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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

Storm And Stress

Death of Theudemir, and accession of Theodoric--Leo the Butcher--The
Emperor Zeno--The march of Theodoric against the son of Trianus--His
invasion of Macedonia--Defeat of his rear guard--His compact with the

The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man
is healthy, but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is
in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the
ambition thick-sighted.--(KEATS, Preface to Endymion.)

The sentence thus written by the sensitive young poet, a child of London
of the nineteenth century, was eminently exemplified in the history of
the martial chief of the Ostrogoths. The next fourteen years in the life
of Theodoric, which will be described in this chapter, were years of
much useless endeavour, of marches and countermarches, of alliances
formed and broken, of vain animosities and vainer reconciliations, years
in which Theodoric himself seems never to understand his own purpose,
whether it shall be under the shadow of the Empire or upon the ruins of
the Empire, that he will build up his throne. Take the map of what is
now often called the Balkan peninsula, the region in which these
fourteen years were passed; look at the apparently purpose, less way in
which the mountain ranges of Haemus, Rhodope, and Scardus cross,
intersect, run parallel, approach, avoid one another; look at the
strange entanglement of passes and watersheds and table-lands which
their systems display to us. Even such as the ranges among which he was
manoeuvring--perplexed, purposeless, and sterile--was the early manhood
of Theodoric.

About 474, soon after the great Southward migration, Theudemir died at
Cyrrhus in Macedonia, one of the new settlements of the Ostrogoths. When
he was attacked by his fatal sickness he called his people together and
pointed to Theodoric as the heir of his royal dignity. Kingship at this
time among the Germanic nations was not purely hereditary, the consent
of the people being required even in the most ordinary and natural cases
of succession, such as that of a first-born son, full grown and a tried
soldier succeeding to an aged father. In such cases, however, that
consent was almost invariably given. Theodoric, at any rate, succeeded
without disputes to the doubtful and precarious position of king of the

Almost at the same time a change was being made by death in the wearer
of the Imperial diadem. In order to illustrate the widely different
character of the Roman and the Gothic monarchies it will be well to
cease for a little time to follow the fortunes of Theodoric and to
sketch the history of Leo, the dying Emperor, and of Zeno, who succeeded

Leo I., who reigned at Constantinople from 457 to 474, and who was
therefore Emperor during the whole time that Theodoric dwelt there as
hostage, was not, as far as we can ascertain, a man of any great
abilities in peace or war, or originally of very exalted station. But he
was curator or steward in the household of Aspar, the successful
barbarian adventurer who has been already alluded to.[34] As an Arian by
religion, and a barbarian, or the son of a barbarian, by birth, Aspar
could not himself assume the diadem, but he could give it to whom he
would, and Leo the steward was the second of his dependants whom he had
thus honoured. Once placed upon the throne, however, Leo showed himself
less obsequious to his old master than was expected. The post of Prefect
of the City became vacant; Aspar suggested for the office a man who,
like himself, was tainted with the heresy of Arius. At the moment Leo
promised acquiescence, but immediately repented, and in the dead of
night privately conferred the important office on a Senator who
professed the orthodox faith. Aspar in a rage laid a rough hand on the
Imperial purple, saying to Leo: Emperor! it is not fitting that one who
wears this robe should tell lies. Leo answered with some spirit:
Neither is it fitting that an Emperor should be bound to do the bidding
of any of his subjects, and so injure the State.

After this encounter there were thirteen years of feud between
King-maker and King, between Aspar and Leo. At length in 471 Aspar and
his three valiant sons fell by the swords of the Eunuchs of the Palace.
The foul and cowardly deed was perhaps marked by some circumstances of
especial cruelty, which earned for Leo the title by which he was long
after remembered in Constantinople, The Butcher.[35]

In order to strengthen himself against the adherents of Aspar, Leo
cultivated the friendship of a set of wild, uncouth mountaineers, who at
this time played the same part in Constantinople which the Swiss of the
Middle Ages played in Italy. These were the Isaurians, men from the
rugged highlands of Pisidia, whose lives had hitherto been chiefly spent
either in robbing or in defending themselves from robbery. At their head
was a man named Tarasicodissa,--probably well born, if a chieftain from
the Isaurian highlands could be deemed to be well born by the
contemptuous citizens of Constantinople, no soldier, for we are told
that even the picture of a battle frightened him, but a man whom the
other Isaurians seem to have followed with clannish loyalty, like that
which the Scottish Camerons showed even to the wily and unwarlike Master
of Lovat.

With Tarasicodissa therefore the Emperor Leo entered into a compact of
mutual defence. The Isaurian dropped his uncouth name and assumed the
classical and philosophical-sounding name of Zeno; he received the hand
of Ariadne, daughter of the Emperor, in marriage, and as Leo had no male
offspring, the little Leo, offspring of this marriage and therefore
grandson of the aged Emperor, was, in this monarchy which from elective
was ever becoming more strictly hereditary, generally accepted as his
probable successor.

As it had been planned so it came to pass. Leo the Butcher died (3d Feb.
474); the younger Leo, a child of seven years old, was hailed by Senate
and People as his successor: Zeno came at the head of a brilliant train
of senators, soldiers, and magistrates, to adore the new Emperor, and
the child, carefully instructed by his mother in the part which he had
to play, placed on the bowed head of his father the Imperial diadem.
This act of association as it was called, generally practised upon a
son or nephew by a veteran Emperor anxious to be relieved from some of
the cares of reigning, required to be ratified by the acclamations of
the soldiery; but no doubt these acclamations, which could generally be
purchased by a sufficiently liberal donative, were not wanting on this
occasion. Zeno, otherwise called Tarasicodissa the Isaurian, was now
Emperor, and nine months after, when his child-partner died, he became
sole ruler of the Roman world, except in so far as his dignity might be
considered to be shared by the phantom Emperors of the West, who at this
time were dethroning and being dethroned with fatal rapidity at Rome
and Ravenna.

Thus mean and devious were the paths by which an adventurer could climb
in the fifth century to that which was still looked upon as the pinnacle
of earthly greatness. For however unworthy a man might feel himself to
be, and however unworthy all his subjects might know him to be of the
highest place in the Empire, when once he had obtained it his power was
absolute and the honours rendered to him were little less than divine.
All laws were passed by his sacred providence; all officers, military
and civil, received their authority from him. In the edicts which he put
forth to the world he spoke of himself as My Eternity, My Mildness,
My Magnificence, and of course these expressions, or, if it were
possible, expressions more adulatory than these, were used by his
subjects when they laid their petitions at the footstool of the sacred
throne. He lived, withdrawn from vulgar eyes, in the innermost recesses
of the palace, a sort of Holy of Holies behind the first and the second
veil. A band of pages, in splendid dress, waited upon his bidding;
thirty stately silentiarii, with helmets and brightly burnished
cuirasses, marched backwards and forwards before the second veil, to see
that no importunate petitioner disturbed the silence of the sacred
cubicle. On the comparatively rare occasions when he showed himself to
his subjects, he wore upon his head the diadem, a band of white linen,
in which blazed the most precious jewels of the Empire. Hung round his
shoulders and reaching down to his feet was that precious purple robe,
for the sake of which so many crimes were committed, and which often
proved itself a very garment of Nessus to him who dared to assume it
without force sufficient to render his usurpation legitimate. On the
feet of the Emperor were buskins which, like the diadem, were studded
with precious stones, and like the robe were dyed with the Imperial
purple. Thus gorgeously arrayed he took his place in the podium, the
royal box in the Amphitheatre, and from thence, while gazed upon by his
subjects, gazed himself upon the savage beast-fight, or in the
Hippodrome, with difficulty restraining his eagerness for the success of
the Blue or the Green faction, gave the sign for the chariot races to
begin. Or he sat surrounded by his court in the purple presence-chamber
to consult upon public affairs with his Consistory, a sort of Privy
Council, composed of the great ministers of state. Conspicuous among
these were the fifteen officers of highest rank, Generals, Judges, Grand
Chamberlains, Finance Ministers, who had each the right to be addressed
as Illustrious. When any subject of the Emperor, were it one of these
Illustrious ones himself, were it the son or brother of his predecessor,
were it even a former patron, like Aspar, by whose favour he had been
selected to wear the purple, was admitted to an audience of Augustus
(that great name went as of right with the diadem), the etiquette of the
court required that he should not merely bow nor kneel, but absolutely
prostrate himself before the Sacred Majesty of the Emperor, who, if in a
gracious mood, then with outstretched hand raised him from the earth
and permitted him to kiss his knee or the fringe of his Imperial mantle.

To this dizzy height of greatness--for such, however small Marcian or
Leo or Zeno may now seem to us by the lapse of centuries, it was felt to
be by the contemporary generations--it was possible under the singular
combination of election and inheritance which regulated the succession
to the throne, for almost any citizen of the Empire, if not of barbarian
blood or heretical creed, to aspire. Diocletian, the second founder of
the Empire, was the son of a slave; Justinian--an even greater name--was
the nephew of a Macedonian peasant, who with a sheepskin bag containing
a week's store of biscuit, his only property, tramped down from his
native highlands to seek his fortune in the capital Zeno, as we have
seen, though perhaps better born than either Diocletian or Justinian,
was only a little Isaurian chieftain. Thus the possibilities open to
aspiring ambition were great in the Empire of the Caesars. As any male
citizen of the United States, born between the St. Lawrence and the Rio
Grande, may one day be installed in the White House as President, so any
Roman and orthodox inhabitant of the Empire, whether noble, citizen,
or peasant, might flatter himself with the hope that he too should one
day wear the purple of Diocletian, be saluted as Augustus, and see
Prefects and Masters of the Soldiery prostrating themselves before His
Eternity. This was, in a sense, the better, the democratic side of the
Roman monarchy. Power which was supposed to be conveyed by the will of
the people (as expressed by the acclamations of the army) might be
wielded by the arm of any member of that people. On the other hand there
was an evil in the habit thus engendered in men's minds, of humbling
themselves before mere power without regard to the manner of its
acquirement. When we compare the polity of Rome or Constantinople, where
a century was a long time for the duration of a dynasty, with the far
simpler polities of the Teutonic tribes which invaded the Empire, almost
all of whom had their royal houses, reaching back into and even beyond
the dawn of national history, supposed to be sprung from the loins of
the gods, and rendered illustrious by countless deeds of valour recorded
in song or saga, we see at once that in these ruder states we are in
presence of a principle which the Empire knew not, but which Mediaeval
Europe knew and glorified, the principle of Loyalty. This principle,
the same that bound Bayard to the Valois, and Montrose to the Stuart,
has been, with all the follies and even crimes which it may have caused,
an element of strength and cohesion in the states which have arisen on
the ruins of the Roman Empire. The self-respecting but loving loyalty,
with which the Englishman of to-day cherishes the name of the descendant
of Cerdic, of Alfred, and of Edward Plantagenet, who wields the sceptre
of his country, is utterly unlike the slavish homage offered by the
adoring courtiers of Byzantium to the pinchbeck divinity of Zeno

Raised as Zeno had been to the throne by a mere palace intrigue, and
destitute as he was of any of the qualities of a great statesman or
general, it is no wonder that his reign, which lasted for seventeen
years, was continually disturbed by conspiracies and rebellions. In most
of these rebellions his mother-in-law, Verina, widow of Leo, an
ambitious and turbulent woman, played an important part.

It was only a year after Zeno's accession to sole power by the death of
his son (Nov., 475) when he was surprised by the outbreak of a
conspiracy, hatched by his mother-in-law, the object of which was to
place her brother Basiliscus on the throne. Zeno fled by night, still
wearing the Imperial robes which he had worn, sitting in the Hippodrome,
when the tidings reached him, and crossing the Bosphorus was soon in the
heart of Asia Minor, safe sheltered in his native Isauria.

From thence,(July, 477) after nearly two years of exile, he was by a
strange turn of the wheel of Fortune restored to his throne. Religious
bigotry (for Basiliscus did not belong to the party of strict orthodoxy)
and domestic jealousies and perfidies all contributed to this result.
Zeno, who had fled twenty months before from the Hippodrome, returned to
the Amphitheatre, and there, having commanded that the linen curtain
should be drawn over the circus to exclude the too piercing rays of the
July sun, gave the signal for the games to begin, while the populace
shouted in Latin the regular official congratulations on his elevation
and prayers for his continued triumph.[36]

[Footnote 36: Zeno Imperator Tu Vincas, would be, as we know from
other similar instances, the most frequently uttered acclamation. It is
a curious instance of survival that this was always shouted in Latin,
though Greek was the vernacular tongue of the vast majority of the
inhabitants of Constantinople.]

Meanwhile his fallen rival, less fortunate than Zeno himself in planning
an escape, was crouching in the baptistery of the great Church of Saint
Sophia, whither with his wife and children he had fled for refuge. After
all the emblems of Imperial dignity had been rudely stripped from them,
Basiliscus was induced, by a promise from Zeno, that their heads should
be safe, to come forth with his family from the sacred asylum. The
Emperor kept the word of promise to the ear, since no executioner with
drawn sword entered the chamber of his rival. Basiliscus and they that
were with him were sent away to a remote fortress in Cappadocia. The
gate of the fortress was built up, a band of wild Isaurians guarded the
enclosure, suffering no man to enter or to leave it, and in that bleak
stronghold before long the fallen Emperor and Empress with their
children perished miserably of cold and hunger.

Theodoric, who was at this time settled with his people, not on the
shores of the AEgean, but in the region which we now call the Dobrudscha,
between the mouths of the Danube and the Black Sea, had zealously
espoused the cause of the banished Zeno, and lent an effectual hand in
the counter-revolution which restored him to the throne (478). For his
services in this crisis he was rewarded with the dignities of Patrician
and Master of the Soldiery, high honours for a barbarian of twenty-four;
and probably about this time he was also adopted as filius in arma
by the Emperor. What the precise nature of this adopted
sonship-in-arms may have been we are not able to say. It reminds us of
the barbarian customs which in the course of centuries ripened into the
mediaeval ceremony of knighthood, and the whole transaction certainly
sounds more Ostrogothic than Imperial. Zeno's own son and namesake (the
offspring of a first marriage before his union with Ariadne) was
apparently dead before this time; and possibly therefore the title of
son thus conferred upon Theodoric may have raised in his heart wild
hopes that he too might one day be saluted as Roman Emperor. Any such
hopes were probably doomed to inevitable disappointment. Any other
dignity in the State, the Roman Republic, as it still called itself,
was practically within reach of a powerful barbarian, but the diadem, as
has been already said, could in this age of the world, only be worn by
one of pure Roman, that is, non-barbarian, blood.

At this time, and for the next three years, the position of our
Theodoric, both towards the Emperor and towards his own people, was
sorely embarrassed by the position and the claims of the other, the
squinting Theodoric (son of Triarius), whom we met with seventeen years
ago, and whose receipt of stipendia from the court of Constantinople,
at the very time when their own were withheld, raised the wrath of
Walamir and Theudemir. This Theodoric, it will be remembered, was of
unkingly, perhaps of quite ignoble, birth, had risen to greatness by
clinging to the skirts of Aspar, and had, so far as the Emperor's favour
was concerned, fallen with his fall. Shortly before the death of Leo he
had appeared in arms against the Empire, taking one city and besieging
another, and had forced the Emperor to concede to him high rank in the
army (that of General of the Household Troops,[37]) a subsidy of;
L80,000 a year for himself and his people, and lastly a remarkable
stipulation, that he should be absolute ruler[38] of the Goths, and
that the Emperor should not receive any of them who were minded to
revolt from him. This strange article of the treaty shows us, on the
one hand, how thoroughly fictitious and illegitimate was this
Theodoric's claim to kinship; since assuredly neither Alaric, nor
Ataulfus, nor Theudemir, nor any of the genuine kings of the Goths, ever
needed to bolster up their authority over their subjects by any such
figment of an Imperial concession; and on the other hand, as it
coincides in date with the time of Theudemir's and his Theodoric's
entrance into the Empire, it shows us the distracting influences to
which the large number of Gothic settlers south of the Danube, settled
there before Theudemir's migration, were exposed by that event. There
can be little doubt that the Goths who were minded to revolt from the
son of Triarius and who were not to be received into favour by the
Emperor, were Ostrogoths, still dimly conscious of the old tie which
bound them to the glorious house of Amala, and more than half disposed
to forsake the service of their squinting upstart chief in order to
follow the banners of the young hero, son of Theudemir.

Then came the death of Leo (478), Zeno's accession and the insurrection
of Basiliscus, in which the son of Triarius took part against the
Isaurian Emperor. Soon after this insurrection was ended and Zeno was
restored to his precarious throne, there came an embassy from the
foederati (as they called themselves) that is, from the unattached
Goths who followed the Triarian standard, begging Zeno to be reconciled
to their lord, and hinting that he was a truer friend to the Empire than
the petted and pampered son of Theudemir. After a consultation with the
Senate and People of Rome, in other words, with the nobles of
Constantinople and the troops of the household, Zeno decided that to
take both the Theodorics into his pay would be too heavy a charge on
the treasury; that there was no reason for breaking with the young Amal,
his ally, and therefore that the request of his rival must be refused.
Open war followed, consisting chiefly of devastating raids by the son of
Triarius into the valleys of Moesia and Thrace. A message was sent to
Theodoric the Amal, who was dwelling quietly with his people by the
Danube. Why are you lingering in your home? Come forth and do great
deeds worthy of a Master of Roman Soldiery. But if I take the field
against the son of Triarius, was the answer, I fear that you will make
peace with him behind my back. The Emperor and Senate bound themselves
by solemn oaths that he should never be received back into favour, and
an elaborate plan of campaign was arranged, according to which the Amal
marching with his host from Marcianople, (Shumla) was to be met by one
general with twelve thousand troops, on the southern side of the
Balkans, and by another with thirty thousand in the valley of the Hebrus

But the Roman Empire, in its feeble and flaccid old age, seemed to have
lost all capacity for making war. Theodoric the Amal performed his share
of the compact; but when with his weary army, encumbered with many women
and children, he emerged from the passes of the Balkans he found no
Imperial generals there to meet him, but, instead, Theodoric the
Squinter with a large army of Goths encamped on an inaccessible hill.
Neither chief gave the signal for combat; perhaps both were restrained
by a reluctance to urge the fratricidal strife; but there were daily
skirmishes between the light-armed horsemen at the foraging grounds and
places for watering. Every day, too, the son of Triarius rode round the
hostile camp, shouting forth reproaches against his rival, calling him
a perjured boy, a madman, a traitor to his race, a fool who could not
see whither the Imperial plans were tending. The Romans would stand by
and look quietly on while Goth wore out Goth in deadly strife. Murmurs
from the Amal's troops showed that these words struck home. Next day the
son of Triarius climbed a hill overlooking the camp, and again raised
his voice in bitter defiance. Scoundrel! why are you leading so many of
my kinsmen to destruction? why have you made so many Gothic wives
widows? What has become of that wealth and plenty which they had when
they first took service with you? Then they had two or three horses
apiece; now without horses and in the guise of slaves, they are
wandering on foot through Thrace. But they are free-born men surely,
aye, as free-born as you are, and they once measured out the gold coins
of Byzantium with a bushel. When the host heard these words, all, both
men and women, went to their leader Theodoric the Amal, and claimed from
him with tumultuous cries that he should come to an accommodation with
the son of Tnarius. The proposal must have been hateful to the Amal. To
throw away the laboriously earned favour of the Emperor, to denude
himself of the splendid dignity of Master of the Soldiery, to leave the
comfortable home-like fabric of Imperial civilisation and go out again
into the barbarian wilderness with this insolent namesake who had just
been denouncing him as a perjured boy: all this was gall and wormwood to
the spirit of Theodoric. But he knew the conditions under which he held
his sovereignty--king, as a recent French monarch expressed it, by
the grace of God and the will of the people, and he did not attempt to
strive against the decision of his tumultuary parliament. He met his
elderly competitor, each standing on the opposite bank of a disparting
stream, and after speech had, they agreed that they would wage no more
war on one another but would make common cause against Byzantium.

The now confederated Theodorics sent an embassy to Zeno, bearing their
common demands for territory, stipendia and rations for their
followers, and, in the case of Theodoric the Amal, charged with bitter
complaints of the desertion which had exposed him to such dangers. The
Emperor replied with an accusation (which appears to have been wholly
unfounded) that Theodoric himself had meditated treachery, and that
this was the reason why the Roman generals had feared to join their
forces to his. Still the Emperor was willing to receive him again into
favour if he would relinquish his alliance with the son of Triarius, and
in order to lure him back the ambassadors were to offer him 1,000
pounds' weight of gold (L40,000), 10,000 of silver (L35,000), a yearly
revenue of 10,000 aurei (L6,000), and the daughter of Olybrius, one of
the noblest-born damsels of Byzantium, for his wife. But the Amal king,
having stooped so low as to make an alliance with the son of Triarius,
was not going to stoop lower by breaking it. The ambassadors returned to
Constantinople with their purpose unaccomplished, and Zeno began
seriously to prepare for the apparently inevitable war with all the
Gothic foederati in his land, commanded by both the Theodorics. He
summoned to the capital all the troops whom he could muster, and
delivered to them a spirited oration, in which he exhorted them to be of
good courage, declaring that he himself would go forth with them to war,
and would share all their hardships and dangers. For nearly a hundred
years, ever since the time of the great Theodosius, no Eastern Emperor
apparently had conducted a campaign in person; and the announcement that
this inactivity was to be ended and that a Roman Imperator was again,
like the Imperators of old time, to march with the legions and to
withstand the shock of battle, roused the soldiers to extraordinary
enthusiasm. The very men who, a little while before, had been bribing
the officers to procure exemption from service, now offered larger sums
of money in order to obtain an opportunity of distinguishing themselves
under the eyes of the Emperor. They pressed forward past the long wall
which at about sixty miles from Constantinople crossed the narrow
peninsula and defended the capital of the Empire; they caught some of
the forerunners of the Gothic host, the Uhlans, if we may call them so,
of Theodoric: everything foreboded an encounter, more serious and
perhaps more triumphant than any that had been seen since the days of
Theodosius. Then, as in a moment, all was changed. Zeno's old spirit of
sloth and cowardice returned. He would not undergo the fatigue of the
long marches through Thrace, he would not look upon the battle-field,
the very pictures of which he found so terrible; it was publicly
announced that the Emperor would not go forth to war. The soldiers,
enraged, began to gather in angry groups, rebuking one another for their
over-patience in submitting to be ruled by such a coward. How? Are we
men, and have we swords in our hands, and shall we any longer bear with
such disgraceful effeminacy, by which the might of this great Empire is
sapped, so that every barbarian who chooses may carve out a slice from

These clamours were rapidly growing seditious, and in a few days an
anti-Emperor would probably have been proclaimed; but Zeno, more afraid
of his soldiers than even of the Goths, adroitly moved them into their
widely-scattered winter-quarters, leaving the invaded provinces to take
care of themselves for a little time, while he tried by his own natural
weapons of bribery and intrigue to detach the other and older
Theodoric from the new confederacy.

On this path he met with unmerited success. The son of Triarius, who had
lately been uttering such noble sentiments about Gothic kinship, and the
folly of Gothic warriors playing into the hands of their hereditary
enemies, the crafty courtiers of Constantinople, soon came to terms with
the Emperor, and on receiving the command of two brigades of household
troops,(Scholse) his restoration to all the dignities which he had held
under Basiliscus, the military office which his rival had forfeited, and
rations and allowances for 13,000 of his followers, broke his alliance
with Theodoric the Amal, and entered the service of the Emperor of New

Theodoric the Amal, who was now in his own despite (479) an outlaw from
the Roman State, burst in fierce wrath into Macedonia, into the region
where he and his people had been first quartered five years before.
Again he marched down the valley of the Vardar, he took Stobi, putting
its garrison to the sword, and threatened the great city of
Thessalonica. The citizens, fearing that Zeno would abandon them to the
barbarians, broke out into open sedition, threw down the statues of the
Emperor, took the keys of the city from the Prefect and entrusted them
to the safer keeping of their Bishop. Zeno sent ambassadors reproaching
the Amal for his ungrateful requital of the unexampled favours and
dignities which had been conferred upon him, and inviting him to return
to his old fidelity. Theodoric showed himself not unwilling to treat,
sent ambassadors to Constantinople, and ordered his troops to refrain
from murder and conflagration, and to take only the absolute necessaries
of life from the provincials. He then quitted the precincts of
Thessalonica and moved westwards to the city of Heraclea (Monastir),
which lies at the foot of the great mountain range that separates
Macedonia from Epirus. While talking of peace he was already meditating
a new and brilliant stroke of strategy, but he was for some time
hindered from accomplishing it by the illness of his sister, who,
perhaps fatigued by the hardships of the march, had fallen sick in the
camp before Heraclea. This time of enforced delay was occupied by
negotiations with the Emperor. But the Emperor had really nothing to
offer worth the Ostrogoth's acceptance. A settlement on the Pantalian
plain, a bleak upland among the Balkans, about forty miles south of
Sardica (Sofia), and a payment of two hundred pounds' weight of gold
(L8,000) as subsistence-money for the people till they should have had
time to till the land and reap their first harvest, this was all that
Zeno offered to the chief, who already in imagination saw the rich
cities of the Adriatic lying defenceless at his feet. For during this
time of inaction the Amal had opened communications with a Gothic
landowner, named Sigismund, who dwelt near Dyrrhachium (Durazzo), and
was a man of influence in the province of Epirus; and Sigismund, though
nominally a loyal subject of the Emperor, was doing his best to sow
fear and discouragement in the hearts of the citizens of Dyrrhachium
and to prepare the way for the advent of his countrymen.

At length the Gothic princess died, and her brother, the Amal, having
vainly sought to put Heraclea to ransom (the citizens had retired to a
strong fortress which commanded it), burned the deserted city, a deed
more worthy of a barbarian than of one bred up in the Roman
Commonwealth. Then with all his nation-army he started off upon the
great Egnatian Way, which, threading the rough passes of Mount Scardus,
leads from Macedonia to Epirus, from the shores of the AEgean to the
shores of the Adriatic. His light horsemen went first to reconnoitre the
path; then followed Theodoric himself with the first division of his
army. Soas, his second in command, ordered the movements of the middle
host; last of all came the rear-guard, commanded by Theodoric's brother,
Theudimund, and protecting the march of the women, the cattle, and the
waggons. It was a striking proof both of their leader's audacity and of
his knowledge of the decay of martial spirit among the various garrisons
that lined the Egnatian Way, that he should have ventured with such a
train into such a perilous country, where at every turn were narrow
defiles which a few brave men might have held against an army.

The Amal and his host passed safely through the defiles of Scardus and
reached the fortress of Lychnidus overlooking a lake now known as Lake
Ochrida. Here Theodoric met with his first repulse. The fortress was
immensely strong by nature, was well stored with corn, and had
springing fountains of its own, and the garrison were therefore not to
be frightened into surrender. Accordingly, leaving the fortress untaken,
Theodoric with his two first divisions pushed rapidly across the second
and lower range, the Candavian Mountains, leaving Theudimund with the
waggons and the women to follow more slowly. In this arrangement there
was probably an error of judgment which Theodoric had occasion bitterly
to regret. For the moment, however, he was completely successful.
Descending into the plain he took the towns of Scampae (Elbassan) and
Dyrrhachium (Durazzo), both of which, probably owing to the
discouraging counsels of Sigismund, seem to have been abandoned by their

Great was the consternation at Edessa (a town about thirty miles west of
Thessalonica and the headquarters of the Imperial troops) when the news
of this unexpected march of Theodoric across the mountains was brought
into the camp. Not only the general-in-chief, Sabinianus, was quartered
there, but also a certain Adamantius, an official of the highest rank,
who had been charged by Zeno with the conduct of the negotiations with
Theodoric, and whose whole soul seems to have been set on the success of
his mission. He contrived to communicate with Theodoric, and advanced
with Sabinianus through the mountains as far as Lychnidus in order to
conduct the discussion at closer quarters. Propositions passed backwards
and forwards as to the terms upon which a meeting could be arranged.
Theodoric sent a Gothic priest; Adamantius in reply offered to come in
person to Dyrrhachium if Soas and another Gothic noble were sent as
hostages for his safe return. Theodoric was willing to send the hostages
if Sabinianus would swear that they should return in safety. This,
however, for some reason or other, the general surlily and stubbornly
refused to do, and Adamantius saw the earnestly desired interview fading
away into impossibility. At length, with courageous self-devotion, he
succeeded in finding a by-path across the mountains, which brought him
to a fort, situated on a hill and strengthened by a deep ditch, in sight
of Dyrrhachium. From thence he sent messengers to Theodoric earnestly
soliciting a conference; and the Amal, leaving his army in the plain,
rode with a few horsemen to the banks of the stream which separated him
from Adamantius' stronghold. Adamantius, too, to guard against a
surprise, placed his little band of soldiers in a circle round the hill,
and then descended to the stream, and with none to listen to their
speech, commenced the long-desired colloquy. How Adamantius may have
opened his case we are not informed, but the Ostrogoth's reply is worth
quoting word for word: It was my choice to live altogether out of
Thrace, far away towards Scythia, where I should disturb no one by my
presence, and yet should be ready to go forth thence to do the Emperor's
bidding. But you having called me forth, as if for war against the son
of Tnarius, first of all promised that the General of Thrace should
immediately join me with his forces (he never appeared); and then that
Claudius, the Steward of the Goth-money,[39] should meet me with the
pay of the mercenaries (him I never saw); and thirdly, you gave me
guides for my journey, but what sort of guides? Men who, leaving
untrodden all the easier roads into the enemy's country, led me by a
steep path and along the sharp edges of cliffs, where, had the enemy
attacked us, travelling as we were bound to do with horsemen and waggons
and all the lumber of our camp, it had been a marvel if I and all my
folk had not been utterly destroyed. Hence I was forced to make such
terms as I could with the foes, and in fact I owe them many thanks that,
when you had betrayed and they might have consumed me, they nevertheless
spared my life.

Adamantius went over the old story about the great benefits which the
Emperor had bestowed on Theodoric, the Patriciate, the Mastership, the
rich presents, and all the other evidences of his fatherly regard. He
attempted to answer the charges brought by Theodoric, but in this even
the Greek historian[40] who records the dialogue thinks that he failed.
With more show of reason he complained of the march across the mountains
and the dash into Epirus, while negotiations were proceeding with
Constantinople. He recommended him to make peace with the Empire while
it was in his power, and assuring him that he would never be allowed to
lord it over the great cities of Epirus nor to banish their citizens
from thence to make room for his people, again pressed him to accept the
Emperor's offer of Dardania (the Pantalian plain), where there was
abundance of land, beside that which was already inhabited, a fair and
fertile territory lacking cultivators, which his people could till, so
providing themselves in abundance with all the necessaries of life.

Theodoric refused with an oath to take his toil-worn people who had
served him so faithfully, at that time of year (it was now perhaps
autumn) into Dardania. No! they must all remain in Epirus for the
winter; then if they could agree upon the rest of the terms he might be
willing in spring to follow a guide sent by the Emperor to lead them to
their new abode. But more than this, he was ready to deposit his baggage
and all his unwarlike folk in any city which the Emperor might appoint,
to give his mother and his sister as hostages for his entire fidelity,
and then to advance at once with ten thousand of his bravest warriors
into Thrace, as the Emperor's ally. With these men and the Imperial
armies now stationed in the Illyrian provinces, he would undertake to
sweep Thrace clear of all the Goths who followed the son of Triarius.
Only he stipulated that in that case he should be clothed with his old
dignity of Master of the Soldiery, which had been taken from him and
bestowed on his rival, and that he should be received into the
Commonwealth and allowed to live--as he evidently yearned to live--as a
Roman citizen.

Adamantius replied that he was not empowered to treat on such terms
while Theodoric remained in Epirus, but he would refer his proposal to
the Emperor, and with this understanding they parted one from the

Meanwhile, important, and for the Goths disastrous, events had been
taking place in the Candavian mountains. Over these the rear-guard of
Theodoric's army, with the waggons and the baggage, had been slowly
making its way, in a security which was no doubt chiefly caused by the
facility of the previous marches, but to which the knowledge of the
negotiations going forward between King and Emperor may partly have
contributed. In any case, security was certainly insecure with such a
fort as Lychnidus untaken in their rear. The garrison of that fort had
been reinforced by many cohorts of the regular army who had flocked
thither at the general's signal, and with these Sabinianus prepared a
formidable ambuscade. He sent a considerable number of infantry round by
unfrequented paths over the mountains, and ordered them to take up a
commanding but concealed position, and to rush forth from thence at a
given signal. He himself started with his cavalry from Lychnidus at
nightfall, and rode rapidly along the Egnatian Way. At dawn the pursuing
horsemen attacked the Goths, who were just descending the last mountain
slopes into the plain. Theudimund, with his mother, was riding near the
head of the long line of march. Too anxious perhaps for her safety, and
fearing to meet the reproachful looks of Theodoric if aught of harm
happened to her, he hurried her across the last bridge, spanning a deep
defile, which intervened between the mountains and the plain, and then
broke down the bridge behind him to prevent pursuit. Pursuit was indeed
rendered impossible, and the mother of Theodoric was saved, but at what
a cost! The Goths turned back to fight, with the courage of despair, the
pursuing cavalry. At that moment the infantry in ambush, having received
the signal, began to attack them from the rocks above. The position was
a terrible one, and many brave men fell in the hopeless battle. Quarter,
however, was given by the Imperial soldiers, for we are told that more
than five thousand of the Goths were taken prisoners. The booty was
large; and all the waggons of the barbarians, two thousand in number,
were of course captured, but the soldiers, misliking the toil of
dragging them back over all those jagged passes to Lychnidus, burned
them there as they stood upon the Candavian mountains.

I have copied with some minuteness the account given us by the Greek
historian of this mountain march of Theodoric, because it brings before
us with more than usual vividness the conditions under which the
campaigns of the barbarians were conducted. It will have been noticed
that the Gothic army is not only an army but a nation, and that the
campaign is also a migration. The mother and the sister of Theodoric are
accompanying him. There is evidently a long train of non-combatants, old
men, women, and children, following the army in those two thousand
Gothic waggons. The character attributed by Horace to the

Campestres Scythae,
Quorum plaustra vagas rite trahunt domos

still survives.

The waggon holds the Scythian's wandering home.

The Goth, a terrible enemy to those outside the pale of his kinship, is
a home-lover at heart, and even in war will not separate himself from
his wife and children. This makes his impact slow, his campaigns
unscientific. It prepares for him frequent defeats, such as that of the
Candavian mountains, which a celibate army would have avoided. But it
makes his conquests, when he does conquer, more enduring, while it
explains those perpetual demands for land, for a settlement within the
Empire, almost on any terms, with which, as was before shown, the
barbarian inroads so often close. We need not follow the tedious story
of the negotiations with Adamantius, which were interrupted by this
sudden success of the Imperial arms. In fact at this point our best
authority,[41] who has been unusually full and graphic for the events of
478 and 479, suddenly fails us, and we have scarcely anything but dry
and scanty annalistic notices for the next nine years of the life of
Theodoric. He seems not to have maintained his footing in Epirus, but to
have returned to the neighbourhood of the Danube, where he fought and
conquered the king of the Bulgarians, a fresh horde of barbarians who at
this time made their first appearance in the Balkan peninsula Whether
the much desired reconciliation with the Empire took place we know not.
It seems probable that this may have been the case, as in the year 481
we find his rival, the other Theodoric, in opposition, and planning an
invasion of Greece. But the career of the son of Triarius was about to
come to an untimely close. Marching westwards, he had reached a station
on the Egnatian Way, near the frontiers of Thrace and Macedonia, called
The Stables of Diomed, and there pitched his camp. One morning he
would fain mount his horse for a gallop across the plain, but before he
was securely seated in the saddle the horse reared. The rider, afraid to
grasp the bridle firmly lest he should pull the creature over upon him,
clung tightly to his seat, but could not guide the horse, which, in its
dancing and prancing, came sidling past the door of the tent. There was
hanging, in barbarian fashion, a spear fastened by a thong. The horse
shied up against the spear, whose point gored his master's side. He was
not killed on the spot, but died soon after of the wound. After some
domestic dissensions and bloodshed, the leadership of his band passed to
his son Recitach, apparently a hot-tempered and tyrannical youth.

Three years after his father's death (484), Recitach, now an enemy of
the Empire, was put to death by Theodoric the Amal, acting under the
orders of Zeno. The band of Triarian Goths, thirty thousand fighting men
in number, was joined to the army of Theodoric, an important addition to
his power, but also to his cares, to the ever-present difficulty of
finding food for his followers.

(481-487) Backwards and forwards between peace and war with the Empire,
Theodoric wavered during the six years which followed his rival's death.
The settlement of his people at this time seems to have been on the
southern shore of the Danube, in part of the countries now known as
Servia and Wallachia, with Novae (Sistova) for his headquarters. One
year (482) he is making a raid into Macedonia and Thessaly and
plundering Larissa. The next (483) he is again clothed with his old
dignity of Master of the Soldiery and keeps his Goths rigidly within
their allotted limits. The next (484) he is actually raised to the
Consulate, an office which, though devoid of power, is still so radiant
with the glory of the illustrious men who have held it for near a
thousand years, from the days of Brutus and Collatinus, that Emperors
covet the possession of it and the mightiest barbarian chiefs in their
service long for no higher reward.

Two years after this (486) he is again in rebellion, ravaging Thrace;
the next year (487) he has broken through the Long Walls and penetrates
within fourteen miles of Constantinople. In all this wearisome period of
Theodoric's life his action seems to be merely destructive; there is
nothing constructive, no fruitful or fertilising thought to be found in
it. Had this been a fair sample of his life, there could be no reason
why he should not sink into the oblivion which covers so many forgotten
freebooters. But in 488 a change came over the spirit of his dream. A
plan was agreed upon between him and the Emperor (by which of them it
was first suggested we cannot now say) for the employment of all this
wasted and destructive force in another field, where its energies might
accomplish some result beneficent and enduring.

That new field was Italy, and in order to understand the conditions of
the problem which there awaited Theodoric, we must briefly recount the
chief events which had happened in that peninsula since Attila departed
from untaken Rome in compliance with the petition of Pope Leo.

Next: Italy Under Odovacar

Previous: The Southward Migration

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