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Bible Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Theodoricus, the Ostrogoth

Theodoricus (3) ( Theodericus ), the Ostrogoth, king in Italy. The second is the spelling of all inscriptions (Mommsen, Jordanes, 144). He was the son of Thiudimer by his concubine Erelieva, and was born probably in 454. His father was the second brother of Valamir, king of the Ostrogoths, Vidimer being the third. The three lived in amity, occupying N. Pannonia, the part of the tribe under Thiudimer being settled near Lake Pelso at Theodoric's birth. He succeeded his father in 474 or 475 and assisted in 477 in Zeno's restoration. In 487 Zeno induced Theodoric to undertake an expedition to Italy for the purpose of overthrowing Odoacer. Theodoric willingly consented; his people, who in the course of their wanderings had mostly settled in Lower Moesia, Nova near Rustchuk being his capital, were discontented with their settlements; and in the autumn of 488 they started. It was not the march of an army, but the migration of a whole people. Their progress by Sirmium and Pannonia was slow, impeded by the winter weather and the opposition of the Gepidae and Sarmatians; not till the summer of 489 did they force their way through the Julian Alps into Italy. For the events of the war, terminated in Mar 493 by Theodoric's complete victory, see D. C. B. (4 vols. 1900), art. "Odoacer." After Theodoric had shut up Odoacer in Ravenna in autumn 490, he sent Faustus, the chief of the senate, and Irenaeus (Gelasius, Ep. 8) to Zeno to ask his permission to assume the royal robes. Zeno died in Apr. 491, and, no answer having come from his successor Anastasius, on the fall of Ravenna the army proclaimed Theodoric king (An. Val. 53, 57). Already king of the Ostrogoths, he was thus recognized as king over his new conquests; but, like Odoacer, he assumed the title without any territorial definition such as "king of Italy." Gregory of Tours (iii. 31) indeed styles him "Rex Italiae," but this is merely a description, not a formal title; cf. the parallel of Odoacer and Victor Vitensis. This independent assumption was regarded at Constantinople as a usurpation, and not till 498 was a recognition grudgingly obtained by the embassy of the senator Festus, and the imperial ornaments returned which Odoacer had sent to Constantinople ( An. Val. 64, Theodorus Lector, ii. 16, 17, in Migne, Patr. Gk. lxxxvi. 1, 189). Theodoric, while really independent, was ready to pay the emperor marks of respect, such as submitting for approval the name of the consul he nominated. But there was no real cordiality between the two. At Constantinople Theodoric was regarded merely as de jure the lieutenant of the emperor who had commissioned him to recover Italy, and the Byzantine claims were only kept in abeyance for a convenient opportunity.

His first care after the overthrow of Odoacer was to arrange the settlement of his followers in Italy. A third part of the lands was distributed to them. The Goths were very unequally distributed. In Calabria and Apulia there were none (Procop. i. x1); they began to appear in Samnium, and then increased to the N. and E., the settlements being thickest in the Aemilia and Venetia. The Goths were probably settled by families and tribes (Var. v. 27), and did not, like the Vandals, clear out and occupy the whole of a continuous province. Their dispersion among the previous inhabitants had many important consequences, the most important perhaps being the increase of the royal power, which was further strengthened by Theodoric uniting to his hereditary kingship the derelict prerogatives of the Western emperor. He governed the two nations—the Romans and the Goths—who lived side by side without intermingling, in a twofold capacity: the former as the successor of the emperor, the latter as the king of immemorial antiquity. The Roman forms of government were kept up; the senate met, and Theodoric submitted his appointments of patricians, consuls, etc., for their ratification. The Roman systems of taxation and administration were maintained. The Goths, like the Romans, had to pay taxes, but their special obligation was that of military service. Theodoric's care for his dominions is shewn by the multifarious subjects of the Variarum —e.g. drainage of marshes, regulations of the posting service, repairs of harbours, roads, and public buildings, such as Pompey's theatre and the cloacae at Rome, fortifications, searches for mines, etc. Under his firm rule Italy enjoyed 33 years of peace and prosperity such as she had not known for nearly a century, and was not to know again for generations.

The state of affairs in Gaul after 507 demanded Theodoric's interference. When his negotiations failed to prevent a breach between Clovis and his son-in-law Alaric, and when the rout and death of Alaric threatened that all Gaul, and perhaps Spain, would pass into the hands of the Franks, he felt compelled to interpose. The result was the preservation of Spain and the district of Narbonne or Septimania for the Visigoths, and the acquisition by Theodoric of a territory corresponding with the modern Provence, including Arles and Marseilles. He was thus placed in immediate communication with the Visigoths, among whose kings he is reckoned by Spanish historians as guardian of his infant grandson.

Though, like his countrymen, an Arian, Theodoric for most of his reign acted not only with impartiality but favour to the Catholics, some holding high offices under him. On his one recorded visit to Rome in 500, where he spent six months (An. Val., Cassiod. Chron. ), he gave magnificent presents to St. Peter's as if he had been a Catholic; he was on friendly terms with the most eminent bishops, such as EPIPHANIUS, whom he employed on an embassy to the Burgundians to obtain the release of the prisoners taken in their inroads into N. Italy during the war with Odoacer; and in his interference in the troubles following the disputed election of SYMMACHUS and LAURENTIUS he seems to have acted solely with a view to benefit the church. Nor did he object to the nullification by the synod, under Symmachus, of Odoacer's law against the alienation of ecclesiastical property, on the ground that it rested only on lay authority. He was careful also not to infringe on the privileges of the church, and extended his protection to the Jews.

During most of his reign the difficulties of his position were much lightened by the schism between the Eastern and Western churches. To the pope and the orthodox party a Eutychian emperor was as hateful as an Arian king. But when in 518 Anastasius was succeeded by Justin and the 37 years' schism was ended by the complete triumph of HORMISDAS, whose negotiations with the East had been conducted by Theodoric's permission (Vita Hormisdae ), the obstacle to the desires of the orthodox Romans for reunion with the empire was removed. On the Eastern side the breach was widened by the persecution of heretics, commenced by Justin in 523. By the law of that year (Cod. i. v. 12), heretics were subjected to many civil and religious disabilities. The Goths serving in the army ( foederati ) were exempted from its provisions, but must, like the rest of their co-religionists, have felt the next measure, the seizure of all the churches belonging to heretics. Theodoric appears to have intended to occupy the churches of the Catholics and hand them over to the Arians as reprisals for the similar treatment they had experienced in the East, when he was seized with illness, and died Aug. 30, 526. He apparently never had a son. His only surviving daughter Amalasuintha he had given in marriage in 515 to Eutharic, a descendant of the Amals, whose consulship in 519 was celebrated with great magnificence at Rome. He died before Theodoric, leaving one son, Athalaric, whom his grandfather, shortly before his death, declared king, under the regency of his mother.

Theodoric was a great builder. He restored the aqueducts at Verona and Ravenna, built palaces at Verona and Ravenna, and baths there and at Pavia. But his greatest works are at Ravenna, his own mausoleum, with its marvellous dome, formed of one block of Istrian stone, and what is now St. Apollinare Nuovo, the church he built for his Arlan fellow-worshippers, of which they retained possession till the time of bp. Agnellus (Agnellus, Lib. Pont. in Rerum Script. Lang. 334).

Almost our only source of information as to his internal administration is the Variarum of Cassiodorus ( vid. Mr. Hodgkin's preface to this work). Of modern writings, Dahn's Könige der Germanen, ii.–iv. is the most valuable. Du Roure has published a Life of Theodoric, and there is a brilliant sketch in Gibbon, c. 39, of his rule in Italy.


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Theodoricus, the Ostrogoth'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

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