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Theodoric the Great: Ostrogoth Warrior King

Jule Romans has over 30 years of experience researching and writing on educational topics. She presently works in State Government.

Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths

Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths

King Theodoric and the Ostrogoths

Theodoric the Ostrogoth reigned from 475 to 526 AD. The Ostrogoths were also known as the East Goths, since they settled in Southern Russia and separated from the other half of their tribe, the Visigoths, who were ruled by King Alaric.

King Theodoric and the Ostrogoths soon gained power in their own right by continually invading countries belonging to the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperors soon came to fear the Ostrogoths, sometimes seeking to appease them with land and money.

Ultimately, this did not work, Theodoric the Ostrogoth Warrior King soon became as famous as his counterpart Alaric the Visigoth for invading and plundering the Roman Empire

Theodoric’s Early Life in Rome

Theodoric was born in about 454 AD. He was the son of King Theodomir. At the age of eight, In 462, Theodoric was sent to Constantinople as a personal “hostage” of Emperor Leo. This arrangement was made to cement a treaty between the Ostrogoths and the Roman Empire.

It was not a bad arrangement for Theodoric. Theodoric was educated, trained in the arts of war, and taught to adopt all the Roman cultural practices. According to the scribe Sidonius Appollinaris, this gained him a reputation of being a refined person in public and in personal private life.

King Theodomir died in 475. Theodoric returned to his own country as heir to throne. He was popular with all his subjects because he was known as being strong, tall, and brave.

Theodoric and Emperor Zeno

Theodoric made regular successful raids all along his territory borders. He went to war with other Gothic kings and with Emperor Leo’s successor, Zeno. Theodoric was often the victor in battles which caused all kinds of problems for the Roman Empire.

Emperor Zeno knew Theodoric from his time at court. Diplomacy seemed the better option. Zeno offered Theodoric some valuable land and made Theodoric commander of the Imperial Guard of Constantinople in 483. In 484, he awarded Theodoric a consulship.

Zeno soon tired of this arrangement and began looking for a way to get Theodoric out of his court. Zeno and Theodoric agreed that the Ostrogoth king should take his army to attack Italy. Theodoric was more than happy to do so.

Theodoric Marches on Italy

Theodoric began his march toward Italy with all the people of his entire country. His intention was to conquer Italy, become the king, and settle all the Ostrogoths in the fertile and lovely countryside.

Italy was under the rulership of Odacer, a former army general in the Western Roman Empire. Odacer had served under Romulus Augustus. When Odacer’s men had demanded better pay, Romulus Augustus refused. The soldiers drove Romulus Augustus from the throne and made Odoacer their emperor.

Odoacer would not take the title, but ruled wisely and well under the title of Patrician. This title is a minor distinction, but an important one.

Reports account that Theodoric had over 250,000 people with him when he first marched against Odoacer. There were men, women and children, all accompanied by horses and wagons. Alongside the citizens were 60,000 soldiers, all prepared for complete war.

Theodoric, his soldiers, and his citizens marched from the shores of the Black Sea to the foot of the Alps Mountains. They began to cross the Alps.

On this journey, Theodoric and his men conquered savage tribes and scattered settlements, taking all the conquered people as prisoners and using them as slaves. This journey took many months.

Eventually, the entire collective reached the top of the Alps. Below them, they could see the countryside of Italy stretched out before them. All the Ostrogoths celebrated and prepared to make the land their own, no matter what the cost.

Bronze Statue of Theodoric the Ostrogoth King

Bronze Statue of Theodoric the Ostrogoth King

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Theodoric Defeats Odoacer, Twice

Theodoric and the Ostrogoths passed quickly down into Italy. Odoacer was prepared with an army, ready to drive the Ostrogoths back and defend his Italian rulership. Near the town of Aquileia, the two forces met and came to battle. Odoacer was defeated.

Making one last effort to save his beloved Italy, Odoacer offered Theodoric thousands of pounds of gold and silver as a ransom. If Theodoric were to accept the ransom, Italy would be left safe, and the Ostrogoths would return to their own lands. Theodoric would not accept this arrangement at all. Another battle ensued, this one near Verona. Odoacer was once again defeated.

Theodoric Is Saved by His Own Mother

During this time, Theodoric was nearly killed. He was saved by his own mother.

Theodoric’s mother, Ereleuva, was a brave woman in her own right. She traveled with Theodoric and supported his camp. One day, she noticed a large number of Ostrogoths fleeing a part of the battlefield.

Ereleuva knew that Theodoric was in that part of the field. Seeing this, Ereleuva realized that Theodoric’s men were deserting him, leaving him vulnerable and without support.

Ereleuva rushed toward the men, halting them in their tracks with shameful scolding. She was so convincing in her exhortations that all the men returned to the field and fought beside Theodoric until the battle was completed.

The Ostrogoths were victorious and Theodoric’s life was saved.

Coin depicting Flavius Theodoricus (Theodoric the Great). Roman Vassal and King of the Ostrogoths.

Coin depicting Flavius Theodoricus (Theodoric the Great). Roman Vassal and King of the Ostrogoths.

Theodoric Attacks Ravenna

After the battle of Verona, Odoacer retreated with his army to the city of Ravenna. Odoacer remained there, but Theodoric followed with his Ostrogoths. Theodoric attempted to conquer the city, but was prevented by the city’s strong walls. The Ostrogoths could not take Ravenna.

Although Theodoric was not able to take Ravenna, he did not remain idle. He marched off to other parts of the country, and took possession of towns and districts wherever he went.

After a while Odoacer gathered a stronger army. Odoacer tried again to defeat Theodoric, and failed. Theodoric defeated him in the great battle fought on the banks of the River Adda. After this, Odoacer returned again to his favorite retreat, Ravenna. This time, Theodoric followed.

Theodoric began a cruel siege on the city. This time his army surrounded Ravenna. They stopped all provisions from being sent in. At last, when there was no food in the city, the people and soldiers were starving to death. Odoacer had to surrender.

Theodoric Betrays Odoacer

There was then a treaty made between the two kings. It was agreed that they would rule Italy together. Odoacer and Theodoric would share power equally. It may come as no surprise that just a few days after this agreement, Theodoric betrayed everything.

While both were sitting together at a banquet, Theodoric murdered Odoacer. He then crowned himself the sole sovereign ruler of Italy, taking a third of the land and giving it to his followers.

Theodoric Rules Italy for Over 30 Years

This solidified the Ostrogoths in Italy. The Ostrogoths, Romans, and Visigoths were governed by Theodoric as one people for three decades.

Theodoric died at the age of seventy-one after ruling Italy for thirty-three years.

Ravenna, Tomb of King Theodoric

Ravenna, Tomb of King Theodoric

Sources

  • Haaren, John and Poland, A.B. (1904). Famous Men of the Middle Ages. American Book Company.
  • Mark, Joshua J. (2014, October 9). Theodoric the Great. World History Encyclopedia. <ancient.eu./Theodoric_the_Great>.
  • Theodoric the Great Timeline. (2020). World History Encyclopedia. <ancient.eu/timeline/Theodoric_the_Great/>.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jule Romans

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