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Heodoric's Tomb
Italy Under Odovacar
Roman Officials--cassiodorus
Rome And Ravenna
Storm And Stress
The Arian League
The Conquest Of Italy
The Might Of Attila
The Southward Migration
The Theodoric Of Saga
Theodoric's Ancestors
Theodoric's Boyhood


Accession of the Emperor Justinian--His place in history--Overthrow of
the Vandal kingdom in Africa by Belisarius--Battles of Ad Decimum and
Tricamaron--Belisarius' triumph--Fall of the Burgundian kingdom--Death
of Amalaric, king of Spain--Amalasuentha's troubles with her subjects as
to her son's education--Secret negotiations with Justinian--Death of
Athalaric--Theodahad made partner in the throne--Murder of
Amalasuentha--Justinian declares war.

Our special subject, the life of Theodoric, is ended, but so closely was
the king identified with the people that the narration can hardly close
without a sketch of the fortunes of the Ostrogothic nation during the
generation which followed his death. I shall not attempt any detailed
history of this period, but shall draw merely its broadest outlines.

Notwithstanding the melancholy and apparently threatening circumstances
which attended the death of Theodoric, his descendants succeeded to his
power without a contest. In Spain, his grandson, Amalaric, who had
probably by this time attained his majority, was hailed as king of the
Visigoths. In Italy, Athalaric, now barely ten years old, became the
nominal ruler, the real powers being exercised by his widowed mother,
Amalasuentha, who was guided more implicitly than her father had been by
the counsel of Cassiodorus, and availed herself of his fertile pen for
the proclamations in which she addressed the subjects of her son. In
writing to the Roman Senate, Cassiodorus made his child-sovereign
enlarge on the felicity of the country in which the accession of a new
ruler could take place without war or sedition or loss of any kind to
the republic. On account of the unsurpassed glory of the Amal race, the
promise of my youth has been preferred to the merits of all others. The
chiefs, glorious in council and in war, have flocked to recognise me as
King, so gladly that it seems like a Divine inspiration, and the kingdom
has been changed as one changes a garment. The general consent of Goths
and Romans has crowned one King, and they have confirmed their
allegiance by an oath. You, though distant from my person, are as near
to me in heart as they, and I therefore call on you to follow their
example. We all know that the most excellent fathers of the Senate love
their King more fervently than other ranks of the State, in proportion
to the greater benefits which they have received at his hand.

To the Senators, who had witnessed the denunciation of Albinus, and who
had been compelled with anguish of heart to vote the condemnation of
Boethius, this allusion to the great benefits which they had received
from their Gothic sovereign might seem almost like mockery: yet there
can be little doubt that the Senate did hail the accession of Athalaric
with acclamations, and that Amalasuentha's administration of affairs was
popular with the Roman inhabitants of Italy. It might well be so, for
this princess, born under an Italian sky, and accustomed from her
childhood to gaze upon the great works which Rome had constructed for
the embellishment of the peninsula, was no Goth at heart, but
enthusiastically, even unwisely, Roman. In religious matters we are
almost surprised to find that she adhered to the Arian creed of her
father and her husband, but all talk of persecution of the Catholics
ceased, and no more was heard of the enforced cession of their churches
to the Arians. And in everything else but religion the sympathies of the
new ruler were entirely on the side of the subject, not the dominant,
nationality. As it had been said of old that Captive Greece subdued her
conquerors, so now was it with subject Italy and its Gothic mistress. A
diligent student of Greek as well as of Latin literature, able to
discourse with the ambassadors of Constantinople in well-turned Attic
sentences, or to deliver a stately Latin oration to the messengers of
the Senate, she could also, when the occasion required brevity, wrap
herself in the robe of taciturnity which she inherited from her Teutonic
ancestors, and with few, diplomatically chosen words, make the hearer
feel his immeasurable inferiority to the Lady of the Kingdoms. A
woman with a mind thus richly stored with the literary treasure of
Greece and Rome was likely to look with impatient scorn on the barren
and barbarous annals of her people. We in whose ears the notes of the
Teutonic minstrelsy of the Middle Ages are still sounding, we who know
that Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe were all one day to arise from beneath
the soil of Germanic literature, can hardly conceive how dreary and
repulsive the national sagas, and even the every-day speech of her
people, would seem in that day to a woman of great intellectual
endowments, nor how strong would be the antagonism between culture and
national patriotism in the heart of a princess like Amalasuentha.

Thus the position of things during the reign of the young Athalaric was
strangely altered from that which had existed under his grandfather. The
King of the Goths and Romans was under the sway of a mother who would
make him virtually King of the Romans, only leaving the Goths outside
in moody isolation. Of course every step that Amalasuentha, in the
enthusiasm of her love for things Roman, took towards the Roman Senate
carried her farther from the traditions of her people, and lost her the
love of some stern old Gothic warriors. And, moreover, with all her
great intellectual endowments, it is clear that this highly cultivated,
statuesque, and stately woman had little skill in reading character,
little power in estimating the force of human motives. She had read (we
may conjecture) Virgil and Sophocles, but she did not know what was in
the heart of a child, and she knew not how long a scoundrel will wait
for his revenge.

At the time that the Gothic kingdom was thus being administered by a
child and a woman, the Roman Empire, which had seemed effete and
decaying, was astonishing the world by its recovered and increasing
vigour. Since the death of Theodosius (more than one hundred and thirty
years before that of Theodoric) no great historic name had illustrated
the annals of the Eastern Empire, But now, a year after the accession of
Athalaric at Ravenna, the death of Justin, in the palace at
Constantinople, (1st Aug., 527) brought upon the scene an Emperor who,
whatever his faults, however disastrous (as I hold it to have been) his
influence on the general happiness of the human race, made for himself
undoubtedly one of the very greatest names in the whole series from
Julius to Palaeologus--the world-famous Emperor Justinian.

With Justinian's long wars on the Eastern frontier of his Empire we have
here no concern. He was matched there against a terrible rival, Chosroes
Nushirvan, and at most succeeded (and that not always) in upholding the
banner of Europe against triumphant Asia. His domestic affairs, his
marriage with the actress Theodora, the strange ascendancy which she
exerted over him through life, his magnificent buildings, the rebellion
in Constantinople (springing out of the factions of the Hippodrome)
which had all but hurled him from his throne,--these also are all beyond
our province. So too is his noblest title to immortality, the
composition by his orders of that magnificent legal trilogy, the Code,
the Digest, and the Institutes, which summed up whatever was most worthy
of preservation in the labours of Roman lawyers for nine centuries in
the past, and sent it forward for at least thirteen centuries into the
future to ascertain the rights and to mould the institutions of men
dwelling in lands of the very existence of which no Roman, from the
first Julius to the last Constantine, ever dreamed. Justinian as
legislator is as much out of our present focus as Justinian the
antagonist of Persia.

But what we have here briefly to concern ourselves with is that
marvellous display of renewed energy by which the Empire, under
Justinian, made its presence felt in Western Europe and Africa. During
the thirty-eight years of his reign the great world-kingdom, which for
five generations had been losing province after province to the
Barbarians, and which, when she had once lost a game had seemed never to
have the heart to try her fortune again on the same battle-field, now
sent out her fleets and her armies, apparently with the same confidence
of success which had once animated her Scipios and her Sullas, again
planted her victorious standards on the citadel of Carthage, made the
New Carthage in Spain, Malaga, and distant Cadiz her own, and--what
concerns our present subject more nearly--once more asserted the
unrestricted dominion of the Roman Augustus over Italy from the Alps to
the Sea. Let us beware of thinking of all these great changes as
strange and precarious extensions of the Byzantine Empire. To do so
is to import the language of much later ages into the politics of the
sixth century. However clearly we may now see that the relations thus
established between Constantinople and the western shores of the
Mediterranean were artificial, and destined not to endure, to Justinian
and his contemporaries these were not conquests by Constantinople, but
the recovery of Africa, Italy, and part of Spain for the Roman

The first of the Teutonic states to fall was the kingdom of the Vandals.
Its ruin was certainly hastened by the estrangement between its royal
house and that of the Ostrogoths. We left Theodoric's sister, the
stately and somewhat domineering Amalafrida in prison at Carthage. Soon
after her brother's death she was executed or murdered, by order of her
cousin the Catholic reformer, Hilderic. This outrage was keenly resented
by the court of Ravenna. Hostilities between the two states were
apparently imminent, but probably Amalasuentha felt that war, whether
successful or unsuccessful, would be too dangerous for the dynasty, and
sullen alienation took the place of the preparation of fleets and
armies. In June, 531, five years after the accession of Athalaric, the
elderly and effeminate Hilderic was deposed by his martial subjects who
had long chafed under the rule of such a sovereign, and his cousin, the
warlike Gelimer, ascended the throne. The deposition of Hilderic,
followed for the present not by his death but by his close imprisonment,
furnished the ambitious Justinian with a fair pretext for war, since
Hilderic was not only the ally of the Empire, and a Catholic, but was
descended on his mother's side from the great Theodosius and related to
many of the Byzantine nobility. In spite of the opposition of the more
cautious among his counsellors, Justinian decided to despatch an
expedition for the conquest of Carthage, and about Midsummer, 533, a
fleet of 500 ships, manned by 20,000 sailors and conveying 15,000
soldiers (10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry), sailed forth from the
Bosphorus into the Sea of Marmora, bound for the Libyan waters. At the
head of the army was Belisarius, now about twenty-eight years of age, a
man who came, like his Imperial master, from the highlands of Illyricum,
but who, unlike that master, was probably of noble lineage. Three years
before, he had won the battle of Daras, defeating the Persian general,
whose army was nearly twice as numerous as his own, and he had already
shown signs of that profound knowledge of the science, and that
wonderful mastery of the art of war which he was afterwards to display
in many a hard-fought campaign, and which entitled him to a place in the
innermost circle of the greatest generals that the world has seen.

The voyage of the Imperial fleet was slow and tedious, and had the
Vandal king been well served by his ambassadors there was ample time to
have anticipated its attack. But Gelimer seems to have been quite
ignorant of the projected expedition, and had actually sent off some of
his best troops under the command of his brother, Tzazo, to suppress a
rebellion which had broken out in Sardinia. Moreover, the estrangement
between Vandals and Ostrogoths was a most fortunate event for the
Imperial cause. In consequence of that estrangement Belisarius was able
to land in Sicily to refresh his soldiers wearied with a long voyage,
and to obtain accurate information as to the preparations, or rather
no-preparations, of the enemy.

Early in September the army landed at the promontory of Caput-vada,
about one hundred and thirty miles south-east of Carthage, and began
their march towards the capital. They journeyed unopposed through
friendly Catholic villages, and royal parks beautiful in verdure and
abounding in luscious fruits, until, after eleven days, they arrived at
the tenth milestone[141] from Carthage, and here came the shock of war.
Gelimer had planned a combined attack on (13th Sept., 533) the Imperial
army, by himself, operating on their rear, and his brother Ammatas
making a vigorous sally from Carthage and attacking them in front. If
the two attacks had been really simultaneous, it might have gone hardly
with the Imperial army; but Ammatas came too soon to the field, was
defeated and slain. Gelimer arriving later on in the day inflicted a
partial defeat on the troops of Belisarius, but, coming to the spot
where lay the dead body of his brother, he stayed so long to bewail and
to bury him that Belisarius had time to rally his forces and to convert
defeat into victory. Gelimer fled to the open country. Belisarius
pressed on and without further opposition entered the gates of Carthage,
where he was received by the majority of the citizens, who spoke the
Latin tongue, and professed the Catholic faith, with unconcealed
rejoicing. Some Roman merchants who had been confined for many weeks in
the dungeon were (15th Sept., 533) liberated by their anxious gaoler.
But the Imperial victory came too late for the captive Hilderic, as he
had been already put to death in prison by order of his successor. There
was thus neither friend nor foe left to bar Justinian's claim to rule as
Augustus over Africa.

Belisarius was accompanied in this, as in many subsequent expeditions,
by his secretary and counsellor, the rhetorician Procopius, who has
written the story of their wars in a style worthy of his hero-chief. He
describes the sensations of surprise at their own good fortune, with
which Belisarius and his suite found themselves at noon of the 15 th
September, sitting in Gelimer's gorgeous banquet-hall, served by the
Vandal's lackeys and partaking of the sumptuous repast which he had
ordered to be prepared in celebration of his anticipated victory. At
this point Procopius indulges in a strain of meditation which is not
unusual with him: We may see hereby how Fortune wantons in her pride,
how she teaches us that she is mistress of all things, and that she will
not suffer Man to have anything which he can call his own.

Though Carthage was taken, the war was not yet over. Tzazo, who, in the
midst of his victories in Sardinia, heard of the ruin of his country,
hastened home with a valiant and hitherto triumphant army, and joined
his brother, Gelimer, on the plain of Bulla, in Numidia. When the two
brothers met they clasped one another round the neck and for long could
not loosen their hold, yet could they speak no word to each other, but
wrung their hands and wept; and so did each one of the companions of
Gelimer with some one of the officers of the army of Sardinia. But tears
soon gave place to the longing for revenge, and the two armies, forming
one strong and determined host, moved eastward to Tricamaron, about
twenty miles distant from Carthage, and began a partial blockade of the
capital. On the 15 th December Belisarius met the Vandals in
battle-array. The fight was more stubbornly contested than that of Ad
Decimum; but Tzazo fell in the thickest of the battle, and again the
impulsive nature of Gelimer was so moved by the sight of a brother's
blood that he renounced the struggle for his crown and galloped away
from the field.

Now the conquest of Africa was indeed completed, but Belisarius was set
upon capturing the person of the fugitive king, as an ornament to his
triumph and the pledge of victory. The tedious task was delegated to a
Teutonic chief named Pharas, who for three months beleaguered the
impregnable hill on the confines of Mauritania, on the summit of which
was the fortress in which Gelimer had taken refuge. The incidents which
marked his final surrender have been often described. He who had been of
late the daintily-living lord of Africa found life hard indeed among the
rough, half-savage Moors, who were partly his body-guard and partly his
gaolers. An ambassador sent by Pharas to exhort him to surrender and
cast himself on the clemency of Justinian brought back his proud refusal
to submit to one who had done him so much undeserved wrong, but brought
back also a pathetic request that his courteous foe would grant him
three things, a lyre, a sponge, and a loaf of bread. The loaf was to
remind him of the taste of baked bread, which he had not eaten for
months; the sponge was to bathe his eyes, weakened with continual tears;
the lyre, to enable him to set to music an ode which he had composed on
the subject of his misfortunes. A few days more passed by, and then came
Gelimer's offer to surrender at discretion, trusting to the generosity
of the Emperor. What finally broke down his proud spirit was the sight
of a delicately nurtured child, the son of one of his Vandal courtiers,
fighting with a dirty little Moor for a half-baked piece of dough, which
the two boys had pulled out of the ashes where it was baking.

Gelimer, whose reason was perhaps somewhat unhinged by his hardships,
gave a loud laugh--professedly at the instability of human
greatness--when brought into the presence of Belisarius. He and his
captors soon embarked for Constantinople, where they arrived probably
about the middle of 534. It had thus taken less than a year to level
with the ground the whole fabric of Vandal dominion, reared a century
before by the terrible Gaiseric, and to reunite Africa to the Roman
Republic. Belisarius received a splendid triumph, the chief figure of
which was of course the captive Gelimer, who, with a purple robe on his
shoulders, paced through the streets, shouting ever and anon in a
melancholy voice, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. When the
procession reached the palace, Gelimer by constraint and Belisarius
willingly prostrated themselves at the feet of Justinianus Augustus.
The promises on the faith of which the Vandal king had surrendered
himself were well kept. He might have been raised to the dignity of
Patrician, if he would have renounced his Arian creed. As it was, he
lived in honourable exile on the large estates in Galatia, which he had
received from the bounty of the Emperor.

In the same year (534) which witnessed the triumph of Belisarius over
the conquered Vandals came the final overthrow of the Burgundian
monarchy. In 523 Sigismund, the son-in-law of Theodoric, the convert to
Catholicism who ordered the murder of his son, had been defeated in
battle by the sons of Clovis, and together with his wife and two sons
had been thrown down a deep well and so slain. Theodoric, incensed at
the murder of his grandson, had taken part against Sigismund and
obtained a large accession of territory in Dauphine as the price of his
alliance with the Franks. But a brother of Sigismund's, named Godamir,
rallied the beaten Burgundians, defeated the Franks in a battle in which
one of their kings was slain, and succeeded in maintaining for eleven
years longer the independence of his nation. In the year 532, however,
the Frankish kings again entered the valley of the Rhone with their
desolating hosts, and in 534 they completed its conquest and added it to
the great unwieldy monarchy over which they ruled in a kind of family

In Spain too the Frankish kings had achieved some successes, and at the
cost of a descendant of Theodoric. Amalaric, king of the Visigoths, had
married, probably after his grandfather's death, Clotilda, daughter of
Clovis, and for a time seems to have pursued a tolerant policy towards
the Catholics, but gradually drifted into a position of unreasoning and
barbarous hostility towards them, hostility from which his own wife was
not exempted. He caused filth to be cast at the devout Clotilda, when
she was on her way to the Catholic basilica, nay, he even lifted his
hand to strike her. The cowardly blow brought blood, and the drops of
this blood, royal and Frankish, collected on a handkerchief and sent
northward over the Pyrenees, brought the two brother-kings of the Franks
into Spain (431). Amalaric was defeated,[142] fled to Barcelona, and
sought to escape thence by sea, probably to Italy; but his passage to
the harbour was barred by his own mutinous soldiers, and he perished by
a javelin hurled by one of them. The Franks returned, enriched with
great booty, to their own land, and Theudis, the Ostrogothic noble,
whose power had long overshadowed his master's, and who was accused by
some of having caused the mutiny of his troops, succeeded to his throne.

So had the great Arian league and the network of family alliances, by
which Theodoric had sought to guard it from the spoiler, passed away
into nothingness: and thus did the Ostrogothic kingdom now stand alone
and without allies before the rejuvenated Empire, flushed with victory,
and possessing such a head as Justinian, such a terrible right arm as
Belisarius. Not many months had elapsed from the battle of Tricamaron
when the ambassadors of the Empire appeared at Ravenna to present those
claims out of which Greek ingenuity would soon fashion a pretext for
war. The town of Lilybaeum, in Sicily had long ago been handed over by
Theodoric to the Vandal king Thrasamund as part of Amalafrida's dowry.
Apparently it had been recaptured by the Goths after the death of the
Vandal queen, but Justinian urged that it was still the rightful
possession of Gelimer, and therefore of himself, who now by the fortune
of war was Gelimer's master. Then there were certain Huns, deserters
from the Emperor's service, who had been allowed by the governor of
Naples to enlist in the Gothic army. A Gothic general who had to conduct
some warlike operations near Sirmium had crossed the Danube and sacked
Gratiana, a city in Moesia. All these grievances were rehearsed by the
Imperial ambassador, who hinted, not obscurely, that war would follow if
they were not redressed.

In fact, however, the real object of the embassy which came with this
formal statement of grievances was to discuss a strange proposition
which had been made by Amalasuentha, one for the understanding of which
we must go back a few years (we are not told exactly how many) to an
event which illustrates the manner in which the Gothic princess
conducted the education of her son. She wished, we are told, to have him
brought up in all respects after the manner of the Romans, and forced
him every day to go to the house of a grammarian to learn his lessons.
Moreover, she chose out three Gothic ancients, men of wisdom and of
calm, reasonable temperament, and assigned these venerable persons to
Athalaric as his constant companions. This manner of training the kingly
boy did not at all suit the ideas of the Goths, the Roman historian
says, because they wished him to be trained in more barbaric style in
order that they might have the more liberty for oppressing their
subjects: a modern historian may suggest, because they remembered
their own childhood and knew what was in the heart of a boy, of which
Amalasuentha, who was evidently elderly and wise in her cradle, had no
conception. One day, for some childish offence, the young king was
slapped in the face by his mother, and thereupon, in a tempest of
passionate tears, he burst out of the women's apartments and appeared
sobbing in the men's hall of audience. All Gothic hearts were stirred
when they saw the princely Amal thus mishandled, and the warriors began
to hint the insulting suspicion that Amalasuentha wished to educate her
child into his grave, that she might marry again and make her new
husband king of the Goths and Romans. The nobles of the nation were
gathered together, and seeking an audience with the princess, their
spokesman thus addressed her: O lady, you are not dealing justly by us,
nor doing that which is expedient for the nation, in your way of
educating your son. Letters and book-learning are very different from
manly courage and fortitude, and to hand a lad over to the teaching of
greybeards is generally the way to make him a coward and a caitiff. He
who is to do daring deeds and win glory in the world must be emancipated
from fear of the pedagogue and be practising martial exercises. Your
father Theodoric would never suffer his Goths to send their sons to the
grammarian-school, for he used to say: 'If they fear their teacher's
strap now they will never look on sword or javelin without a shudder.'
And he himself, who won the lordship of such wide lands, and died king
of so fair a kingdom which he had not inherited from his fathers, knew
nothing even by hearsay of this book-learning. Therefore, lady, you must
say 'good-bye' to these pedagogues, and give Athalaric companions of his
own age, who may grow up with him to manhood and make of him a valiant
king after the pattern of the barbarians.

Amalasuentha listened with outward calmness to this harangue, and though
filled with secret indignation recognised the people's voice to which
she was forced to bow. The meek old men were removed from Athalaric's
bed-chamber; he was released from his daily attendance on the
grammarian; and some young Gothic nobles were assigned to him as
associates. But the rebound was too sudden. His barbarian comrades led
astray the young king's heart after wine and women. His health began to
be undermined by his excesses, and the surly ill-nature which he
manifested towards his mother was a sure indication of the defenceless
position in which she would find herself as soon as her son should
assume the reins of government. Feeling these reins slipping from her
grasp, she opened secret negotiations with Justinian to assure herself
of his protection in case she should be driven from Italy by rebellion.
But in the meantime she singled out three of the Gothic nobles who had
been prominent in the revolt against her authority and sent them, on one
pretext or another connected with the defence of the realm, to widely
separated towns on the extreme borders of Italy. Though severed, they
still found means to hold mutual communications and to plot the downfall
of the princess. Informed of this conspiracy, she freighted a vessel
with forty thousand pounds' weight of gold (L1,6000,000) and sent it to
Dyrrhachium, on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, to await her further
orders. If things should go ill with her she would thus, in any event,
have a line of retreat opened towards Constantinople and a comfortable
subsistence assured to her in that capital. Having taken these
precautions, she gave a commission to some of her bravest and most
devoted followers (for she evidently had a strong party in her favour)
to seek out the three disaffected nobles in their various places of
banishment and put them to death. Her henchmen obeyed her bidding; no
popular tumult was excited; the sceptre seemed to be more firmly than
ever grasped by the hand of the princess; the ship, without having
discharged its cargo, was ordered back from Dyrrhachium, and there came
a slight lull in the underground negotiations with Constantinople.

But another candidate for the favours of Justinian was also appearing in
the royal family of the Goths. Theodahad, son of Amalfrida, and
therefore nephew of Theodoric, was a man now pretty far advanced in
middle life. He had received in his boyhood that literary and rhetorical
training which Amalasuentha yearned to bestow on her son; he was well
versed in the works of the Roman orators and could discourse learnedly
on the dialogues of Plato. Unhappily, this varnish of intellectual
culture covered a thoroughly vile and rotten character. He was averse to
all the warlike employments of his forefathers, but his whole heart was
set on robbery, under the form of civilisation, by means of extortion
and chicane. He had received from his uncle ample estates in the fertile
province of Tuscany, but he was one who, as the common people said,
could not endure a neighbour, and, on one pretence or other, he was
perpetually adding farm after farm and villa after villa to his enormous
property. Already during his uncle's reign the grave pen of Cassiodorus
had been twice employed to censure Theodahad's avarice, a vulgar vice,
which the kinsman of the king and a man of Amal blood is especially
bound to avoid, and to complain that you, who should have shown an
example of glorious moderation, have caused the scandal of high-handed
spoliation. After Theodoric's death the process of unjust accumulation
went on rapidly. From every part of Tuscany the cry went up that the
provincials were being oppressed and their lands taken from them on no
pretext whatever; and the Counts of the Royal Patrimony had to complain
that even the king's domain was suffering from Theodahad's depredations.
He was summoned to the Comitatus or King's Court, at Ravenna; his
various acts of alleged spoliation were inquired into; their injustice
was clearly proved, and he was compelled by Amalasuentha to restore the
wrongfully appropriated lands.

It was perhaps before this process was actually begun, but after
Theodahad was made aware that the clamour against him was growing louder
and had reached the ears of his cousin, that he sought an interview with
the Bishops of Ephesus and Philippi, who had come over to Italy on some
ecclesiastical errand from the Emperor to the Pope. To these clerical
ambassadors Theodahad made the extraordinary proposal that Justinian
should buy of him the province of Tuscany for a certain large sum of
money, to which was to be added the dignity of a Senator of
Constantinople. If this negotiation could be carried through, the
diligent student of Plato and Cicero proposed to end his days in
dignified retirement at the Eastern capital.

We may now return to the palace of Ravenna and be present at the
audience granted, probably in the summer of 534, by Amalasuentha to
Alexander, the ambassador of Justinian. To the demands for the surrender
of Lilybaeum and the complaints as to the enlistment of Hunnish
deserters, Amalasuentha made, in public, a suitable and sprited reply:
It was not the part of a great and courageous monarch to pick a quarrel
with an orphaned king, too young to be accurately informed of what was
going on in all parts of his dominions, about such paltry matters as the
possession of Lilybaeum, a barren and worthless rock of Sicily, about
ten wild Huns who had sought refuge in Italy, and about the offence
which the Gothic soldiers had, in their ignorance, committed against a
friendly city in Moesia. Justinian should look at the other side of the
account, should remember the aid and comfort which his soldiers, on
their expedition against the Vandals, had received from the friendly
Ostrogoths in Sicily, and should ask himself whether without that aid he
would ever have recovered possession of Africa. If Lilybaeum did belong
by right to the Emperor it was not too great a reward for him to bestow
on his young ally for such opportune assistance.

This was publicly the answer of Amalasuentha--a bold and determined
refusal to surrender the rock of Lilybaeum. In her private interview with
the ambassador, she assured him that she was ready to fulfil her compact
and to make arrangements for the transfer to the Emperor of the whole of

When the two sets of ambassadors, civil and ecclesiastical, returned to
Constantinople the Emperor perceived that here were two negotiations to
be carried on of the most delicate kind and requiring the presence of a
master of diplomacy. He accordingly despatched to Ravenna a rhetorician
named Peter, a man of considerable intellectual endowments--he was a
historian as well as an orator--and one who had, eighteen years before,
held the high office of consul. But it was apparently winter before
Peter started on his journey, and when he arrived at Aulon (now Valona),
just opposite Brindisi, he heard such startling tidings as to the events
which had occurred on the Italian side of the Adriatic, that he waited
there and asked for further instructions from his master as to the
course which he was to pursue in the existing position of affairs. (2nd
Oct., 534.)

First of all came the death of the unhappy lad, Athalaric, in his
eighteenth year, the victim of unwise strictness, followed by unwise
licence, and of the barbarian's passion for swinish and sensual
pleasures. When her son was dead, Amalasuentha, who had an instinctive
feeling that the Goths would never submit to undisguised female
sovereignty, took a strange and desperate resolution. She sent for
Theodahad, now the only surviving male of the stock of Theodoric, and,
fashioning her lips to a smile, began to apologise for the humiliating
sentence which had issued against him from the King's Court. She had
known all along, she said, that her boy would die, and as he,
Theodahad, would then be the one hope of Theodoric's line, she had
wished to abate his unpopularity and set him straight with his future
subjects by strictly enforcing their rights against him. Now all that
was over: his record was clear and she was ready to invite him to become
the partner of her throne;[143] but he must first swear the most solemn
oaths that he would be satisfied with the name of royalty and that the
actual power should remain, as it had done for nine years, in the hands
of Amalasuentha.

[Footnote 143: As colleague, not as husband; Theodahad's wife, Gudelina,
was still living when he ascended the throne.]

Theodahad cheerfully swore tremendous oaths to the observance of this
compact. Proclamations in the name of the two new sovereigns were put
forth to all the Goths and Italians. In them Theodahad grovelled in
admiration of the wisdom, the virtue, the eloquence of the noble lady
who had raised him to so high a station and who had done him the
inestimable favour of making him feel her justice before she bestowed
upon him her grace. Few weeks, however, passed, before Amalasuentha was
a prisoner, hurried away to a little lonely island in the Lake of
Bolsena in Tuscany by order of the partner of her throne. Having taken
this step, Theodahad began with craven apologies to excuse it to the
Eastern Caesar. He had done no harm to Amalasuentha; he would do no harm
to her, though she had been guilty of the most nefarious designs against
him: he only sought to protect her from the vengeance of the kinsmen of
the three Gothic nobles whom she had murdered. An embassy composed of
Roman Senators was ordered to carry this tale to Justinian and to
confirm it by a letter which, under duresse, had been wrung from the
unfortunate princess in her prison. When the ambassadors arrived at
Constantinople one of them spoke the words of the part which had been
set down for him and declared that Theodahad had done nothing against
Amalasuentha of which any reasonable complaint could be made; but the
others, headed by the brave Liberius, a man of singularly high and
noble nature, and of the most watchful regard to truth, told the whole
story exactly as it had happened to the Emperor. The result was a
despatch to the ambassador Peter enjoining him to find means of
assuring Amalasuentha that Justinian would exert all his influence for
her safety, and to inform Theodahad publicly, in presence of all his
counsellors, that it was at his own peril that he would touch a hair of
the head of the Gothic queen.

Scarcely, however, had Peter touched the Italian shore--he had not
conveyed a letter to the prison nor uttered a word in the palace--when
the sad tragedy was ended. The relations of the three nobles, who had
blood-feud with the queen, and who were perhaps, according to the code
of barbarian morality, justified in avenging their death, made their way
to Amalasuentha's island prison, and there, in that desolate abode, the
daughter of Theodoric met her death at their hands, dying with all that
stately dignity and cold self-possession with which she had lived.

Justinian's ambassador at once proceeded to the King's Court, and there,
in the presence of all the Gothic nobles, denounced the foul deed which
they had permitted to be done, and declared that for this there must be
truceless war between the Emperor and them. Theodahad, as stupid as he
was vile, renewed his ridiculous protestations that he had no part in
the violence done to Amalasuentha, but had heard of it with the utmost
regret, and this although he had already rewarded the murderers with
signal tokens of his favour.

Thus, by the folly of the wise and the criminal audacity of the coward,
had a train been laid for the destruction of the Ostrogothic kingdom.
All the petty pretexts for war, the affair of Lilybaeum, the Hunnish
deserters, the sack of Gratiana, faded into insignificance before this
new and most righteous cause of quarrel. If Hilderic's deposition had
been avenged by the capture of Carthage, with far more justice might the
death of the noble Amalasuentha be avenged by the capture of Ravenna and
of Rome. In the great war which was soon to burst upon Italy Justinian
could figure not only as the protector of the provincials, not only as
the defender of the Catholics, but as the avenger of the blood of the
daughter of Theodoric.

Next: Belisarius

Previous: Heodoric's Tomb

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