Italian Ostrogoth III/3: 493AD- 584AD

DBA list:
1x 3Kn (General): Theodoric the Great (454 – August 30, 526)
5x 3Kn
2x 3kn or 4Sp
4x 2Ps or 3Bw


The Ostrogoths were a branch of the later Goths, the other major branch being the Visigoths. The Ostrogoths traced their origins to the Greutungi and a semi-legendary kingdom north of the Black Sea in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

After their subjugation by the Huns, little is heard of the Ostrogoths for about 80 years, after which they reappear in Pannonia on the middle Danube River as federates of the Romans. The greatest of all Ostrogothic rulers, the future Theoderic the Great (whose name means "leader of the people") was born to Theodemir in or about 454, soon after the Battle of Nedao. His childhood was spent at Constantinople as a diplomatic hostage, where he was carefully educated. The early part of his life was taken up with various disputes, intrigues and wars within the Byzantine empire, in which he had as his rival Theoderic Strabo, a distant relative of Theoderic the Great and son of Triarius. This older but lesser Theoderic seems to have been the chief, not the king, of that branch of the Ostrogoths that had settled within the Empire earlier.

Theoderic the Great, as he is sometimes distinguished, was sometimes the friend, sometimes the enemy, of the Empire. In the former case he was clothed with various Roman titles and offices, as patrician and consul; but in all cases alike he remained the national Ostrogothic king. After the collapse of the Hunnic empire after the Battle of Nedao (453), the Ostrogoths under Theoderic the Great first moved to Moesia (c. 475–488). An agreement was reached between Emperor Zeno and Theoderic, stipulating that Theoderic, if victorious, was to rule in Italy as the emperor's representative.

Theoderic with his people set out from Moesia in the autumn of 488, passed through Dalmatia and crossed the Julian Alps into Italy in late August 489. The first confrontation with the army of Odoacer was at the river Isonzo (the battle of Isonzo) on August 28. Odoacer was defeated and withdrew towards Verona, where a month later another battle was fought, resulting in a bloody, but crushing, Gothic victory.

Odoacer fled to his capital at Ravenna, while the larger part of his army under Tufa surrendered to the Goths. Theoderic then sent Tufa and his men against Odoacer, but he changed his allegiance again and returned to Odoacer. In 490, Odoacer was thus able to campaign against Theoderic, take Milan and Cremona and besiege the main Gothic base at Ticinum (Pavia). At that point, however, the Visigoths intervened, the siege of Ticinum was lifted, and Odoacer decisively defeated at the river Adda on 11 August 490. Odoacer fled again to Ravenna, while the Senate and many Italian cities declared themselves for Theoderic.

The Goths now turned to besiege Ravenna, but since they lacked a fleet and the city could be resupplied by sea, the siege could be endured almost indefinitely, despite privations. It was not until 492 that Theoderic was able to procure a fleet and capture Ravenna's harbours, thus entirely cutting off communication with the outside world. The effects of this appeared six months later, when, with the mediation of the city's bishop, negotiations started between the two parties.

An agreement was reached on 25 February 493, whereby the two should divide Italy between them. A banquet was organised in order to celebrate this treaty. It was at this banquet, on March 15, that Theoderic, after making a toast, killed Odoacer with his own hands. A general massacre of Odoacer's soldiers and supporters followed. Theoderic and his Goths were now masters of Italy. Theoderic became king of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in 493 and died in 526. A period of instability then ensued, tempting the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian to declare war on the Ostrogoths in 535 in an effort to restore the former western provinces of the Roman Empire. Initially, the Byzantines were successful, but under the leadership of Totila, the Goths reconquered most of the lost territory until Totila's death at the Battle of Taginae. The war lasted for almost 20 years and caused enormous damage and depopulation of Italy. The remaining Ostrogoths were absorbed into the Lombards who established a kingdom in Italy in 567 AD.

Theoderic is also known for his attainment of support from the Catholic Church, which he gained by appeasing the Pope in 520. During his reign, Theoderic, who was an Arian, allowed freedom of religion, which had not been done before. However, he did try to appease the Pope and tried to keep his alliance with the church strong. He saw the Pope as an authority not only in the church but also over Rome.

After the death of Theoderic on 30 August 526, his achievements began to collapse. Since Eutharic had died in 523, Theoderic was succeeded by his infant grandson Athalaric, supervised by his mother, Amalasuntha, as regent. The lack of a strong heir caused the network of alliances that surrounded the Ostrogothic state to disintegrate: the Visigothic kingdom regained its autonomy under Amalaric, the relations with the Vandals turned increasingly hostile, and the Franks embarked again on expansion, subduing the Thuringians and the Burgundians and almost evicting the Visigoths from their last holdings in southern Gaul. The position of predominance which the Ostrogothic Kingdom had enjoyed under Theoderic in the West now passed irrevocably to the Franks. In 526, an imperial army successfully invaded Italy amid wild enthusiasm from the Latin population. But Byzantine tax collectors and soldiers proved to be rapacious parasites, whose grip did not hold. The peninsula fragmented irreversibly into petty principalities. Henceforth, Rome’s role in world affairs would be exercised by its popes, whose religious dominion proved far more enduring than the statesmanship of barbarism’s noblest monarch.

Palace of Theodoric and his mausoleum in Ravenna, his capitol.

 

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