Theodoric the Goth Conquers Italy

The barbarians now fought amongst themselves for the remanants of the dying Roman Empire.

Odovacar invades Dalmatia--Conducts a successful campaign against the Rugians--Theodoric accepts from Zeno the commission to overthrow Odovacar--He invades Italy, overthrowing the Gepidse, who attempt to bar his passage--Battles of the Isonzo and Verona--Odovacar takes refuge in Ravenna--The treachery of Tufa--Gundobad, king of the Burgundians, comes to Italy to oppose Theodoric, while Alaric II, king of the Visigoths, comes as his ally--The battle of the Adda, and further defeat of Odovacar--Surrender of Ravenna--Assassination of Odovacar.


The friendly relations between Odovacar and the Eastern Emperor which had been established by the embassy last described were gradually altered into estrangement. In the year 480, Nepos, the dethroned Emperor of Rome, was stabbed by two treacherous courtiers in his palace near Salona. Odovacar led an army into Dalmatia, and avenged the murder, but also apparently annexed the province of Dalmatia to his dominion, thus coming into nearer neighbourhood with Constantinople (487-488) This may have been one cause of alienation, but a more powerful one was the negotiation which was commenced in the year 484 between Odovacar and Illus, the last of the many insurgent generals who disturbed the reign of Zeno. At first Odovacar held himself aloof from the proposed confederacy, but afterwards (486) he was disposed, or Zeno believed that he was disposed, to accept the alliance of the insurgent general. In order to find him sufficient occupation nearer home, the Emperor fanned into a flame the smouldering embers of discord between Odovacar and Feletheus, king of the Rugians, the most powerful ruler of those Danubian lands from which the Italian king himself had migrated into Italy. The Rugian war was short, and Odovacar's success was decisive. In 487 he vanquished the Rugian army and carried Feletheus and his wife prisoners to Ravenna. In 488 an attempt to raise again the standard of the Rugian monarchy, which was made by Frederic, the son of Feletheus, was crushed, and Frederic, an exile and a fugitive, betook himself to the camp of Theodoric, who was then dwelling at Novæ(Sistova?), on the Danube.

When the attempt to weaken Odovacar by means of his fellow-barbarians in "Rugiland" failed, Zeno feigned outward acquiescence, offering congratulations on the victory and receiving presents out of the Rugian spoils, but in his heart he felt that there must now be war to the death between him and this too powerful ruler of Italy. The news came to him at a time when Theodoric was in one of his most turbulent and destructive moods, when he had penetrated within fourteen miles of Constantinople and had fired the towns and villages of Thrace, perhaps even within sight of the capital. It was a natural thought and not altogether an unstatesmanlike expedient to play off one disturber of his peace against the other, to commission Theodoric to dethrone the "tyrant" Odovacar, and thus at least earn repose for the provincials of Thrace, perhaps secure an ally at Ravenna. Theodoric, we may be sure, with those instincts of civilisation and love for the Empire which had been in his heart from boyhood, though often repressed and disobeyed, needed little exhortation to an enterprise which he may himself have suggested to the Emperor.

Thus then it came to pass that a formal interview was arranged between Emperor and King (perhaps at Constantinople, though it seems doubtful whether Theodoric could have safely trusted himself within its walls), and at this interview the terms of the joint enterprise were arranged, an enterprise to which Theodoric was to contribute all the effective strength and Zeno the glamour of Imperial legitimacy.

When the high contracting parties met, Theodoric lamented the hapless condition of Italy and Rome: Italy once subject to the predecessors of Zeno; Rome, once the mistress of the world, now harassed and distressed by the usurped authority of a king of Rugians and Turcilingians. If the Emperor would send Theodoric thither with his people, he would be at once relieved from the heavy charges of their stipendia which he was now bound to furnish, while Theodoric would hold the land as of the free gift of the Emperor, and would reign there as king, only till Zeno himself should arrive to claim the supremacy[51].

[Footnote 51: The account of this important interview is combined from two sources: Jordanes, the Gothic historian, who naturally magnifies Theodoric's share in the inception of the enterprise; and a chronicler known as "Anonymus Valesii", who evidently writes in the interest of Zeno. It is from the latter only that we have any hint of an intended visit of Zeno to Italy, a visit which certainly never took place. Procopius, who also writes from the Byzantine point of view, attributes the conception of the design to Zeno.]

In the autumn of the year 488, Theodoric with all his host set forth from Sistova on the Danube on his march to Italy. His road was the same taken by Alaric and by most of the barbarian invaders; along the Danube as far as Belgrade, then between the rivers Drave and Save or along the banks of one of them till he reached the Julian Alps (not far from the modern city of Laibach), then down upon Aquileia and the Venetian plain. As in the Macedonian campaign, so now, he was accompanied by all the members of his nation, old men and children, mothers and maidens, and doubtless by a long train of waggons. We have no accurate information whatever as to the number of his army, but various indications, both in earlier and later history, seem to justify us in assuming that the soldiers must have numbered fully 40,000; and if this was the case, the whole nation cannot have been less than 200,000. The difficulty of finding food for so great a multitude in the often desolated plains of Pannonia and Noricum must have been enormous, and was no doubt the reason of the slowness of Theodoric's progress. Very probably he divided his army into several portions, moving on parallel lines; foragers would scour the country far and wide, stores of provisions would be accumulated in the great Gothic waggons, which would be laboriously driven over the rough mountain passes. Then all the divisions of the army which had scattered in search of food would have to concentrate again when they came into the neighbourhood of an enemy, whether Odovacar or one of the barbarian kings who sought to bar their progress. All these operations consumed much time, and hence it was that though the Goths started on their pilgrimage in 488 (probably in the autumn of that year) they did not descend into the plains of Italy even at its extreme north-eastern corner, till July, 489.

There was one fact which probably facilitated the progress of Theodoric, and prevented his expedition with such a multitude from being condemned as absolute foolhardiness. His road lay, for the most part, through regions with which he was already well acquainted, through a land which might almost be called his native land, and both the resources and the difficulties of which were well known to him. The first considerable city that he came to, Singidunum (the modern Belgrade), was the scene of his own first boyish battle. The Gepidæ, who were his chief antagonists on the road, had swarmed over into that very province of Pannonia where his father's palace once stood; and though they showed themselves bitter foes, they were doubtless surrounded by foes of their own who would be friends to the Ostrogoths. Probably, too, Frederic, the Rugian refugee, brought with him many followers who knew the road and could count on the assistance of some barbarian allies, eager to overturn the throne of Odovacar. Thus it will be seen that though the perils of the Ostrogothic march were tremendous, the danger which in those mapless days was so often fatal to an invading army--ignorance of the country--was not among them.

We are vaguely told of countless battles fought by the Ostrogoths with Sclavonic and other tribes that lay across their line of march, but the only battle of which we have any details (and those only such as we can extract from the cloudy rhetoric of a popular preacher[52]) is one which was fought with the Gepidse, soon after the Goths had emerged from the territory of the friendly Empire, near the great mere or river which went by the name of Hiulca Palus, in what is now the crown-land of Sclavonia. When the great and over-wearied multitude approached the outskirts of the Gepid territory, their leader sent an embassy to Traustila, king of the Gepidæ, entreating that his host might have an unmolested passage, and offering to pay for the provisions which they would require. To this embassy Traustila returned a harsh and insulting answer: "He would yield no passage through his dominions to the Ostrogoths; if they would go by that road they must first fight with the unconquered Gepidæ" Traustila then took up a strong position near the Hiulca Palus, whose broad waters, girdled by fen and treacherous morass, made the onward march of the invaders a task of almost desperate danger. But the Ostrogoths could not now retreat; famine and pestilence lay behind them on their road; they must go forward, and with a reluctant heart Theodoric gave the signal for the battle.

[Footnote 52: Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia, whose Panegyric on Theodoric, spoken about 506, is our chief authority for this part of the history.]

It seemed at first as if that battle would be lost, and as if the name and fame of the Ostrogothic people would be swallowed up in the morasses of the reedy Hiulca. Already the van of the army, floundering in the soft mud, and with only their wicker shields to oppose to the deadly shower of the Gepid arrows, were like to fall back in confusion. Then Theodoric, having called for a cup of wine, and drunk to the fortunes of his people, in a few spirited words called to his soldiers to follow his standard--the standard of a king who would carve out the way to victory. Perchance he may have discerned some part of the plain where the road went over solid ground, and if that were beset by foes, at any rate the Gepid was less terrible than the morass. So it was that he charged triumphantly through the hostile ranks, and, being followed by his eager warriors, achieved a signal victory. The Gepidæ were soon wandering over the plain, a broken and dispirited force. Multitudes of them were slain before the descent of night saved the remaining fugitives, and so large a number of the Gepid store-waggons fell into the hands of the Ostrogoths that throughout the host one voice of rejoicing arose that Traustila had been willing to fight. So had a little Gothic blood bought food more than they could ever have afforded money to purchase.

Thus, through foes and famine, hardships of the winter and hardships of the summer, the nation-army held on its way, and at length (as has been already said) in the month of August (489) the last of the waggons descended from the highlands, which are an outpost of the Julian Alps, and the Ostrogoths were encamped on the plains of Italy. Odovacar, who apparently had allowed them to accomplish the passage of the Alps unmolested, stood ready to meet them on the banks of the Isonzo, the river which flows near the ruins of the great city of Aquileia. He had a large army, the kernel of which would doubtless be those mercenaries who had raised him on the shield thirteen years before, and among whom he had divided one-third part of the soil of Italy. But many other barbarians had flocked to his standard, so that he had, as it were, a little court of kings, chieftains serving under him as supreme leader. He himself, however, was now in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and his genius for war, if he ever had any, seems to have failed him. He fought (as far as we can discern his conduct from the fragmentary notices of the annalists and panegyrists) with a sort of sullen savageness, like a wild beast at bay, but without skill either of strategy or tactics. The invaders, encumbered with the waggons and the non-combatants, had greatly the disadvantage of position. Odovacar's camp had been long prepared, was carefully fortified, and protected by the deep and rapid Isonzo. But Theodoric's soldiers succeeded in crossing the river, stormed the camp, defended as it was by a strong earthen rampart, and sent its defenders flying in wild rout over the plains of Venetia. Odovacar fell back on the line of the Adige, and the beautiful north-eastern corner of Italy, the region which includes among its cities Udine, Venice, Vicenza, Padua, now accepted without dispute the rule of Theodoric, and perhaps welcomed him as a deliverer from the stern sway of Odovacar.[53] From this time forward it is allowable to conjecture that the most pressing of Theodoric's anxieties, that which arose from the difficulty of feeding and housing the women and children of his people, if not wholly removed was greatly lightened. Odovacar took up a strong position near Verona, separated from that city by the river Adige. Theodoric, though not well provided with warlike appliances,[54] rightly judged that it was of supreme importance to his cause to follow up with rapidity the blow struck on the banks of the Isonzo, and accordingly, towards the end of September, he, with his army, stood before the fossatum or entrenched camp at Verona. In order to force his soldiers to fight bravely, Odovacar had, in defiance of the ordinary rules of war, placed his camp where retreat was almost hopelessly barred by the swift stream of the Adige, and he addressed his army with stout words full of simulated confidence in victory. On the morning of the 30th of September, when the two armies were about to join in what must evidently be a most bloody encounter, the mother and sister of Theodoric, Erelieva and Amalfrida, sought his presence and asked him with some anxiety what were the chances of the battle. With words, reminding us of the Homeric saying that "the best omen is to fight bravely for one's country", Theodoric reassured their doubting hearts. On that day, he told his mother, it was for him to show that she had given birth to a hero on the day when the Ostrogoths did battle with the Huns. Dressed in his most splendid robes, those robes which their hands had adorned with bright embroidery, he would be conspicuous both to friend and foe, and would give a noble spoil to his conqueror if any man could succeed in slaying him. With these words he leapt on his horse, rushed to the van, cheered on his wavering troops, and began a series of charges, which at length, but not till thousands of his own men as well as of the enemy were slain, carried the fossatum of Odovacar.

[Footnote 53: I cannot put this as more than a conjecture. We have singularly little information, even from the panegyrical Ennodius, as to the feelings of the Italian provincials during this crisis of their fate.]

[Footnote 54: Expers bellicis rebus (Continuatio Prosperi: Codex Havniensis)]

The battle once gained, of course the dispositions which Odovacar had made to ensure the resistance of his soldiers, necessitated their ruin, and the swirling waters of the Adige probably destroyed as many as the Ostrogothic sword. Odovacar himself, again a fugitive, sped across the plain south-eastward to Ravenna, compelled like so many Roman Emperors before him to shelter himself from the invader behind its untraversable network of rivers and canals. It would seem from the scanty notices which remain to us that in this battle of Verona, the bloodiest and most hardly fought of all the battles of the war, the original army of foederati, the men who had crowned Odovacar king, and divided the third part of Italy between them, was, if not annihilated, utterly broken and dispirited, and Theodoric, who now marched westward with his people, and was welcomed with blessing and acclamations by the Bishop and citizens of Milan, received also the transferred allegiance of the larger part of the army of his rival.

It seemed as if a campaign of a few weeks had secured the conquest of Italy, but the war was in fact prolonged for three years and a half from this time by domestic treachery, foreign invasion, and the almost absolute impregnability of Ravenna.

I. At the head of the soldiers of Odovacar who had apparently with enthusiasm accepted the leadership of his younger and more brilliant rival, was a certain Tufa, Master of the Soldiery among the foederati Either he had extraordinary powers of deception, or Theodoric, short of generals, accepted his professions of loyalty with most unwise facility; for so it was that the Ostrogothic king entrusted to Tufa's generalship the army which assuredly he ought to have led himself to the siege of Ravenna. When Tufa arrived at Faventia, about eighteen miles from Ravenna, his old master came forth to meet him; the instinct of loyalty to Odovacar revived (if indeed he had not all along been playing a part in his alleged desertion), and Tufa carried over, apparently, the larger part of the army under his command to the service of Theodoric's rival. Worst of all, he surrendered to his late master the chief members of his staff the so-called comites (henchmen) of Theodoric some of whom had probably helped him in his early adventure against Singidunum, and had shared his hardships in many a weary march through Thrace and Macedonia. These men were all basely murdered by Odovacar, a deed which Theodoric inwardly determined should never be forgiven (492).

Such an event as the defection of Tufa, carrying with him a considerable portion of his troops, was a great blow to the Ostrogothic cause. Some time later another and similar event took place. Frederic the Rugian, whose father had been dethroned, and who had been himself driven into exile by the armies of Odovacar, for some unexplained and most mysterious reason, quitted the service of Theodoric and entered that of his own deadliest enemy. The sympathy of scoundrels seems to have drawn him into a special intimacy with Tufa, with whom he probably wandered up and down through Lombardy (as we now call it) and Venetia, robbing and slaying in the name of Odovacar, but not caring to share his hardships in blockaded and famine-stricken Ravenna. Fortunately, the Nemesis which so often waits on the friendship of bad men was not wanting in this case. The two traitors quarrelled about the division of the spoil and a battle took place between them, in the valley of the Adige above Verona, in which Tufa was slain. Frederic, with his Rugian countrymen, occupied the strong city of Ticinum (Pavia), where they spent two dreadful years, "Their minds", says an eye-witness,[55] in after-time the Bishop of that city, "were full of cruel energy which prompted them to daily crimes. In truth, they thought that each day was wasted which they had not made memorable by some sort of outrage". In 494, with the general pacification of Italy, they disappear from view: and we may conjecture, though we are not told, that Pavia was taken, and that Frederic received his deserts at the hands of Theodoric.

II. In the year 490 Gundobad, king of the Burgundians, crossed the Alps and descended into Italy to mingle in the fray as an antagonist of Theodoric. In the same year, probably at the same time, Alaric II., king of the Visigoths, entered Italy as his ally. A great battle was fought on the river Adda, ten miles east of Milan, in which Odovacar, who had emerged from the shelter of Ravenna, was again completely defeated. He fled once more to Ravenna, which he never again quitted.

[Footnote 55: Ennodius (writing the life of Bishop Epiphanius).]

While these operations were proceeding, Theodoric's own family and the non-combatants of the Ostrogothic nation were in safe shelter, though in somewhat narrow quarters, in the strong city of Pavia, whose Bishop, Epiphanius, was the greatest saint of his age, and one for whom Theodoric felt an especial veneration. No doubt they must have left that city before the evil-minded Rugians entered it (492), but we hear nothing of the circumstances of their flight or removal.

As for the Burgundian king, he does not seem to have been guided by any high considerations of policy in his invasion of Italy, and having been induced to conclude a treaty with Theodoric, he returned to his own royal city of Lyons with goodly spoil and a long train of hapless captives torn from the fields of Liguria.

III. These disturbing elements being cleared away, we may now turn our attention to the true key of the position and the central event of the war, the siege of Odovacar in Ravenna. After Tufa's second change of sides, and during the Burgundian invasion of Italy, there was no possibility of keeping up an Ostrogothic blockade of the city of the marshes. Odovacar emerged thence, won back the lower valley of the Po, and marching on Milan, inflicted heavy punishment on the city, for the welcome given to Theodoric. In the battle of the Adda, 11 August, 490, however, as has been already mentioned, he sustained a severe defeat, in which he lost one of his most faithful friends and ablest counsellors, a Roman noble named Pierius. After his flight to Ravenna, which immediately followed the battle of the Adda, there seems to have been a general movement throughout Italy, headed by the Catholic clergy, for the purpose of throwing off his yoke, and if we do not misread the obscure language of the Panegyrist, this movement was accompanied by a wide-spread popular conspiracy, somewhat like the Sicilian Vespers of a later day, to which the foederati, the still surviving adherents of Odovacar, scattered over their various domains in Italy, appear to have fallen victims.

Only two cities, Cæsena and Rimini, beside Ravenna, now remained to Odovacar, and for the next two years and a half (from the autumn of 490 to the spring of 493) Ravenna was straitly besieged. Corn rose to a terrible famine price (seventy-two shillings a peck), and before the end of the siege the inhabitants had to feed on the hides of animals, and all sorts of foul and fearful aliments, and many of them perished of hunger. A sortie made in 491 by a number of barbarian recruits whom Odovacar had by some means attracted to his standard, was repelled after a desperate encounter. During all this time Theodoric, from his entrenched camp in the great pine-wood of Ravenna, was watching jealously to see that no provisions entered the city by land, and in 492, after taking Rimini, he brought a fleet of swift vessels thence to a harbour about six miles from Ravenna, and thus completed its investment by sea.

In the beginning of 493 the misery of the besieged city became unendurable, and Odovacar, with infinite reluctance, began to negotiate for its surrender. His son Thelane was handed over as a hostage for his fidelity, and the parleying between the two rival chiefs began on the 25th of February. On the following day Theodoric and his Ostrogoths entered Classis, the great naval emporium, about three miles from the city; and on the 27th, by the mediation of the Bishop, peace was formally concluded between the warring kings.

The peace, the surrender of the city, the acceptance of the rule of "the new King from the East", were apparently placed under the especial guardianship of the Church. "The most blessed man, the Archbishop John", says a later ecclesiastical historian,[56] "opened the gates of the city, 5 March, 493, which Odovacar had closed, and went forth with crosses and thuribles and the Holy Gospels, seeking peace. While the priests and the rest of the clergy round him intoned the psalms, he, falling prostrate on the ground, obtained that which he desired. He welcomed the new King coming from the East, and peace was granted unto him, including not only the citizens of Ravenna, but all the other Romans[57], for whom the blessed John made entreaty".

[Footnote 56: Agnellus (writing in the ninth century). His use of the term Archbishop is itself a sign of a later age.]

[Footnote 57: The non-barbarian population of Italy]

The chief clause of the treaty was that which assured Odovacar not only life but absolute equality of power with his conqueror. The fact that Theodoric should have, even in appearance, consented to an arrangement so precarious and unstable, is the strongest testimony to the impregnability of Ravenna, which after three years' strict blockade, could still be won only by so mighty a concession. But of course there was not, there could not be, any real peace on such terms between the two queen-bees in that swarming hive of barbarians. Theodoric received information--so we are told--that his rival was laying snares for his life, and being determined to anticipate the blow, invited Odovacar to a banquet at "the Palace of the Laurel-grove", on the south-east of the city (15th March, 493). When Odovacar arrived, two suppliants knelt before him and clasped his hands while offering a feigned petition. Some soldiers who had been stationed in two side alcoves stepped forth from the ambush to slay him, but at the last moment their hearts failed them, and they could not strike. If the deed was to be done, Theodoric must himself be the executioner or the assassin. He raised his sword to strike. "Where is God?" cried the defenceless but unterrified victim. "Thus didst thou to my friends", answered Theodoric, reminding him of the treacherous murder of the "henchmen". Then with a tremendous stroke of his broadsword he clove his rival from the shoulder to the loin. The barbarian frenzy, which the Scandinavian minstrels call the "fury of the Berserk", was in his heart, and with a savage laugh at his own too impetuous blow, he shouted as the corpse fell to the ground: "I think the weakling had never a bone in his body".

The body of Odovacar was laid in a stone coffin, and buried near the synagogue of the Jews. His brother was mortally wounded while attempting to escape through the palace-garden. His wife died of hunger in her prison. His son, sent for safe-keeping to the king of the Visigoths in Gaul, afterwards escaped to Italy and was put to death by the orders of Theodoric. Thus perished the whole short-lived dynasty of the captain of the foederati.

In his long struggle for the possession of Italy, Theodoric had shown himself patient in adversity, moderate in prosperity, brave, resourceful, and enduring. But the memory of all these noble deeds is dimmed by the crime which ended the tragedy, a crime by the commission of which Theodoric sank below the level of the ordinary morality of the barbarian, breaking his plighted word, and sinning against the faith of hospitality.


Transformation in the character of Theodoric--His title--Embassies to Zeno and Anastasius--Theodoric's care for the rebuilding of cities and repair of aqueducts--Encouragement of commerce and manufactures--Revival of agriculture--Anecdotes of Theodoric.

Thus far we have followed the fortunes of a Teutonic warrior of the fifth century of our era, marking his strange vacillations between friendship and enmity to the great civilised Empire under the shattered fabric whereof he and his people were dwelling, and neither concealing nor extenuating any of his lawless deeds, least of all that deed of treachery and violence by which he finally climbed to the pinnacle of supreme power in Italy. Now, for the next thirty years, we shall have to watch the career of this same man, ruling Italy with unquestioned justice and wise forethought, making the welfare of every class of his subjects the end of all his endeavours, and cherishing civilisation (or, as it was called in the language of his chosen counsellors, civilitas) with a love and devotion almost equal to that which religious zeal kindles in the hearts of its surrendered votaries.

The transformation is a marvellous one. Success and unquestioned dominion far more often deprave and distort than ennoble and purify the moral nature of man. But something like this transformation was seen when Octavian, the crafty and selfish intriguer, ripened into the wise and statesmanlike Augustus. Nor have our own days been quite ignorant of a similar phenomenon, when the stern soldier-politician of Germany, the man who once seemed to delight in war and whose favourite motto had till then been "blood and iron" having secured for his master the hegemony of Europe, strove (or seems to have striven), during twenty difficult years, to maintain peace among European nations, like one convinced in his heart that War is the supreme calamity for mankind.

It is a threadbare saying, "Happy is the nation that has no annals", and the miserable historians of the time tell us far too little about the thirty years of peace which Italy enjoyed under the wise rule of Theodoric; still we are told enough to enable us in some degree to understand both what he accomplished and how he accomplished it. And one thing which makes us accept the statements of these historians with unquestioning belief is that they have no motive for the praises which they so freely bestow on the great Ostrogoth. They are not his countrymen, nor his fellow-religionists. Our chief authorities are Roman and Orthodox, and bitterly condemn Theodoric for the persecution of the Catholics, into which, as we shall see, he was provoked in the last two years of his reign. Still, over the grave of this dead barbarian and heretic, when they have nothing to gain by speaking well of him, they cannot forbear to praise the noble impartiality and anxious care for the welfare of his people, which, for the space of one whole generation, gave happiness to Italy. It will be well to quote here one or two of these testimonies, borne by impartial witnesses.

Our chief authority,[58] who is believed to have been a Catholic Bishop of Ravenna, says:

"He was an illustrious man, and full of good-will towards all. He reigned thirty-three (really thirty-two) years, and during thirty of these years so great was the happiness of Italy that even the wayfarers were at peace. For he did nothing wrong. So did he govern the two nations, the Goths and Romans, as if they were one people, belonging himself to the Arian sect, yet he ordained that the civil administration should remain for the Romans as it had been under their Emperors. He gave presents and rations to the people, yet, though he found the Treasury ruined, he brought it round, by his own hard work, into a flourishing state. He attempted nothing (during these first thirty years) against the Catholic faith. Exhibiting games in the circus and amphitheatre, he received from the Romans the names of Trajan and Valentinian (the happy days of which most prosperous Emperors he did in truth seek to restore), and, at the same time, the Goths rendered true obedience to their valiant King, according to the Edict which he had promulgated for them".

[Footnote 58: "Anonymus Valesii" (probably Bishop Maximian).]

"He gave one of his daughters in marriage to the King of the Visigoths in Gaul, another to the son of the Burgundian King; his sister to the King of the Vandals, and his niece to the King of the Thuringians. Thus he pleased all the nations round him, for he was a lover of manufactures and a great restorer of cities. He restored the aqueduct of Ravenna, which Trajan had built; and again, after a long interval, brought water into the city. He completed, but did not dedicate, the palace, and finished the porticoes round it. At Verona he erected baths and a palace, and constructed a portico from the gate to the palace. The aqueduct, which had been long destroyed, he renewed, and brought in water through it. He also surrounded the city with new walls. At Ticinum (Pavia) too he built a palace, baths, and an amphitheatre, and erected walls round the city. On many other cities also he bestowed similar benefits.

"Thus he so charmed the nations near him that they entered into a league with him, hoping that he would be their King. The merchants, too, from divers provinces, flocked to his dominions, for so great was the order which he maintained, that if any one wished to leave gold or silver on his land (in his country house) it was as safe as in a walled city. A proof of this was the fact that he never made gates for any-city of Italy, and the gates already existing were not closed. Any one who had business to transact could do it as safely by night as by day.

"In his time men bought wheat at 60 pecks for a solidus (12 shillings a quarter), and 30 amphoræ of wine for the same price (2_s_. 4_d_. a gallon)".

So far the supposed Bishop of Ravenna. Now let us hear Procopius, an official in the Imperial army which brought the Ostrogothic kingdom to ruin:

"Theodoric was an extraordinary lover of justice, and adhered rigorously to the laws. He guarded the country from barbarian invasions, and displayed the greatest intelligence and prudence. There was in his government scarcely a trace of injustice towards his subjects, nor would he permit any of those under him to attempt anything of the kind, except that the Goths divided among themselves the same proportion of the land of Italy which Odovacar had allotted to his partisans. Thus then Theodoric was in name a tyrant (that is, an irregular, because barbarian, ruler), but in deed a true King (or Emperor), not inferior to the best of his predecessors, and his popularity grew greatly, both among Goths and Italians, and this fact (that he was popular with both nations) was contrary to the ordinary fashion of human affairs. For generally, as different classes in the State want different things, the government which pleases one party has to incur the odium of those who do not belong to it.

"After a reign of thirty-seven years[59] he died, having been a terror to all his enemies, but leaving a deep regret for his loss in the hearts of his subjects".

[Footnote 59: Really thirty-two years and a half from the death of Odovacar, thirty-seven from the descent into Italy, thirty-eight from Theodoric's departure from Novæ.]

So much for the general aspect of Theodoric's rule in Italy. Now let us consider rather more in detail what was his precise position in that country. And first as to the title by which he was known. It is singularly difficult to say what this title was. It is quite clear that Theodoric never claimed to be Emperor of the West, the successor of Honorius and Augustulus. But there are grave reasons for doubting whether he called himself, as has been often stated, "King of Italy". In the fifth century territorial titles of this kind were, if not absolutely unknown, at least very uncommon. The various Teutonic rulers generally took their titles from the nations whom they led to battle, Gaiseric being "King of the Vandals and Alans", Gundobad, "King of the Burgundians", Clovis, "King of the Franks", and so forth. Upon the whole, it seems most probable that Theodoric's full title was "King of the Goths and Romans in Italy" [60] and that the allusion to "Romans" in his title explains some of the conflict of testimony as to the source from whence he derived his title of King. It is quite true that a Teutonic sovereign like Theodoric, sprung from a long line of royal ancestors, and chosen by the voice of his people to succeed their king, his father, would not need, and except under circumstances of great national humiliation would not accept, any grant of the kingly title, as ruler over his own nation, from the Augustus at New Rome. But when it came to claiming by the same title the obedience of Romans as well as Goths, especially in that country which had once been the heart of the Empire,--Theodoric, King of the Goths, might well be anxious to strain all the resources of diplomacy in order to obtain from the legitimate head of the Roman world the confirmation of those important words "and Romans", which appeared in his regal title.[61]

[Footnote 60: Per Italiam.]

[Footnote 61: The chief advocates of the two opposite views here indicated are Prof. Dahn (in his "Konige der Germanen; Abtheilung iv".) and Prof. Gaudenzi ("Sui rapporti tra e l'Italia l'Impero d'Oriente"). I believe that the view which is suggested above is the true reconciliation of both theories.]

In the year 490, probably soon after the battle of the Adda, Theodoric sent Faustus, an eminent Roman noble and "Chief of the Senate", on an embassy to Zeno, "hoping that he might receive from that Emperor permission to clothe himself with the royal mantle". It will be remembered that in the compact between Roman and Teuton, which preceded Theodoric's invasion of Italy, words had been used which implied that he was only to rule as "locum tenens" of the Emperor till he himself should arrive to claim the supremacy. Now, with that conquest apparently almost completed, and with his rival fast sealed up in Ravenna, Theodoric sends a report of his success of the enterprise undertaken "on joint account", and desires to legalise his position by a formal grant of the mantle of royalty from the Autocrat of the World.

The time of the arrival of Theodoric's embassy at Constantinople was unpropitious, as the Emperor Zeno was already stricken by mortal illness. On the 9th of April, 491, he died, and was succeeded by the handsome but elderly life-guardsman, Anastasius, to whom Ariadne, widow of Zeno, gave her hand in marriage. The rights and duties which pertained to the compact between Theodoric and Zeno were perhaps considered as of only personal obligation. It might plausibly be contended by the Emperor's successor that he was not bound to recognise the new royalty of his predecessor's, "filius in arma", and by Theodoric that the conditional estate in Italy granted to him to hold "till Zeno should himself arrive" became absolute, now that by the death of Zeno that event was rendered impossible. However this may be, we hear no more of negotiations between the Gothic camp and the Court of Constantinople till the death of Odovacar(493). Then the Goths, apparently in some great assembly of the nation, "confirmed Theodoric to themselves as King", without waiting for the orders of the new Emperor.[62] Whatever this ceremony may have imported, it must have in some way conferred on Theodoric a fuller kingship, perhaps more of a territorial and less of a tribal sovereignty than he had possessed when he was wandering with his followers over the passes of the Balkans.

[Footnote 62: Gothi sibi confirmaverunt regem Theodericum, non expectata jussione novi principis (Anastasii).--Anon. Vales., 57.]

Though Theodoric had not consulted the Emperor before taking this step, he sent an ambassador, again Faustus, who now held the important post of "Master of the Offices",[63] to Constantinople, probably in order to give a formal notification of his self-assumed accession of dignity.[64]

[Footnote 63: The Magister Officiorum, who was at the head of the civil service of the Empire (or Kingdom), combined some of the duties of our Home Secretary with some of those of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs.]

[Footnote 64: Faustus was accompanied by another nobleman--Irenæus. We are not definitely informed of the object of their mission, but may fairly infer it from the date of their departure.]

No messages or embassies, however, could yet soothe the wounded pride of Anastasius. There was deep resentment at the Eastern Court, and for three or four years there seems to have been a rupture of diplomatic relations between Constantinople and Ravenna. At length, in the year 497, Theodoric sent another ambassador, Festus, (also an eminent Roman noble and Chief of the Senate,) to Anastasius. This messenger, more successful than his predecessor, "made peace with Anastasius concerning Theodoric's premature assumption of royalty, and brought back all the ornaments of the palace which Odovacar had transmitted to Constantinople".[65]

[Footnote 65: Anon. Valesii.]

(497) This final ratification of the Ostrogoth's sovereignty in Italy is so vaguely described to us that it is difficult to see how much it may have implied. Probably it was to a certain extent convenient to both parties that it should be left vague. The Emperor would not abandon any hope, however shadowy, of one day winning back full possession of "the Hesperian kingdom". The King might hope that, in the course of years or generations, he himself, or his descendants, might sever the last link of dependence on Constantinople, perhaps might one day establish themselves as full-blown Emperors of Rome. The claims thus left in vagueness were the seeds of future difficulties, and bore fruit forty years later in a bloody and desolating war, but meanwhile the position, as far as we can ascertain it, seems to have been something like this. Theodoric, "King of the Goths and Romans in Italy", was absolute ruler of the country de facto, except in so far as the Gothic nation, assembled under arms at its periodical parades, may have exercised some check on his full autocracy. He made peace and war, he nominated the high officers of state, even one of the two Consuls, who still kept alive the fiction of the Roman Republic; he probably regulated the admissions to the Senate; he was even in the last resort arbiter of the fortunes of the Roman Church.

On the other hand, he did not himself coin gold or silver money with his effigy; but in this he was not singular, for it was not till a generation or two had elapsed that any of the new barbarian royalties thought it worth while to claim this attribute of sovereignty. Though dressed in the purple of royalty, by assuming the title of King only, he accepted a position somewhat lower than that of the Emperor of the New Rome. He sent the names of the Consuls whom he had appointed to Constantinople, an act which might be represented as a mere piece of formal courtesy, or as a request for their ratification, according to the point of view of the narrator. With a similar show of courtesy, or submission, the accession of Theodoric's descendants to the throne was, when the occasion arose, notified to the then reigning Emperor. And there were many limitations which the good sense and statesmanlike feeling of the Ostrogothic king imposed on his exercise of the royal power, but which might be, perhaps were, represented as part of the fundamental compact between him and the Emperor of Rome. Such were the employment of men of Roman birth by preference, in all the great offices of the state; absolute impartiality between the rival creeds, Catholic and Arian (to the latter of which Theodoric himself was an adherent); and a determination to abstain as much as possible from all fresh legislation which might modify the rights and duties of the Roman inhabitants of Italy, the legislative power being chiefly exercised in order to provide for those new cases which arose out of the settlement of so large a number of new-comers of alien blood within the borders of the land.

After all the attempts which have been made to explain and to systematise the relation between the new barbarian royalties and the old and tottering Empire, much remains which is absolutely incapable of definition, but perhaps an historical parallel, though not strictly accurate, may somewhat aid our comprehension of the subject. It is well-known how for the first hundred years of the English Raj in India the power which actually resided in an association of traders, the old East India Company, and which was wielded under their orders by a Clive, a Hastings, or a Wellesley, was theoretically vested in an Emperor, the descendant of "the Great Mogul", who lived in seclusion in his palace at Delhi, and who, though nominally all-powerful, had really, as Macaulay has said, "less power to help or to hurt than the youngest civil servant of the Company". Now assuredly Anastasius and Justin, the Imperial contemporaries of Theodoric, were no mere phantoms of royalty, like the last Mogul Emperors of Delhi, but as far as actual efficacious share in the government of Italy went, the parallel holds good. Such deference as was paid to their name and authority was a mere courteous form; the whole power of the State--subject, as has been said, to the limitations still imposed by the popular institutions of the Goths--was gathered up in the hands of Theodoric.

What then, it may be said, was gained by keeping up the fiction that Italy still formed part of the Roman Empire, and that Theodoric ruled in any sense as the delegate of the Emperor? For the present, much (though at the cost of future entanglements and complications), since it facilitated that union of "Romania" and "Barbaricum", which was the next piece of work obviously necessary for Europe. If the reader will recur to that noble sentence of Ataulfus, which was quoted in the introduction to this book,[66] he will see that the reasoning of that great chieftain took this shape: "A Commonwealth must have laws. The Goths, accustomed for generations to their tameless freedom, have not acquired the habit of obedience to the laws. Till they acquire that habit, the administration of the State must be left in Roman hands, and all the authority of the King must be used in defence of Roman organisation".

[Footnote 66: See p. 4.]

These principles, though he may never have read the passage of Orosius which expounded them, were essentially the principles of Theodoric. So long as he remained in antagonism to the Empire, he could not reckon on the hearty co-operation of Roman officials in the task of government. The brave, through patriotism, and the cowardly, through fear of coming retribution, would decline to be known as his adherents, and would stand aloof from his work of re-organization. But when it was known that even the great Augustus at Constantinople, "Our Lord Anastasius, Father of his Country" (as the coins styled him), recognised the royalty of Theodoric, and had in some sort confided to him the government of Italy, all the great army of civil servants, who performed the functions of that highly specialised organism, the Roman State, could, without fear and without reproach, accept office under the new-comer, and could look forward again, as they had done before, to a fortunate official career, to the honours and emoluments which were the recognised reward of the successful civil servant.

In the next chapter, I shall describe with a little more detail the character and the duties of some of these Roman officials. For the present we will rather consider the nature of the work which Theodoric accomplished through their instrumentality. We have already heard from a nearly contemporary chronicler, the story of some of the great civilising works which he wrought in the wasted land, the aqueducts of Ravenna and Verona, the walls of Verona and Pavia, the baths, the palace, and the amphitheatre. More important for the great mass of his subjects was the perfect security which he gave to the merchant for his commerce, to the husbandman for the fruit of his toil. Corn, as we have seen, sank to the extraordinarily low price of twelve shillings a quarter. But this low price did not mean, as it might in our country, the depression of the agricultural interest, through the rivalry of the foreign producer. On the contrary, the great economic symptom of Theodoric's reign--and under the circumstances a most healthy symptom--was that Italy, from a corn-importing became a corn-exporting country. Under the old emperors, whose rule was a most singular blending of autocracy and demagogy, in fact a kind of crowned socialism, every nerve had been strained to bring from Alexandria and Carthage the corn which was distributed gratuitously to the idle population of Rome. Under such hopeless competition as this, together with the demoralising influence of slave labour, large tracts of Italy had actually gone out of cultivation. Now, by political changes, the merit of which must not be claimed for the Ostrogothic government, both Egypt and Africa had become unavailable for the supply of the necessities of Rome. Theodoric and his ministers may however be praised for that prevalence of order and good government, which enabled the long prostrate agriculture of Italy to spring up like grass after a summer shower. The conditions of prosperity were there, and only needed the removal of adverse influences and mistaken benevolence to bring forth their natural fruit. The grain-largesses to the people of Rome were indeed still continued in a modified form, but the stores thus dispensed seemed to have been brought almost entirely from Italy.[67] When Gaul was visited with famine, the ship-masters along the whole western coast of Italy were permitted and encouraged to take the surplus of the Italian crops to the suffering province. Even in a time of dearth and after war had begun, corn was sold by the State to the impoverished inhabitants of Liguria at sixteen shillings a quarter.[68] Altogether we seem justified in asserting that the economic condition of Italy, both as to the producers and the consumers of its food-supplies, was more prosperous under Theodoric than it had been for centuries before, or than it was to be for centuries afterwards.

[Footnote 67: Once they are mentioned as coming from Spain (Cassiodorus, Var., v., 35), but this seems to be an exception.]

[Footnote 68: Cass. Var., x., 27. This is some years after the death of Theodoric.]

I have already made some reference to Aqueducts, which were among the noblest and most beneficial works that any ruler of Italy could accomplish. Ravenna, situated in an unhealthy swamp where water fit for drinking was proverbially dearer than wine[69] was pre-eminently dependent on such supplies of the precious fluid as could be brought fresh and sparkling from the distant Apennines. Theodoric issued an order to all the farmers dwelling along the course of the Aqueduct to eradicate the shrubs growing by its side, which would otherwise fix their roots in the bed of the stream, loosen the masonry, and cause many a dangerous leak. "This being done", said the Secretary of State, "we shall again have baths that we may look upon with pleasure, water which will cleanse, not stain, water after using which we shall not require again to wash ourselves: drinking-water, the mere sight of which will not take away our appetite".[70] Similar care was needed to preserve the great Aqueducts which were the glory of Imperial Rome, as even now their giant arches, striding for miles over the desolate Campagna, are her most impressive monument. At Rome also the officer who was specially charged with the maintenance of these noble works, the "Count of the Aqueducts", was exhorted to show his zeal by rooting up hurtful trees, and by at once repairing any part of the masonry that seemed to be falling into decay through age. He was warned against peculation and against connivance at the frauds which often marked the distribution of the water supply, and he was assured that the strengthening of the Aqueducts would constitute his best claim on the favour of his sovereign.[71]

[Footnote 69: There is a well known epigram of Martial, in which he complains of an inn-keeper of Ravenna for diluting his water with wine, when the poet had paid for pure water.]

[Footnote 70: Cass. Var., v., 38.]

[Footnote 71: Ibid., vii., 6.]

But while in most parts of Italy water is a boon eagerly craved for, in some places it is a superabundance and a curse. At Terracina on the Latian coast there still stands in the piazza a slab of marble with a long inscription, setting forth that "The most illustrious lord and renowed king, Theodoric, triumphant conqueror, ever Augustus, born for the good of the Commonwealth, guardian of liberty and propagator of the Roman name, subduer of the nations", ordered that nineteen miles of the Appian Way, being the portion extending from Three-bridges (Tripontium) to Terracina should be cleared of the waters which had flowed together upon it from the marshes on either side. A nobleman of the very highest rank, Consul, Patrician, and Prefect of the City, Cæcina Maurus Basilius Decius, successfully accomplished this work under the orders of his sovereign, and for the safety thus afforded to travellers, was rewarded by a large grant of the newly-drained lands.[72]

[Footnote 72: Cass., Var., ii., 32, 33.]

We have seen that Theodoric's anonymous panegyrist calls him "a lover of manufactures and a great restorer of cities". Of the manufactures encouraged by the Ostrogothic king, we should have been glad to receive a fuller account. All that I have been able to discover in the published state-papers of himself and his successors at all bearing on this subject is some instructions with reference to the opening of gold mines in Bruttii (the modern Calabria), and iron mines in Dalmatia, a concession of potteries to three senators, who are promised the royal protection if they will prosecute the work diligently, and permission to another nobleman to erect a row of workshops or manufactories overlooking the Roman Forum.[73] The whole tenour of these State papers, however, shows that public works were being diligently pushed on in every quarter of Italy, and is entirely consistent with the praise awarded to Theodoric "as a lover of manufactures".

[Footnote 73: Cass., Var., ix., 3; iv., 30; iii., 25; ii., 23.]

His zeal for the restoration of cities is by the same documents abundantly manifested. At one time we find him giving orders for the transport of marble slabs and columns to Ravenna, at another, directing the repair of the walls of Catana, now rebuilding the walls and towers of Arles, and now relieving the distress of Naples and Nola, which have been half ruined by an eruption of Vesuvius.[74] His care for the adornment of the cities of Italy with works of art is manifest, as well as his zeal for their material enrichment. He hears with great disgust that a brazen statue has been stolen from the city of Como. "It is vexatious" says his Secretary, "that while we are labouring to increase the ornaments of our cities, those which Antiquity has bequeathed to us should be diminished by such deeds as this". A reward of 100 aurei (£60), and a free pardon is offered to any accomplice who will assist in the discovery of the chief offender.[75]

[Footnote 74: Ibid., iii., 9, 10, 49, 44; iv., 50.]

[Footnote 75: Ibid., ii., 35.]

But it is above all for Rome, for the glory and magnificence of Rome, that this Ostrogothic king, in a certain sense the kinsman and successor of her first ravager, Alaric, shows a tender solicitude. Her Aqueducts, as we have seen, are to be repaired, her Cloacæ, those still existing memorials of the civilisation of the earliest, the regal, Rome, are to be carefully upheld; the thefts of brass and lead from the public buildings, which have become frequent during the disorders of the past century, are to be sternly repressed[76]; a spirited patrician[77] who has restored the mighty theatre of Pompeius is encouraged and rewarded, the Prefect of the City is stimulated to greater activity in the repair of all the ruined buildings therein. "In Rome, praised beyond all other cities by the world's mouth, it is not right that anything should be found either sordid or mediocre".

[Footnote 76: Cass., Var., iii., 30, 31]

[Footnote 77: Symmachus.]

In all these counsels for the material well-being of Italy, and for the repair of the ravages of anarchy and war, Theodoric was undoubtedly much assisted by his ministers of Roman extraction, some of whom I shall endeavour to portray in a later chapter. Still, though the details of the work may have been theirs, it cannot be denied that the initiative was his. A barbarian, thinking only barbarous thoughts, looking upon war and the chase as the only employments worthy of a free man, would not have chosen such counsellors, and, if he had found them in his service, would not have kept them. Therefore, remembering those years of boyhood, which he passed at Constantinople, at a time when the character is most susceptible of strong and lasting impressions, I cannot doubt that notwithstanding the frequent relapses into barbarism which marked his early manhood, he was at heart a convert to civilisation, that his desire was to obtain for "the Hesperian land" all that he had seen best and greatest in the social condition of the city by the Bosphorus, and that his Secretary truly expressed his deepest and inmost thoughts when he made him speak of himself as one "whose whole care was to change everything for the better".[78]

[Footnote 78: Nos quibus cordi est in melius cuncta mutare.--Cass., Var., ii., 21.]

I shall close this chapter with a few anecdotes--far too few have been preserved to us--which serve to show what manner of man he appeared to his contemporaries. Again I borrow from the anonymous author, the supposed Bishop of Ravenna.

He was, we are told, unlettered,[79] though fond of the converse of learned men, and so clumsy with his pen that after ten years of reigning he was still unable to form without assistance the four letters (THEO) which were affixed as his sign-manual to documents issued in his name. In order to overcome this difficulty he had a golden plate prepared with the necessary letters perforated in it, and drew his pen through the holes.[80] But, though he was unlettered, his shrewdness and mother-wit caused both his sayings and doings to be much noted and remembered by his subjects. In one difficult case which came before him, he discovered the truth by a sudden device which probably reminded the bystanders of the Judgment of Solomon, A young man who as a child had been brought up by a friend of his deceased father, returned to his home and claimed a share of his inheritance from his mother. She, however, was on the point of marriage with a second husband, and under her suitor's influence she disowned the son whom she had at first welcomed with joy and had entertained for a month in her house. As the suitor persisted in his demand that the son should be turned out of doors, and the son refused to leave his paternal abode, the case came before the King's Court,[81] where the widow still persisted in her assertion that the young man was not her son, but a stranger whom she had entertained merely out of motives of hospitality. Suddenly the king turned round upon her and said: "This young man is to be thy husband, I command thee to marry him". The horror-stricken mother then confessed that he was indeed her son.

[Footnote 79: Agrammatus.]

[Footnote 80: I have a slight distrust of this story, because it is told in almost the same words of the contemporary Justin I., Emperor of the East.]

[Footnote 81: I conjecture that the mother and son in this case were Goths, possibly the suitor a Roman, and that this may have been the reason why the case came to the King's Court instead of going before the Prætorian Prefect.]

Some of Theodoric's sayings passed into proverbs among the common people. One was: "He who has gold and he who has a devil can neither of them hide what he has got" Another: "The Roman when in misery imitates the Goth and the Goth in comfort imitates the Roman".

We have unfortunately no description of the great Ostrogoth's outward appearance, though the indications in his history would lead us to suppose that he was a man of stalwart form and soldierly bearing. Nor is this deficiency adequately made up to us by his coins, since, as has been already said, the gold and silver pieces which were circulated in his reign bore the impress of the Eastern Emperor, and the miserable little copper coins which bear his effigy do not pretend to portraiture.

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