioning her lips to a smile, began to apologise for the humiliating sentence which had issued against him from the King's Court. "She had known all along", she said, "that her boy would die, and as he, Theodahad, would then be the one hope of Theodoric's line, she had wished to abate his unpopularity and set him straight with his future subjects by strictly enforcing their rights against him. Now all that was over: his record was clear and she was ready to invite him to become the partner of her throne; but he must first swear the most solemn oaths that he would be satisfied with the name of royalty and that the actual power should remain, as it had done for nine years, in the hands of Amalasuentha".
[Footnote 143: As colleague, not as husband; Theodahad's wife, Gudelina, was still living when he ascended the throne.]
Theodahad cheerfully swore tremendous oaths to the observance of this compact. Proclamations in the name of the two new sovereigns were put forth to all the Goths and Italians. In them Theodahad grovelled in admiration of the wisdom, the virtue, the eloquence of the noble lady who had raised him to so high a station and who had done him the inestimable favour of making him feel her justice before she bestowed upon him her grace. Few weeks, however, passed, before Amalasuentha was a prisoner, hurried away to a little lonely island in the Lake of Bolsena in Tuscany by order of the partner of her throne. Having taken this step, Theodahad began with craven apologies to excuse it to the Eastern Cæsar. "He had done no harm to Amalasuentha; he would do no harm to her, though she had been guilty of the most nefarious designs against him: he only sought to protect her from the vengeance of the kinsmen of the three Gothic nobles whom she had murdered". An embassy composed of Roman Senators was ordered to carry this tale to Justinian and to confirm it by a letter which, under duresse, had been wrung from the unfortunate princess in her prison. When the ambassadors arrived at Constantinople one of them spoke the words of the part which had been set down for him and declared that Theodahad had done nothing against Amalasuentha of which any reasonable complaint could be made; but the others, headed by the brave Liberius, "a man of singularly high and noble nature, and of the most watchful regard to truth", told the whole story exactly as it had happened to the Emperor. The result was a despatch to the ambassador Peter enjoining him to find means of assuring Amalasuentha that Justinian would exert all his influence for her safety, and to inform Theodahad publicly, in presence of all his counsellors, that it was at his own peril that he would touch a hair of the head of the Gothic queen.
Scarcely, however, had Peter touched the Italian shore--he had not conveyed a letter to the prison nor uttered a word in the palace--when the sad tragedy was ended. The relations of the three nobles, who had "blood-feud" with the queen, and who were perhaps, according to the code of barbarian morality, justified in avenging their death, made their way to Amalasuentha's island prison, and there, in that desolate abode, the daughter of Theodoric met her death at their hands, dying with all that stately dignity and cold self-possession with which she had lived.
Justinian's ambassador at once proceeded to the King's Court, and there, in the presence of all the Gothic nobles, denounced the foul deed which they had permitted to be done, and declared that for this there must be "truceless war" between the Emperor and them. Theodahad, as stupid as he was vile, renewed his ridiculous protestations that he had no part in the violence done to Amalasuentha, but had heard of it with the utmost regret, and this although he had already rewarded the murderers with signal tokens of his favour.
Thus, by the folly of the wise and the criminal audacity of the coward, had a train been laid for the destruction of the Ostrogothic kingdom. All the petty pretexts for war, the affair of Lilybæum, the Hunnish deserters, the sack of Gratiana, faded into insignificance before this new and most righteous cause of quarrel. If Hilderic's deposition had been avenged by the capture of Carthage, with far more justice might the death of the noble Amalasuentha be avenged by the capture of Ravenna and of Rome. In the great war which was soon to burst upon Italy Justinian could figure not only as the protector of the provincials, not only as the defender of the Catholics, but as the avenger of the blood of the daughter of Theodoric.