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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

Theodoric's Boyhood

Inroad of the Huns--Their defeat by Walamir--Birth of Theodoric--War
with the Eastern Empire--Theodoric a hostage--Description of
Constantinople--Its commerce and its monuments.

The Ostrogoths had yet one or two battles to fight before they were
quite rid of their old masters. The sons of Attila still talked of them
as deserters and fugitive slaves, and a day came when Walamir found
himself compelled to face a sudden inroad of the Huns. He had few men
with him, and being taken unawares, he had no time to summon his
brethren to his aid. But he held his own bravely: the warriors of his
nation had time to gather round him; and at last, after he had long
wearied the enemy with his defensive tactics, he made a sudden onset,
destroyed the greater part of the Hunnish army, and sent the rest
scattered in hopeless flight far into the deserts of Scythia.[14]

[Footnote 14: Jordanes (cap. iii) says that the fugitive Huns sought
those parts of Scythia past which flow the streams of the river Dnieper
which the Huns in their own tongue call 'Var' (the river). If this is
correctly stated it is almost certain that it must describe some battle
which happened before the great Western migration of the Ostrogoths,
which was mentioned in the last chapter, for it would be impossible, if
the Gepidae were in Trans-danubian Hungary and the Ostrogoths in Pannonia
that the Ostrogoths should have driven the Huns into the countries
watered by the Dnieper. I am rather inclined to believe that this
reference of the battle to an earlier period may be the correct
explanation. But Danapri (Dnieper) may be only a blunder of Jordanes,
who is often hopelessly wrong in his geography.]

Walamir at once sent tidings of the victory to his brother Theudemir.
The messenger arrived at an opportune moment, for on that very day
Erelieva, the unwedded wife of Theudemir, had given birth to a
man-child. This infant, born on such an auspicious day and looked upon
as a pledge of happy fortunes for the Ostrogothic nation, was named
Thiuda-reiks (the people-ruler), a name which Latin historians,
influenced perhaps by the analogy of Theodosius, changed into
Theodoricus, and which will here be spoken of under the well-known form

It will be observed that I have spoken of Erelieva as the unwedded wife
of Theudemir. The Gothic historian calls her his concubine,[16] but this
word of reproach hardly does justice to her position. In many of the
Teutonic nations, as among the Norsemen of a later century, there seems
to have been a certain laxity as to the marriage rite, which was
nevertheless coincident with a high and pure morality. It has been
suggested that the severe conditions imposed by the Church on divorces
may have had something to do with the peculiar marital usages of the
Teutonic and Norse chieftains. Reasons of state might require Theudemir
the Ostrogoth, or William Longsword the Norman, to ally himself some day
with a powerful king's daughter, and therefore he would not go through
the marriage rite with the woman, really and truly his wife, but
generally his inferior in social position, who meanwhile governed his
house and bore him children. If the separation never came, and the
powerful king's daughter never had to be wooed, she who was wife in all
but name, retained her position unquestioned till her death, and her
children succeeded without dispute to the inheritance of their father.
The nearest approach to an illustration which the social usages of
modern Europe afford, is probably furnished by the morganatic
marriages of modern German royalties and serenities: and we might say
that Theodoric was the offspring of such an union. Notwithstanding the
want of strict legitimacy in his position, I do not remember any
occasion on which the taunt of bastard birth was thrown in his teeth,
even by the bitterest of his foes.

It would be satisfactory if we could fix with exactness the great
Ostrogoth's birth-year, but though several circumstances point to 454
as a probable date, we are not able to define it with greater

The next event of which we are informed in the history of the
Ostrogothic nation, a war with the Eastern Empire, was one destined to
exert a most important influence on the life of the kingly child, The
Ostrogoths settling in Pannonia, one of the provinces of the Roman
Empire, were in theory allies and auxiliary soldiers[18] of the Emperor.
Similar arrangements had been made with the Visigoths in Spain, with the
Vandals in that very province of Pannonia, probably with many other
barbarian tribes in many other provinces. There was sometimes more,
sometimes less, actual truth in the theoretical relations thus
established, and it was one which in the nature of things was not likely
long to endure: but for the time, so long as the Imperial treasury was
tolerably full and the barbarian allies tolerably amenable to control,
the arrangement suited both parties. In the case before us the position
of the Ostrogoths in Pannonia was legalised by the alliance, and such
portions of the political machinery of the Empire as might still remain
were thereby placed at their disposal. The Emperor, on the other hand,
was able to boast of a province recovered for the Empire, which was now
guarded by the broadswords of his loyal Ostrogoths against the more
savage nations outside, who were ever trying to enter the charmed
circle of the Roman State. But as the Ostrogothic foederati were his
soldiers, there was evidently a necessity that he must send them pay,
and this pay, which was called wages when the Empire was strong, and
tribute when it was weak, consisted, partly at any rate, of heavy chests
of Imperial aurei,[19] sent as strenae[20] or New Year's presents,
to the barbarian king and his chief nobles.

Now, about the year 461, the Emperor Leo (successor of the brave soldier
Marcian), whether from a special emptiness in the Imperial treasury or
from some other cause, omitted to send the accustomed strenae to the
Ostrogothic brother-kings. Much disturbed at the failure of the aurei
to appear, they sent envoys to Constantinople, who returned with tidings
which filled the three palaces of Pannonia with the clamour of angry
men. Not only were the strenae withheld, and likely to be still
withheld, but there was another Goth, a low-born pretender, not of Amal
blood, who was boasting of the title of foederatus of the Empire, and
enjoying the strenae which ought to come only to Amal kings and their
nobles. This man, who was destined to cross the path of our Theodoric
through many weary years, was named like him Theodoric, and was surnamed
Strabo (the squinter) from his devious vision, and son of Triarius, from
his parentage. He was brother-in-law, or nephew, of a certain Aspar, a
successful barbarian, who had mounted high in the Imperial service and
had placed two Emperors on the throne. It was doubtless through his
kinsman's influence that the squinting adventurer had obtained a
position in the court of the Roman Augustus so disproportioned to his
birth, and so outrageous to every loyal Ostrogoth.

When the news of these insults to the lineage of the Amals reached
Pannonia, the three brothers in fury snatched up their arms and laid
waste almost the whole province of Illyricum. Then the Emperor changed
his mind, and desired to renew the old friendship. He sent an embassy
bearing the arrears of the past-due strenae, those which were then
again falling due, and a promise that all future strenae should be
punctually paid. Only, as a hostage for the observance of peace he
desired that Theudemir's little son, Theodoric, then just entering his
eighth year, should be sent to Constantinople. The fact that this
request or demand was made by the ostensibly beaten side, may make us
doubt whether the humiliation of the Empire was so complete as the
preceding sentences (translated from the words of the Gothic historian)
would lead us to suppose.

Theudemir was reluctant to part with his first-born son, even to the
great Roman Emperor. But his brother Walamir earnestly besought him not
to interpose any hindrance to the establishment of a firm peace between
the Romans and Goths. He yielded therefore, and the little lad, carried
by the returning ambassadors to Constantinople, soon earned the favour
of the Emperor by his handsome face and his winning ways.[21]

Thus was the young Ostrogoth brought from his home in Pannonia, by the
banks of lonely Lake Balaton, to the New Rome, the busy and stately city
by the Bosphorus, the city which was now, more truly than her worn and
faded mother by the Tiber, the Lady of Kingdoms the Mistress of the
World. Of the Constantinople which the boyish eyes of Theodoric beheld,
scarcely a vestige now remains for the traveller to gaze upon. Let us
try, therefore, to find a contemporary description. These are the words
in which the visit of the Gothic chief Athanaric to that city about
eighty years previously is described by Jordanes:

Entering the royal city, and marvelling thereat, 'Lo! now I behold,'
said he, 'what I often heard of without believing, the glory of so great
a city.' Then turning his eyes this way and that, beholding the
situation of the city and the concourse of ships, now he marvels at the
long perspective of lofty walls, then he sees the multitudes of various
nations like the wave gushing forth from one fountain which has been fed
by divers springs, then he beholds the marshalled ranks of the soldiery.
'A God,' said he, 'without doubt a God upon Earth is the Emperor of this
realm, and whoso lifts his hand against him, that man's blood be on his
own head.

Still can we behold the situation of the city, that unrivalled
situation which no map can adequately explain, but which the traveller
gazes upon from the deck of his vessel as he rounds Seraglio Point, and
the sight of which seems to bind together in one, two continents of
space and twenty-five centuries of time. On his right hand Asia with
her camels, on his left Europe with her railroads. Behind him are the
Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles, with their memories of Lysander and
AEgospotami, of Hero, Leander, and Byron, with the throne of Xerxes and
the tomb of Achilles, and farther back still the island-studded
Archipelago, the true cradle of the Greek nation. Immediately in front
of him is the Golden Horn, now bridged and with populous cities on both
its banks, but the farther shore of which, where Pera and Galata now
stand, was probably covered with fields and gardens when Theodoric
beheld it. There also in front of him, but a little to the right, comes
rushing down the impetuous Bosphorus, that river which is also an arm of
the sea. Lined now with the marble palaces of bankrupt Sultans, it was
once a lonely and desolate strait, on whose farther shore the hapless
Io, transformed into a heifer, sought a refuge from her heaven-sent
tormentor. Up through its difficult windings pressed the adventurous
mariners of Miletus in those early voyages which opened up the Euxine to
the Greeks, as the voyage of Columbus opened up the Atlantic to the
Spaniards. It is impossible now to survey the beautiful panorama without
thinking of that great inland sea which, as we all know, begins but a
few miles to the north of the place where we are standing, and whose
cloudy shores are perhaps concealing in their recesses the future lords
of Constantinople. We look towards that point of the compass, and think
of Sebastopol. The great lords of Theudemir's court, who brought the
young Theodoric to his new patron, may have looked northwards too,
remembering the sagas about the mighty Hermanric, who dwelt where now
the Russians dwell, and the fateful march of the terrible Huns across
the shallows of the Sea of Azof.

The great physical features of the scene are of course unchanged, but
almost everything else, how changed by four centuries and a half of
Ottoman domination! The first view of Stamboul, with its mosques, its
minarets, its latticed houses, its stream of manifold life both
civilised and barbarous, flowing through the streets, is delightful to
the traveller; but if he be more of an archaeologist than an artist, and
seeks to reproduce before his mind's eye something of the Constantinople
of the Caesars rather than the Stamboul of the Sultans, he will
experience a bitter disappointment in finding how little of the former
is left.

He may still see indeed the land-ward walls of the city, and a most
interesting historical relic they are.[22] They stretch for about four
miles, from the Sea of Marmora to the Golden Horn. It is still,
comparatively speaking, all city inside of them, all country on the
outside. There is a double line of walls with towers at frequent
intervals, some square, some octagonal, and deep fosses running along
beside the walls, now in spring often bright green with growing corn.
These walls and towers, seen stretching up hill and down dale, are a
very notable feature in the landscape, and ruinous and dismantled as
they are after fourteen centuries of siege, of earthquake, and of
neglect, they still help us vividly to imagine what they must have
looked like when the young Theodoric beheld them little more than ten
years after their erection.[23]

[Footnote 22: For the fact that these walls are still visible we have to
thank the good offices of a recent British ambassador, I believe Lord
Stratford de Redcliffe. The Sultana Valide (Sultan's mother) had
obtained from her son an order to pull down the walls, and sell the
materials for the benefit of her privy purse. The ambassador, however,
protested against this act of Ottomanism (rather than Vandalism), and
the walls were saved.]

[Footnote 23: The walls of Constantinople were first built in 412, but
having been much injured by an earthquake were rebuilt (we are told in
the short space of sixty days) by the Prefect of the City, Constantine,
at the command of Theodosius II. This rebuilding, which was partly due
to the terror caused by Attila, took place in the year 447.]

Of the gates, some six or seven in number, two are especially
interesting to us. The first is the Tep-Kapou (Cannon Gate), or Porta
Sancti Romani. This was the weakest part of the fortifications of
Constantinople, the heel of Achilles, as it has been well called,[24]
and here the last Roman Emperor of the East, Constantine Palaeologus,
died bravely in the breach for the cause of Christianity and
civilisation, The other gate is the Porta Aurea, a fine triple gateway,
the centre arch of which rests on two Corinthian pilasters. Through this
gateway--the nearest representative of the Capitoline Hill at Rome--the
Eastern Emperors rode in triumphant procession when a new Augustus had
to be proclaimed, or when an enemy of the Republic had been defeated. It
is possible that Theodoric may have seen Anthemius, the Emperor whom
Constantinople gave to Rome, ride forth through this gate (467) to take
possession of the Western throne: possible too that the great but
unsuccessful expedition planned by the joint forces of the East and West
against the Vandals of Africa may have had its ignominious failure
hidden from the people for a time by a triumphal procession through the
Golden Gate in the following year (468). This gate is now walled up, and
tradition says that the order for its closure was given by Mohammed, the
Conqueror, immediately after his entry into the city, through fear of an
old Turkish prophecy, which declared that through this gate the next
conquerors should enter Constantinople.

[Footnote 24: By Dr. Dethier. Bosphore et Constantinople, p. 51.]

Of the palace of the Emperor, into which the young Goth was ushered by
the eunuch-chamberlain, no vestige probably now remains. The Seraglio
has replaced the Palation, and is itself now abandoned to loneliness and
decay, being only the recipient of one annual visit from the Sultan,
when he goes in state to kiss the cloak of Mohammed. The great mosque of
St. Sophia on the right is a genuine and a glorious monument of Imperial
Constantinople, but not of Constantinople as Theodoric saw it. The
basilica, in which he probably listened with childish bewilderment to
many a sermon for or against the decrees of the council of Chalcedon,
was burnt down sixty years after his visit in the great Insurrection of
the Nika, and the noble edifice in which ten thousand Mussulmans now
assemble to listen to the reading of the Koran, while above them the
Arabic names of the companions of the Prophet replace the mosaics of the
Evangelists, is itself the work of the great Emperor Justinian, the
destroyer of the State which Theodoric founded.

But almost between the Church of St. Sophia and the Imperial Palace lay
in old times the Great Hippodrome, centre of the popular life of the
capital, where the excited multitudes cheered with rapture, or howled in
execration, at the victory of the Blue or the Green charioteer; where
many a time the elevation or the deposition of an Emperor was
accomplished by the acclamations of the same roaring throng. Of this
Hippodrome we have still a most interesting memorial in the Atmeidan
(the Place of Horses), which, though with diminished area, still
preserves something of the form of the old racecourse. And here to this
day are two monuments on which the young hostage may have often gazed,
wondering at their form and meaning. The obelisk of Thothmes I., already
two thousand years old when Constantinople was founded, was reared in
the Hippodrome, by order of the great Emperor Theodosius, and some of
the bas-reliefs on its pedestal still explain to us the mechanical
devices by which it was lifted into position, while in others
Theodosius, his wife, his sons, and his colleague sit in solemn state,
but, alas! with grievously mutilated countenances. Near it is a spiral
column of bronze which, almost till our own day, bore three serpents
twined together, whose heads long ago supported a golden tripod. This
bronze monument is none other than the votive offering to the temple of
Apollo at Delphi, presented by the confederated states of Greece, to
celebrate the victory of Plataea. The golden tripod was melted down at
the time of Philip of Macedon, but the twisted serpents, brought by
Constantine to adorn and hallow his new capital by the Bosphorus, bore
and still bear the names, written in archaic characters, of all the
Hellenic states which took part in that great deliverance.

All these monuments are on the first of the seven hills on which
Constantinople is built. On the second hill stands a strange and
blackened pillar, which once stood in the middle of the Forum of
Constantine; and this too was there in the days of Theodoric. It is
called the Burnt Column, because it has been more than once struck by
lightning, and is blackened with the smoke of the frequent fires which
have consumed the wooden shanties at its base. But

there it stands, as stands a lofty mind,
Worn, but unstooping to the baser crowd.

It was once 150 feet high, but is now 115, and it consists of six huge
cylinders of porphyry, one above another, whose junction is veiled by
sculptured laurel wreaths. On its summit stood the statue of Constantine
with the garb and attributes of the Grecian Sun-God, but having his head
surrounded with the nails of the True Cross, brought from Jerusalem to
serve instead of the golden rays of far-darting Apollo. Underneath the
column was placed (and remains probably to this day) the Palladium, that
mysterious image of Minerva, which AEneas carried from Troy to Alba
Longa, which his descendants removed to Rome, and which was now brought
by Constantine to his new capital, so near to its first legendary home,
to be the pledge of abiding security to the city by the Bosphorus.

These are the chief relics of Constantinople in the fifth century which
are still visible to the traveller. I have described with some little
detail the outward appearance of the city and its monuments, because
these would naturally be the objects which would most attract the
attention of a child brought from such far different scenes into the
midst of so stately a city. But during the ten or eleven years that
Theodoric remained in honourable captivity at the court of Leo, while he
was growing up from childhood to manhood, it cannot be doubted that he
gradually learned the deeper lessons which lay below the glory and the
glitter of the great city's life, and that the knowledge thus acquired
in those years which are so powerful in moulding character, had a mighty
influence on all his subsequent career.

He saw here for the first time, and by degrees he apprehended, the
results of that state of civilitas which in after years he was to be
constantly recommending to his people. Sprung from a race of hunters and
shepherds, having slowly learned the arts of agriculture, and then
perhaps partly unlearned them under the over-lordship of the nomad Huns,
the Ostrogoths at this time knew nothing of a city life. A city was
probably in their eyes little else than a hindrance to their freebooting
raids, a lair of enemies, a place behind whose sheltering walls, so hard
to batter down, cowards lurked in order to sally forth at a favourable
moment and attack brave men in their rear. At best it was a
treasure-house, which valiant Goths, if Fortune favoured them, might
sack and plunder: but Fortune seldom did favour the children of Gaut in
their assaults upon the fenced cities of the Empire.

Now, however, the lad Theodoric began to perceive, as the man Ataulfus
had perceived before him, that the city life upon which all the proverbs
and the songs of his countrymen poured contempt, had its advantages. To
the New Rome came the incessant ships of Alexandria, bringing corn for
the sustenance of her citizens. Long caravans journeyed over the
highlands of Asia Minor loaded with the spices and jewels of India and
the silks of China. Men of every conceivable Asiatic country were drawn
by the irresistible attraction of hoped-for profit to the quays and the
Fora of Byzantium. The scattered homesteads of the Ostrogothic farmers
had no such wonderful power of drawing men over thousands of miles of
land and sea to visit them. Then the bright and varied life of the
Imperial City could not fail to fill the boy's soul with pleasure and
admiration. The thrill of excitement in the Hippodrome as the two
charioteers, Green and Blue, rounded the spina, neck and neck, the
tragedies acted in the theatre amid rapturous applause, the strange
beasts from every part of the Roman world that roared and fought in the
Amphitheatre, the delicious idleness of the Baths, the chatter and
bargaining and banter of the Forum,--all this made a day in beautiful
Constantinople very unlike a day in the solemn and somewhat rude palace
by Lake Balaton.

As the boy grew to manhood, the deep underlying cause of this difference
perhaps became clearer to his mind. He could see more or less plainly
that the soul which held all this marvellous body of civilisation
together was reverence for Law. He visited perhaps some of the courts of
law; he may have seen the Illustrious Praetorian Prefect, clothed in
Imperial purple, move majestically to the judgment-seat, amid the
obsequious salutations of the dignified officials,[25] who in their
various ranks and orders surrounded the hall. The costly golden
reed-case, the massive silver inkstand, the silver bowl for the
petitions of suitors, all emblems of his office, were placed solemnly
before him, and the pleadings began. Practised advocates arose to plead
the cause of plaintiff or defendant; busy short-hand writers took notes
of the proceedings; at length in calm and measured words the Prefect
gave his judgment; a judgment which was necessarily based on law, which
had to take account of the sayings of jurisconsults, of the stored-up
wisdom of twenty generations of men; a judgment which, notwithstanding
the venality which was the curse of the Empire, was in most instances in
accordance with truth and justice. How different, must Theodoric often
have thought, in after years, when he had returned to Gothland,--how
different was this settled and orderly procedure from the usage of the
barbarians. With them the blood-feud, the wild justice of revenge,
often prolonged from generation to generation, had been long the chief
righter of wrongs done; and if this was now slowly giving place to
judicial trial, that trial was probably a coarse and almost lawless
proceeding, in which the head man of the district, with a hundred
assessors, as ignorant as himself, amid the wild cries of the opposed
parties, roughly fixed the amount of blood-money to be paid by a
murderer, or decided at hap-hazard, often with an obvious reference to
the superior force at the command of one or other of the litigants, some
obscure dispute as to the ownership of a slave or the right to succeed
to a dead man's inheritance.

Law carefully thought out, systematised, and in the main softened and
liberalised, from generation to generation, was the great gift of the
Roman Empire to the world, and by her strong, and uniform, and, in the
main, just administration of this law, that Empire had kept, and in the
days of Theodoric was still keeping, her hold upon a hundred jarring
nationalities. What hope was there that the German intruders into the
lands of the Mediterranean could ever vie with this great achievement?
Yet if they could not, if it was out of their power to reform and
reinvigorate the shattered state, if they could only destroy and not
rebuild, they would exert no abiding influence on the destinies of

I do not say that all these thoughts passed at this time through the
mind of Theodoric, but I have no doubt that the germs of them were sown
by his residence in Constantinople. When he returned, a young man of
eighteen years and of noble presence to the palace of his father, he had
certainly some conception of what the Greeks meant when he heard them
talking about politeia, some foreshadowing of what he himself would
mean when in after days he should speak alike to his Goth and Roman
subjects of the blessings of civilitas.

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