Theoderic the Great
Theoderic the Great (Gothic:
*𐌸𐌹𐌿𐌳𐌰𐍂𐌴𐌹𐌺𐍃; *Þiudareiks; Latin:
Flāvius Theodericus; Greek: Θευδέριχος, Theuderikhos; Old
English: Þēodrīc; Old Norse: Þjōðrēkr; German: Theoderich; 454
– August 30, 526 AD), often referred to as Theodoric, was king of
Ostrogoths (475–526), ruler of
Italy (493–526), regent of
Visigoths (511–526), and a patricius of the Roman Empire. His
Gothic name, which is reconstructed by linguists as *Þiudareiks,
translates into "people-king" or "ruler of the people".
Theodoric was born in
Pannonia in 454, after his people had defeated
Huns at the Battle of Nedao. His father was King Theodemir, a
Amali nobleman, and his mother was Ereleuva. Theodoric from
the age of ten to eighteen grew up as a hostage in Constantinople,
received a privileged education under imperial direction, and
succeeded his father as leader of the Pannonian
Ostrogoths in 473.
Settling his people in lower Moesia, Theoderic came into conflict with
Ostrogoths led by Theodoric Strabo, whom he eventually
supplanted, uniting the peoples in 484.
Emperor Zeno subsequently gave him the title of Patrician, Vir
gloriosus, and the office of
Magister militum (master of the
soldiers), and even appointed him as Roman Consul. Seeking further
gains, Theoderic frequently ravaged the provinces of the Eastern Roman
Empire, eventually threatening
Constantinople itself. In 488, Emperor
Zeno ordered Theoderic to overthrow the German Foederatus Odoacer, who
had likewise been made patrician and even King of Italy, but who had
since betrayed Zeno, supporting the rebellious Leontius. After a
victorious three-year war, Theoderic killed
Odoacer with his own hands
while they shared a meal, settled his 200,000 to 250,000 people in
Italy, and founded an
Ostrogothic Kingdom based in Ravenna. While
he promoted separation between the Arian
Ostrogoths and the Roman
population, Theoderic stressed the importance of racial harmony,
though intermarriage was outlawed. Seeking to restore the glory of
Ancient Rome, he ruled
Italy in its most peaceful and prosperous
period since Valentinian, until his death in 526. Memories of his
reign made him a hero of German legend as Dietrich von Bern.
3 Family and progeny
5.2 Medieval reception
8 Related links
The man who would later rule under the name of Theoderic was born in
454 AD, on the banks of the
Neusiedler See near Carnuntum. This was
just a year after the
Ostrogoths had thrown off nearly a century of
domination by the Huns. The son of the King
Theodemir and Ereleuva,
Theoderic went to
Constantinople as a young boy, as a hostage to
secure the Ostrogoths' compliance with a treaty
concluded with the
Byzantine Emperor Leo the Thracian (ruled
He lived as a hostage at the court of
Constantinople for many years
and learned a great deal about Roman government and military tactics,
which served him well when he became the Gothic ruler of a mixed but
largely Romanized "barbarian people". Treated with favor by the
Emperors Leo I and Zeno (ruled 474–475 and 476–491), he became
magister militum (Master of Soldiers) in 483, and one year later he
became consul. Afterwards, he returned to live among the Ostrogoths
when he was 31 years old and became their king in 488. The legend that
he was illiterate arose from the fact that he used a stamp to affix
his approval of laws; he no doubt spoke Latin and Greek and could read
these languages although one cannot know how well.
Conquest of Italy
by Theoderic the Great
Further information: Ostrogothic Kingdom
Ostrogothic Kingdom (in yellow) at the death of Theoderic the
At the time, the
Ostrogoths were settled in Byzantine territory as
foederati (allies) of the Romans, but were becoming restless and
increasingly difficult for Zeno to manage. Not long after Theoderic
became king, the two men worked out an arrangement beneficial to both
Ostrogoths needed a place to live, and Zeno was having
serious problems with Odoacer, the
King of Italy
King of Italy who had come to power
in 476. Ostensibly a viceroy for Zeno,
Odoacer was menacing Byzantine
territory and not respecting the rights of Roman citizens in Italy. At
Zeno's encouragement, Theoderic invaded Odoacer's kingdom.
Theoderic came with his army to
Italy in 488, where he won the battles
of Isonzo and Verona in 489 and at the Adda in 490. In 493 he took
Ravenna. On February 2, 493, Theoderic and
Odoacer signed a treaty
that assured both parties would rule over Italy. A banquet was
organised in order to celebrate this treaty. It was at this banquet
that Theoderic, after making a toast, killed Odoacer; Theoderic drew
his sword and struck him on the collarbone.
Brick with the emblem of Theodoric, found in the temple of Vesta,
Rome. It reads "+REG(nante) D(omino) N(ostro) THEODE/RICO [b]O[n]O
ROM(a)E", which translates as With our master Theodoric the Good
reigning in Rome [this brick was made].
Like Odoacer, Theoderic was ostensibly only a viceroy for the emperor
in Constantinople. In reality, he was able to avoid imperial
supervision, and dealings between the emperor and Theoderic were as
equals. Unlike Odoacer, however, Theoderic respected the agreement he
had made and allowed Roman citizens within his kingdom to be subject
to Roman law and the Roman judicial system. The Goths, meanwhile,
lived under their own laws and customs. In 519, when a mob had burned
down the synagogues of Ravenna, Theoderic ordered the town to rebuild
them at its own expense.
Theoderic the Great
Theoderic the Great sought alliances with, or hegemony over, the other
Germanic kingdoms in the west. He allied with the
Franks by his
marriage to Audofleda, sister of Clovis I, and married his own female
relatives to princes or kings of the Visigoths,
Burgundians. He stopped the
Vandals from raiding his territories by
threatening the weak Vandal king
Thrasamund with invasion, and sent a
guard of 5,000 troops with his sister
Amalafrida when she married
Thrasamund in 500. For much of his reign, Theoderic was the de facto
king of the
Visigoths as well, becoming regent for the infant
Visigothic king, his grandson Amalaric, following the defeat of Alaric
II by the
Franks under Clovis in 507. The
Franks were able to wrest
Aquitaine from the Visigoths, but otherwise Theoderic was
able to defeat their incursions.
Theoderic's achievements began to unravel even before his death. He
had married off his daughter
Amalasuntha to the Visigoth Eutharic, but
Eutharic died in August 522 or 523, so no lasting dynastic connection
Visigoths was established. In 522, the Catholic
Burgundian king Sigismund killed his own son, Theoderic's grandson,
Sergeric. Theoderic retaliated by invading the Burgundian kingdom and
then annexing its southern part, probably in 523. The rest was ruled
by Sigismund's Arian brother Godomar, under Gothic protection against
Franks who had captured Sigismund. This brought the territory
ruled by Theoderic to its height (see map), but in 523 or 524 the new
Catholic Vandal king
Amalafrida and killed her
Gothic guard. Theoderic was planning an expedition to restore his
power over the Vandal kingdom when he died in 526.
Bronze weight, inlaid with silver, with the name of Theoderic, issued
by prefect Catulinus in Rome, 493–526.
Family and progeny
Theoderic was married once.
He had a concubine in Moesia, name unknown, with whom he had two
Theodegotha (ca. 473 – ?). In 494, she was married to Alaric II
as a part of her father's alliance with the Visigoths.
Ostrogotha or Arevagni (ca. 475 – ?). In 494 or 496, she was
married to the king
Sigismund of Burgundy
Sigismund of Burgundy as a part of her father's
alliance with the Burgundians.
By his marriage to
Audofleda in 493 he had one daughter:
Amalasuntha, Queen of the Goths. She was married to
Eutharic and had
Matasuntha (the latter being married to
Witiges first, then, after Witiges' death, married to Germanus
Justinus, neither had children). Any hope for a reconciliation between
the Goths and the Romans in the person of a Gotho-Roman Emperor from
this family lineage was shattered.
After his death in
Ravenna in 526, Theoderic was succeeded by his
Athalaric was at first represented by his mother
Amalasuntha, who was a regent queen from 526 until 534. The kingdom of
the Ostrogoths, however, began to wane and was conquered by Justinian
I starting after the rebellion of 535 and finally ending in 553 with
the Battle of Mons Lactarius.
In 522 the philosopher
Boethius became his magister officiorum (head
of all the government and court services).
Boethius was a dedicated
Hellenist bent on translating all the works of
Aristotle into Latin
and harmonizing them with the works of Plato. A year later, he was
imprisoned and put to death after being accused of treasonous
correspondence with the Eastern emperor Justin I.
Mausoleum of Theoderic
Mausoleum of Theoderic in Ravenna.
In the meantime
Cassiodorus had succeeded
Boethius as magister in 523.
The pliant historian and courtier could be counted on to provide
refined touches to official correspondence. "To the monarch you
[Cassiodorus] were a friendly judge and an honored intimate. For when
he became free from his official cares, he looked to your conversation
for the precepts of the sages, that he might make himself a worthy
equal to the great men of old. Ever curious, he desired to hear about
the courses of the stars, the tides of the sea, and legendary
fountains, that his earnest study of natural science might make him
seem to be a veritable philosopher in the purple" (Cassiodorus'
letterbook, Variae 9.24.8). The gulf was widening between the ancient
senatorial aristocracy, whose center was Rome, and the adherents of
Gothic rule at Ravenna: other distinguished public figures followed
Boethius to the block.
Theoderic in his final years was no longer the disengaged Arian patron
of religious toleration that he had seemed earlier in his reign.
"Indeed, his death cut short what could well have developed into a
major persecution of
Catholic churches in retaliation for measures
taken by Justinian in
Constantinople against Arians there"
Theoderic was of the Arian faith. At the end of his reign quarrels
arose with his Roman subjects and the Byzantine emperor
Justin I over
Arianism issue. Relations between the two nations deteriorated,
although Theoderic's ability dissuaded the Byzantines from waging war
against him. After his death, that reluctance faded quickly.
Bronze statue of
Theoderic the Great
Theoderic the Great (Peter Vischer, 1512–13), from
the monument of Emperor Maximilian I in the Court Church at Innsbruck.
Theoderic the Great
Theoderic the Great was interred in Ravenna, but his bones were
scattered and his mausoleum was converted to a church after Belisarius
conquered the city in 540. His mausoleum is one of the finest
monuments in Ravenna, but an equestrian statue originally there, the
Regisole, which may have been of him, was moved to Pavia, then
destroyed during the
French Revolution by the local
Main article: Legends about Theoderic the Great
Dietrich von Bern
Dietrich von Bern is an important figure in Middle High
German literature, and as Þiðrekr in Old Icelandic.
^ Grun, Bernard (1991) . The Timetable of History (New Third
Revised ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 30–31.
^ Langer, William Leonard (1968). "Italy, 489–554". An Encyclopedia
of World History. Harrap. p. 159. Thiudareiks (ruler of the
^ Thomas burns, a history of ostrogoths p57
^ S. Burns, Thomas (1984). A History of the Ostrogoths. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press. p. 44.
^ Theodoric led the Ostrogothic invasion of
Italy (supported by
elements of the Rugii). During the course of four years of fighting,
the invasion swept away Odoacer's Post-Imperial Romano-Gothic kingdom.
In its place Theodoric created an Ostrogothic kingdom which held much
Italy until Byzantium began a re-conquest of the western empire in
southern Italy. Despite the fact that the invasion had been devised by
Emperor Zeno, the
Ostrogoths ruled independently, and Theodoric and
Zeno addressed each other as equals. Overtures to Byzantium were only
made by some
Ostrogoth leaders after Theodoric's death. A Roman consul
was given nominal authority, and the two peoples lived together
amicably, with Roman culture greatly influencing the barbarians. The
Goths took one-third of the land while the Romans retained the rest.
Each side observed their own laws, and intermarriage between Roman and
Goth was forbidden. One area in which they didn't agree was in
Ostrogoths were confirmed Arians, which the
Catholics of the Roman Church found hard to stomach. Not all the
Ostrogoths pursued this path into
Italy and eventual Italianisation. A
branch known as the Tauric
Ostrogoths ventured further eastwards,
ending up in Crimea by the end of the 5th century. They settled in the
region and established an Eastern Germanic Gothic principality, later
known as Doros. Additionally, some elements of the Gothic peoples in
southern Germany formed part of the Bavarii confederation at the start
of the 6th century. Germanic Tribes: Goths
^ E. T Dailey, Queens, Consorts, Concubines: Gregory of Tours and
Women of the Merovingian Elite, (Brill, 2015), 88.
^ O'Donnell 1979, ch. 1.
^ Trudy Ring; Robert M. Salkin; Sharon La Boda (1 January 1996).
International Dictionary of Historic Places: Southern Europe. Taylor
& Francis. pp. 556–. ISBN 978-1-884964-02-2. Retrieved
9 October 2010.
Peter Heather, The Goths (Oxford, Blackwell, 1996).
O'Donnell, James J. Cassiodorus. (Berkeley, University of California
Press, 1979) .
John Moorhead, Theoderic in
Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
Andreas Goltz, Barbar - König - Tyrann. Das Bild Theoderichs des
Großen in der Überlieferung des 5. bis 9. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: de
Gruyter 2008) (Millenium-Studien zu Kultur und Geschichte des ersten
Jahrtausends n. Chr., 12).
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Theodoric". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dietrich of Bern". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Kampers, Franz (1912). "Theodoric the Great". In Herbermann,
Catholic Encyclopedia. 14. New York: Robert Appleton
Rolf Badenhausen, "Merovingians by the Svava?": discussion based on
the Skokloster Svava, Stockholm catalogued as
Skokloster-Codex-I/115&116 quarto, E 9013.
Theodoric the Great at MiddleAges.net
Theodoric the Goth, 1897, by Thomas Hodgkin, from Project Gutenberg
Medieval Lands Project on Theoderic the Great, King of Italy
Theodoric the Goth public domain audiobook at LibriVox
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Theoderic the Great.
King of the Ostrogoths
King of Italy
Anicius Acilius Aginatius Faustus,
Post consulatum Trocundis (East)
Consul of the Roman Empire
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Q. Aurelius Memmius Symmachus,
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Dietrich von Bern
Dietrich von Bern Cycle
Legends about Theoderic the Great
The Historical Poems
Dietrich und Wenezlan
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Theoderic the Great
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