The Northern Way

Jordanes: Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths

Davis Introduction: The Ostrogoths had been reduced to vassalage by the Huns. After the breakup of Attila's empire, they recovered their liberty, and entered the Eastern Empire seeking a place of settlement and loot----something after the manner of their kinsfolk the Visigoths.

At the time peace was made between the Ostrogoths and the Romans, the Romans received as a hostage of peace, Theodoric the son of Thiudimir. He had now attained the age of seven years and was entering upon his eighth [461 A.D.]. While his father hesitated about giving him up, his uncle Valamir, besought him to do it, hoping that peace between the Romans and the Goths might thus be assured. Therefore, Theodoric was given as a hostage by the Goths and brought to the city of Constantinople to the Emperor Leo, and, being a goodly child, deservedly gained the imperial favor.

After a while Theodoric returned as a young man to his people and became king over them. He was treated with great favor by the Emperor Zeno but resolved to go as the Emperor's deputy to Italy, and deliver it from the Rugi and other barbarians oppressing it, saying to Zeno, "If I prevail I shall retain Italy as your grant and gift: if I am conquered Your Piety will lose nothing." So the Emperor sent him forth enriched by great gifts and commended to his charge the Senate and the Roman People.

Therefore, Theodoric departed from the royal city and returned to his own people. In company with the whole tribe of the Goths who gave him their unanimous consent he set out for Hesperia. He went in a straight march through Sirmium to the places bordering on Pannonia and, advancing into the territory of Venetia, as far as the bridge of the Sontius, encamped there. When he had halted there for some time to rest the bodies of his men and pack animals, Odovocar sent an armed force against him which he met on the plains of Verona, and destroyed with great slaughter. Then he broke camp and advanced through Italy with greater boldness. Crossing the river Po, he pitched camp near the royal city of Ravenna.

When Odovocar saw this, he fortified himself within the city. He frequently harassed the army of the Goths at night, sallying forth stealthily with his men, and this not once or twice, but often; and thus he struggled for almost three whole years. But he labored in vain, for all Italy at last called Theodoric its lord and the Empire obeyed his nod. But Odovocar suffered daily from war and famine in Ravenna. Since he accomplished nothing he sent an embassy and begged for mercy. Theodoric first granted it, then deprived him of his life.

It was in the third year [493 A.D.] after his entrance into Italy that Theodoric, by the advice of the Emperor Zeno, laid aside the garb of a private citizen and the dress of his race, and assumed a costume with a royal mantle, as he had now become a ruler over both Goths and Romans.

From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), pp. 325-327.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text may have been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

Sidonius Apollinaris: Theodoric of the Visigoths, c. 460

Davis Introduction: Theodoric II reigned over the Visigoths in South Gaul from 453 to 466 A.D. He was the grandson of Alaric the Conqueror.

He is a prince well worthy of being known even by those not admitted to his intimate acquaintance, to such a degree have Nature and God, the sovereign arbiter of all things, accumulated in his person gifts of varied excellence. His character is such that even envy itself, that universal accompaniment of all royalty, could not defraud him of his due praise.

You ask me to describe his daily outdoor life. Accompanied by a very small suite he attends before daybreak the services of the Church in his own household; he is careful in his devotions, but although his tone is suppressed, you may perceive that this is more a matter of habit with him than of religious principle. The business of administration occupies the rest of the morning. An armed aide-de-camp stands beside his throne; his band of fur-clad bodyguards is admitted to the Palace in order that they may be near to the royal presence; while in order that there may not be too much noise, they are kept out of the room; and so they talk in murmurs, inside a railing and outside the hangings of the hall of audience.

Envoys from foreign powers are then introduced. The King listens much and says little. If their business calls for discussion, he puts it off; if for prompt action, he presses it forward. At eight o'clock he rises, and proceeds to examine either his treasure, or his stables. When he goes to hunt, he does not deem it suitable to the royal dignity to carry his bow upon his own person; when, however, .....anyone points out to him a wild animal or bird, he puts out his hand, and receives his bow unstrung from a page: for, just as he regards it as an undignified thing to carry the weapon in its case, so does he deem it unmanly it should be prepared by another for his use. He selects an arrow.....and lets fly, first asking what you wish him to strike. You make your choice and invariably he hits the mark; indeed if there is ever any mistake, it is oftener in the sight of him who points out the object than in the aim of him who shoots at it.

His banquets do not differ from those of a private gentleman. You never see the vulgarity of a vast mass of tarnished plate, heaped upon a groaning table by a puffing and perspiring slave. The only thing that is weighty is the conversation: for either serious subjects are discussed, or none at all. Sometimes purple, and sometimes fine silk are employed in adorning the furniture of the dining room. The dinner is recommended by the skill of the cookery, not by the costliness of the provisions: ---the plate by its brightness, not by its massive weight. The guests are much more frequently called upon to complain of thirst, from finding the goblet too seldom pressed, than to shun ebriety by refusing it. In brief, one sees there the elegance of Greece and promptness of Italy, the splendor of a public along with the personal attention of a private entertainment, likewise the regular order of a royal household. After dinner Theodoric either takes no siesta at all or a very short one. When he feels like it, he picks up the dice quickly, looks at them carefully, shakes them scientifically, throws them at once, jocularly addresses them, and awaits the result with patience. When the cast is a good one he says nothing: when bad, he laughs; good or bad he is never angry, and takes both philosophically....

About three in the afternoon again come the cares of government, back come the suitors, and back those whose duty is to keep them at a distance. On all sides is heard a wrangling and intriguing crowd, which, prolonged to the royal dinner hour, then only begins to diminish; after that it disperses, every man to seek his own patron. Occasionally, though not often, jesters are admitted to the royal banquet, without, however, being permitted to vent their malicious raillery upon any persons present. When he has risen from the table, the guard of the treasury commences its nightly vigil: armed men take their station at all approaches to the palace, whose duty it will be to watch there during the first hours of the night.

From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), pp. 319-321.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text may have been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

Letters of Theodoric [r.493-526]

These letters were written for Theodoric, the most Romanized of Germanic kings, by his secretary Cassiodorus. Theodoric strove to preserve the civilization he knew well, for he had grown up as a young hostage in Constantinople.

King Theodoric to Maximian, Vir Illustris; and Andreas, Vir Spectabilis

If the people of Rome will beautify their city we will help them.

Institute a strict audit (of which no one need be ashamed) of the money given by us to the different workmen for the beautification of the City. See that we are receiving money's worth for the money spent. If there is embezzlement anywhere, cause the funds so embezzled to be disgorged. We expect the Romans to help from their own resources in this patriotic work, and certainly not to intercept our contributions for the purpose.

The wandering birds love theirown nests; the beasts haste to their own lodgings in the brake; the voluptuous fish, roaming the fields of ocean, returns to its own well-known cavern. How much more should Rome be loved by her children!

King Theodoric to Faustus, Praepositus
It should be only the surplus of the crops of any Province, beyond what is needed for the supply of its own wants, that should be exported. Station persons in the harbours to see that foreign ships do not take away produce to foreign shores until the Public Providers have got all that they require.

King Theodoric to Suna, Vir Illustris and Comes
Let nothing lie useless which may rebound to the beauty of the City. Let your illustrious Magnificence therefore cause the blocks of marble which are everywhere lying about in ruins to be wrought up into the walls by the hands of the workmen whom I send herewith. Only take care to use only those stones which have really fallen from pubic buildings, as we do not wish to appropriate private property, even for the glorification of the City.

King Theodoric to the Senate of the City of Rome
We hear with sorrow, by the report of the Provincial judges, that you the Fathers of the State, who ought to set an example to your sons (the ordinary citizens), have been so remiss in the payment of taxes that on this first collection nothing, or next to nothing, has been brought in from any Senatorial house. Thus a crushing weight has fallen on the lower orders, who have had to make good your deficiencies and have been distraught by the violence of the tax gatherers.

Now then, oh Conscript Fathers, who owe as much duty to the Republic as we do, pay the taxes for which each of you is liable, to the Procurators appointed in each Province, by three installments. Or, if you prefer to do so-and it used to be accounted a privilege pay all at once into the chest of the Vicarius. And let this following edict be published, that all the Provincials may know that they are not to be imposed upon and that they are invited to state their grievances.

King Theodoric to Colossaeus, Vir Illustris and Comes
We delight to entrust our mandates to persons of approved character.

We are sending you with the dignity of the illustrious belt to Pannonia Sirmiensis, an old habitation of the Goths. Let that Province be induced to welcome her old defenders, even as she used gladly to obey our ancestors. Show forth the justice of the Goths, a nation happily situated for praise, since it is theirs to unite the forethought of the Romans and the virtue of the Barbarians. Remove all ill planted customs, and impress upon all your subordinates that we would rather that our Treasury lost a suit than that it gained one wrongfully, rather that we lost money than the taxpayer was driven to suicide.

King Theodoric to Unigis, the Sword-Bearer
We delight to live after the law of the Romans, whom we seek to defend with our arms; and we are as much interested in the maintenance of morality as we can possibly be in war. For what profit is there in having removed the turmoil of the Barbarians, unless we live according to law? ... Let other kings desire the glory of battles won, of cities taken, of ruins made; our purpose is, God helping us, so to rule that our subjects should grieve that they did not earlier acquire the blessings of our domain

King Theodoric to All the Jews of Genoa
...We cannot command the religion of our subjects, since no-one can be forced to believe against his will.

From Letters of Cassiodorus, Thomas Hodgkin, trans. (London: H. Frowde, 1886), pp.156-219.